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BlackBerry Leap review


BlackBerry Leap review

TOP FEATURES

- Great battery life
- Powerful messaging features
- The best touch keyboard

BlackBerry is back with the Leap, a mid-range, full-touch smartphone which improves on the company's cheapest touch smartphone, Z3. It adds a better display, improved camera, faster processor and bigger battery to the mix, but the form factor and design do not get a makeover. At Rs 21,490, is the phone really that big a leap(excuse the pun)? We try to find out in our review.

Build & design

In terms of design and build, the BlackBerry Leap is so similar to the Z3, that you would mistake it for BlackBerry's budget, full-touch smartphone, at first glance.

Just like the BlackBerry Z3, the Leap also looks like a chunky rectangular glass slab with sharp corners and a rather conservative, utilitarian design. It is primarily made of plastic, but we don't have any qualms with the construction and the average build quality. There's no doubt that the phone feels solid and durable but at 170gram, it is quite heavy (4grams heavier than the Z3).

The front of the device is dominated by its 5-inch display with the BlackBerry logo placed at the bottom, and the earpiece grill on the top. Unlike the Z3 the Mute and Volume rocker keys are placed on the right side while the power key is now at the top and is more cumbersome to use. The buttons offer decent tactile feedback though they're comparatively softer.



The microUSB port is located at the bottom edge, just like the Z3. The left edge houses a flap that hides the micro-sim and microSD card slots. The back features the same textured plastic panel we've seen on the Z3 that enhances the grip of the phone. It features an 8MP camera, BlackBerry logo and a speaker grill. The 3.5mm headphone jack sits at the top.

Overall, the Leap is a slightly taller and heavier version of the BlackBerry Z3. We feel that BlackBerry could have offered a more differentiated design for the Leap to give it a novel feel. The tall design also affects one hand use since BlackBerry OS is a gesture-driven OS and some of these require pulling down from the top edge of the screen. It's still a solid, well build device though.

Display
BlackBerry Leap sports a 5-inch HD LCD display (1280x720p). The display looks much sharper compared to the BlackBerry Z3 (a qHD-panel equipped phone) but it still doesn't look as bright as the high-end BlackBerry 10 devices and this hampers sunlight legibility to some extent.

Viewing angles looked wide though. We also found the phone's touch panel to be very responsive. An HD screen at this point looks fair for a BlackBerry device but keep in mind that similarly priced Android rivals like OnePlus One and Mi 4 come with 1080p screens.



Software

Blackberry Leap runs BlackBerry OS 10.3.1, the latest version of the BlackBerry 10 operating system.

The new iteration of the OS comes with some cosmetic changes as well as functional improvements.

The basic structure remains the same. The UI is essentially divided into the hub, active pane and app panel. The hub stores all sorts of messages and notifications; the active pane shows the last accessed apps in widgetized format, offering information for a glance; and the app list features icons for all installed apps.

The phone also includes BlackBerry Meetings, the company's new cross-platform video and voice conference app. Users can initiate or schedule a video and audio conference with up to 25 participants from their mobile device and attendees can be invited from local or company address book through BBM or email. All meetings are instantly added to the device calendar.

The phone comes preloaded with the Amazon Appstore to find and install Android apps.

You can also download APK (Android app installation) files from the web or install other third party Android app stores such as 1Mobile Market to install Android apps. Android apps that make use of Google services don't work. Also, push notifications don't work unless the Android app is running as an active frame.

The BlackBerry OS is focused on communication and messaging and outperforms other platforms in this department. However, it falls short when it comes to good quality third party native apps.

The phone also comes pre-loaded with BlackBerry Blend that brings messaging and content that is on your BlackBerry smartphone to your computer and/or tablet. You can get instant message notifications, read and respond to email, BBM or text messages, and access your documents, calendar, contacts and media in real time on whatever device you are on. BlackBerry Blend works on Mac (OS X 10.7+), Windows 7+ and Android tablets running Android 4.4+ via cellular, USB or Wi-fi connections. We used Blend on our Mac and found the experience to be pretty smooth.

The phone also offers gesture based advanced interactions that uses sensors of the device to detect actions and perform tasks. It supports gestures such as lift to wake, flip to mute, and flip to save power. These modes worked as promised.

For a detailed look at BlackBerry OS 10.3, read our Passport review.

Camera
BlackBerry Leap sports an 8MP rear camera with auto-focus and LED flash, and a 2MP front-facing camera. It comes with the Time Shift camera feature to select the best photo amongst a series of group photo captures, and additional filters. Other than that, the app lacks granular controls for settings. It does allow users to switch between Normal, time-shift, burst and panorama shooting modes.



We found that pictures taken in daylight turned out to be pretty good. Low light performance was also better compared to the Z3 and featured more detail though pictures were a bit grainy.

The front camera is functional at best and the quality of pictures shot with it was not that good. It will come handy for a quick selfie or video chat.


The phone's rear camera is capable of capturing 1080p HD video recording while the front-facing camera can shoot 720p video. Videos captured with the rear camera in good lighting conditions was pretty impressive.

Overall, the camera is not the strongest point of the device but better than the one on Z3.

Hardware & performance
BlackBerry Leap is powered by a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 dual-core processor and 2GB RAM. It's interesting to know that BlackBerry's first full-touch smartphone, Z10, featured the same processor. So you're just getting two year old hardware in a new package!

Having said that, BlackBerry has optimised its operating system for the device though you'll notice minor delays in transition animations and app load times. For that matter, even the Z10 has been upgraded to OS 10.3.1 and is a decently smooth device for its age.



We did not face any issues while navigating through the home screens between the hub, active pane and app panel, and launching and switching between apps.

The active pane supports 8 apps. This means users can run 8 apps at a time in the background just like the BlackBerry Z10 and Z30 phones.

We downloaded a couple of Android apps. Since the apps are running over a special runtime, performance is not at par with native BlackBerry 10 apps. Android apps, including Instagram, Shazam and TuneIn Radio take time to load and switching between them is also not very smooth.

The smartphone comes with 16GB storage and a microSD card slot that supports cards up to 128GB. It has a 2800mAh battery, which the company claims offers up to 17 hours talk time and up to 16.5 days of standby time. In our use, the phone lasted us a day and a half with medium to high usage. You'll be able to get more out of the battery if your usage is on the lower side. We appreciate how the Leap has one of the best battery backups among phones in the same range.

We were able to play most video (including full-HD ones) and audio files on the phone without any hiccups. The phone offers good call quality and signal reception. It was also able to lock to GPS without any hiccups.

The external speaker on the phone offers loud stereo sound output and the sound quality was good. Leap comes with a decent set of earphones (non in-ear).

Of course, the sound gets muffled when the phone lies on its back, which is a problem with all such designs that place speakers at the back.



It also offers FM radio without recording capability. The FM radio feature is hidden in the Music app though.

The phone doesn't come with NFC but does include support for 4G LTE Band 3 which has not been rolled out by any telecom operator in India yet. Network reception was great and call quality was excellent especially with HD voice calls (if your network supports them). The phone was able to get a GPS lock really quickly.

We were able to play casual Android games like Subway Surfers and Temple Run 2 with some stutter. We did not face any issues while playing casual games like Angry Birds Go! downloaded from BlackBerry World. Graphics-heavy games like Asphalt 8 (also downloaded from BlackBerry World) did not run as smoothly and we noticed frame drops and stutter. Clearly, the phone's not designed for gaming.

Verdict 
It's a little difficult to judge what BlackBerry aims to achieve with the Leap. While the Z3 was targeted at the youth, this phone targets professionals and enterprises that want a touch screen device with the security and power communication features of a BlackBerry. Judging purely in hardware terms, it's an iterative update to the Z3 but packs in two year old hardware that powered its first touch phone.

If you're a BlackBerry fan, we're sure you would be using one of the BlackBerry 10 devices. It makes no sense to upgrade to the Leap, in that case.

In case your company is offering it as an upgrade over a legacy BlackBerry device, go for it.



To others, we'll only recommend this phone if you primarily use your phone for e-mail and messaging (besides making and receiving phone calls) or if you want to buy a second phone for work and already own an Android device or iPhone.

We also feel that the Rs 21,490 price is steep considering the Leap comes with old hardware. You'd be better off buying the Xiaomi Mi 4 or OnePlus One at that price.
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