Ah, BlackBerry. Once the king of all things business and mobile, the brand has unfortunately experienced a slow and steady decline once the company failed to adjust to a rapidly changing mobile market. BlackBerry’s attempts to reinvent the brand back in 2013 with the introduction of BlackBerry 10 arrived just a little too late and has since yielded to becoming yet another brand among Android’s ranks.
Fortunately, the one thing that made BlackBerry so unique was included in BlackBerry’s move to Android: the brand’s dedication to a physical QWERTY keyboard. The PRIV used a slide-out mechanism, prevalent in many older Androids and a couple of BlackBerry devices, that allows the physical keyboard to be hidden when not in use. Additionally, BlackBerry used its dedication to security as another means of appealing to users given Android’s reputation of being more vulnerable than other operating systems. Despite being thrust into a sea of established Android manufacturers, the PRIV managed to wriggle its way in with a couple of unique angles. Unfortunately, the device was an AT&T exclusive, which really doesn’t bode well in the industry anymore.
In an announcement made last September, BlackBerry revealed that they were dipping out of the hardware business. Instead, the company will continue to focus on software. BlackBerry themselves won’t be making hardware anymore, but the brand name will live on through another company, TCL, and while it is uncertain how long TCL – who also creates Alcatel branded smartphones – will use the BlackBerry name, there is at least one more BlackBerry phone on the way: the BlackBerry Mercury.
I’ve had my eye on the Mercury and was pleasantly surprised when a teaser was released during CES last month. The full and official reveal is set to occur during Mobile World Congress later this month. While I’m intrigued to see what the Mercury will offer in its entirety, I realized that I’m only interested purely for nostalgic purposes, and unless a really good deal comes along, I’m not sure I’d ever actually buy the Mercury. Why? Because of the very reason I’m nostalgic for it in the first place: its physical keyboard.
I’ve come to realize that I’m beyond physical keyboards now. Even though BlackBerry greatly improved their keyboard’s functionality back in 2014 with the BlackBerry Passport, I have grown too used to the functionality of a virtual keyboard to want to go back. I’ve switched back to BlackBerry a couple of times over the past few years, and each time, I feel excited when I open the box but disappointed by the end of the first week. The satisfying feeling of typing on a physical keyboard just isn’t as satisfying when it doesn’t feel as functional as other alternatives.
Despite my own reservations, I also think that the Mercury retains a certain appeal. It will be the first BlackBerry hardware with a somewhat “classic” BlackBerry design that runs on Android, and I wonder if that will give it an advantage over the PRIV. Other factors include battery life, camera quality (which is rumored to have the same sensors as the Pixel and Pixel XL, but software optimization is an equally important aspect), exclusivity, the overall performance of the device, and price.
Overall, I would say that the physical keyboard is both a hindrance and a saving grace. The physical keyboard is clearly not for everyone, but it is still an important aspect for some. Whether you’re interested in the Mercury or not, it’s nice to have diversity in the smartphone market.