Track Tech: Verizon Wireless’ Blackberry Classic  (BB 10 OS)

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This article was originally published on MTAF Wheels, which is now dark. Thank you for enjoying it here, through the Live Full Throttle Archives. 

To answer the question I just heard you ask in your head or maybe even out loud… yes, they still make Blackberrys.

The Blackberry Classic is the newest device in the Blackberry family here in the United States and I asked to demo this product specifically because of my own loyalty to the brand. I switched over to Blackberry in 2009 when I selected a Tour from Verizon Wireless. I remember talking to salesperson, asking how much time I had to change my mind because I couldn’t imagine using this big thing instead of my flip phone and actually liking it. 24 hours later however, nothing could come between me and that device! For someone constantly on the go and with an absolutely insane schedule, my favorite part of the phone was the calendar: small font, no crazy colors or ridiculous features… just straight to the point and easy for me to reference/edit with one hand. I know, I know… #nerdalert. It’s okay, I am aware and I own it.

SAM_5152When I was eligible for upgrades and everyone else was going for iPhones or these robotic sounding “droids”, I clung onto my Blackberry, only upgrading to another member of its family when my Tour finally bit the dust, showing me nothing but a scrambled screen that fateful day in 2011. The Blackberry Bold Touch became my second (and current) love. Keeping my phone number and the basics are really all I ever required. Making phone calls, sending text messages, and managing my life via the Blackberry Calendar made life just peachy. I never really understood why all my friends developed this dire need to have Twitter and Facebook on their phones; or why they couldn’t fathom how I had avoided developing this need. Social media was just a collection of websites I visited on my laptop. I downloaded the Facebook and Twitter apps through Blackberry World but I never found them an at-my-fingertips necessity. Oh how times change…

Needless to say, once I started working with Verizon and realizing the value of these “apps” that everyone kept talking about and how streamlined it made me life, my habits, my socializing and heck… my newfound line of work… let’s just say I was drinking the kool-aid before I even realized I was thirsty. I still have my Blackberry Bold – it’s like that perfectly worn-in pair of jeans. You know they might not look that great anymore, and they might not be up to date with the latest style, but they are yours, they are comfortable, and they still get the job done. I wanted you all to have a true sense of my loyalty to the Blackberry brand, before getting into this review, because my commentary might just surprise you.

The Hub & the Homepage

The Blackberry Hub is the heart of the Blackberry 10 OS. It is accessible with a single right swipe from the homepage. It is where you find a single inbox that contains emails from multiple accounts, application notifications, text messages. You can prioritize items by flagging them which makes them quickly accessible by filtering the Hub to “Priority”. I found this useful when traveling to New Orleans. I flagged my emails that contained by airline boarding passes so I could quickly pull them up when reaching the counter to check my bags, the security check point and the departure gate. No need to worry about losing the flimsy boarding pass slip or fuss with scrolling through tons of emails in line. Another nice aspect to the hub was that you could access everything from one place, keep it separated according to account or separate items based on what was Work and what was Personal.

The homepage of the Blackberry Classic held up to 4 “BB Blocks” as I came to call them. They reminded me of the live tiles that the Windows Phone features but they were not quite as accurate with interactions. Sometimes the info displayed was just plain strange – as an example, minimizing a social media app such as Twitter, would leave it quickly accessible on the homepage as a block. It would show the text of a particular tweet and grab my attention, but upon clicking it I was led to my timeline and the featured tweet from the block was nowhere to be found! The first time it happened, I assumed it was a fluke, but after multiple attempts to access different “featured tweets” from the live BB Blocks, I realized this was a game I would not win. This aggravated me to a point that I opted to not even keep the BB blocks up. It felt like I was being teased!

Social Media & Android Apps

I was excited to read that popular Android & social media apps would be available for download on the new Blackberry devices with the 10 OS. I thought ‘hey, maybe this is the step forward the brand needs in order to compete with other OS devices’. I was mistaken. The Amazon App Store was the portal the BB 10 OS uses to allow Android downloads – but the selection is appallingly thin. The most obvious apps: Facebook, Twitter, and Vine were available, but difficult to find even when searching verbatim. There was lots of scrolling. Apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, and PhotoGrid were not even options or accessible in any format. I found all of this very disappointing. The Blackberry Classic from Verizon Wireless advertises that is has “all the Android apps you’ll need for work or play”, but that seems like some pretty audacious marketing.

IMG_20150411_142556Once I downloaded the accessible social media apps, I found that no matter how I set up the notifications in their settings menu, they were rarely updated in real time; Facebook’s app never showed me notifications until I opened up the app and hit refresh internally. The Facebook Messenger app never opened on initial try, showing me a blank screen instead. I had to close out and go back in twice (minimally) for it to show my conversations or new messages. The Vine application never worked for me. I played with settings to no avail – it continued to say it was trying to access my camera and then would state, “Vine is not responding”, prompting me to close or wait. If I closed it, it shut the app down. If I asked to wait, it froze up on me and eventually shut the app down anyway.

As someone who covers the Verizon IndyCar Series for MTAF Wheels, I regularly utilize live tweeting and social media as a marketing and promotional tool for our product. And as someone who was recruited to be on the Social Media team by the Grand Prix of NOLA itself, I found it ironic that I wasn’t interacting with my own phone in a beneficial manner.

Mapping It All Out

Most of us use our phones as a GPS or navigation device nowadays, and the pre-installed map app on the Blackberry Classic was decent for getting from point A to point B, but it didn’t give an ETA which I found quite odd. It also had very small font which seemed dangerous while driving alone and being in an unknown city. Looking down or too closely at a phone for directions, or for any reason is a serious safety issue. It sort of defeats the whole point of voice-guided navigation and distraction free driving. But when the map app is not giving me the accurate names of streets & highways, or is doing so after I’ve passed said turn, I’m not given many other choices. I was thankful to have a co-pilot with me on the majority of my New Orleans trip!

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

The QWERTY keyboard, the battery life and the basic calendar. These are the three things that immediately come to mind when I question what it is I love about my nearly-vintage Blackberry Bold Touch. I write so many emails, reviews and articles directly on my phone so the physical keyboard is a must for me. I love that the Classic retained that. I am also a big fan of the insanely long battery life. Even when I used the BB Classic continually all day, I could plug it in at night with the battery nowhere near empty.

The calendar, as I mentioned earlier, is my favorite part of the phone but is now setup differently on the Classic. There is a lot more blank space, and the agenda view that lets me scroll through my days endlessly (past and present), only goes through one week at a time on the Classic. This is a serious inconvenience to me and I was saddened to see this change to a feature that was so basic but worked so flawlessly for years. I’ve always enjoyed the simply font and set up of Blackberry Calendar, and quite frankly, the fact that it was gone bummed me out and will likely deter me from purchasing a new one.

Security & Corportations

Other than their sponsorship of F1 drivers Nico Rosberg & Lewis Hamilton w Mercedes, Blackberry is losing it's global appeal at a staggering rate.
Other than their sponsorship of F1 drivers Nico Rosberg & Lewis Hamilton w Mercedes, Blackberry is losing it’s global appeal at a staggering rate.

The security features and rugged build of the Blackberry are what made it a staple for so long. Governments and corporations with sensitive information relied on Blackberry to keep them protected, keep their data private and keep the odds of someone breaking the encryption nearly impossible. Corporate contracts are what kept Blackberry alive, but that’s changing. I know individuals who work for well-known internationally-recognized organizations that have trusted and used Blackberry for more than a decade, now switching over to iPhones for their company phones. Whether it has to do with technological advancements, cost, or otherwise… this is the reality and Blackberry’s niche market has been lost. They peaked in December 2012, with 80 million global users. As of November 2014, that number has been cut by more than 50%, to 37 million. If Blackberry wants to survive in the communication jungle, they need to refocus and quite possibly… rethink their entire marketing plan.

I See What You’re Doing, but You Have to Look at the Bigger Picture

Blackberry Classic brags about “the 3.5-inch display, the largest yet on a QWERTY BlackBerry smartphone on Verizon.” That is all well and good, except Blackberry needs to realize that it’s not competing with itself. Consumers don’t want a better version of the last Blackberry. They want a better version of the best smartphone on the market – regardless of brand name.  Until they submit to the fact that they are going to be left behind if they don’t get on board with technology and access to ALL applications that consumers demand (whether work, play, or both more times than not nowadays..) they are going to be left behind. Android and iOS rule the market. And it’s because they compete with one another, and not the old version of themselves.

Word to the wise: In a world where so many of us share ours lives via photographs and picture posts, Blackberry should take the time to upgrade their camera from the simplistic 8MP lens that it’s been using for years now.

I know I may have seemed more harsh in this review than in past posts, and part of that may have been due to high expectations. I truly want Blackberry to “make it”… I am rooting for them louder than, well, maybe anyone! And in my product-demo-blogger opinion, I think Blackberry should re-brand themselves as a smartphone manufacturer, rather than attempting to create an OS that simply cannot compete with “the big two”. If Blackberry would focus on being the manufacturer that could provide consumers with the most diverse array of smart phone options, while operating on an Android OS, then they might have a fighting chance. Be that manufacturer that offers touch screen, tablets, phablets AND smartphones with a full QWERTY keyboard on the front, not tucked underneath or sliding out from the side. Don’t be afraid to increase the size of said product – Apple & Samsung certainly aren’t shy about showing Verizon Wireless what they’ve got, with products like the 6 Plus & the Galaxy Note Edge! So that really just leaves me with one last thing to say:

Your move Blackberry, your move…