At first glance, the BlackBerry Classic seems to be just like its much-loved predecessor, the BlackBerry Bold 9900. But, of course, it’s not. Held side-by-side, the Classic is larger in every dimension except thickness.
But the larger dimensions improves what BlackBerry already does best, which is to handle text-intensive tasks such as email. The Classic brings back the carefully sculpted physical keyboard that worked so well for creating text as well as the physical navigation keys that complete the keyboard experience.
While there’s a lot more to the BlackBerry Classic beyond the keyboard, it’s the traditional BlackBerry keyboard that’s its raison d’être. Likely this is why BlackBerry made only a few minor changes to the keyboard design.
The biggest is the addition of a microphone key next to the space bar, which is shared with the zero. The other big change is that the optical touch-pad in the center of the navigation keys is smaller than on the Bold. Like the Bold and other recent BlackBerry devices, the Classic also has a touch-screen.
The keyboard itself is larger, which makes thumb-typing easier and slightly more accurate, but it avoids the change in shape that BlackBerry’s Passport presented which (at least for me) slowed down typing. Overall, the Classic is very similar in size to the BlackBerry Z30, and it runs the same BlackBerry 10 operating system.
I didn’t find the 3.5-inch square screen to be at all limiting when it came to using it for things like email, which is still the BlackBerry’s strong suit. The company points out that the screen is about the same size as the one on the iPhone 6 when it has the keyboard open on the screen. When I look at the two phones together, that seems like an accurate statement.
Beyond using the phone for text creation, the relatively small square screen can be limiting. While the BlackBerry Web browser is quite fast, you don’t have the option of holding the phone horizontally to get a bigger image as you do with the iPhone or the Z30. While you can make Web pages bigger by spreading them out with your fingers, that only helps so much.
BlackBerry is in the process of updating the apps in its BlackBerry World app store to work properly with the square screen, something that was already being done with the Q10, which also had a physical keyboard. But there are a lot of apps that haven’t been updated, especially the Android apps that you can download via access to the Amazon Android App Store.
BlackBerry Classic Keyboard Works Well for Users Who Live in Email
While the Classic will run some Android apps, it does not support Google Play Services, which a number of Android apps require. This means that you can download an app only to find that it doesn’t work at all or that some functions don’t work.
One thing that has changed is that you can no longer remove the back of the phone to change the battery. The 2,515mAh battery is inside the Classic’s sealed case. The SIM card that used to be held in the back with the battery is now behind a hatch on the side of the phone. You can poke a paper clip to reveal a nano-SIM carrier. There’s also a slot for a hot-swappable MicroSD card next to the SIM holder. The Classic will accept memory cards up to 128GB.
BlackBerry said that the Classic will operate for up to two weeks in standby and delivers more than 18 hours of talk time. My experience using the phone in a mixed cellular-WiFi environment showed that the device had about the same battery life as its BBOS 10 brethren, which was about two days of average use. This is better than a lot of smartphones that generally bite the dust in about a day of similar use.
The Classic runs on GSM networks, including those of AT&T and T-Mobile. BlackBerry provided an AT&T SIM, so naturally I purchased a T-Mobile SIM instead. There were two reasons for this: one because the two companies are in a tiff and because AT&T doesn’t provide useable service in the area near eWEEK’s office in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.
The Classic worked fine with T-Mobile, including that company’s high-speed 4G LTE signals. This phone also supports WiFi, but it doesn’t support 802.11ac and nor does it support WiFi calling.
Using the BlackBerry Classic brings back memories. It’s easy to get back to the familiar feel of thumb-typing on the sculpted keyboard. I found the physical keys to be much more accurate than any on-screen keyboard, even BlackBerry’s. The predictive typing worked well, although it was a little less convenient than on the Z10 and Z30, where the anticipated words appear just above the keys.
The new keyboard is actually slightly easier to use than that on the Bold because the keys are slightly larger, and the phone retains the stainless steel frets between rows of keys. Now, the question becomes whether you spend more time typing messages on your smartphone than you do looking at Web pages on the screen. If you live in your email app, the easier typing makes a compelling case for the BlackBerry Classic.