back to article Whoa-o BlackBerry, bam-ba-lam: QWERTY phone had a child. 5G thing's newly styled

Because 2020 isn't weird enough already, BlackBerry phones are coming back. This time around, it's not Chinese OEM TCL at the helm, but rather little-known Texas startup OnwardMobility, which has acquired a licence to the iconic smartphone marque and plans to release an inaugural model next year. Little about the phone is …

  1. yas1

    A beer for the headline alone.

    Truly worthy of a Sunday Tabloid!

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: A beer for the headline alone.

      The only question is, how long have they been waiting to use it?

      Note: ElReg is a 7-day-per-week Red Top, not just Sundays.

    2. Mike Moyle

      Re: A beer for the headline alone.

      Absolutely... +1 to the headitor for that one!

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Re: A beer for the headline alone.

      I had to read the headline twice before I got it... but when I did. Seriously brilliant; one beer isn't enough for whoever came up with that masterpiece.

  2. anthonyhegedus

    If they made it the right form factor, I can't see what is so inconvenient about having a keyboard. I haven't owned a blackberry for nearly ten years, but it is arguably more accurate to type on. The only problem is that either your screen real-estate is severely curtailed, or the phone is a funny shape. This is all so that you can view videos and photos in landscape mode. The problem is that the device looks dumb in landscape mode.

    But if you're work-focused, type a lot of emails while you're out and about, and don't mind a strange phone shape, I think it would be useful. The secret to success isn't in the technical and design features, it's firmly in the marketing.

    1. Reg Reader 1

      I hope it's a side slide. They're thicker for sure but the keyboards are wonderful.

      1. jaminbob

        Priv was the best phone I ever had. Don't last long when I moved to the country though. Adored it. Linked work and personal accounts through BB suite and it worked so well. Calendars and emails all in one place.

    2. Dave 15 Silver badge

      The keyone form factor was fine if the quality of the whole had been good.

      The keyboard is fantastic, faster and better than the screen.

      Look back at the old Nokias and there are all sorts of ways of doing keyboards... slide out, slide the screen off the keyboard (e7 was cracking, I still use mine), twist (you turn the back and have half a keyboard each side of the screen).

      Its really NOT difficult to make a nice design

  3. Michael Habel Silver badge

    A top secure device?

    Then why the hell are you putting Android on it then? Oh yeah because actully building your own OS is actually harder then a rectangle with rounded edges.

    1. RNixon

      An existing OS is best

      Because building your own OS is pointless because no one will support it.

      Blackberry 10 was damned nice. But there were basically no apps for it except BB's.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: An existing OS is best

        It had some Android app compatibility, but not much. There were several lengthy articles on how to install Google Play Services to help things out, but it didn't seem to be worth the effort.

        It is a shame that I don't recall there being much in the way of developer tools for easily porting Android apps over. It would have been nice if I could have recompiled an Android app for BB10 with a minimal amount of tinkering of the source code.

      2. Dave 15 Silver badge

        Re: An existing OS is best

        Cobblers frankly.

        Today it is not impossible to design a new OS with a shim or api layer. We NEED a new OS, maybe a Symbian revival. My old Symbian phone STILL lasts over a week on a charge despite its battery being old, the new phones make about a day. The reason is because Symbian came from Epoc32 which was built for mobile battery powered devices. Android and iOS come from linux which was NOT designed for battery devices

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Because, AFAIK, no one ever managed to root a BlackBerry running Android, which is what most malware relies on.

      There’s not really any single thing as “Android”, there’s simply a lot of firmware out there that has a common and sometimes quite remote origin. BlackBerry ran a fairly heavily tweaked kernel, and they know how to secure bootroms, etc. If anyone can make an Android phone that resists attack, they can.

      1. osmarks

        Not allowing root also means it's not really user modifiable and you can't remove Google's preinstalled spyware.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Yes indeed.

          However, BlackBerry did include a nifty app (DTek) that tells you precisely what had accessed what, including Google’s spyware. You could deny access to things like location, etc, but that started breaking stuff quite quickly, as Google intended.

        2. To Mars in Man Bras!

          Rootin' Tootin'

          The only reason I root my Android phones is so I can add a firewall, customise the hosts file and install a system level excrement filter.... sorry, I mean "adblocker".

          Until such time as Google allow me that basic level of user-control, there's no way I could stomach using an un-rooted Android phone.

  4. Kevin Johnston

    Jolly good, I say

    As one of the minority that have never been able to use a virtual keyboard due to an inability to get the right key better than 30% of the time I say Huzzah! to the continual attempts to make a success of physical keyboard phones. It also helps that I use my phone for phonecalls/texts/email and little more so the fact the screen makes it impossible to watch a movie Netflix/whoever or play Fast & Furious 43 bothers me not a jot.

    1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

      Re: Jolly good, I say

      Agreed. I loved my old Samsung Galaxy S Relay with it's slideout keyboard. I have a galaxy S20+ (and had a S7 before that), but I'd love a phone with a real keyboard again.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Jolly good, I say

      I hate virtual onscreen keyboards with a passion. Even Swype type ones don't seem to be much better. But on t'other hand I have fat fingers and poor eyesight, so I find Blackberry style keyboards impossible - and hate those even more.

      So Swype seems to be the best of a bad bunch. I'm annoyed by my friends who prefer text to talking - I'd rather just pick up the phone and chat.

  5. legless82

    I still lament the passing of my Blackberry Passport - it's still the best device I've ever used even in the face of later Android and iOS kit.

    Much as I'd like this to succeed, I can't see it doing anything except be a pale imitation and flop in the marketplace (much like the original, sadly). Through necessity, it's using Android, but the whole UI experience and ecosystem of Android neither expects nor particularly supports the use of a physical keyboard. The experience will be too compromised for most users to put up with.

    1. RobThBay

      My BB Passport is still going strong. I use all the time, it has been powered up for years and still lasts 2-3 days before needing charging.

      The only quirk I've noticed is that it needs to be restarted after crossing time zones otherwise images attached to text messages don't arrive.

  6. bill 27

    Thanks for the laugh.

    Ram Jam, huh.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Thanks for the laugh.

      I think you meant Lead Belly. You can skip ahead to 1:05 for the familiar refrain if you don't like real music.

      Manfred Mann's Earth Band released a version in '68, nearly 10 years before Ram Jam. I have a version of them (MMEB) doing the song live for John Peel on the BBC ... it is a bad[0] recording to cassette off the radio dated '72, digitized many moons ago.

      For an up-to-date nod to the old classic, see Mason Rack Band's cover ...

      [0][ Bad is relative. It's better than some of the remaining examples of Robert Johnson's tunage, all of which is quite worth listening to ...

      1. stiine Silver badge

        Re: Thanks for the laugh.

        71...pff....Check these out.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Thanks for the laugh.

          I see your point, and make one of my own. Some of those tapes actually go back to Peel on Top Gear (no, not that one).

          Thanks for the link, I'll be adding to my collection. Put your money away, I'm buying.

      2. jake Silver badge

        Re: Thanks for the laugh.

        Following up to myself ...

        That was the group Manfred Mann, pre-Earth Band, in '68. Brain fart. And wonder of wonders, I found the John Peel version, which to the best of my knowledge has never been officially released. You can hear it for yourself, if you like. Might want to borrow a copy have a listen before Auntie Beeb nukes it.

  7. Jim84

    The sliders never had decent keyboards

    The Priv and all other sliders suffered from having keyboards with very shallow keypresses, they were a forerunner of the hated butterfly keys on the mac laptops in some ways.

    I don't know how you could solve this problem without having either a gap at the bottom of the phone, to allow enough key movement, or an annoyingly big "lip" at the bottom of the keyboard. Maybe there is some obvious way to do this that my brain can't figure out. A lip that folds down when the screen is slid up?

    One potential advantage - if you could slide the screen down to reveal a selfie camera (as well as up to reveal a keyboard) 100% of the front of the phone could be screen.

    Even then, I don't know if there is much of a market for physical keyboards. If you want productivity on the go you'd be much better taking a bag and a ultrabook laptop or 2in1. Phones with keyboards fall between the two stools of "light entertainment device" and "productivity device/laptop".

    1. Reg Reader 1

      Re: The sliders never had decent keyboards

      My little old LG Rumour 2 had a decent side slide keyboard, limited as it was. Surely, they can beat that these days.

    2. Trygve Henriksen

      Re: The sliders never had decent keyboards

      The Planet Computers Astra(on IGG now) is a slider keyboard model, and 5G.

      If you can make do with 4G, there's their Gemini and Cosmo units.

      I reccommend the Cosmo, though. Faster, good camera, good sound, backlit keyboard...

      I have a 12" DELL 2-in-one machine, and before that I used a DELL 7240 Ultrabook. Neither of them were usable for writing on the bus or otherwise 'less than perfect' workspace.

      (I have a half hour bus trip every morning and afternoon... )

      The 6 and 7" 'mini laptop' segment?

      Quite a few of those have really sucky keybaord compared to the Cosmo and Geminis.

    3. DemeterLast

      Re: The sliders never had decent keyboards

      My last Blackberry was the Bold, and it's still my favorite phone, even with the jacked up Java OS and terrible browser. I used it as my main email device, the keyboard was that good. I switched mobile providers after that, and the new one never adopted the new BBs, so just missed the QNX devices.

      When you have a really good device, you end up using it for 80-90% of your communications stuff (email, SMS). I never clocked my typing speed, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was 20-25 WPM, which I will never reach with my iPhone. But most people want a phone that's part camera, part movie theater, so the development dollars go that way.

      Man, I miss the old Blackberry. They were similar to Nextel in that they were really, crazy good in one area, but never quite got the consumer side well enough to survive.

    4. Dave 15 Silver badge

      Re: The sliders never had decent keyboards

      The Nokia E7 keyboard is very good, movement, feel and when you push the screen off the top of the keyboard it angles very nicely indeed. To be recommended. For all it has it is only a tiny fraction thicker than a modern touch screen

  8. karlkarl Silver badge

    My suggestion is:

    If you don't need to put it online, just get a cheap ~£20 Blackberry Bold from CEX instead.

    If you do need to put it online. Don't, buy a laptop instead.

  9. bed

    Not forgetting the Gemini, now almost up Android 8.1

  10. VicMortimer

    A physical keyboard? On a phone? In 2020?

    Does it get much stupider than that?

    Seriously, there are maybe 10 people who want that garbage.

    Physical keyboards are great on computers, where they're big enough that you can touch type. I'm using one now. But they are utterly pointless on a phone. You get to hunt and peck anyway, there's no advantage when you can't put both hands on the home row. It's just more crap to break.

    1. bed


      My Nokia E7 was really useful when having to generate a reasonable amount of text while out and about. Maybe a bit bulky, but a really useful device. Shame the USB port broke.

      1. Dave 15 Silver badge

        Re: Doh!

        My E7 has no USB problems, just measured it against other phones I have - new Nokia, BB one, wifes iPhone etc. Its thicker than most, not by a whole lot to be honest, but less wide and tall. All in pretty damned good and it certainly passes the 'shirt pocket' test

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Yet another sad example of "people who like tech that I don't like are wrong!"

      People have different requirements and preferences. For many people who don't touch type, full size keyboards are not as easy to use as you might think. Personally, every time I type more than one paragraph on my iPad's horrible (some people like it though) onscreen keyboard, I want to scream. And yearn for a nice stylus and handwriting recognition. Like my old HP Vista tablet edition thingamijig with the fold-away keyboard. Others think that is pants, which is why the iPad didn't have one until very recently, and even now have deliberately crippled it to make it a drawing tool that you have to bodge to get it to do handwriting.

    3. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

      Does it get much stupider than that?

      Apparently you showed it does. I used to win typing contests with friends on my old Relay's physical keyboard while those friends used their touch screen phones. The whole reason auto-correction to typing was implemented on phones is because the touch screen typing is so bad & error prone.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Does it get much stupider than that?

        ... and if you use a lot of tech jargon in your screen typing (or any typing for that matter), the auto-correct piss smells all the time. I have mine permanently turned off because it made so many incorrections.

        I think I have claustrophonia... I hate touch screen typing and prefer to use a minimum of a 13" screen laptop with real keyboard.

    4. Man inna barrel Bronze badge

      Touch screens drive me nuts. I am always hitting the wrong things. I have trouble with the touchpad on my laptop emitting unwanted clicks as I move around the screen. It screwed up some PCB CAD the other day.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        I loved my old HP touch screen laptop converible thingy. Admittedly it weighed more than twice as much as the original iPad (which I replaced it with) and therefore 4 times an iPad Air/Pro.

        But it had a stylus. And a lovely button on the trackpad that disabled it, and lit up red to tell it had done it. The WiFi switch on the front did the same. I think I've lost count of the times someone has told me their WiFi isn't working, and then I've found a tiny black slider switch on the front of machine, set to off. That they didn't even know existed.

        Went to fix my colleague's laptop the other day. Couldn't find the on switch. Tiny silver button on the side, hidden on a sliver background between two USB ports. Cheers for making my life easy guys!

  11. Jeffrey Nonken

    A text I just sent to my daughter a few minutes ago after missing an autocomplete muff:

    "Stupid airports. I mean autonomously. F***. I mean agriculture. Good gamut. I mean God damn it! STUPID AUTOCOMPLETE!!!"

    (Self-censoring the f-word here.) All those A-words were me trying to enter "autocomplete", which I finally had to spell out. Would this have happened on a real keyboard? Newp.

    Some days I really, really miss my Sidekick II.

    Personally, I never liked the keyboard on the Crackberry. Too cramped. I did like the keyboard on the Sidekick. Less cramped. YMMV.

  12. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Phones break. Keyboards break. Phones get updated. Not necessarily at the same time.

    Therefore: makes sense to have a keyboard that can carried over to one's next phone.

    There was a promising keyboard for the Moto Mod system, before that platform died a death.

    1. the hatter

      It's the same economies of scale issue. How many people want to buy a separate yet somewhat integrated keyboard, and for which phone sizes/formats ? The moto mod system was just as doomed as every ecowarrior'smodule/upgradeable mobile phone kickstarter, you just can't incorporate enough flexibility to future-proof the mod format, so you get all the downsides of a modular system and when you need a new feature in your new phone, you're unlikely to want to, even if you can, reuse those components.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Yeah, the Mod system was tied to j e size of phone - albeit a size of phone many people have settled upon for the last few upgrades. I always felt it was doomed because Motorola didn't licence it out. As you say, economies of scale, critical mass of adoption.

        Still, Nokia used to have external data / power contacts across several generations of phone, and I believe Apple have external magnetic connectors on the newer iPads for keyboards.

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Manufacturers of physical keyboards have to print so many layouts to please each market, or make everyone suffer a US keyboard. So virtual it is like it or lump it.

      1. Dave 15 Silver badge

        Printing is actually pretty trivial and a small part of the cost so customisation for different layouts there is really cheap.

        You could go to the extreme I saw once of LCD key caps that changed with the keyboard layout selected and could even be customised via software.... somewhat overkill really As I tend to touch type on my physical keyboard I can use one layout despite the printing and still get it right

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bring back the cursor!

    For all the talk of QWERTY keyboards, one input feature I really miss is the cursor from my BlackBerry Torch. It was very useful for fine grain selections without having to zoom in, along with a few other tricks. Having used an external mouse with my Android phone, a cursor would be a nice addition.

    1. seven of five Silver badge

      Re: Bring back the cursor!

      The Blackberry keyboard app brings a set of cursor keys with it.

  14. TeeCee Gold badge

    Not a chance.

    ...see whether OnwardMobility retains the most popular features...

    You mean producing a BES and locking the things to that?

    That's the only reason the sodding things sold like hot cakes to the corp market[1] back in the day. Without that functionality, they're just another handset and rather overpriced for the spec for added "last nail in the coffin" value.

    [1] Consumer sales were all down to "Iz emale nd msg thing iz must hav yes?", so they're royally buggered for a USP there these days.

  15. Dinsdale247

    I'm all for it

    As someone that just recently switched away from a Blackberry Passport Silver, I welcome this development. The question is: will it work with LineageOS?

  16. Happytodiscuss

    Now that we are used to jumbo iphones, how about a jumbo BB with keyboard

    Still slogging away with my BB LE2 and rue that I may have to move to another manufacturer's phone when this one is done. Using an iPhone 11 for non-critical stuff, I am used to carrying one phone in my back pocket and the BB phone in my front pocket. The way phones are going, make the new BB phone larger and thicker, add the keyboard and a nice sized battery would work for me.

  17. Dave 15 Silver badge


    It is more accurate, faster and much easier to use than this screen shit

    Mind, they need to fix the rest of the phone... my keyone : the back fell off, the battery has swollen, it fails to receive calls properly (more than 80% of calls either they cant hear me or I cant hear me or both). The quality is terrible BUT the keyboard is wonderful!

    1. Dave 15 Silver badge

      Re: I WANT A KEYBOARD!!!!!!

      To be fair on the calls it could be an android thing in part, I have another android (android one) that has a similar issue but not as bad, that also leaks memory and crashes

  18. KimJongDeux

    I loved my Blackberry Key2, best phone ever. You trade off being able to watch videos for a brilliant physical keyboard; you can't get both so don't whinge.

    And then ... the space bar stopped spacing. F&*%$ me. Would never have happened back in RIM days.

    1. fowljr

      I'll have to agree on this. I did love the Key2 until it stopped getting updates. That's the major problem they need to solve methinks.

  19. Semper Phoenix

    A 2nd Alt key?

    Enquiring minds want to know (ok, me; still using my antiquated 2012 BB Curve) if the new BB will have a 2nd Alt key, on the righthand side of the keyboard?

  20. This post has been deleted by its author

  21. Where's my new Phone

    Where is my 5G Blackberry???

    I hope it is a side too! I am using a Priv now. I have a Key2 but I really like the slide feature of the Priv. Still waiting.............

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021