- Improved OS
- Surprising cameras
- Decent battery life
- Middling design
- Average screen
- No NFC
Blackberry Leap review: With leaks of the forthcoming Android-powered BlackBerry Venice slider, it looks as though the sun is setting on BBOS 10 and the BlackBerry Leap may be the last all-touch device to run it natively.
There’s something about the BlackBerry Leap that feels decidedly 80s, right down to the font detailing the camera’s megapixel count on the back. Perhaps the design team are in cahoots with the same creatives who graced the Xbox One with its boxy form, but whatever the reasoning that lead to the aesthetics of the Leap, it might not suit everyone as it feels decidedly against the grain.
The display is surrounded by a glossy black bezel (irrespective of which colourway you pick), whilst the sides and back of the body are comprised of a distinctive dot-textured rubberised plastic that offers a comfortable, secure feel in the hand.
The standout qualities of the Leap’s design are its angles. Aside from some slight rounding, the Leap packs a slab-sided design unlike the majority of the smartphone space right now. Like we said, you’ll either love it or hate it, but we tip our hats to BlackBerry for taking a different tact with the Leap.
The right side features hardware keys for volume and profile switching, the power/sleep/wake key is centrally positioned on top and left side of the phone’s body packs a flap for the SIM and microSD card, Sony-style – which implies that the battery is a non-removable offering.
Screen: Capable and colourful
The displays used by the most recent BlackBerrys have all been rather impressive. The Passport’s distinctive 1440x1440 resolution panel, although unusual with its 1:1 aspect ratio, packed excellent detail, legibility and colour reproduction.
The more affordable nature of the Leap means that it doesn’t hold quite the same level of visual fidelity or punch, but still serves its purpose well – with nice colours and good overall brightness.
The 5-inch 720p HD LCD panel means you can fit a lot of clearly legible content on-screen, but makes some of BBOS 10’s broad, swiping gestures a little hard to pull off one-handed.
OS: Augmented reality
For all the flak that BlackBerry OS 10 has received since its original unveiling, it’s grown a heck of a lot and the Leap, despite its more affordable nature, doesn’t really lose out on any of the operating system’s standout experiences.
BlackBerry Hub is as ever a great, centralised place to manage emails, social interactions and other notifications with a simple swipe from the primary home screen. BlackBerry Blend is the company’s take on a mobile desktop experience – to manage content with a full-fledged mouse, keyboard and display and it works well too.
BlackBerry App World is still a mixed and muddled affair, but with support for the Amazon App Store, there’s now a significantly broader selection of compatible apps at user’s fingertips – apps which feel more at home on the Leap than any of BlackBerry’s square-screened smartphones.
The Leap does also have its own take on Siri/Google Now with BlackBerry Assistant and even creative tools like Story Maker to turn your media into fun, creative little productions; which might surprise those who see the company’s hardware as business tools and nothing more.
Performance: This isn’t an Android phone
As well as being what is most likely the last BBOS 10-powered all-touchscreen ‘Berry, the ‘you are a startup’ advertising slogan alludes to the device’s more affordable nature – but most users won’t feel short changed by the performance on offer.
The Leap errs on the side of modesty with its internals, mirroring the QWERTY-laden BlackBerry Classic with a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus and 2GB of RAM. If this were an Android device, we’d laugh and make jokes about being confused as to what year this is, but for the type of device the Leap is, along with the fact that BBOS 10 isn’t Android, performance is actually perfectly fine.
Even the animations brought on by dragging and swiping around the UI remain smooth for the most part and the Leap doesn’t suffer too much, even when you have multiple applications running in the background.
If the fairly frugal 16GB of internal storage isn’t enough for your needs, the microSD slot under the flap on the phone’s side is built to accept sizeable expansion by up to an additional 128GB and the aforementioned 2800mAh non-replaceable battery is good for up to a day and a half between charges based on our usage, or 25 hours of ‘mixed use’ based on BlackBerry’s own estimations.
The embellishments that set the pricier Passport apart from this more affordable ‘Berry most notably take manifest in things like SlimPort support for connecting an external display via HDMI, NFC and USB On-The-Go functionality, none of which are particularly detrimental to the Leap’s chances of success. Not to mention 4G LTE is still on the table.
Camera: Surprisingly smart
Selfie-fans or those interested in using the Leap for video calling will appreciate the phone’s 2-megapixel front-facer, not to mention the Time Shift mode that provides hours (OK, maybe just minutes) of entertainment, but for the most part the imaging experience on this thing is pretty good.
In predictable naturally lit conditions shots can look downright appealing and provided your scenes our still enough, the HDR-mode can be quite effective. Macros too show the 8-megapixel rear snapper in a good way, however artificial lighting or poorly lit environments certainly show the camera’s cracks.
Add to this the phone’s ability to shoot in 720p HD at 60 fps or Full HD and whilst the cameras on the Leap don’t win any prizes, they should be more than suitable for your average smartphone photography needs.
Verdict: A Leap of faith
We’ve reached the final leg of the Leap’s review with an air of surprise surrounding us. On paper the BlackBerry Leap appears to be a little unimaginative from a design perspective, conservative from a hardware perspective and out of touch with regards to its software, but pair all these off-kilter elements together and miraculously they make a respectable, solid smartphone overall.
Throw in some decent cameras (for the price), a few unique features such as BlackBerry Hub and Blend along with 4G support all for a price tag of just £175 and for certain people there’s a solid purchase waiting to be made here.
There’s a huge element of uncertainty right now, with the odd Android/BlackBerry relationship continuing to grow and change before our eyes, but for what it is, the BlackBerry Leap has the right stuff for the right user, right now.
- 720p HD (1280x720)
- 170 grams
- BlackBerry OS 10.3
- 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB. Expandable via microSD up to 128GB
- BlackBerry Blend, Amazon App Store, Time Shift camera mode