The Blackberry 5G is as highly-anticipated as it is mysteriously delayed - the revival of the nostaliga-ridden mobile brand, brought back by security company OnwardMobility, stirs great excitement among phone fans, but it's late.
OnwardMobility's website says "[the company has agreed] to deliver a new 5G BlackBerry Android smartphone with physical keyboard, in the first half of 2021 in North America and Europe."
Since we're decidedly not in the first half of 2021 anymore, this clearly didn't go to plan, and now phone enthusiasts and Blackberry fans are twiddling their thumbs waiting for any real news.
The Blackberry 5G may soon fill the void felt by Android power users who love the idea of physical keyboards for faster typing. It's been far too long since these people have had their fingertips tapping away at the keys of something like the niche and rather average BlackBerry Key2 – launched in 2018 – or even more obscure and middling F(x)tec Pro 1 – launched a year later. You'd be hard-pressed to find a keyboard phone that isn't obsolete today.
Thankfully for folks pining nostalgically for BlackBerry's glory days, we will allegedly see a new BlackBerry phone with 5G connectivity sometime in 2021.
This isn't the first Blackberry revival after the original developer sold their mobile patents away and mostly left smartphones behind in favor of smart car software and security tech. We first saw an attempt made by TCL, which took over the brand's manufacturing in 2016 but dropped the partnership in 2020.
Instead, new mobile company OnwardMobility purchased the brand, and plans to work with Foxconn – maker of most gaming consoles, Nokia and Xiaomi phones, and some old BlackBerry models – to make a new BlackBerry. Here's everything we expect to see from this new phone, in terms of specs and features.
Near the end of July 2021, OnwardMobility opened up a waitlist for updates on the next BlackBerry phone. This suggests the phone is still in development, and we may hear about it soon.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? A 5G phone with a physical keyboard
- When is it out? Originally planned for 'first half of 2021,' but delayed
- How much will it cost? No price leaks yet, but it could be upwards of $800 / £600 / AU$1000
BlackBerry 5G 2021 release date and price
When OnwardMobility licensed the BlackBerry brand, it announced in mid-2020 that it would release a new phone in North American and European markets sometime in the first half of 2021. It may also ship in Asian markets, but likely at a later date.
More recently, OnwardMobility CEO Peter Franklin said in a February interview with Nikkei Asia that 'more details will be announced within the next few months.' At the time, we thought that could mean a product reveal as soon as May 2021.
Clearly that wasn't to be, though, as May sailed past with nary a word from the fruity company. We could hear more information about the phone soon, but with the tech world embroiled in a chipset shortage, we might be waiting quite a while.
In July 2021, OnwardMobility opened up a waitlist for updates about the upcoming 5G BlackBerry phone. That suggested a release is nearing, but the terminology used also suggested that it may be a bit of a longer wait, and time has kept crawling onwards with no update. At least this confirms the phone is still happening, though.
We don't have a price estimate yet. The last BlackBerry flagship with a keyboard, the Key2, cost $649 / £579 (about AU$850), with most of its Android predecessors falling into the same mid-range pricing range. But this is being made by a new company with different goals and target buyers, and Franklin said in the above interview that it would be a 'global flagship device.'
Also, in its press release, the company said the phone would be made 'under strict guidelines to ensure component, device and supply chain integrity.' This would help it to have 'government level security' for 'enterprise professionals.'
Since it's using a different manufacturing process than most phones, the new BlackBerry 5G could be expensive to produce. We've also heard it may have a high-specced camera that could compete with other flagship phones. Put together, we could see a higher-priced BlackBerry than previous models.
News and product details
The new BlackBerry 5G 2021 phone is still flying mostly under the radar. We tend to see leaked renders or hear more rumors with bigger phones, but so far we only know what the company has told us.
We know it will have 5G support and run off of the Android OS, though we don't know if it'll be Android 11 or an earlier release. We also know directly from OnwardMobility that the phone will be targeted towards consumers as well as enterprise markets.
"More than half of the global population own smartphones today, so the market is enormous," OnwardMobility CEO Peter Franklin told us. "What’s been missing, however, is the ultra-secure and productivity-centric smartphone that can address the needs of enterprise users, government users and security-conscious consumers – and that’s the gap we expect to fill."
We also know from the interview with Nikkei Asia that the phone will have a 'top-of-the-line camera,' at least according to OnwardMobility. We'll have to wait and see if the tech lives up to the marketing.
BlackBerry 5G: what we want to see
As we've said, we don't know much about what the phone's design or specs. But based on old BlackBerry models and other keyboard phones of the past, we know what we hope to see that'll make it worth buying.
1. A QWERTY slider keyboard
We know that the Blackberry 5G 2021 will have a physical keyboard, but also that OnwardMobility and Foxconn will design it from scratch, rather than use old BlackBerry designs. Still, we don't expect it to rock the boat too much, so that it will appeal to old BlackBerry fans while grabbing new ones.
Personally, we'd a slide-out design like the one in the BlackBerry Priv, though only if it slides out length-wise instead of at the bottom.
The fixed keyboard model worked great when phones were wider, but now a super-tall, narrow BlackBerry would make the keyboard too cramped to comfortably type upon. And an always-visible keyboard, while appealing to old-school users, will make it feel bulky for new buyers.
A wide, physical QWERTY keyboard that vanishes when you want a traditional touchscreen experience could be exactly what a new BlackBerry needs.
2. At least all-day battery life
Most flagship phones struggle to last all day unless you use them sporadically. For the BlackBerry to stand out as a phone for executives or busy professionals in general, it needs to have a battery that will last you all day even if you're typing away at it all day.
The BlackBerry Key2, despite some faults, regularly lasted 25 to 35 hours in our tests. To hit that level of performance today, the BlackBerry 5G would likely need to emulate the Moto G9 Power, which has a 6,000mAh battery and two days of battery life at a budget price.
3. Keyboard shortcuts
Before the BlackBerry brand went on hiatus, the latest phones had programmable shortcuts where you could open an app with a couple of quick keystrokes. We'd really like to see that return, paired with Google Assistant on Android 11.
You can set up automatic routines keyed to a specific voice command, like turning on your smart home devices or checking your schedule. Now imagine if you could trigger those actions by clicking a specific, memorized shortcut on your BlackBerry keyboard.
We'll also hope that the new BlackBerry 5G has great specs to make sure it can run apps quickly, store all of your files and so on. But it's the keyboard that needs to wow people in order to make it stand out against the great Android phones already available.