While the specifications and software are not yet finalized, the BlackBerry ‘Mercury’ is a promising Android phone targeted toward people who prefer physical keyboards, as well as BlackBerry’s suite of secure apps such as BBM.
BlackBerry kicked its own BlackBerry Operating System to the curb last year in favor of the more popular Android OS, and no longer manufactures its own phones, but that doesn’t mean they’re dead. Rather, BlackBerry has partnered with TCL to release Android phones under the BlackBerry brand name. The latest device, revealed behind closed doors at CES 2017, doesn’t have a name yet, so we’ll rely on its internet code name — “Mercury” — which BlackBerry suggested.
If you’re unaware, TCL manufactures phones under the Alcatel brand name. BlackBerry’s first devices under the new partnership with TCL were the DTEK50 and DTEK60, which are rebranded Alcatel phones announced and released toward the end of 2016. They all carry the same software experience that includes the BlackBerry Hub, the DTEK security app, and the famed BlackBerry Messenger (BBM).
The same applies for the Mercury — though instead of targeting the budget and midrange line, the new device will pit itself against flagship devices like Apple’s iPhone 7 and Google’s Pixel. While BlackBerry had not released hardware specifications for the device, its price, or its release date — the company has now teased an announcement date of February 25 at Mobile World Congress.
Regardless, we managed to get some hands-on time with the Mercury, and we can talk about how it feels. The software was far from being finalized, so we can’t comment on it yet other than the fact that it runs Android 7.0 Nougat.
For all you hardcore BlackBerry fans — the Mercury has a QWERTY keyboard with capacitive gesture capabilities, akin to the physical keyboard on the Priv. That means you can swipe up and down, left and right on the keyboard to move through your home screen, or even scroll through apps.
What’s unique is the fingerprint sensor, which is embedded into the space bar on the front of the device. We couldn’t test it out yet, but it’s a unique way of adding the sensor onto the front panel — rather than extending the bezel to accommodate it. Above the keyboard are capacitive navigation buttons that offer strong haptic feedback.
The device carries a rectangular shape that’s quite elongated due to the physical keyboard — it’s smaller than a 5.5-inch phone such as the Google Pixel, and the screen is even smaller. BlackBerry hasn’t offered specific details yet, but the Mercury felt fairly chunky. It has a soft-touch back that seems a little cheap for a flagship phone.
The Mercury runs Android 7.0 Nougat.
There is a headphone jack, and what looks to be down-firing speakers. Sitting in between the speakers is a USB Type-C charging port.
The Mercury carries the same “Convenience Key” that’s available on the DTEK60 and the DTEK50 — it’s basically a customizable hotkey to specific apps or tools, such as the camera. The power button was on the left, and the volume rocker sat above the Convenience Key on the right.
To be clear, the Mercury is a joint venture from BlackBerry and TCL and the hardware and software aren’t final.
The Mercury runs Android 7.0 Nougat, and TCL says BlackBerry’s mobile team will continue to issue digitally-signed security updates for the device — including Google’s monthly security updates for Android.
The user-interface is almost exactly stock Android, but BlackBerry has a few of its own tweaks to the OS. For example, the overview button shows previous apps in a grid-like layout. You’ll also find pre-installed BlackBerry apps, such as BBM, BlackBerry Hub, and DTEK by BlackBerry.
As we mentioned, BlackBerry and TCL aren’t releasing specifications for the Mercury yet. Previous rumors suggest the device may pack a Snapdragon 821, features a 4.5-inch display, and a resolution of 1,680 x 1,080-pixels. This may change by the final announcement.