BlackBerry has stepped back into the all-touch smartphone market in 2015 with a familiar-looking device in the BlackBerry Leap. No, the Leap isn’t the high-end all touch device that most BlackBerry diehards are waiting for. However, the Leap does fit a specific crowd that is looking for a phone that feels high-end but comes in a mid-tier price, and that’s the market BlackBerry is putting its sights on with this device.
We got a chance to use the BlackBerry Leap, and want to give you some insight as to what we liked and didn’t like as much, so you can decide if this a device you want to pick up, or skip.
Watch the BlackBerry Leap Unboxing video.
Hardware – Bigger, heavier, and it definitely won’t bend
If you got a chance to use a Z3 at some point, you’ll immediately notice the familiar design that the Leap has. In terms of direct comparisons, the Leap is a little bit taller, thicker, and heavier than the Z3. If you haven’t used it before, the Leap will definitely have a different look and feel than what many are used to with regular smartphones. Its corner edges are squared off, while its sides have a contoured feel. The Leap’s non-removable back plate has dimples throughout that BlackBerry says – and we can confirm – helps with grip. These dimples not only help you hold the device better, but also give it a nice look when the phone is face down.
The Leap has good weight to it as well. It’s not as heavy as the Passport, but it feels solid in the hand. I bet it could take a few good drops without so much as a scratch, which can be pretty much said about every BlackBerry out there.
The Leap is based on the same I-Beam design that the Passport and Z3 sport. In the Passport’s case, the top frame is all metal, which gave it added strength and made it look even better.
Internally, the Leaps specs won’t blow anyone away. In fact, if you compare them to previously released BlackBerry devices, you’ll find similar components are being reused in a device that’s intended to compete in 2015. To be fair though, since this isn’t being marketed as a high-end device, it doesn’t need better specs to stand out.
The BlackBerry Leap features a 1.5GHz Qualcomm 8960 dual-core processor that runs on 2GB of RAM. In terms of storage, the Leap comes with 16GB of internal storage for apps, and games, but also features a microSD card slot to expand that memory to save pictures, videos, and other files.
The normal instinct is to want to criticize BlackBerry for the lack of high-end specs in this device and the same design it used in a previous device. And these complaints would be warranted if BlackBerry was trying to compete with the iPhone and other top-tier Android devices. That however is not the case. This device is intended for, to put it simply, someone on a budget but that wants to get work done and needs a device with a large screen. It’s not meant for those that want crazy specs, and are willing to spend upwards of $600 for a phone.
One of the more disappointing parts of the Leap, in terms of hardware, has to be the lack of NFC. BlackBerry told us they needed to do everything possible to keep the cost of the Leap within their “price band” of $275 off-contract, and NFC just didn’t make the cut of essential features that the target market for this device wants.
Unfortunately, with NFC mobile payments picking up in the last year or so, the lack of NFC on the BlackBerry Leap hurts its final score.
Battery Life – It’ll last and last
Battery life is going to be a big selling point for the Leap. As mentioned previously, the Leap is taller, heavier, and thicker than the Z3, and BlackBerry told us this was due to the larger battery the Leap has. The device’s 2800mAh battery should give most users 25 hours of mixed use. In our testing, the Leap’s battery gave us around 10 hours with heavy – and I mean heavy – use before we had to plug back in.
Display – The Leap’s screen is a big win
Speaking of screens, the Leap features a surprisingly good display. It’s bright, and vivid. Colors look really good on it, and at all viewing angles, the picture we get is pretty sharp. Of course, it’s not a QuadHD display like the Passport, but it still gets the job.
What makes the Leap’s display impressive in my book is the fact that it comes on a device that’s less than $300USD. The Leap has, hands down, the best 720p display BlackBerry has ever used in their phones. It makes the Z30’s AMOLED glass look dim, and the uniformity of the device gives the illusion the front is all glass when the display is turned off.
Camera – Solid enough for your daily use
The BlackBerry Leap features an 8 megapixel rear camera and a 2 megapixel front-facing shooter and both perform well with a few exceptions in certain lighting conditions. Pictures in low-light are still a struggle for BlackBerry cameras and BB10’s software doesn’t help much either. The Leap’s auto-focus is passable, it’s not the quickest, but it does lock on to targets fairly well. The best way I can describe the camera is it won’t make or break your decision to get a Leap.
Check out some pictures we took with the Leap.
Speakers – Not bad, but not great either
Aside from the typical phone speaker, the BlackBerry Leap features a single mono speaker that’s not bad, but isn’t great either. This speaker is nothing like the HTC One M9’s, or BlackBerry Passport’s, but it does provide good enough volume to use during a conference call or if you’re in loud surroundings. If you’re looking to use the Leap to listen to music over its loudspeaker, you may be disappointed though. Again, like with other parts of this device, you can understand BlackBerry making certain decisions to reduce the final price of this phone.
BlackBerry 10 OS 10.3.1 shines on the Leap
The BlackBerry Leap comes pre-loaded with BlackBerry 10 OS 10.3.1. Since it’s the first all-touch BlackBerry device to come with this OS out of the box, we expected it to function well despite the mid-tier specs, and thankfully, we were right.
Apps – native and Android – run incredibly well on the Leap. Gestures and touch presses are responsive, and snappy throughout the OS. Of course, the Leap also features all the goodness fans have become accustomed to with BlackBerry 10. The BlackBerry Hub, BlackBerry Assistant, and BBM perform as well, if not better, than they do on the Z10, and Z30.
This is one of the advantages of having BlackBerry make the hardware, and the software its phones run. The company is able to make both parts work harmoniously together, even if the specs aren’t incredibly flashy.
With BlackBerry 10 OS 10.3.1 comes BlackBerry World and the Amazon Appstore, of course. Both storefronts give BlackBerry users access to hundreds of thousands of apps that are both native (BlackBerry World) and Android (Amazon Appstore). One thing that we found really peculiar with the Leap and its Amazon Appstore is the fact that a lot of apps that are blocked on devices like the Z10, Q10, Z30, are available. Apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus, MLB At Bat, among others are all there, and they work fantastically well. When we sat down with BlackBerry to go over the Leap, we told them about the lack of these apps in older devices’ Amazon Appstore, and they were definitely going to look into it because that shouldn’t be happening.
Even though the Leap’s hardware is a bit outdated, BlackBerry assured us that for the foreseeable future, this device will get the same software support that the Passport or Classic get. If you’re picking one up, you don’t have to worry about future versions of BlackBerry 10 not being able to run on the Leap. They will within a reasonable timeframe.
BlackBerry is making a few accessories available for the Leap. The most popular – and arguably the sexiest – accessory you can get for the Leap will be the Rio Sync Pod. Not only is it a stand that charges, and syncs your device, it’s so slick looking.
The Leap may not be for you, and that’s okay
The BlackBerry Leap, like the Passport and the Classic, is not for everyone. These days BlackBerry is focusing its resources on making devices for specific crowds of people, and they’re targeting those demographics with devices like the Leap. This phone fits perfectly in the portfolio the company has developed over the last year and change. No, it’s not the high-end all-touch power horse many BlackBerry fans want (that’s the upcoming Slider). Instead, it’s an affordable device for consumers that want a productive OS on a device that will keep them going throughout the day without needing to charge. On the enterprise side, the Leap offers a low-cost option for those companies that want a solid experience for their employees but simply can’t afford to buy a Passport or a Classic in high quantities.
I don’t think the Leap will be a hit in the US. Frankly, I’m not even sure how many of the four major carriers in the states will pick it up. Thankfully, as many companies all over the globe have shown, it’s possible to be successful and continue making money on devices without the U.S. as a center market. If you have a Z10, and want to upgrade to a lower cost device, this device is the logical “leap” forward. Otherwise, I’d probably recommend sticking to what you have and either going with a Passport or waiting for the upcoming Slider.