BlackBerry Classic: Final nail in the coffin or sign of potential renaissance?

BlackBerry Classic review: display and keyboard

So there's a keyboard. And on a relatively low-slung smartphone, that means you lost some screen real-estate. As with much that is interesting about the BlackBerry Classic, this will either repel or intrigue you.

The Classic has a 3.5in display, but it is a screen unlike any other (apart from the BlackBerry Passport). That is because - like BlackBerry's phablet with keyboard - the Classic's display has a 1:1 aspect ratio. That's right, it is perfectly square. Next to virtually every other display on every other smartphone that may seem like a bad thing. But the BlackBerry Classic is unashamedly a productivity tool. Indeed, its main function is as an email and messenger tool.

Thus that square screen makes sense. Once you get over the initial surprise at seeing something different this is great for some things, and poor for others. And those things give us a clue into the purpose of this device.

That squre screen is brilliant for reading- and responding to email, pretty good for browsing websites. Because it isn't as big as is the Passport the Classic's screen is not as good for reading and editing spreadsheets, but it offers a passable experience. Just don't watch movies, play games, or look at photos. Not if you have an aversion to seeing two thirds of the screen taken up by black borders, anyway. In terms of consumer entertainment we live in a widescreen world.

BlackBerry Classic

The display isn't as high-end as is the Passport's, either. A resolution of 720 x 720 pixels offers a now-upper-middle-class pixel density of 294 ppi. I couldn't honestly say that I found the sharpness to be lacking when using the Passport, in part perhaps because I wasn't going to watch video or look at photos anyway. The shape of the display somewhat precludes that.

Colours are plenty strong enough without being over powering, and software looks bright and clear. We should also point out that the BlackBerry Classic has a touchscreen. BlackBerry mavens may prefer to use the hardware controls offered, but you can swipe around BlackBerry 10 without having recourse to the keyboard. There is also a trackpad, should you desire it.

Ah, the keyboard. Since the iPhone appeared in 2007 the very idea of a hardware keyboard on your smartphone has seemed passe. Really, who needs one? But I personally praise BlackBerry for returning to its strengths: it may be that very few people want a keyboard on their phone, but those that do will want the BlackBerry Classic.

And it is a good keyboard. The keys are aligned in four rows, with a thin silver line inbetween each. The keys are each textured in such a way that very quickly you can type without looking. To the uninitiated BlackBerry typist having to hit Alt in order to type numbers and symbols is a pain, but a pain that you quickly get over. The keys give pleasant and useful feedback, and feel robust enough to last.

BlackBerry Classic review: specs and performance

Let's talk numbers. The Classic is built around a dual-core chip. A Qualcomm MSM 8960 running at 1.5GHz. This feels relatively underpowered in a quad-core world, but it is paired with a healthy 2 GB RAM. And we can't honestly say that the BlackBerry Classic is a slow or underpowered smartphone. Far from it. In use the Classic feels responsive and zippy. We wouldn't rely on it to play powerful games, but that is not why you would purchase a BlackBerry.

We tend to take synthetic benchmarks with a synthetic pinch of salt, but it is nice when they back up our user experience. That wasn't really the case here, as the BlackBerry Classic turned in a series of flat performances. Running GeekBench 3 on the Classic straight out of the box we found a single core average score of exactly 500, and a multicore score of 928. To put that in context, the Moto E 4G gets around 450 and around 600, so the Classic out powers one of the better budget phones. (The Moto G has a much worse single core score, and a much better dual-core.) But it is hardly stirring stuff.

Perhaps the BlackBerry 10 software is well coded and mitigates for this low power. The BlackBerry Classic is not a power rig to take on the flagship Androids and iPhones, but it is perfectly well specced as a communiations device. And the performance feels okay for the price.

We also ran the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark to test Javascript performance and general responsiveness, and again found a disappointingly poor result. In this case an average score of 2638ms. In this test a lower number is better, and we have only ever tested a handful of devices with slower results. In truth, web browsing does occasionally feel a little tardy on the BlackBerry Classic. But, again, we can't honestly say we thought it was this bad.

(Incidentally, we couldn't get our usual graphics benchmark to run. There is nothing sinister in this although with the Classic's spec we wouldn't expect it to be a great gaming device. Probably just as well given the display.)

Overall then: could do better. But don't think that the BlackBerry Classic is an iredeemably underpowered device. It isn't.

Next section: BlackBerry Classic review - connectivity and storage