First look: BlackBerry Classic is a killer smartphone -- for keyboard lovers

The BlackBerry Classic is the best smartphone the company has ever released, but it won't lure away many iPhone or Android users

blackberry classic marble final
Brian Sacco

If you're still using a BlackBerry smartphone with a "physical" QWERTY keyboard, or if you've switched platforms but still harbor fantasies about a return to the good old days when you didn't spend as much time cursing your on-screen keypad as you do typing on it, the BlackBerry Classic is the smartphone you've been waiting for.

BlackBerry returned to its roots with the Classic, which was officially launched this morning in New York City. The device looks like a larger, more modern version of the hugely popular BlackBerry 9900, a "classic" BlackBerry that was initially released more than three years ago, in the summer of 2011.

blackberry classic 9900 q10 Brian Sacco

The BlackBerry Bold 9900, BlackBerry Q10 and BlackBerry Classic

The most notable change in the Classic compared to the current crop of BlackBerry 10 smartphones is the return of the "tool belt," or the horizontal set of four navigation keys and a central trackpad, that humbly sits atop the BlackBerry keyboard.

"When we launched some other previous devices, there was something missing in our lineup," says Sonia Moniz-Bennett, BlackBerry's senior manager of product marketing. "We didn't deliver in terms of keeping the familiarity. Our customers told us, 'We want the belt back.' We realize that we missed giving these folks what they wanted [with first few BlackBerry 10 devices], and that's why we're delivering this." 

[Related Review: Hands On With the New BlackBerry Passport Smartphone]

Moniz-Bennett sums up the BlackBerry Classic in four words: Familiar design, faster results. The Classic's target users are "people using a 9900 that haven't given it up," according to Warren Pamukoff, a BlackBerry analyst relations manager.

So while the tech world often focuses on market share to compare today's major mobile platforms, and tech specs when considering the latest mobile devices, the goal of the BlackBerry Classic isn't to grow the user base or outdo competitors with more storage space or a faster processor. Instead, BlackBerry wants to make sure it doesn't lose any more loyal customers who are still clinging to their plastic QWERTY keyboards.

As a longtime BlackBerry user who loved his Bold 9900 dearly, I'm very much BlackBerry's target Classic user. However, I'm also a loyal iPhone and Android user, and as such, the BlackBerry platform's weaknesses couldn't be clearer. There's a lot to like about the BlackBerry Classic, but it's also hard to ignore its shortcomings. 

I've divided this BlackBerry Classic review into three sections: strengths, weakness, and, finally, a conclusion to sum up my thoughts. First up, details on those strengths. (You can also jump right to the conclusion.) 

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