I don't exactly have a long history with BlackBerry, I pretty much skipped over the whole phenomenon in favour of Android-based devices, which were my introduction into the smartphone world.
Sure, I've played with the odd one or two over the years and was somewhat optimistic about BlackBerry 10 when it started supporting Android apps, I also enjoyed a brief fling with the BlackBerry Passport, but I wasn't surprised when it all fell off the map either.
It wasn't until BlackBerry recently jumped ship to Android wholesale that I really sat up and started paying attention.
Since then, there has been a handful of devices from BlackBerry running on Google's operating system. Some have been good, some have been much less memorable, but, much like our iPhone and Pixel coverage, to date they've all been reviewed by Rich - so I've only briefly had a mess around with whichever model he's been testing. I rather liked the BlackBerry Priv and BlackBerry KEYone though, so already BlackBerry's Android stable is off to a good start in my book.
But overall, I feel like I'm coming at the BlackBerry Motion as a BlackBerry Newbie.
And in my view this is no bad thing considering the firm is effectively trying to re-establish itself afresh in a market that is more competetive than ever.
Things are made easier by the fact I'm very familiar with Android, so the main focus of my delve into the BlackBerry world can be on the design, features, and hardware. I'll be doing a full review in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, read on below for my initial hands on first impressions after unboxing the BlackBerry Motion.
BlackBerry Motion Review - First Look: Design
There's a few things which strike me on making first contact with the BlackBerry Motion.
Firstly, it's immediately apparent just how well-made and premium this phone is at a glance, but this comes home even more when you pick it up.
It sits wonderfully well in the hand in terms of the weight and how there is zero creak or flexing. It is solid and precision engineered, and in a way it feels a lot more expensive than it is. It just has this presence to it, I can only compare it to really high-end audio equipment or professional-tier cameras, or if you've ever handled a really premium-grade bit of sporting equipment like a crossbow or a marksman rifle.
It is definitely a "professional" style device with an emphasis on quality.
The cold metal surround has a brushed finish and looks very similar to what you'll find on rivals such as Samsung's Galaxy or Apple's iPhone, complete with neatly bevelled edges and discrete antenna bands. The neat, solid keys on the phone's side are metal and have really nice feedback.
The frame does deviate at the top with an interesting rounded-off curvature - not an entirely unique feature, as I have seen this elsewhere, but welcome nonetheless. This curvature neatly transitions into the top of the rear panel, where it houses the camera sensor.
The rest of the rear panel is a soft-touch synthetic material which reminds me of when Motorola used to use a lot of Kevlar. As well as looking a bit different from the rest of the market, this has a ton of practical benefits as well, as you get none of the slipperiness, smudging, smearing, fingerprints, or coldness to the touch you find on the now oh-so-common glass backplate.
This is where the second "striking" thing hits me.
I am essentially very torn over the BlackBerry Motion's design aesthetic. It can certainly be said that it is distinctively "BlackBerry" in flavour, but although all of the above features ensure a phone which is practical and feels to be of excellent quality, I find myself asking; "yeah, but does it look better than a Samsung, iPhone, OnePlus, Pixel, Huawei, LG or HTC? Does it look as good as...even?"
The problem is, I think, that to me the BlackBerry Motion looks very compelling and appealing, but I can't help but wonder if that's just because it's "different" from all the other phones out there, rather than it necessarily being a better or even good aesthetic.
I suppose there must be an admission that the BlackBerry Motion is a somewhat "serious" device compared to most rivals.
I'm almost tempted to say "boring" but I don't think that's entirely fair, and on closer inspection, I realise it's only really the texture of the back panel which is throwing things off. If it wasn't for that black and grey zig-zag pattern I associate with Motorola's old Kevlar I think the BlackBerry Motion could be just as charming as any key competitor. It could even, dare I say it, be a bit flashy, depending on what colours BlackBerry might have chosen to go with.
The result is a phone that is fine for the boardroom, but I am wondering how it's going to appeal outside of that niche. It is frustrating that this comes down to something as simple as the colour and texture choice, but it wouldn't be the first phone to stumble on such a thing - HTC went too far in the other direction with the mirror-finish HTC U11, for example, a phone so shiny and garish that despite its many other qualities it became difficult to recommend.
Overall I'm really quite impressed by the BlackBerry Motion's design. It's a fantastic bit of kit.
But it's as if BlackBerry's need to include something distinctively BlackBerry, professional, and business-like, even if it's only the rear panel finish, has become an unwitting act of self-sabotage. It's limiting what could otherwise look like a truly stunning phone with unnecessary dowdiness - like putting Emma Stone or Ryan Gosling in Crocs.
Hopefully, I'll be able to look past this as I spend more time with the phone, but in my experience these love-hate dynamics don't tend to shift and, again, it's annoying because there is so much I like here. To leave things on a positive I will add that this is BlackBerry's first smartphone with IP waterproofing - an IP67 rating to be precise. Always a welcome addition.
BlackBerry Motion Review - First Look: Display
It's got to the point now where I don't expect a massive amount from displays outside of a few specific manufacturers who seem to really have it nailed down. So it was with some glee that I powered on the BlackBerry Motion's display to find something pretty decent looking at a glance.
The display is a 5.5in 1080p IPS LCD with a pixel density of 401ppi, which may not sound earth-shattering, but does offer a more-than acceptable level of clarity, has nicely rich colour and contrast, and is plenty bright enough too. Colour wise it has a slight blue tint, but its not too severe and, even so, there's a built-in "Screen mode" slector to alow you to recalibrate to your liking.
Other positives include nice, wide viewing angles, a night-time mode (which reduces the blue light output), and a double-tap to wake or sleep feature.
Although it's early days, I don't really have anything bad to say about the BlackBerry Motion's display as I've found it very pleasing to look at so far.
BlackBerry Motion Review - First Look: Camera
The BlackBerry Motion has a 12MP primary camera with an f/2.0 aperture, dual-LED flash, 1080p video capture and phase-detection autofocus. There's also an 8MP secondary for selfies.
I've only snapped a couple of quick shots with the BlackBerry Motion so far and I have to say the camera experience is neither good nor bad, it's just ok.
I think for a lot of users who don't place a high priotiy on imaging, for quick holiday snaps and sharing on Facebook it'll do just fine...
But further than this, the shots just don't have that higher quality we're used to seeing fairly regularly in the smartphone space these days. It's certainly not going to keep Apple, Samsung, HTC or OnePlus up at night worrying.
I'll reserve final judgement though until I've gone deeper in the review process.
BlackBerry Motion Review - First Look: Hardware & Software
Other aspects of the phone, including the processor performance, software UI, and battery life, are all going to need a longer period of testing.
By reputation, the BlackBerry Motion apparently has quite good battery life - it is allegedly one of those phones that just keeps going for days, so I'm pretty keen to put that to the test.
I wouldn't be at all surprised if it was very capable in this area though; it has a 4,000mAh cell, together with a 1080p display and a low-power chipset, as well as optimised near-stock Android and some active battery saving features.
That's a pretty good checklist for good battery performance. The handset also uses a Type-C USB port for charging and data, has 32GB of onboard storage, and supports microSD up to 256GB.
On the processor side of things, it has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625, which is not a flagship-tier CPU by any means. BlackBerry is going for a more modest engine here, supposedly finely tuned to efficiently implemented Android software so that the lack of heavy grunt won't be noticed.
So far, I have to say I have not noticed so much as a snag or stall, but admittedly I haven't done much in the way of demanding tasks and applications, so again, this remains to be investigated. The outlook is pretty good though.
The software package is Android 7.1 Nougat. It looks stock, and mostly is, but also it isn't because there's a selection of built-in BlackBerry apps (including BBM) and the BlackBerry Hub UI productivity overlay.
This lets you link together multiple messaging and email accounts, and see a feed of all your messages, calendar appointments, contacts, and tasks in one place with a single swipe.
Naturally there's a ton of BlackBerry security and account-based features in there, together with fingerprint security authentication features via the front-mounted Home key/fingerprint scanner.
BlackBerry Motion Review - First Look:
So far I've been pretty bowled over by the BlackBerry Motion, it's a really fun little handset to get to grips with and has a lot of enjoyable and useful features. It feels innovative and interesting to use, as if it's been streamlined to include only what you really need on a phone rather than going all-out on one area and becoming imbalanced. I'll have to see whether the sheen wears off over time or if this handset can go the distance and keep me coming back for more.