While Blackberry as a company has stepped back from producing any new phone hardware for now, TCL, the parent company behind Alcatel has stepped up. The company teased a new handset earlier this week, but at CES the prototype is here and it’s lovely.
TCL has said that though the hardware design is pretty much final, they’re still not ready to share any specs (and I wasn’t allowed to install any apps to get a better idea) and the software is still being finalised, but will feature the DTEK security suite as the backbone of its feature set.
The phone itself has a solid feel to it, but with an aluminium body it’s not overly heavy and the rubberised rear gives it a warmer, more comfortable feel that’s not cold and unforgiving while at the same time making it easier to grip. It’s got a sloping curved sides which makes it just that much easier to sit in your hands, so using it for longer periods should be quite a comfortable experience.
The highlight, for me on the Mercury — yes, they’re going to rename it, is the keyboard. It’s a divisive feature, you either love a physical keyboard or decry it as an artefact of a bygone age, where as I like to see it as a more elegant weapon from a more civilised age ;). The keyboard has the beautiful angled Blackberry keys they became famous for, and it’s very easy to type on with your fingers sliding from one key to the next almost instinctively. That flow is also shown on-screen as the keyboard is touch sensitive allowing you to simply swipe across and move home screens etc. The space bar also houses a fingerprint sensor (which isn’t working on this prototype), but is almost unmissable if you’re not looking for it.
The Mercury will have bottom firing speakers, or at least there’s two grilles on the bottom, whether it’s a stereo speaker setup or simply a symmetrical design flourish like the Pixel remains to be seen. As expected, the phone has a USB-C port, putting it in line with other flagship level phones on the market. The phone does indeed include a headphone jack and a dedicated camera button sitting beneath the volume rocker to let you quickly launch into the camera functions and of course the power button is on the other side.
The phone feels responsive when using it, though it wasn’t loaded up with a huge amount of apps, and as TCL said to me a number of times, it’s not finalised as yet.
Blackberry and TCL will announce the Mercury, under its new name of course, at Mobile World Congress in February. Ausdroid will be on the ground ready to get all the details when they do. The Mercury is a very lovely device and if this is the level of quality that TCL can bring to the market, then the Blackberry hardware brand is in very good hands.