The BlackBerry Passport impressed us with its zippy navigation, but the Classic leaves us wanting more. It’s just not as well equipped, which isn’t surprising given the difference in price (and size). Here, you’ll find a dual-core 1.5 GHz Snapdragon processor with an Adreno 225 GPU and 2 GB RAM—perfectly solid specs for common tasks like reading emails and checking Facebook.
Things do get bogged down in spots when navigating the OS, although it’s mostly just an annoyance—nothing that’ll stymie your productivity to serious degree. Powering the phone is a slow process, as well, and third-party apps are very hit or miss on performance, which probably has more to do with the lack of optimization than purely the hardware itself. We’ll cover that more in the software section below.
The BlackBerry Classic is designed for business warriors, and as such, it’ll give you a solidly hearty dose of battery life. The non-removable 2515mAh battery found within is rated for up to 22 hours of mixed use, says BlackBerry, and in our everyday testing, we found that it’d last through a full day of writing emails, texting, reading websites, occasional calls, and streaming a little audio—and still have a 30-40% charge remaining, on average.
While it’s not enough to give you two full days of use, at least you don’t have to scramble for the charger at 9 a.m. if you forget to plug it in one night. It’ll give you a solid day and a half of use, although heavier users who spend their days pounding out sprawling emails or taking conference calls will probably need to stick with the overnight charging cycle.
Software remains BlackBerry’s biggest deficiency, and it’s what holds the Classic back from being a good everyday device. The BlackBerry 10 operating system is still an improvement over its predecessors, but it’s still placed in the awkward position of trying to juggle both touch and button interactions all in one. It’s better, for sure, but still confusing in spots.
The BlackBerry Hub is the star of the show, and for something so simple and unflashy in design, it’s a pretty helpful tool. Essentially, it’s the home for all of your correspondence—emails, text messages, notes from Facebook and LinkedIn, and app notifications—so you can pull up one screen and have an on-the-fly to-do list to tackle. Swiping from the left side of the screen brings it up, and it’s a handy first destination to hit when pulling out your device.
The main interface features a 5×3 app grid design, and you can drag and drop apps and sort them into folders to create your ideal lineup. The home screen depicts open apps as small windows, and you can choose whether to keep an empty desktop when everything’s closed or just display the first page of apps. As for navigation, often you’ll have options to use touch buttons, physical buttons below, or even keyboard commands to get around. That can make things more cluttered in moments, but it offers a lot of flexibility for BlackBerry vets and newcomers alike.
BlackBerry Assistant is a recent addition to BB10, and it’s the company’s late-coming Siri or Cortana replacement. It actually blends voice interactions and quick-access touch buttons, which show recent or common requests, otherwise you can speak out what you need: a web search, a blank email or text message to compose, directions or sports scores, and quite a bit more. In our testing, it worked reliably, but it doesn’t yet have quite the same conversational appeal as Siri.
Also worth noting is BlackBerry Blend, a service that lets you install an app on your PC or Mac, as well as iOS or Android device, and access your BlackBerry Classic’s features and files. You can see SMS and BBM messages, view the latest Hub activity, and access photos and documents on your phone. It’s a very useful tool that makes it easy to have your BlackBerry as a central communications hub amidst your other devices.
As for third-party apps on the BlackBerry Classic itself, good luck finding what you’re used to from other platforms. BlackBerry World is the company’s own app marketplace, and it’s pretty barren…so Amazon’s Appstore is also provided, which has versions of Android apps that’ll (maybe) run on your BlackBerry. Between the two, however, there are a ton of holes. You won’t find Netflix, Hulu Plus, or Instagram in either; no Snapchat or Slack either. Google services, like Maps or Drive? Not in app form. Expectedly, most of the bigger and better mobile games today aren’t on BlackBerry, either.
And apps have a tendency to be unpredictable in BlackBerry 10. In large part, that’s because a lot of them are Android apps that aren’t optimized for the OS or display, so they act funny—or run very slowly. Asphalt 8: Airborne thought I was using an Android phone with a controller attachment, so it wasn’t playable; Angry Birds Go also wouldn’t get past the tutorial due to control mishaps. Other games had graphics or control issues, or took a couple minutes to load. Not only is the app ecosystem barren, but it’s also unrefined.
Power users can download a third-party store like Snap, which pulls apps from Google Play, and grab most of those missing apps—although they still won’t be optimized for BlackBerry. But the average user or employee with an enterprise device isn’t likely to sideload an app onto a secure device, thus circumventing the normal app installation process, to then download more software not designed for the device. Simply put, if you’re used to the bustling app stores of iOS or Android devices—and not willing to embrace unofficial workarounds—you may feel lost here. The app situation is even worse than on Windows Phone.
If you’re eager to take square snapshots with your keyboard phone, the BlackBerry Classic is solidly equipped with an 8-megapixel back camera. The results aren’t mind-blowing in their detail or coloring, but for a phone that’s probably not going to be used heavily as a camera by most users, it’s more than adequate. Low-light photos struggle, and the shutter can be very slow, however. You can shoot 1080p video at 30fps, as well. And the front 2-megapixel shooter is fine for video conferencing and/or business selfies.
You don’t have to take square photos, by the way; 4:3 and 16:9 ratio options are also available, along with panorama, burst shots, and time shift modes—the last of those lets you merge together multiple shots in quick succession to create the best result. The camera app also has an HDR setting, flash options, and various scene selections to best capture shots in different scenarios. All told, it’s a decently capable option.