BlackBerry took to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain to unveil the first of four smartphones it plans to introduce this year, the BlackBerry Leap, a 5-inch, all-touch handset that eschews the classic keyboard that BlackBerry is best known for.
The Leap is not exactly an iPhone 6 competitor by a long shot, but BlackBerry president of devices and emerging solutions Ron Louks said the Leap, which will cost an affordable $275 when it becomes available this spring, has features aimed at "the young career builder, someone looking to make a difference."
"BlackBerry Leap was built specifically for mobile professionals who see their smartphone device as a powerful and durable productivity tool that also safeguards sensitive communications at all times," says Louks in a statement.
The display touts a decent resolution of 1280 x 720 with a pixel density of 294 ppi. It is powered by a 1.5 GHz Qualcomm MSM 8960 processor with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of built-in storage expandable up to 128 GB. On the rear panel, the Leap features an 8-megapixel camera with support for full-HD video recording and a 2-megapixel fixed-focus front camera for video conferencing. BlackBerry says the 2800 mAh battery can last users up to 25 hours on a single charge.
On the software side, it runs on the latest BlackBerry 10 OS 10.3.1 and has support for BlackBerry Blend, allowing users to sync their content through all their devices running on OS X, Windows, and Android. The phone also features BlackBerry Assistant, which BlackBerry claims to be smarter than Siri, Google Now, and Cortana and can retrieve information from the user's work and personal accounts when using the phone in work mode.
Last month, BlackBerry addressed a common complaint by users who said that BlackBerry's collection of apps is insignificant compared to the more than a million apps for Android and iOS. All devices running the latest 10.3.1 update, including the Leap, will now include access to Android apps on the Amazon Appstore. Granted, it's not the same as having access to Google Play Store itself, but BlackBerry says all the important Android apps, such as Pinterest, SoundCloud, and Kindle, are on Amazon.
Although BlackBerry seems to make an about-face on its earlier claims that the iconic keyboard is an all-important part of "going back to its roots" to reverse the embattled smartphone maker's fortunes, CEO John Chen says keyboards will remain a top priority for BlackBerry while it address a part of its customer base that wants an all-touch smartphone.
At the same time, BlackBerry teased another smartphone that features curved edges that wraps around the side of the display, similar to the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, and a slide-out physical keyboard. BlackBerry has not given the upcoming device a name, but Chen calls it "the slider," which will be out sometime later this year "as soon as it's done."
BlackBerry has been struggling to regain the market share it owned during its glory days before Apple and Android smartphone makers pushed the Canadian firm out of the market. Although BlackBerry is trying to reinvent itself by focusing on security-minded business services and forging partnerships with other hardware manufacturers, it still earns a huge chunk of its revenue from its sale of smartphones, which desperately need a boost.
Still, Chen says revenue is stabilizing and BlackBerry is well on its way to achieving its turnaround goals within the two-year time period announced by Chen. However, the BlackBerry chief declined to provide specifics, noting that the company will disclose more details during its quarterly earnings report later this month.