Review: The BlackBerry Leap tries too hard to be fun

  • Binayak Dasgupta, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jul 07, 2015 08:41 IST

The BlackBerry Leap is a block of solid, chunky plastic with a big screen. It looks undeniably professional, but that screen — nestled behind the all-glass front — wants to be fun. Not work. That is the inescapable reality of BlackBerry’s newest, all-touch, mid-level smartphone: it’s caught between two worlds.

What’s it for?

The Leap appears to be aimed at business users who are used to the widescreens of iPhones and Androids. Security and battery life — apart from the productivity shebang that comes with BlackBerry OS 10 — are the Leap’s chief draw.

Does it do the job?

Yes and no.

The phone has spectacular battery life. There is enough screen real estate to navigate through spreadsheets and presentations (for which BlackBerry bundles apps out of the box). And, once you get used to them, the operating system trades intuitiveness (read: Blackberry Hub) for fancy design. Even the BlackBerry’s on-screen keyboard is so enabling that you run the risk of eliciting the random tl;dr every now and then.

But the software is also where the phone quickly loses the plot. The ecosystem is woefully inadequate despite the Android-ported offerings available via the Amazon app store. And within a week of usage, chinks in the phone’s behaviour started becoming more and more common.

So what is it good at?

Being reliable and, rather inexplicably, feeling professional. Despite its at-times patchy behaviour, the phone lasts. The 2GB memory is enough for most websites to parse, even in the rather esoteric BlackBerry browser that poses a significant challenge if you are coming from an Android or iOS ecosystem.

But the quaint feel of the OS makes it easier to get work done. For instance, you are never more than two swipes away from your most important notifications. Reading and replying to texts and e-mail messages is a breeze, although managing multiple notifications from instant-messaging applications can be a bit of a pain; especially since the OS is at-times arbitrary in prioritising them.

Taking photos, uncharacteristically for a BlackBerry, was fairly fun. The phone appears to have a slightly wider aperture, giving it a larger depth to focus from.

Audio quality through the earphones was also an unexpected surprise. It is almost as if BlackBerry made the phone for the more indulgent workers.

Where does it fall short?

As it is, the phone feels slightly larger for most business use case scenarios. In any case where such a screen would be handy, a user will most likely have access to a larger device such as a laptop. Mobility, even for a business device, is a virtue that should seldom be messed with.

For the Leap, my objections mostly had to do with the way certain design choices BlackBerry made. Unlocking, for example, would require you to press a button up top and follow it by an upward swipe from the bottom of the screen — an action that would require both hands.

And even the lock screen would at times become unresponsive, taking some time to fire the app that I would select from the hub.

The display could have been vastly better. With 1,280x720 dots spread across the 5 inch IPS LCD screen, the pixel density comes to a mere in 293ppi. And when you raise the brightness, pixels, even on a regular window is hard to miss. The Leap does, however, sport one of the brightest screens I have seen in a while with good contrast levels. The colour temperature, however, was noticeably cooler than usual. Things had a slightly bluish tint.

Should you buy it?

At almost Rs 21,000, it’s best you let your office buy this one for you. The phone is a workhorse, undoubtedly, but has a fair number of shortcomings — the biggest of them all being the ecosystem. The Leap does justice to BlackBerry’s productivity pedigree. It feels more like a tool than a toy. And those things make it an excellent choice for a work phone, that need not be your primary device.

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