Hands on: BlackBerry 2017 review

A real BlackBerry running Android - physical keyboard included

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

The new BlackBerry for 2017 is so new that TCL hasn't finished with the design or specs, but what we've seen gives us the best of familiar hardware and some of the newest Android software.

For

  • Tactile keyboard feels good
  • Android 7.0 Nougat is here
  • Strong enterprise software

Against

  • Does it still have an audience?
  • A very early prototype

A brand new BlackBerry is coming in 2017, and it has the physical keyboard that’s forever been missing from your modern day Android phone.

Unveiled at CES 2017, this still unnamed BlackBerry phone has been dubbed the ‘BlackBerry Mercury’ by the internet, but not by the new bosses at TCL and what’s left of BlackBerry.

The phone's official name and specs will come at MWC 2017. What we know right now is that it runs familiar Android software, and has the tactile key feedback many still crave.

BlackBerry and TCL are teaming up to sell to enterprise and governments that require end-to-end security and still like a sturdy keyboard - so we took some time to run the rule over the new handset.

The tactile keyboard you’ve wanted

The BlackBerry 2017 is a blast from the past thanks to its physical keyboard. It combines what we liked about the BlackBerry Classic hardware with the BlackBerry DTEK50 software.

The familiar QWERTY keys are here with the same quality feedback that you just can't get with a touchscreen, and so is the ability to scroll through pages by lightly gliding your fingers over the keys - a feature first seen in phones like the BlackBerry Passport. It’s like a giant trackpad.

New to this BlackBerry is a fingerprint sensor, and while its biometric features weren’t functional in our early tests, it’s neatly tucked into the keyboard’s space bar. It feels almost as if it isn’t there.

Non-Blackberry Android users may mistake the space bar/fingerprint sensor combo for the home button (since it's way at the bottom), but the real home button is above the physical keyboard along with capacitive soft keys.

Android 7.0 Nougat to the rescue

The keyboard design might feel retro, but the software is futuristic thanks to the fact that it's running Android 7.0 Nougat

Instead of bloatware or menu changes, this new BlackBerry simply sticks to stock Android, and TCL and BlackBerry were pretty adamant about keeping it that way. 

The real selling point here ( besides the familiarity of the Google Play Store and its ridiculously massive two million apps) is the highly secure encryption that’s good enough for world-leading governments.

While newer enterprise platforms like Samsung Knox and iOS 10 have been courting the same customers, this is one area in which BlackBerry can make a comeback. It's a meaningful audience that buys phones in bulk. 

Early verdict

BlackBerry is making a comeback – but we don’t know much about the final design of the new phone, including its name.

BlackBerry Mercury is a moniker created by the internet, insists TCL reps.

How much is costs and how it performs in the real world are going to be two sticking points that long-fled former BlackBerry users are going to ponder later this year.

Android Nougat is a big selling point. A physical keyboard is a big selling point. Finally having them both in one phone the carries the BlackBerry name makes this the dark horse phone of 2017.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Swider is TechRadar's gadget-savvy, globe-trotting mobile editor in Los Angeles. As an expert in iOS and Android, he owns over 120 phones that someone keeps setting the alarms on – simultaneously. He received his journalism degree from Penn State University and is never seen without his TechRadar headphones.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.

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