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Long Live the QWERTY! Introducing the BlackBerry Classic

BlackBerry is taking a page out of Coca-Cola’s playbook and hoping that the Z10, Z30, Q10, and the Passport will all be remembered as BlackBerry’s New Coke era. The BlackBerry Classic is a return to the old formula, with a rectangular build, a physical keyboard, and the trackpad and row of navigation keys. It’s more or less a revival of the Bold line of phones, and while there are some sacrifices made, they seem to be worth it for BlackBerry Classic’s intended audience.

The phone measures 5.16″ x 2.85″ x 0.40″ (10.2 mm), and features a 3.5″ square touch display. Below that display is a row of navigation keys, including the old trackpad, followed by the trademark BlackBerry backlit 35-key physical keyboard. The BlackBerry Classic will run BlackBerry’s latest OS, 10.3.1, which includes an updated browser, BlackBerry Hub (organizes your disparate communications platforms into one interface), BlackBerry Blend (pushes notifications to your laptop or tablet), and BlackBerry Assistant (BlackBerry’s first crack at a digital assistant, akin to Siri, Cortana, and Google Now). BlackBerry Assistant might be rocky at first—digital assistants and voice recognition is something even those other three haven’t quite gotten right, and BlackBerry is working with much more limited means. Still, the first step is the most important.

The internal specs look grim at first blush, but there’s a method to the madness that deserves to be applauded. We’re looking at a 720 x 720 resolution display with 294 ppi pixel density. Inside, the phone is powered by a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, which is part of the aged Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 SoC, and 2 GB of RAM. The BlackBerry Classic will come with 16 GB of internal storage along with an SD card slot that can support up to 128 GB uSD cards. There’s also an 8 MP rear BSI auto-focus camera and a 2 MP rear camera.

Compared to other flagship phones, that’s not very impressive. But, by being a little thicker than most phones, BlackBerry has been able to pack in a larger 2,515 mAh battery. Because the internals and the display aren’t too demanding, the phone can last for around 22 hours on a single charge with normal use. In the rest of the smartphone world, battery life has been consistently sacrificed for thinness and overpowered specs, so it’s nice to see a phone that takes the opposite tack, especially given how smartphone battery life has been so lamentable that an entire industry has been built around external battery packs.

One nagging problem for BlackBerry has been the lack of app developer support. BlackBerry Classic has an unexpected solution to that problem—in addition to apps found on BlackBerry World, Classic users will be able to access the Amazon App Store, meaning that the Classic is compatible with some Android apps. Of course, the Amazon App Store also has its failings, most notably that it doesn’t include core Google apps, but it’s still a significant shot in the arm for BlackBerry.

With the underpowered specs, there’s obviously going to be a lot you can’t do with the BlackBerry Classic. But, for the most part, it’s just entertainment that will suffer—you won’t want to be playing games or watching movies on the BlackBerry Classic. Seeing as how you probably weren’t going to do that on a 3.5″ screen anyway, that’s probably a sacrifice worth making in order to increase battery life. It’s a work phone, and with BlackBerry’s security and enterprise features, it’s going to be one of the best work phones available. And, while touch keyboards like Swype make you wonder how advantageous a physical keyboard is anymore, there’s always the psychological play for people who just find comfort in physical keys.

The only real problem with the underpowered specs, even with the terrific battery life, is that they’re hard to reconcile with the BlackBerry Classic’s premium price. It’s on Amazon and the BlackBerry Online Store now for $450 unlocked. As of now, the BlackBerry storefront is only listing a GSM version of the phone, so it won’t work with Verizon or Sprint (or any of the smaller carriers Sprint has licensed their network to). Only AT&T has been confirmed as a carrier for the BlackBerry Classic.