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

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BlackBerry Classic: The bad stuff

The first thing I thought when I removed my BlackBerry Classic from its packaging and picked it up was, "Holy @#$*, this thing is heavy." I still think something along those lines when I pick it, and I've been using the device for a week. 

For context, the Classic weighs 180 grams. The Bold 9900 weighs 136 grams, or nearly 50 grams less than the Classic. The Q10, which is a bit closer in size to the Classic, weight 136 grams. The much larger BlackBerry Passport weights 195 grams, just 15 grams more than the Classic. And the Galaxy Note 4, another very large phone, weighs 178 grams.

Just to be clear: The BlackBerry Classic is really heavy. You get used to the weight, but the Classic is awkwardly hefty, and that's a turnoff.

This next point feels tired to me, because I've written about it more times than I care to remember. It is, however, a major drawback of the BlackBerry OS — perhaps the major drawback. The app selection, performance, and overall experience on BlackBerry 10 pale in comparison to Android and iOS.

The few apps I use that I got from BlackBerry's own app store, BlackBerry World, run well. The problem is the "few" part; I probably only use half a dozen BlackBerry-specific apps. Moniz-Bennett told me that she thinks the company "closed the app gap" with the Amazon App Store.

blackberry classic sides left right Brian Sacco

It did make major gains when it brought the Amazon store to BlackBerry 10. However, the Android-app-on-BlackBerry experience is quite poor. For example, I read a lot, and I use Amazon's Kindle store to purchase most of my books. I like to read on my phone when I'm on the train. So the Kindle app is important to me. Kindle for iOS works very well, as does the Android version … at least on an Android device. Kindle for Android is available for the Classic, and other BlackBerry 10 devices, via the Amazon App Store, but every other time I open the app, it shows me a progress symbol and gets stuck. If I close the app and reopen it a few times, it works. It's a poor, and often frustrating, experience.

The fact is that the Android apps in Amazon's store simply weren't built to run on BlackBerrys, especially BlackBerrys with square displays. Some of them run better than others. Many of these apps have only on-screen controls, so they won't work with the Classic's new tool belt navigation keys. Android apps that run on BlackBerry 10 are better than nothing, but the overall experience leaves something to be desired.

While the BlackBerry Classic’s battery life is a plus, I had a significant issue charging my battery. It will not charge beyond the 63 percent mark, no matter how long I charge it, which cords I use or what outlets I connect it to. I let my device charge overnight the first two nights I had it, and it charged to 100 percent. However, the following four nights it was at 63 percent charge when I grabbed it in the morning, after more than eight hours of charging.

BlackBerry says it has not heard of any other similar reports from reviewers or early users. This may be a fluke incident that won't affect all Classic users, but it was an issue with this particular unit. I also wish that the Classic had a removable battery, but with 22 hours of mixed use, a replaceable battery isn't as important as it used to be.

As mentioned in the last section, I appreciate the fact that the Classic has expandable memory, but it's unfortunate the device is currently available with only 16GB of fixed storage. The OS takes up a good chunk of that space, so you actually get significantly less storage space. That means you pretty much need a media card, which honestly is not a big deal. I do wish the Classic were available with more storage options, though.

Again, BlackBerry is not trying to wow customers with specs, and that's quite clear when you look at the Classic's display. It's simply not very high resolution, and if you're used to another new-ish, high-end device, the difference is evident. For context, the Classic has a 3.5-inch, 720 x 720 LCD display at 290 ppi. The iPhone 6 has a 4.7-inch 1334 x 750 Retina display at 326 ppi, and the Galaxy Note 4, with one of the best displays I've ever seen on a smartphone, has a 5.7-inch Super AMOLED 2,560 x 1,440 screen at 500 ppi.

If you're not used to a newer phone that's on par with the ones I mentioned, you might not mind the Classic's relatively low-res display.

BlackBerry has never been known for its cameras. As such, I didn't expect much from the Classic. That said, the BlackBerry Classic camera works better than I thought it would. I captured images in a variety of environments, and though I didn't do extensive camera tests, it seems like the camera works well in bright environments with natural light. It struggles in dim or dark environments, where it almost always uses the flash (if your flash is set to automatic) even when it's not needed. It also doesn't focus well for close-up shots. The Classic camera is probably "good enough" for most people, but I put it in the "weaknesses" section of this review, because it's certainly not one of the device's strengths.

blackberry classic top bottom final Brian Sacco

In the past, BlackBerry printed a variety of required regulatory device identification information inside the removable battery doors of its devices. The Classic has a fixed battery door, so the company had to find someplace else to print that information. 

When I started using my Classic, I heard a "jingling" noise when I shook it. It sounded like a small piece of metal bouncing around inside the device. I removed the SIM and memory card tray to see if I could find the problem piece, and a thin metal plate with a tiny hole slid out. On closer inspection, I noticed a number of lines of miniature text with the device model number, IMEI, PIN and FCC ID. However, I had to remove that metal plate because it was bouncing around and making noise.

I asked BlackBerry about this, and was told that my device is a prerelease model, and that the metal tab "is not intended to be easily removable by the end user, although it is possible to remove if sufficient force is applied." My tab literally fell out when I removed the memory card tray. If the devices that ship to customers don't have the same problem, this will be a non-issue. If not, Classic users may just have to remove their tabs, which defeats the purpose of including them.

The BlackBerry Classic's keyboard is supposed to light up in dim or dark environments. However, my keys don't light up, and that makes it tough to type in the dark, which obviously isn't ideal. (A ring around the Bold 9900's trackpad also lit up in the dark, but the Classic's does not, which is unfortunate — that was a useful feature.) BlackBerry says the Classic keys should light up, and apparently this is another issue with my preproduction unit.

I don't have anything bad to say about the BlackBerry 10 OS, except for the fact that you can have only eight apps open at one time. This limitation greatly diminishes the value of BlackBerry 10's multitasking feature. I use more than eight apps at a time on my other devices, and it's frustrating to have to scroll through screens and open folders every time I want to launch a frequently used app.

Finally, I detailed three separate BlackBerry Classic hardware issues in this review. BlackBerry claims they will be resolved by the time the device ships to customers. Finding that many problems with a device that's supposed to ship very soon is uncommon in my experience, and it might not bode well for the first batch of Classics.

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