BlackBerry Aims to Win Back Fans With 'Classic' Smartphone

Back to the future? Evoking its past, the early innovator in mobile productivity officially debuts the BlackBerry Classic.

BlackBerry John Chen

NEW YORK—Near Wall Street, BlackBerry gathered New York-area press today for the official debut of its new smartphone, the BlackBerry Classic.

Taking the stage, BlackBerry CEO John Chen (pictured) called 2014 an "extremely gratifying year" despite the company's challenges, which included a legal spat with the Ryan Seacrest-backed keyboard add-on for the iPhone early in Chen's 13-month tenure as head of the company. To cap off the year, Chen unveiled the BlackBerry Classic.

Introduced with the tagline, "Serious mobility for serious business," BlackBerry Classic is fronted by a 3.5-inch square touch-screen that is 60 percent larger than the display on the Bold 9900 (unveiled in 2011). Other features include 16GB of built-in storage, an 8-megapixel rear camera (2 megapixels up-front) and a battery that lasts up to 22 hours.

But it's an upgraded version of BlackBerry's hallmark feature, its keyboard, that the company is hoping will win back professionals that have jumped to rival platforms.

"I'm not going to stand in front of you today blind to the fact that we lost some of you," said Jeff Gadway, director of product marketing at BlackBerry, before he gave a tour of the device and its capabilities. "But I'm confident that with the BlackBerry Classic, we're going to win you back."

The company "built on the things that you like and we've improved the things that you don't," Gadway said. And one of the features BlackBerry diehards like is the keyboard

Gadway called the "BlackBerry keyboard more than just 35 keys; it's really the culmination of a decade of passion and perfection." The Classic features "carefully sculpted" keys that enable users to navigate the keyboard by touch. Frets, the metal bands between the rows of keys help both fingers and eyes find the right keys. Lastly, the keyboard was developed with the right amount of "clickiness," he said, allowing for fast typing.

In terms of quality, "BlackBerrys are built to wear in not wear out," said Gadway. BlackBerry Classic has been built with "premium materials and high-quality finishes," he added, referring to the stainless steel frame, Gorilla Glass screen covering and the high-quality plastics that enshroud the device.

Demo BlackBerry classics felt light, yet flex-free. The keys were indeed clicky and comfortable to press. BlackBerry OS 10.3.1 provided fast and responsive transitions between apps. The Classic's Web browser was particularly snappy. According to the company, it is 300 percent faster than the browser found on the Bold 9900.

To entice enterprises, the smartphone supports the BBM Protected, which layers an additional level of encryption atop messages that even BlackBerry can't crack, assured Gadway. BlackBerry Blend enables users to link to a PC over WiFi and conduct BBM chats on their PCs with the service's protections in tow, and VPN authentication provides protected access to enterprise networks. All three are available starting Dec. 17 as part of a Secure Productivity Bundle.

As the event was drawing to a close, Steven Hodges, president of the Northeast Region for AT&T Mobility, announced his company's network would be carrying the device. "We know that our customers see a lot of value in BlackBerry," he said. Verizon and Canadian carriers Bell, Rogers and Telus are also supporting the device.

In closing remarks, Chen returned to address the air of uncertainty surrounding the once-leading smartphone maker. "We are here to stay," Chen said. "Nearly all the major carriers around the world are starting to engage with us," he offered as a sign that his company's fortunes are turning.

BlackBerry is currently fulfilling preorders and is accepting new orders via and An unlocked BlackBerry Classic sells for $449 in the United States and $499 in Canada.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...