Hands On with TCL's New BlackBerry Smartphone
TCL BlackBerry "Mercury"
TCL today showed off a unique BlackBerry smartphone that includes both a physical QWERTY keyboard and a touch screen. This large slab is meant to help reinvigorate sales of BlackBerry smartphones to businesses. Here is a quick look at the latest from TCL.
TCL this week revealed its first smartphone made from the ground up to carry the BlackBerry brand. It's a play for BlackBerry enthusiasts who may be longing for a physical QWERTY keyboard. This phone has no name and, for all intents and purposes, no specs. Other than what we could glean by looking at the phone in person, we don't know anything about this device, and that's the way TCL wants it to be for now.
The device is gigantic. It's thick, heavy, and really long in order to accommodate both the keyboard and a large touch display. Unlike the DTEK50 and DTEK60, which were rehashed versions of existing Alcatel phones, the new BlackBerry fully adopts BlackBerry's known design language. That means it has a QWERTY keyboard with scalloped keys that are separated by chrome-colored frets. The phone has a metal frame and a dimpled, soft-touch plastic rear panel. The silver and black coloring is fairly typical for a business phone.
The top is perfectly flat, but the size and bottom edges are rounded gently to make the phone more comfortable in your hand. It's a bit oblong and the thickness is somewhat off-putting to me. The phone isn't the heaviest I've ever held, but it's not light either. I imagine this phone will be uncomfortable in pants pockets. The materials are good, though. TCL says the hardware is near final, so what we saw is a good representation of what the finished product will be like.
The screen is nice and big and has good resolution. TCL didn't say, but if I had to guess I'd say the screen is 5.0 inches and has full HD resolution at the least. The screen of the pre-production unit we looked was sharp and bright. A huge bezel above the screen holds the large front-facing camera module, a big sensor module, and drilled holes for the earpiece speaker. TCL sandwiched three capacitive buttons (back, home, app-switcher) in between the screen and the keyboard. This is puzzling to me. With the full keyboard right there it makes no sense to waste space on these buttons.
The keyboard is decent, but feels squished to me. It is pushed very far down, and since the phone is so long you have to work extra hard to balance the phone while typing. I imagine hand fatigue setting in at some point. The keys have a nice, angled shape to help make them easier to tell apart. It's a four-row keyboard complete with delete, return, and shift buttons, as well as dedicated keys for voice-dictation and emoji.
Like the BlackBerry Priv, the keyboard of this new phone is touch sensitive and can be used to move through the menu and push the cursor around. Just swipe your thumb across the keys. Last, the space bar includes a fingerprint reader for biometric security. Neat!
A single button adorns the left edge of the phone. It is small and perched near the top. This button is user-programmable. The action and feedback is good. The screen lock button and volume toggle are on the right edge. They have good profiles and excellent travel and feedback. A SIM card tray is tucked in above the volume toggle; TCL didn't say if the phone supports memory cards.
I'm glad to see USB-C on this new BlackBerry. The port is positioned on the bottom edge where it is flanked by two sets of slits for the speaker.
I like the soft-touch rear panel because it helps the phone stick to your hand. The dimpled pattern feels good under your thumb. The main camera module is absolutely enormous. It's a large, raised circle that has a chrome rim. A two-tone flash is next to it. The back is sealed up, so you won't be swapping batteries.
On the software front, the device ships with Android 7 Nougat and BlackBerry's secure launcher. It looks similar to the UI we saw on the DTEK50 and DTEK60. The software is not final at all and was super buggy on the pre-production unit we looked at.
Things about this phone we don't know: processor, screen size/resolution, camera resolution, RAM/storage, battery size, IP rating, LTE band support, and much more. TCL said it will share all the specs at the Mobile World Congress trade show in February.
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Will it sell ?
You might have a few oldie goldies that might find this phone intriguing but I don't think it will sell well.