It feels like just yesterday that BlackBerry was the phone to have if you wanted a smartphone. With BIS (BlackBerry Internet Service), BBM and a track ball, BlackBerry ruled the world. But then it all came to a rather abrupt end. These days Android rules the world with iOS nipping at its heels, and both have proven their capabilities in and out of the office.
Enter the Leap. At under four grand, it’s a very affordable phone with a full touchscreen and on-screen keyboard, built to a sturdy spec that looks for all the world like a Microsoft phone remix. It’s got all the traditional features of a BlackBerry, with none of the up front cost.
While the BlackBerry 10 OS cannot compete with Android and iOS in the sheer number of apps available, it still has its place, especially in the business environment. BlackBerry seems determined to keep itself relevant and this only begs the question; does the Leap help keep BlackBerry relevant?
The Leap is a mid-range phone that is aimed at what BlackBerry terms “power professionals,” but those who have a limited budget. The plastic body offers almost zero give when trying to twist and warp the body so it won’t be folding like an accordion in your pocket. On top of that physical strength the plastic is resistant to dirt and grime so the Leap should keep looking good for quite some time.
The Leap’s design is what one would expect for a phone in this price range. At the bottom there is the microUSB port and on the right hand side are the two volume buttons as well as the BlackBerry Assistant button. On the opposite side of the phone is a little hatch that offers access to the SD and SIM card slots. The only real design flaw is the placement of the power button which is located on the top of the phone just like the Leap’s predecessor, the Z10. All this makes the Leap rather ordinary in terms of looks and it won’t be drawing too much attention when pulled out of the pocket.
The real beauty behind the BB10 OS is its Spartan use of resources. This means that BlackBerry phones don’t need a quad or octo-core processor to run smoothly. With that in mind the presence of a Qualcomm MSM8960 Snapdragon chipset and a Krait dual core 1.5GHz CPU shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise nor the 2GB of memory. While that processor is hardly beefy it packs enough punch to make the Leap run smoothly and respond promptly to whatever gesture is passed along its screen.
While there is 16GB of internal storage only around 10GB of it is usable with the rest being taken up by the OS and pre-installed apps. Thankfully the microSD card slot can handle cards of up to 128GB so its not a total loss. The rest of the hardware is nothing special and includes the standard 802.11n wifi and Bluetooth 4.0. The fact that the chipset supports LTE does help to reinforce the idea that this phone is aimed at business people who are more interested in a phone with a long battery life and good connectivity options than overall flashiness.
BB 10 is a great OS but as mentioned it cannot really compete on the same level as Android. All is not lost though since for those primarily interested in business the OS is a killer. The Hub is where all activity is listed chronologically which means that a day’s communications can be viewed without needing to jump between the dialer, emails and Whatsapp. The lockscreen is an extension of the Hub and allows you to quickly see if you have missed any calls, gotten a Facebook poke or received any emails. Because the OS is gesture based it takes a bit of time to get used to but the tutorial will get new users up to speed very quickly.
While not necessarily a core component of the BB 10 experience BlackBerry Link is a powerful tool. The desktop software allows easy management of the device and also can repair a corrupted OS with only a few clicks, thus eliminating the need to take the phone in for repair. When Link is installed you also get access to BlackBerry Blend which is able to connect to the Leap, or any other BB device running BB 10.3 OS, and lets you access your emails, text messages, calendar, BBM and contacts on your PC.
The limitation is that the phone and the PC both need to be on the same network or connected by a USB cable. (Thanks @ClaymoreZA for catching that – Ed). Because the system works in real-time there is no delay between getting a text message on your phone and being able to access it on Blend.
When even cheap Android phones are boasting resolutions of 1920×1080 one cannot look at the Leap’s 1280×720 resolution and not feel like its seriously trailing the competition. However that lower resolution does help to save some battery power, and do you really need a full HD display when typing out an email? The Leap’s display is 720P so you are able to enjoy decent quality YouTube videos and considering data costs in SA, watching at 720P is fiscally more responsible.
In terms of touch sensitivity the Leap is on a par with flagship devices and at no point did I feel like I was using a cheaper BlackBerry. The screen does only take up around 67% of the phones’ real estate which means that there is a noticeably large black bezel around the screen; not the end of the world but it’s not scoring any points either.
The Leap has a rear 8 megapixel camera and a front facing 2MP camera, both of which can be summed up with the words: reliable little snappers. The 8MP sensor is not going to be winning any awards but it managed to take photos in both high and low light conditions without adding too much noise. The LED flash is bright enough to illuminate even the darkest room but when used in outdoor conditions its effectiveness is limited.
If you want 4K video capturing then the Leap is not the phone for you. The rear camera delivers the bog standard 1080P at 30 frames per second and while the sensor in the camera can handle a lot more pixels the lack of 1440P or 4K capturing is simply due to the limitations of the chipset and processor being used.
Battery life has always been a BlackBerry strength and the Leap doesn’t tarnish that legacy. Usually when we test a smartphone we are impressed when the battery lasts until bed time but the Leap blows that standard out of the water. The Leap has a 2,800 mAh battery and during testing it was able to go for four solid work days. During that time the Leap had to handle the constant barrage of emails, phone calls, Whatsapp messages and a bit of time as a GPS.
So the Leap is nothing exciting but is it worth considering? The answer is an unequivocal, emphatic yes. For those who want a reliable business phone but don’t want to break the bank the BlackBerry Leap make perfect sense. The battery life is stunning, the responsiveness of the OS sublime and the quality of the handset is undeniable.
It might not be breathtakingly beautiful but the Leap is the culmination of years of BlackBerry expertise and magic. I wouldn’t use it for my personal phone, I love my Android too much, but for my work phone I am a die-hard BlackBerry man and the Leap only strengthened my love for the brand.
Price: R3 999
Display: 5-inch, 720×1280 resolution LCD display (294ppi)
Operating System: BlackBerry OS 10.3.1
Processors: 1.5GHz dual core Krait
Memory: 2GB of RAM
Storage: 16GB expandable with a microSD card
Battery: 2 800mAh
Camera: 8 megapixel rear camera, 2 megapixel front-facing camera
Networking: 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth, LTE