Reviewed in the United States on December 29, 2014
***[UPDATE] If you're on AT&T, do not buy this phone, buy the AT&T version. It might or might not cost more, but that version has wireless charging. Works on both Qi and PMA.***
There is a lot to like about the phone, but it's not at all a perfect phone. But in terms of getting a phone that fulfills all of my needs, there isn't anything else on the market that even comes close. There is no such thing as a perfect smartphone, regardless of what Samsung or Apple would have you believe. The best phone for you could be a very different phone than the best phone for me, it is all about your preferences.
So let's talk about what sets this phone apart from others. The physical controls. Now you'll hear the ignorant talk all of the time about how buttons on a phone is "going backwards." But those of us wise enough to not fall for the simplistic "newer has to be better" mentality would recognize that the buttons are in addition to a touchscreen not in place of one. We would also recognize that what works best for certain things works best for those situations regardless of which came first. And if we want to play that game, touchscreens were on mobile phones before trackpads were. So...
I went from a Bold 9000, to a Bold 9900, and then a Q10 before getting the Classic. So I've used both legacy devices and the new BB10 devices. When I first got the Q10, immediately I started missing a lot of the features legacy devices had that the new OS didn't, and I also missed the physical call send/end keys and the trackpad. With the Classic and the new OS 10.3.1 that comes preinstalled, we are finally starting to get a lot of these things back.
The keyboard is the one main divisive factor. Mainly because it results in a much smaller screen. So you'll have to decide if the benefits of the keyboard outweigh the loss of the screen space. The Classic's keyboard is only slightly larger than the Q10's, which would have led me to believe that it would feel more-or-less the same to type on. But somehow, that little bit of difference is noticeable. With the Q10, typing was easy, but I did notice that my thumbs would bump up against other keys from time to time. Not enough to press them, but enough for me to notice and distract me from my typing a little bit. I still typed fast and accurate on the Q10. But on the Classic, I've noticed this much less. Typing without looking at the device is even easier because of that. The keys are also clicky and not mushy, which is great.
Many would argue that typing on glass is faster. And you know what? They're right. If you're talking about straight speed, many virtual keyboards could definitely be faster than the physical keyboard. Do you know what glass slab lovers cannot claim though? Accuracy. I literally keep auto-correct turned off on my devices. They too often replace your misspelled words with the wrong words which may result in some funny memes, but when it comes to accurately communicating something, that is not acceptable for me. I RARELY make typo's while using my BB, so while people might be technically faster in typing with all-touch screens, they are definitely not more accurate than I am with my physical keyboard. I can confidently say that without disclaimer. If you read my text conversations between my friends and I you'll see what I mean. I find myself asking them what they intended to write WAY too often. And if they want to be accurate, that means continuously going back and fixing misspelled words or auto-correct fails, which would result in a slower speed. So basically with a full-touch you have to decide if you want speed or accuracy. With a physical keyboard, you get speed (albeit not quite as much speed as the fastest virtual keyboard) AND accuracy. I'll take "and" instead of "or" thanks.
As great and important as typing is, the actual greatest things about having a physical keyboard are the shortcuts. And there are keyboard shortcuts galore both within apps and out. From the homescreen, there are what I refer to as one-button homescreen shortcuts. Basically you can assign a shortcut, action, or speed dial to any of the 26 letters on the keyboard. To activate any of these shortcuts, you simply hold that button down and the phone will do it. For example, you can set the letter S to dial Shelly. So you just hold the letter S and the phone will call Shelly. Nothing else to do, no looking for an app, no opening your contacts, no searching for Shelly, no opening the phone app, no dialing, nothing, just take your phone out, hold one button, and you're talking to Shelly. You can set M to launch your maps app, take out your phone, hold the M button, and it'll launch your maps app. Assign Q to toggle between notifications modes, assign L to lock your device, and so on. Soon, you won't need to do anything more than hold one button to do 99% of the things you need to do with your phone. This is an insanely awesome feature I use every day.
And if that's not enough, if you simply start typing something instead of holding a button, it'll bring up universal search. Right now with 10.3.1 it brings up the assistant, which is kind of a good and bad thing. The good thing is the assistant is much improved over the previous OS's, the bad is that this process does take a few seconds more to show results than simply universal search in the previous OS version. I'm sure this will be further optimized in the future, so it's not something that really worries me much. Whatever you type, it'll actually search for that both locally from everything from your contacts, calendar entries, text messages, emails, pictures, videos, music, everything. It searches your entire phone all at once. Then it also provides options for what they call "extended" search. This is where whatever you typed will be automatically searched within the app/website you select. So let's say you want to find a video on youtube of the nightclub shootout scene in Collateral. You simply take out your phone, and start typing "collateral night club scene" and then touch the icon for SuperTube (the search extension app for Youtube I use for BB10) and it'll launch the app and automatically show you results from that search. With other platforms, you'll have to first find the youtube app icon, then touch the icon, wait for it to load, then touch the search icon, then type what you're searching for, touch search, then see the results. Basically you're cutting down 5 steps to 2 steps to do the same thing. Let's say you and your friends are discussing some movie Emma Watson was in. All you have to do is type out "emma watson" and touch the IMDB icon, and it'll bring up the app automatically showing you the results for Emma Watson. You are discussing how much a coffee machine is, just start typing "coffee machine" and then touch the Amazon icon and it'll launch the app and automatically show you the results for coffee machine. This feature cuts the time it takes for you to find things down by a whole lot. Searching for things on the internet is even easier, just type what you're searching for, and press enter and it'll automatically launch the browser with the search results from google, bing, duck duck go, or whatever search engine you choose to use. It makes launching apps, touching search, then searching feel like such a labor-intensive and archaic way to do things on your phone.
From within apps, keyboard shortcuts depend on the developer of the app, but pretty much in every app, pressing the B button will automatically scroll you to the bottom of the page and T will bring you to the top, while the space bar usually would scroll down one page at a time. One great little keyboard shortcut I have to mention is in the camera app. One thing I HATE about taking photos with full-touch phones is how I have to carefully hold the phone so I can both have a good grip on it but without accidentally touching the screen, and since the shutter button is on the touchscreen and how sensitive capacitive touchscreens are now, I have to keep my thumb pretty far off the screen before taking the photo, then to take it, I have to move my thumb a pretty good distance to try to tap the shutter button. Of course you're doing all of this while trying to hold the phone as still as possible. On the Classic you can skip the whole touchscreen control mess (although it's still there if you wish to use it) and take the photo using the space bar. Since it's a physical button, I can rest my thumb directly on the space bar before taking the photo, and simply press down to take the photo. So much easier to do this without moving the phone. I do wish they will add more keyboard shortcuts to the camera app. It would be amazing to be able to toggle flash modes with the letter F, toggle between the front and rear camera with the letter C, toggle shooting modes with the letter M and so on. Maybe one day they'll listen to me and add this.
There is a lot of debate about whether bringing back the toolbelt would have too many people perceive this new phone as one of the old legacy devices. Well, regardless of public perception, the toolbelt is immensely useful for so many reasons. My personal number one thing is the call end button. You may or may not notice yourself doing this, so do this, watch other people as they end a phone call. You see two types of full-touch users. Those who want to know the call has ended, and these are the people you see take the phone off their face, then they stare at their phone for a good 2-3 seconds while gently trying to touch the call end button. The other are the ones that don't care if the phone call ends or not and leave it to the other party to end the call. These are the people you see who don't do the above described "stare at the phone while touching the screen multiple times" process, and these are the same people you will sometimes walk past and you'll hear a voice coming from their phones going "Hello? Hello?" Well, let me introduce you to a third type of smartphone user, the one with a physical call end button. These are the ones you see taking the phone off their faces while pressing the call end button (without ever looking at their phones) while putting it away. These people are a combination of the two types of full-touch users. They care to know the call has ended, but have no need to stare at the phone for a few seconds to confirm it. When you feel that call end button click down, you know that call is over. No danger of someone overhearing your conversation when you think you've ended the call with someone, no need to stare at your phone like it owes you money after every call to ensure that is true.
The second most important aspect of the toolbelt for me is the trackpad. With the trackpad, there's no longer a need to zoom into desktop-mode websites when you need to click on a small link, and no more frustration trying to place a cursor in the right place while typing or while trying to select text. Here is an example of just how easy it is to copy and paste text using the Classic. Use the trackpad to place the cursor exactly where you want to start selection. Hold the shift key with your left thumb, move the cursor using your right thumb, then when the right text is selected, press the BB key twice to copy. Go to where you want to paste text, move the cursor where you want to paste the text, or select the text field you want to paste into, and simply press the BB key twice again to paste. That's it. Here it is without the descriptions: Highlight, BB key x2, select, BB key x2. Copying and pasting text will take you mere seconds with the Classic, while with every touchscreen device I've used, sometimes I find myself fumbling to get the cursor exactly where I want it for sometimes more than a minute. Sometimes I end up giving up and just selecting more than I need and then deleting the extra afterward when I paste the text. Never again!
Even the call send key has a cool little trick up its sleeve. Legacy BB users might already know this. If you want to call back the last person you spoke with, what do you do? On a full-touch, you open the phone app, go to your phone log, and select the most recent person. On the Classic (and legacy BB devices) you press the call send key twice from the home screen. That's it. Press it once, then press it again. It's so simple, you don't need to move your thumb from one button and it takes literally two seconds and you're calling the last person back.
Closing apps on most full touch devices there's usually a button or some way to minimize an app, but to actually close it, you'll have to like long press on something, then flick the app away or press some icon to close the app or something. Either way, you're moving your thumb some distance between one step to the other. With the Classic, you press the call end key to minimize the app, then you press the back key (right next to the call end key) to close that app. You can literally do this in a second's time without any effort since you literally move your thumb over a centimeter.
Another HUGE aspect to BlackBerry phones is the battery life. With their latest phones the Passport and the Classic, they have started to go with integrated batteries. Gone are the easily swappable batteries. While many legacy users are pretty upset about this, I have to tell you, the battery life on the Classic is awesome. There was a REALLY slow day at work where we literally did absolutely nothing all day. I was on the Classic for the entire work day, so 8 hours of almost continuous usage, screen on the entire time, watching videos, reading websites, sending and receiving messages, on mobile network, LTE on, NFC on, wifi on (but no signal), screen brightness at maximum, basically not one attempt to save the battery, and it lasted the entire work day with battery life to spare after it was done. I can tell you that I was pretty impressed. And while I get the novelty of being able to swap batteries, I'll have to say, I've never had to do that since I got rid of the Bold 9900, which had pretty bad battery life for a BlackBerry. Since the Q10, I've always been able to make it an entire day, or at least long enough to get to a car charger or something. Never had a time where I was with a dead phone while all of my friends with their fancy iphones and androids it's more rare to find a time when their phone has power to actually use. I don't get how you can be happy with a phone that needs to be charged by 1300. Less than halfway through the day and my friends are already looking for a charger. I would have thrown my phone in the garbage after 3 days of that nonsense, I don't care how "cool" it is. No matter how cool the features of your phone are, if you don't have any battery left, it's worthless.
The screen is a 1:1 aspect touchscreen just like the Q10 and Passport. It measures 3.5" diagonally, and has a resolution of 720x720. It isn't some uHD screen or anything crazy like that. The pixel density is really nothing to write home about, and admittedly would have been better if it was 1080x1080, but overall, I can't say that I have noticed any graininess or anything in the screen. Images and videos look crisp and the colors are nice and bright on the screen. So while it'll get scoffed at by the Fandroids out there whose phone reviews sound more like mathematics equations, but in terms of usability it definitely passes. It is a capacitive touchscreen like any modern smartphone, so you have a combination of touch features, such as the BB10's gestures, and the physical controls of the keyboard and toolbelt.
It has an 8MP autofocus camera out back and a 2MP camera in front. The MP count isn't anything special, it's the same as the iPhone and as previous BB10 devices (except the Passport which has a 13MP OIS unit). I've found the picture quality to be fairly decent. Took some lower light photos and while it wouldn't hold a candle to an actual camera (and sorry, even if your phone has a "20MP" camera in it, it also doesn't hold its own with a real camera for so many reasons I will not get into it here), I would say that I do think it is slightly better than the camera in the Q10 and Z10. I'm not sure if it's all in the software or if it actually does have a better camera unit from previous 8MP units in other BB10 phones.
The rest of the specs are nothing to write home about, while being a huge leap for legacy device users, if you're coming from a BB10 device, it's either a small upgrade (from Z3 or Q5), a sidestep (from Q10 or Z10), or a downgrade (from Z30 or Passport). It has identical internal specs as the Q10 and Z10, the Qualcomm MSM8960 Snapdragon S4 Plus 1.5GHz Dual-Core CPU paired with an Adreno 225 GPU powers it. 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of internal flash memory (expandable by up to 128gb of micro-SD memory). While again, Fandroids will scoff at this, and I personally wouldn't mind better specs, but the phone works very well. I don't experience lag or anything while using the Classic day-to-day. So for me, I was fine with how my Q10 worked, so this is like it with a toolbelt, which to me is the upgrade I need to justify the purchase. If they release a Classic II with better specs, know that I'll be first in line to buy it though. Not that I "need" it, but because I want it.
Probably the most important aspect of a smartphone is how well it handles communications. In terms of phone calls, I don't think I need to get too much into it, BlackBerry is always known to provide great call quality and nothing has changed with the Classic. I never have a problem with not hearing someone well or them not hearing me, even with background noise, wind, or anything else. Reception is just as great as it was with the Q10, so it performs exactly as you need it to. I have to admit it's taken a bit of adjusting coming from the Q10 to answer calls with the button rather than with a swipe, but I'm getting the hang of it once again.
Now when it comes to messaging, this is where the glorious Hub comes into play. Yes, it's called the "Hub" because that is where all of the connections come together. It's exactly as it sounds. The Hub consolidates ALL of your messaging and notifications. Once you get used to using the Hub, having to open an app to view your emails, then an app to view your texts, then an app to view your facebook messages, then another app to view your twitter notifications, then yet another app to view your visual voicemail, UGH just describing it is driving me nuts, how do you do without the Hub? Everything is there, forget about needing to install and run facebook messenger, it's in the hub. Your emails, in the hub, your texts, in the hub, notifications, in the hub, etc. And not only can you view things, you respond to it right there. Seriously, get a facebook notification that someone commented on your photo, it's in the hub, you open it, it'll show the picture, the comment, the likes, you read the comments, like them, reply back, all from within the hub. Organize the hub any way you want, you customize what shows up there and at anytime you can filter it by any account, pinch on the screen and it'll only show you unread messages/notifications, set priority contacts or groups and then you can also filter by priority only, or set up different notification profiles for priority contacts. Speaking of notifications, customize those any way you see fit. Select any mp3 or other audio file for any notification, set individual volume levels for each, separate contact notification profiles, set whether it vibrates for each type or contact, how many times it vibrates, whether it will trigger the notification LED, and if so, what color, literally, a different setting for everything. I see my phone flashing a blue LED, I know I have a facebook notification. I see it flashing red I know I have a text, I see it flashing green I know I have a BBM... While it's in the holster, I feel it vibrate twice, I know it's a text, once it's a facebook notification, I hear the James Bond ringtone, I know my friend Andrew is calling, I hear the Mission Impossible theme, it's my friend Carlos, Mario theme it's my friend Jenny, the possibilities and combinations are near endless, customize it to exactly how you like it. Anyway, I can probably write a whole separate review just about the phone's messaging and notifications system, but let's move on. Let's just say that it's awesome. :-)
I have to talk about Blend. Basically, you install the Blend software on your PC, Mac, Android, or iOS device, and depending on what connection setting you have it on, whether by hard USB connection, while it's on the same wifi network, or through mobile network, you can basically use the phone's messaging system without needing to pick up your phone. I'm on a PC, so I have it on my PC. Basically, when I get home from work, I put my phone down on my desk and I get on my PC. Before Blend, when I see that I got a new notification, I have to pick up my phone to check what it was. Not anymore. Now once Blend is connected, when something comes in, I see a small little pop-up on my taskbar showing me a quick preview of the notification. I click on that and through Blend not only can I view the message, but I can reply too. Now, for security reasons, none of this is being saved onto your PC, it's all on your phone and only on your phone. The moment you disconnect your phone from Blend (in my case when I'm outside of my home wifi network's range), all of that information is gone and no longer accessible. But while it's connected, not only can you read and reply to your texts and emails, but you can view the file manager to manage your phone's contents, transfer files into and out of your phone's memory, etc. You also see a summary of your current day's events from your phone's calendar. It's a great program and concept, with a little bit of polishing, it'll be just as amazing of a feature as the Hub. There are some additional features I would like to see added to Blend, and BB has a pretty good history of listening to user complaints/suggestions, so I'm definitely going to bring all of my findings and opinions onto their beta zone discussions.
One major thing we all do a lot on smartphones now is browse the internet. So the web browser is an extremely important element of any modern smartphone. Well, I'm happy to announce that the browser in OS 10.3.1 that comes with the Classic is an excellent one. Not only is it fast and snappy, but it scores and impressive 500 in html5test which scores your browser in its ability to properly load html5 features. In case you're wondering, yes, that's actually a better score than the native browsers in every other major smartphone platform. And here is where the keyboard also shines. With full-touch phones when you want to go to another website, what do you do? You touch the address bar, either it highlights the contents automatically so you can start typing or you have to delete everything first, then you type facebook.com and press enter. Well, on the Classic you COULD do it that way, but here is a much easier and faster way. Hit the U key or the G key on the keyboard, then just start typing the new address, but here's the thing, you don't need to press the period, the browser will automatically convert spaces to periods if it resembles a web address. So from any webpage, you press U, type facebook com and hit enter, and it'll automatically change it to facebook.com and go to it. It might not sound like much, but trust me, it'll shave a good 20-30 seconds every time you want to move from one website to another. If you're really using your phone to look a lot of things up or to do a lot of things on different websites, this makes the experience so much better, faster, and more efficient.
Other keyboard shortcuts are also present that make browsing much easier. Such as P for going back one page, or N to go forward. The standard space bar for page-down, B for scrolling to the bottom and T for the top, and many others. And now with the trackpad, you never have to worry about links being hard to click because they are too small or too close to another link. Using the trackpad will reveal a pointer (that's invisible when you start browsing using the touchscreen) which you can use to click links or select text like you would with a mouse. This opens up the option to just keep "desktop mode" on indefinitely, now using webpages in full desktop mode is easier than ever, so if you choose to go this route, you won't have to worry about being limited to mobile websites. Imagine using remote desktop apps as well with a real mouse pointer... *nerdgasm*
Another feature of BB10 that's pretty important is the ability to run Android apps. This isn't new to the Classic or 10.3.1, but it's definitely much improved. Not only are appstores like Amazon appstore and 1Mobile easily installed on your phone to get a lot of Android apps, you can also sideload (visit crackberry for all necessary guides, it's an easy process that will take you 5 minutes to complete) an app called Snap that will give you access to a lot of other Android apps as well. While it's no replacement for native apps, it does help alleviate the app gap if there are apps important to you. I have Netflix, Google Maps, Yelp, Instagram, Ebay, Shazam, Slickdeals, and perhaps a few other Android apps on my phone and they all run very well. It's not quite like native, but on most cases with 10.3.1, they run very smooth and some ALMOST seem like they were built for the phone. For example, you can share your photos through the Android version of Instagram straight from the phone's share function just like it was a native BB10 app and everything works fine. And the Classic's back button works just like the back button works on an actual Android phone.
Nice additions of 10.3 that previous BB10 OS versions didn't have are the "advanced interactions." These are not new things, I know some or all of these are available with Android as well, but things like lift to wake, flip to mute, keeping the screen on when the phone is held, things like that. Again, nothing really new or revolutionary, but definitely welcome additions to the OS of the phones.
And while Samsung will have you believe that NFC (Near Field Communication) is their invention and that it's only available on their phones, sorry to tell you this, but NFC has been on phones for YEARS. In case you didn't know, NFC is the technology behind those smart tags where you can just tap your phone on them and it'll cause your phone to perform certain things, or now the whole Apple pay thing uses NFC. That whole tap to transfer files and contacts thing that those commercials make appear as new amazing features they came up with, my old Bold 9900 could do that... And so can all new BB10 phones as well. And let's not forget Nokia, they were actually the first to put NFC on mobile phones.
The outside build quality is also good. The frame is stainless steel, like the Q10, but unlike the Q10 they kept it bare to simulate the look of the old Bold 9000 and Bold 9900 phones. I would have preferred they used the glass weave material like with the Q10 and Z30 for the battery cover, but too bad they didn't go that route with the Classic.
So basically, you have to ask yourself if watching movies and playing games is more important to you than using your phone to communicate with others. If you care about watching movies and playing games, or you wish to fit in with the crowd, then another glass slab is your best bet. If having the accuracy of a keyboard and all of the shortcuts that come along with it is the most important thing you consider for your phone, then definitely give the Classic a try.