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For the 2014 holiday season BlackBerry made available the new BlackBerry Classic alongside the Passport. Formerly dubbed as the ‘Q20’ the Classic is no Passport in terms of construction, rather shoulders a blast from the past with its iconic design – Optical trackpad, full QWERTY keyboard, quality components, refined software, in addition to cutting-edge features such as BlackBerry Blend. Averaging double the battery life, 60% larger screen real estate and 3x the browsing speed as the former Bold, the Classic is the definition of a true flagship device. 

In comparison to the market at 22 hours of trusted battery life, Gorillas Glass 3 enforced face, premium steel trim, cupped into a polished 10.3.1 operating system sporting a dual app storefront, BlackBerry has built the Classic on core fundamentals that power you through your work day. After a month of use here is my rundown of what I’m calling, the Big Fundamental.

The Idea Behind the Classic

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To have released the Classic after launching a device such as the Passport, one might question the idea of this intention. On one side you have those who completely oppose the Classic and believe a blast from the past is why many have removed BlackBerry from their lineup in favor for the more attractive device such as the iPhone or Android. If you’re on the fence about the Classic, chances are you’ve upgraded to the Z or Q series already and are looking to Passport-like innovation in terms of future devices. The perception of going back to a trackpad and call buttons seems archaic especially when it means you’re going to give up screen real estate over it. On the flip, there are those who have been waiting for the Classic to arrive since the EOL announcement of the BlackBerry 7 powered Bold 9900. There’s a high probability and the numbers show a select amount of users have yet to upgrade and have not adopted to BlackBerry 10 just yet. This phone was built just for you. 

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Specifications

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Look and Feel 

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During the holidays I was able to catch up with some friends who I hadn’t seen in some time. Many who at one point were on the BlackBerry platform using either Curves or Bold 99’s. They took quick notice of my larger than former candy bar figured cell phone. I wouldn’t hesitate to hand them the Classic and the first thing they would comment on was on how heavy and durable the device felt. The BlackBerry Classic is larger and wider than any previous Bold series device. The Classic comes in 2nd as the heaviest BlackBerry weighing in at 6.2 ounces next to the 6.9 ounce Passport.  At first glance the Classic looks like any former BlackBerry QWERTY device. Once you hold it in your hand however, you begin to see and feel the quality that has been put into this BlackBerry. Back are the familiar navigation keys – Call, menu and back buttons included. When you find yourself one-handedly operating your device you’re able to quickly navigate through your screen using the reintroduced and redesigned optical trackpad. The device is wrapped in solid machined stainless steel with high end polycarbonate material that is built to withstand heavy use and abuse. On its face is a Gorilla Glass 3 layered 3.5-inch touch screen display with 294 dpi HD offering superior durability against impact and contact. If you don’t plan on upgrading your device for a few years, this device may be for you.
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Trackpad and Toolbelt

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You lobbied, they listened. Above the keyboard sits the recognizable toolbelt, trackpad, navigation keys and all. The minified trackpad and slim toolbelt bring back physical call, back and menu buttons.  The call button allows you to open up the phone app to access your call log, contacts and dial pad. A double tap of the call button still redials. The End button allows you to end a phone call and directs you to the active frames homescreen. Holding the End button for 2 seconds brings up a lock and restart option while 5 seconds will shut the device off. Sadly, there is no double tap on the end button. My two cents is that BlackBerry implement the double tap on the End button as a convenience key. Allow the user to set which application or task to launch. Adding the End button option into the Shortcuts and Speed dial menu option shouldn’t be too difficult. Instead of debating over editing the ‘M’ key to Maps or Music I could reassign the ‘M’ key to launch Maps and a double tap of the End button could bring up my music. I’m currently using the ‘J’ key to launch the jams. Hah. You can access your shortcuts through the Shortcuts and Speed Dial under Settings and view the preassigned shortcuts as well as set your own. The trackpad serves as your mouse and cursor when browsing, composing and navigating through the interface. Best of all, copy and paste is back! While the ability to copy and paste has always been there, it’s not the same without the shift+trackpad shortcut and palpable menu option. The adoption of the swipe-gestured original BB10 interface did not sit well with the market. BlackBerry realized this and brought back the toolbelt for the power user bringing back uniformity and the efficiency you need.

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The Typing Experience 

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Unlike the Passport, the Classic is equipped with the iconic 35 key QWERTY keyboard with a full space bar, delete and enter key that we’ve been accustomed to. The alt and shift keys all function as any previous QWERTY Berry and best of all, the keyboard shortcuts on the Classic are refined to perfection in part to BlackBerry OS 10.3.1. Before I proceed I’d like to affirm and praise BlackBerry for improving the already ‘perfect’ keyboard. The keyboard on the Classic is preeminent to any QWERTY device to date. The physical keyboard is visibly larger than that of the Q10 and the extra space provides for better reach and accuracy. However, that’s not what makes this keyboard the best. What makes this keyboard superior to all is the fret design. The horizontal frets are now thinner than the Q10’s and the secret is the sunken position of the frets. The sunken frets allow the keys to be raised at a higher position allowing effortless keystrokes and ultimate typing control. This in my opinion elevates the typing experience on the Classic far beyond that of any other device with a physical keyboard. Combined with its wider design, softer and less-clanky keys, BlackBerry has produced what is no question the best keyboard on the market.

Camera 

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If you’re coming from an older BlackBerry device other than the Passport or Z30 then this is a significant upgrade. If you’re deciding to switch back to the BlackBerry platform, the Classic’s camera might seem like any other 8mm equipped camera found on some Android or iPhone devices.  The Classic is equipped with an 8 megapixel auto-focus camera on its backside and a 2 megapixel fixed-focus front facing camera used for those ever popular selfies and video chatting ala Skype or BBM Video from Berry to Berry. Its rear camera features 1080p HD video recording while the front facing camera offers recording of 720p HD. Before I add what’s new in terms of software, be pleased to know the auto focus is remarkably improved. Capturing text and up close photos which was impervious on the Q10 is now tenable on the Classic which improves efficiency and boosts work productivity.  To launch the camera you’ll need to use the baked in camera app or use the soft key located at the lower right hand side of the screen but you’ll have several choices on how that picture is snapped. Void is the ability to snap a photo by tapping anywhere on the screen however using the trackpad, either upper or lower rocker volume key or the in-app camera key will capture a photo. Added is the panorama function and a camera timer along with an array of camera settings to toggle through. I’m unsure why BlackBerry was hesitant to use the Passport’s 13 megapixel camera but the 8 megapixel featured camera won’t make you want to hurl it over a bridge due to lack of clarity. It’s capable of getting the job done, especially if you take advantage and master its camera features and settings.

Display

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Unlike the Q10’s AMOLED display, The Classic sports a crisp 720 x 720 LCD touch screen. Its pixel density unit is 294 dpi HD offering great viewing angles and sharpness. Should you need more tweaking, you can toggle through the system settings and adjust the brightness to your preference. The ‘display colour settings’ options allows you to adjust the background of your screen to cool white or warm white.  I’ve lowered my screen display on my Classic’s display screen to about 45% brightness because I find the real bright screen distracting at night. Overall, it’s great to use in the office, classroom, and conference room or outdoors with its vivid 720 x 720 LCD panel display.

Protecting the display is Corning Gorilla Glass 3, a chemically strengthened damage resistant composite. Its material is better able to resist deep scratches that causes glass to break. If you’re one to normally drop your device and hang it around, the Classic’s armor-like shield should hold up fairly well.

Battery Life

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If there’s one feature most cross platform smartphone users miss and appreciate is the astounding battery life their Berry’s once gave them. If you plan on giving the Classic a go there’s a couple of things you’re going to need to know. First, there is no removable battery. You can no longer slide off the back battery cover to access the battery to either swap batteries or perform manual ‘hard-resets’, aka the battery pull. If you need to restart your device you’re going to have to perform a ‘soft-reset’ and either restart your device using the top convenience key, End button or you can also hold both side rocker keys along with the middle convenience key simultaneously to restart the device. By taking this route, it allows BlackBerry to fabricate its devices thinner and also allows the ability to jam a larger battery inside boosting its juice.

Next, the Classic is equipped with a 2515 mAh non-removable Lithium Ion battery. It provides 22 hours of mixed battery life with roughly 17 hours of talk time, 14 hours of video playback and 15 days of standby time. Throughout my time with the Classic I’ve come to average 11 hours of heavy use and actualize full work shifts without needing a charge. This includes heavy BBM and SMS use, hammering out emails and engaging between a handful of social media apps.  All in all, the absence of the non-removable battery doesn’t worry me and the battery life on the device has been exemplary thanks to the refinement in BlackBerry 10.3.1.

BlackBerry 10.3.1

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Out of the box the Classic runs BlackBerry 10.3.1 sustaining the OS and horizontal toolbelt together for ultimate navigation. The software is refined to recognize trackpad scrolling, enhance speed with quick access menu buttons and boost productivity with appropriated shortcuts. Its browser has been tested by official HTML5TEST.com assessments and a dual app storefront opens the gate to hundreds of thousands of relevant apps.

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BlackBerry has put considerable efforts into making BlackBerry Assistant your go-to manager for all. Through voice and text BlackBerry Assistant manages email, contacts, calendar and allows you to browse, update on social networks, make calls and much more. The info icon in the BlackBerry Assistant app will list all of its commands for you to use and take advantage of. Your very own personal assistant is Bluetooth friendly and will assist in hands-free tasks so you’re not distracted while driving.

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Moreover, Classic owners will have access to BlackBerry’s newest software, BlackBerry Blend. In conjunction with your MAC, PC or tablet, Blend pulls all of your messages and content from your smartphone to your computer and tablet securely. BES users can access company data through a work browser without having to key into the company’s network. All Blend users can calendar through the unified calendar system and access files remotely. If you happen to leave your phone behind you can still access your device via Blend and have access to all of your BBM, Email and SMS text messages.  No subscriptions or fees necessary, Blend is free to all Classic, Passport and P’9983 device users. BlackBerry plans to roll out Blend for earlier BlackBerry models in the near future but of as now, compatible device users will have a great experience whether for work or play.

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The App Gap

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The new dual app storefront supplies everything in the BlackBerry World catalog along with the preloaded Amazon app store. Select native apps through BlackBerry World or head to the Amazon app store and available is Netflix, Trivia Crack, Minecraft, Spotify and many other popular apps. You can also sideload Snap and have access to the Google Play store via a third party app but apps that require Google services will not run. The Android runtime has also been updated to 4.3, fluidly running all of your Android ported apps. Those unfamiliar with Android ported apps might not notice a difference between a native app and an Android port. BlackBerry cannot force developers to develop apps for their platform but credit BlackBerry for maximizing its efforts to bridge the pertinent app gap that has unpopularized the platform.

Availability
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Currently, the BlackBerry Classic is only serviceable on GSM networks. Which means the device will function using Wi-Fi or to carriers who are tied to SIM cards. If you’re on Sprint, Verizon or any other CDMA carrier, this device is not available and won’t work unlocked on a CDMA carrier. In my opinion, this is hurting sales and slowing down BlackBerry Classic adoption. Over the holidays several of my buddies were ready to make the switch back to BlackBerry but lack of CDMA availability has prevented them from doing so. Also, the BlackBerry Classic has yet to be carried by any official carrier in the United States.  AT&T has stated they will be selling the Classic and the newly designed Passport but no official word on when users can begin to order the device. Head to their official landing page to receive updates and be the first to know .The good news however, is that if you’re on a GSM carrier you don’t have to wait until your carrier begins to sell the device as you can order the Classic directly off Shop.BlackBerry.com or Amazon without a binding contract. It’s priced at $449.00 off contract and for what the product offers, its’s well worth the investment.

End of the Day

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 Gone are the days of constant battery pulls, exhausting hour glassing and painful internet browsing as the Classic ushers ultimate productivity, smooth navigation, top speed web browsing and extended battery life. The concept behind the Classic is that this no nonsense device will meet the needs of constant moving users who depend on a smartphone to deliver all of the fundamentals needed for success.  At the end of the day the Classic is built on principles of power, reliability and security.  Its fundamentals are speed, adaptation and durability. When tested, the Classic has delivered. Are you ready to upgrade your power?