The BlackBerry Leap ditches the keyboard to lure young professionals (hands-on)

The BlackBerry Leap is leap of faith -- a smartphone that aims to establish a new generation of BlackBerry fans.

Nate Ralph Associate Editor
Associate Editor Nate Ralph is an aspiring wordsmith, covering mobile software and hardware for CNET Reviews. His hobbies include dismantling gadgets, waxing poetic about obscure ASCII games, and wandering through airports.
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Andrew Lanxon headshot
Andrew Lanxon Editor At Large, Lead Photographer, Europe
Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.
Nate Ralph
Andrew Lanxon
2 min read

With its 5-inch, 720p touchscreen and bog-standard rectangular shape, the BlackBerry Leap doesn't do all that much to stand out. And maybe that's a good thing. According to BlackBerry, the phone is aimed at "young career builders" who won't necessarily have any allegiance to BlackBerry's older, keyboard-equipped hardware, but who are still in need of what the BlackBerry pedigree implies: a secure, business-focused productivity platform.

The Leap will be available in the UK on April 29 for £205 -- that converts to about $300, or AU$400. It'll be available globally later on directly from BlackBerry's website. The device runs BlackBerry OS 10.3.1, which tweaks the look and feel while also baking in a few new tricks, including improvements to multitasking and how background apps are managed. App selection remains BlackBerry's Achilles' heel, but BlackBerry 10 devices can also run Android apps: you can sideload an APK file, or download a selection from the Amazon app store, which comes preinstalled on the Leap.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

But the biggest change is the keyboard: the Leap eschews the physical keyboard we've come to expect from BlackBerry for a virtual one. It supports multiple languages and will step in to correct your egregious typos, and generally behaves much like a virtual keyboard on a modern smartphone should. More importantly, the lack of a physical keyboard means you'll have the full 5-inch display to play with. Its screen is also very bright, though the 1,280-by-720-pixel resolution is a touch low for a modern smartphone at this size.

Take a closer look at the BlackBerry Leap (pictures)

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The phone feels chunky, though at 0.37 inch (9.4 millimeters) it isn't exactly onerous to hold. It also looks rather plain -- some would argue it's professional-looking. A 2,800mAh battery and a few power consumption tricks built into BlackBerry OS should net up to 25 hours of battery life. And the 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm 8960 processor feels nice and zippy while bouncing around menus and the like.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

This is far from BlackBerry's first foray into the world of touchscreen keyboards, but it remains a curious change. Consider the BlackBerry Passport, which championed a wide, spacious keyboard and square display in an effort to maximize productivity. And then there's the recently launched BlackBerry Classic, which hearkened a return to BlackBerry's roots. In both cases, the physical keyboard was praised as evidence of BlackBerry's commitment to old-school QWERTY junkies who demand tactile keys.

BlackBerry isn't getting rid of its keyboard-equipped devices anytime soon: we're still waiting to see more of the BlackBerry Slider, a prototype that sports a keyboard that slides out from behind a touchscreen display. But the Leap remains a risky proposition, a leap of faith that's aimed at roping in young go-getters to establish a new generation of BlackBerry faithful. Stay tuned for our full review.