BlackBerry's new Classic smartphone has a physical keyboard, sells for $449

BlackBerry officially launched its Classic smartphone with a qwerty physical keyboard and trackpad on Wednesday for $449, unlocked, in the U.S. The release comes amid continuing worries about the company's declining market share.

With less than 1% of the world's smartphone market and fewer than 45 million mostly-older users globally, BlackBerry stuck with a physical keyboard and security features that made the Canadian company famous before the first iPhone emerged in 2007.

BlackBerry recently blogged that even President Obama is "still a BlackBerry fan." Even so, it remains unclear how CEO John Chen plans to attract an under-35 crowd that loves touchscreen keyboards and is considered key to BlackBerry's survival.

During an appearance on CBS This Morning earlier today, Chen struggled to describe how BlackBerry can attract younger users, then offered that maybe the Classic should come out in various colors beyond black.

He also admitted on air that when he took over BlackBerry about 13 months ago the company was "losing literally billions." Finances have improved since then, he said, but BlackBerry still hit a low of $916 million in revenues for the last quarter.

The company's next quarterly earnings report is due out on Friday.

During a launch event in New York that was webcast, Chen said 2014 was a "very busy year for us, but an extremely gratifying year" with the release of the Passport smartphone -- also with a physical keyboard -- and BlackBerry Enterprise Server 12.

With the Classic, BlackBerry is "aiming for loyal customers...," Chen said. "That's the genesis of why we're doing this." He stressed that the Classic's physical keyboard has "attracted a lot of attention along with the touchscreen, so I'm inviting a lot of people, especially young people, to try it. You may surprise yourself."

When the Passport was launched in September, BlackBerry said that a poll by an unnamed U.S. carrier had shown that young smartphone users were interested in trying out a physical keyboard.

In terms of design and specs, BlackBerry compared the Classic to its BlackBerry Bold 9900, first introduced in 2011. It also had a physical keyboard and a trackpad, but with its keys arranged in mildly curved rows. Classic's sculpted keys are in straight rows, separated by prominent steel frets.

The Classic will run the latest BlackBerry 10.3.1 OS, which includes a browser that runs three times faster than the 9900. The new phone's battery will last 22 hours in constant use, 50% longer than the 9900.

The device has a 3.5-in. square screen, 60% larger than the 9900, an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 2-megapixel front camera. Storage can reach 144GB with the addition of a microSD, which is 104 more gigabytes than on the 9900. The Classic runs on a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.

Android and BlackBerry apps run on the Classic, available through BlackBerry World for enterprise and productivity apps and the Amazon Appstore for games and entertainment apps.

AT&T will carry the devicein the U.S., with shipping set to begin Dec. 30, according to BlackBerry's Web site. Chen also said that Verizon will carry the Classic, but a date for availability was unclear. Pricing in Canada will be $499; the Classic will be available there on the Rogers network.

Chen praised major carriers around the globe such as AT&T and Verizon for rejoining BlackBerry "because carrier support was a missing part when I started."

Noting that the past year brought him a lot of criticism for joining a troubled company, Chen concluded, "We're here to stay as a company and now we have to engineer our growth."


Matt Hamblen

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