The BlackBerry Leap is intended as a mid-range smartphone, for young executives who are just beginning to build their careers (and their BlackBerry eco-system). It is also the kind of BlackBerry that doesn’t have a physical keyboard, which has proven to be the less popular of the two BlackBerry styles.
The front display of the BlackBerry Leap makes it look like just about any other smartphone in the market. It’s a big glass rectangle with a speaker and camera at the top, and a BlackBerry logo just below the display. There is a distinct lack of BlackBerry’s iconic keyboard, which would count against the final score; at least in the eyes of long time BlackBerry users. There is a reason some people still use BlackBerry smartphones.
The back has a rubberised texture that makes holding the phone extremely comfortable. It isn’t like plastic or metal that both carry their own problems when being held for long periods; and the Leap still feels good after texting and messaging for an extended time. The material also makes for an excellent grip, which means that there is little risk that the Leap will unintentionally leave its owner’s hands.
BlackBerry has situated the rear 8MP camera in the top left corner of the phone, a position that takes a lot of getting used to if you’re used to the current trend of centrally located camera sensors. The location isn’t a problem when shooting in portrait mode, but it tends to be a little fiddly when used in landscape. It is simply that the camera is right where I would usually put a finger to hold the device steady, and that took some adjusting.
There isn’t much else to the design, aside from the location of the charging port on the bottom, the volume controls on the right side, and the power button at the top. BlackBerry has chosen to put an additional feature to the mute button that sits in between the volume controls: it is now also capable of activating the BlackBerry Assistant (which is BlackBerry’s answer to Siri or Cortana). It was a pity that the power button wasn’t moved to this cluster of controls or on the other side, because putting it at the top makes it rather uncomfortable to reach on a 5-inch display – it’s probably there to make sure you use its swipe gestures.
The specifications of the BlackBerry Leap are hardly anything to shout about, and that has been one of the arguments about devices that come from the company. BlackBerry has traditionally ignored the specification creep that has gone into full blown warfare as Android manufacturers attempting to differentiate themselves from one another.
Interestingly, the Qualcomm 8960, better known as the Snapdragon S4 Plus, is the same as the processor in the BlackBerry Classic. In fact, the internals are largely the same; aside from the lack of NFC. BlackBerry is not holding back anything despite making this a lower cost companion to the Classic.
With that being said, the hardware works fine for the intended audience; and hardly impacts the performance of the device. The point to remember is that this is for productivity, and not media consumption. Not to say that it doesn’t work for entertainment options, the hardware is adequate for playing movies and listening to music. The only shortcoming in this case would be the lack of NFC chip, though actual usage of that feature in day-to-day use is still sparse.
BlackBerry 10.3.1 runs at the heart of the Leap, and offers an experience similar to those on the other keyboard-less BlackBerry devices like the Z10 and Z30. There is something to be said about being in charge of both the OS and hardware, as BlackBerry has managed to keep the experience consistent across devices. That being said, it is definitely not as fun as running a BlackBerry with a keyboard.
Those who have used the BlackBerry Hub will know that its efficiency is unrivalled. Being able to access every notification, chat message, or social media update from this screen is amazing. This is especially true for people who receive a lot of emails and messages throughout the day. It is, after all, BlackBerry at its best. This may be the best option for the intended audience of young executives who need to sift through email and keep up to date with clients and contacts.
There was, however, a small bug that caused the display to flicker momentarily when viewing a text message for the first time. It doesn’t even happen all the time, but when there is only one new text from a particular contact. In other words, it is extremely corner case and doesn’t affect regular use.
On the other hand, BlackBerry Assistant feels rather bland compared to its more loquacious competitors. It is BlackBerry playing catch up, and is not quite as polished as Siri or Cortana. However, considering that all AI assistants at this point in time are novelties to play with for a few hours, this isn’t so bad. Those who want to use BB Assistant should be prepared for it to consistently mis-interpret our local accents.
On the other hand, BlackBerry Blend, the intended bridge between a BlackBerry device and a desktop, is a far more useful application. Being able to retrieve files from a phone without the use of the cloud or cables is a particularly useful feature, although it is admittedly not a new feature – it was introduced last year alongside the BlackBerry Passport.
As far as the interface goes, there is a lot of adjusting to do if you are switching over from literally any other operating system. The BB10 OS user interface is so different that it takes a while to figure out how anything works. Fortunately, the phone is quick and responsive, leaving users the ability to swipe around and get used to the new commands without having to also deal with input lag. Considering that the Leap is aimed that new users, this is possibly a good thing.
BlackBerry promises at least 25 hours of battery life on the Leap, and it is safe to say that it lives up to this promise. The smartphone easily lasted over a day between recharging; this actually means a whole 24-hour cycle and not the 8-hour work day that many manufacturers are pushing as all day battery life.
There 2,800mAh battery in the BlackBerry Leap, from my own experience, managed to last at least 30 hours between recharging. Of course, I set the screen brightness to 50-percent and the phone to vibrate only. Still, it managed to last with a constant stream of messages and social media updates; and even the occasional call.
We live in a time when 720p displays are considered ordinary. Still, the display on the BlackBerry Leap is reasonably sharp. It doesn’t oversaturate colours, which means that it colours may look a little dull to some users. What it does have, however, is a slightly warm tinge to the whites. This causes some colours to look somewhat more yellow than they should be.
BlackBerry allows the warmth of the display to be adjusted from the options menu, although the warmer bias means that colours retain the yellowish tinge for quite a bit of the way down the slider. All this means that there will need to be a little more tweaking to get the settings just right, but it can be done.
Sound quality from the BlackBerry Leap is rather average. That being said, the speaker – located at the bottom left side at the back of the phone – has a substantial size, and can be rather loud if it needs to be. BlackBerry have also included a subtle ridge next to the speaker to ensure that it doesn’t get muffled when placed on a table – quite a nice touch.
As far as cameras go, BlackBerry has never placed too much emphasis on taking amazing pictures. That is understandable as its devices are meant for communication and productivity. This also accurately explains the 8MP camera on the BlackBerry Leap and its lacklustre app.
The controls are extremely basic, allowing the user only a token number of adjustments to be made. There are a few image capture modes, a toggle for HDR, flash, image ratio, timer, and scene selection. As someone coming from the excellent Lumia Camera app, this feels extremely stripped down.
As for image quality, it isn’t too bad. The sensor takes its time to focus in low light conditions, and even longer when the subject moves too much for its liking. Which makes it slow to get started taking pictures. This isn’t the kind of camera to take on family vacations and capture memories.
Fortunately, the sensor is good at capturing image detail. There is only minor blurring around the edges of objects, and our test subject came out reasonably well. Details were captured adequately, although the colours became a little saturated. The model in our sample images is a deeper red that what appears in the pictures, and the colour difference is particularly noticeable on the arm in the fore ground.
It is not easy to compare a BlackBerry device to something that isn’t a BlackBerry. It would be like attempting to compare Android and iOS, and that choice really boils down to which operating system an individual prefers.
For that reason, let’s focus on the only other affordable BB10 device, the BlackBerry Classic. A device that BlackBerry themselves says is a throwback to the classic look and feel of owning a BlackBerry. In terms of specifications, the two devices are almost identical. They share the same processor, RAM, eMMC storage, and even camera. The main difference is the display…and the presence of a keyboard. It is also surprisingly a lot more expensive than the Leap – the Classic is priced at RM1,588 at launch, while the Leap is going for RM1,089.
From here, it is another matter of preference. For me, a BlackBerry without a physical keyboard tries too hard to compete with Android devices. It also provides an incomplete BlackBerry experience; which can only come with the traditional QWERTY keyboard attached to a screen.
That being said, the BlackBerry Leap is the cheaper option between the two; and is much better for media consumption when not at work.
The BlackBerry Leap is not a bad phone. In fact, it is an extremely decent phone for its price and intended use. It is also a solid BlackBerry device, which would be great for bringing in new users to the platform if not for one issue: it is currently competing with a slew of midrange Android devices coming out of China. Sure, BlackBerry is the more secure platform for enterprise use; but that is not going to convince regular consumers.
A BlackBerry with a keyboard is unique, and provides a completely different experience from any other device. That is the charm of owning a BlackBerry. A BlackBerry without a keyboard is just another smartphone in a market that is swimming with smartphones. With that being said, this is more than an adequate choice if you are in the market for a starter BlackBerry device; think of it as a cheaper BlackBerry Classic.
That being said, I would still rather have the keyboard.