BlackBerry Leap Review

Does BlackBerry still have what it takes to produce a smartphone worthy of standing out against the competition? Here is our review for the newest five-inch touch device simply called the Leap.

BlackBerry has been trying to woo and lure customers into its security-packed BlackBerry OS and an array of full-touch and touch-and-type smartphones. The Leap, first unveiled in March at the Mobile World Congress and released May 27th in the country, touts to be designed with the highest standards of security and compatibility with Android as one of the first BB phones to bundle in an Amazon app store on its latest OS.

BlackBerry Leap specs

  • 5-inch HD display, 1280 x 720, 294ppi, 65.7% screen-to-body ratio
  • 1.5GHz Dual-Core Qualcomm MSM8960 Snapdragon S4 Plus
  • Adreno 305 GPU
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB internal storage
  • expandable via microSD card up to 128GB
  • 8MP rear AF camera with LED Flash
  • 2MP front camera
  • Single SIM
  • 4G LTE, 3G HSPA+
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 LE with A2DP, GPS with A-GPS, FM Radio
  • BlackBerry OS 10.3.1
  • 2800mAh battery (non-removable)
  • 144 x 72.8 x 9.5 mm, 170 g

Design and Construction

The BlackBerry Leap is a straightforward professional-looking smartphone with serious tones all over. To give you an idea of ports and slots, the power/lock button and the 3.5mm audio port sits atop of the device, and a removable cover flap hides the SIM and microSD card slots at the left side. Both slots use a push-push mechanism to keep them in place.

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We’ve described where’s which in our initial review. Weighing in at 170 grams, users who hold the device for the first time may feel a bit of heft for some due to its rather huge 2800mAh battery capacity, which is non-removable by the way. Nonetheless, the build quality looks well-designed and feels solid despite being a bit chunky for a smartphone with a five-inch display.

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The textured back helps in handling the phone, giving the device more precise grip and control. The flap on the left side of the device opens and closes easily, and you can’t help but be scared for a bit during times that we over-extend the flap outwards just to insert the necessary cards in. It sports a few chunk of bezels too, and is very evident at its screen-to-body ratio, somewhat below average at 65%.

Display and Multimedia

Its five-inch display may fall short because it sports an HD resolution of 1280 x 720, but it doesn’t sacrifice the quality its user deserves. The colors are bright, vivid, and accurate, and didn’t shift when viewed on any angle. It’s also legible to view and use outdoors, even when using the Power Saving mode which puts the brightness to automatic settings.

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Its speaker is powerful enough to get heard across a large room, but lacks the necessary bass one might find. It’s something that might put audiophiles off, but a casual listener would not notice the difference when listening to media from the device via earphones.

OS, UI, and Apps

For a long-time Android user who received his first BlackBerry device, it might take a small learning curve before one get used to the non-capacitive key, gesture-based layout of swiping from the bottom to minimize and close apps or from left to right when going back. It has a simple homescreen and the apps are a right swipe away, eliminating the use for drawers. Three buttons are present on the home screen: one for calls, one for search, and one for a camera, which can be useful for quick needs.

The BlackBerry Hub is also seen with a left swipe from the home screen, and is a centralized part for all notifications and emails. I actually like how BlackBerry implemented this part, since it’ll be easy to glance over one part to see all information you need rather than checking many apps at the same time.

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The device offers around 10GB of free space from its 16GB internal storage which gives plenty of space to install apps, but these cannot be moved to the microSD card. A lot of apps come in pre-installed: Social media apps, a story maker app, and proprietary BBM and BlackBerry Blend apps.

BlackBerry may have a really strong OS, but it shows a few shortcomings. Its version of Siri — the BlackBerry Assistant — proves to be a reliable companion for simple phone tasks, but is rather slow in interpreting voice input. The BlackBerry World app, its own version of the Google Play Store, offers a very limited catalog of applications for download. Sadly, Adding in Amazon’s App Store into the mix isn’t beneficial as it also doesn’t have enough apps for users to download. One can resort to sideloading apps instead, but might take too much of the user’s time.

Camera

The eight-megapixel rear shooter surprisingly produces great detail and vibrant colors in photos taken in broad daylight, and grain is noticeable, but not prominent, when low-light shots are taken. It’s also a gripe that the Leap focuses slowly a few times. Nevertheless, the camera is above average, and is something that’s not to be underestimated.

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The Camera app in itself is noteworthy. The app suggests a mode you can use to enhance capturing. Say, it offers to use the HDR mode when it senses that the light is contrasting to the side you’re taking. These little notes make me think that BB is on its way to creating something versatile of a camera despite the productivity-packed features infused into the device. Here are a few shots taken with the phone:

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Performance and Benchmarks

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Despite having an outdated processor in the form of the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus, the Leap still manages to perform smoothly even with intensive multitasking of productive apps, social media, web browsing, and a bit of Fruit Ninja, largely thanks to its 2GB RAM. The phone didn’t suffer any heat during prolonged use, and we rarely encountered lags when we played games. There are a few issues we encountered with apps originally from the Android platform, where some did not open at all such as GeekBench. Here are some of the results we got from several benchmark tests we have ran:

PassMark – 1,871 (Overall), 4,301 (CPU), 1,591 (Disk), 2,042 (Memory), 1,520 (2D Graphics), 897 (3D Graphics)
Quadrant Standard – 3,263

Connectivity and Battery Life

Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, and WiFi worked well when we used them during our review period. Calls sent and received were clear, and the reception is great.

Its battery life, to say the least, is really good. The device was able to last for up to five days on standby and up to a full day on moderate use of calls, SMS, and mobile data browsing. The Leap was able to last for 9 hours and 20 minutes using our video loop of a Full HD video at 100% brightness and 0% volume with its power saving mode disabled.

Conclusion

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BlackBerry clearly has a solid performer in the Leap, and it clearly positions itself to be a productivity phone for those who want peace of mind for security and privacy. Solid, professional-looking build and design; its good performance despite having a really dated processor, and a good camera are some of its strong points. The Leap, however, has a lot of things to improve upon: the lack of app offerings both from BlackBerry World and the Amazon App Store, and the slow camera focus could use some improvements on future upgrades.

The price is something to consider, too. At Php 13,490, one may find the Leap as an expensive phone to purchase, considering the proliferation of many bang-for-the-buck devices that offer the same, if not greater, performance. Nevertheless, it’s worth considering if you are not that much of an app person and need a phone that needs to get the work done without all the hassle.

What we liked about it:

  • Solid build and design
  • Good performance and productivity options
  • Above average camera
  • Impressive OS
  • Great battery life

What we didn’t like:

  • Lack of app selections
  • Slow camera focus
  • A bit pricey considering its hardware
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  • An S4Plus device in 2015? That's like 3 generations late šŸ˜ Seriously they've just put another nail on their own coffin