Hands-on with BlackBerry’s ‘Mercury’ phone | Review

BlackBerry’s 2017 ‘Mercury’ phone is being manufactured by TCL and is set to be sold in North America and Europe initially. It launches at Mobile World Congress in February

BlackBerry is the new BlackBerry. Last year TCL, the parent company of Alcatel, took over the licence to produce BlackBerry-branded handsets after the company ditched its hardware division.

TCL says it will be creating a portfolio of BlackBerry phones and WIRED got its hands on the first model, which will be officially launched at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in February 2017.

At this point, TCL hasn’t revealed the full specifications, name (although it has been rumoured to be called the Mercury), or pricing of the new BlackBerry model, calling the demonstration at CES a “soft launch”. However, before the Las Vegas show, TLC CEO Steve Cistulli teased the phone in a series of posts on Twitter.

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“BlackBerry handsets are not going away,” a spokesperson for TCL told WIRED. Central to this ambitious revival plan is tradition: the phone’s design is a traditional BlackBerry-style keyboard.

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When testing the Android phone, the keyboard appears to have a similar familiarity to those on traditional BlackBerry models. Typing on the QWERTY keyboard is simple and intuitive. The keyboard also has capacitive touch functionalities; running a finger over it makes it possible to scroll down and across menus.

What else do we know about the phone? It has a USB-C charging port, a single camera on the back and will be manufactured in China. The phone is comfortable to hold with a phone screen of comparable size to the offerings of Apple, Samsung and Google, with a slightly softer material on the reverse.

There is, of course, a version of BlackBerry Messenger included in the phone’s software.

When testing the phone, it was running Android’s Nougat, which TCL called a “fairly stock” version of the operating system. TCL is doing the R&D, marketing, sales and support around the phone but BlackBerry – now focssing on software creation – will be providing the security systems for the device. “It’s certainly makes sense with what they’ve wanted to do,” the TCL spokesperson said.

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When released a few months after launch, the device will be available in at least North America and Europe, although the spokesperson said it is likely to have a wider reach.