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With the Classic, BlackBerry looks back to the future

December 31, 2014, 12:53 AM UTC
BlackBerry Classic (2014) front wide
BlackBerry Classic (2014) front wide
Courtesy of BlackBerry

In 2004 you would have been hard pressed to find me without a BlackBerry 7280 attached to my hip. In 2005 it was the smaller, SureType-equipped 7105t. In 2006 it was the Pearl 8100. In 2007 it was the Curve 8300. In 2008 it was the Storm 9530, followed by the World Edition 8830. In 2009 it was the Tour 9630. And finally, in 2010, it was the Pearl 3G 9100.

I was there through it all: the scroll wheel, the trackball, the trackpad.

I tapped out e-mails and BBM messages without even a glance at the device. I customized and memorized keyboard shortcuts to launch my favorite apps, including a few apps I had developed myself. I knew what each different LED alert color represented, and if I needed to take action. I convinced everyone from my mother to my grandfather to get a BlackBerry. I even started a dedicated BlackBerry news site, BerryScoop, where I would poke fun at the “inferior” experience on the iPhone and Verizon’s Droid line of Android phones.

For a period of my life, I wanted nothing more than to see BlackBerry (BBRY) remain atop the smartphone food chain.

In 2010, my allegiance shifted. I started using another smartphone: Apple’s iPhone 4. The allure of a larger screen, a touch-screen interface, and superior apps made up for subpar battery life and the lack of—at the time, anyway—quality productivity apps made for Apple’s mobile operating system. I’ve been using iPhones ever since.

Two weeks ago, a package from Amazon arrived at my doorstep that made me question my current smartphone choice. Inside the box: BlackBerry’s latest smartphone, known simply as the Classic.

The $450 Classic is designed to resemble the BlackBerry Bold, a favorite among business executives before the company’s wares fell out of favor. If you’re an executive who had one, the Classic evokes a nostalgia akin to watching your first car drive by on the highway. The device’s layout follows the traditional BlackBerry template, with a few modernizing updates. A 3.5-inch touchscreen sits just above the familiar optical trackpad, which is sandwiched between the ‘call’ and ‘menu’ keys on the left, with the ‘back’ and ‘end’ keys to the right. Underneath the navigation keys rests the tried-and-true BlackBerry keyboard. (As opposed to the other one.)

As I entered my credentials during the initial device setup, the four rows of evenly spaced keys immediately induced muscle memory. Indeed there were times when I felt like I was incoherently mashing on the keys—a transition from the touch-screen interface of my iPhone. But by the end of the first week, I was back to typing without looking. (Let me be clear: I still think the forgiving nature a digital keyboard affords us by allowing for errant typing is preferable, but the emotional bond between a user and his or her physical keyboard, even after years of separation, is a hard one to break.)

BlackBerry promises the 2515 milliamp-hour battery in the Classic holds enough juice to power you through 22 hours of use. During testing, I consistently coaxed roughly 15 hours out of it through heavy usage of social media apps such as Facebook and Twitter,email, some music playback, and SMS and BBM messaging, all of which can take a toll on any battery. Even with the seven-hour difference in real world usage versus BlackBerry’s claim, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the Classic’s battery will get most users through a typical work day and an early business dinner.

On the software side, the Classic is running the latest version of the BlackBerry 10 operating system—version 10.3.1 to be exact. The OS was built for navigation through a series of touch gestures. A swipe-up from the bottom of the screen to close an app. A swipe from the left-side of the screen reveals the Hub, where all of your messages are kept. Swiping in from the right or down from the top of the screen reveals a menu and settings screen, respectively. By adding a menu and back button to a BlackBerry 10 device, Classic users can almost forget about the gestures required to navigate the OS. Over time, I grew to appreciate the ability to leave my thumbs on or near the keyboard, navigating solely by physical keys and the trackpad.

The Classic’s screen is larger than both the Bold 9900 and the Q10, the first BlackBerry 10 device with a physical keyboard. Still, I sometimes felt that the screen was too small. One example: when managing my inbox using BlackBerry 10’s instant actions feature to quickly delete or file messages. When enabled, the instant-action icons are placed atop each message’s listing towards the right side of the screen. On larger-screened BlackBerry 10 devices like the Z30 or the Passport, the actions cover up only the tail end of a message’s preview. On the Classic, almost half of the message preview is covered with the buttons. I end up bouncing between my inbox and open messages in order to gather enough information to make a decision on how to handle the communication, instead of quickly glancing and dealing with it.

Despite the Classic’s dual-core, 1.5-gigahertz processor and 2 gigabytes of memory, I experienced occasional stuttering and sluggish performance when switching between apps or waiting for a message to load in the BlackBerry Hub. The delay was even more pronounced when opening an e-mail containing any sort of attachment. On one occasion the Classic slowed down to such a crawl that I felt forced to remove the battery and reboot the device. Unfortunately the battery isn’t removable—old habits die hard—but I was able to hold in the power button until a restart button appeared on the screen. A few minutes later, I was back in business.

Despite the seemingly random performance issues and the cramped screen, the BlackBerry Classic is the best BlackBerry I’ve ever used. It’s something I would have lusted and drooled over in 2010, and to a lesser extent something I find myself lusting over today, in 2014. If you’re a regular reader of this column, this may come as a shock—I did not look kindly on BlackBerry’s Passport. But the Classic is the real deal.

There’s one catch, though: I find it near impossible to re-pledge my allegiance to BlackBerry. The truth is, I’m spoiled by two competitors: Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.

From either, I can tap a button to summon a private car, adjust the temperature within my house, count how many steps I’ve taken, view my driving score, and capture better photos than I ever imagined a smartphone camera would be capable of—then share them on Instagram. Granted there are ways to install some of those apps and services on a BlackBerry 10 device, but it’s more work than it should be and the last thing I want to worry about.

A lack of third-party services isn’t the only issue. Since BlackBerry’s brush with death, my friends and family members have moved on to other devices, making it a hard sale for them to download and set up BlackBerry Messenger just because I decided, yet again, to switch platforms. Their additional work would only benefit me.

So until the time comes to place the Classic back in its box and ship it back, I’ll hold it close, daydreaming about what could have been. For those who have yet to taste the forbidden fruit, or those who have and still long for a physical keyboard, I’ll say it: the Classic is the BlackBerry you’ve been looking for.

Correction, December 31, 2014: An earlier version of this article misstated the release date of the BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9100. It was announced in April 2010 and released the following month.

Logged In” is Fortune’s personal technology column, written by Jason Cipriani. Read it on each Tuesday.