BlackBerry KEY2 hands-on: utility at its finest
Once thought of as an afterthought, the BlackBerry name has seen a significant amount of resurgence in the last couple of years. Much of its renewed reputation can be attributed to the company's adoption of Google's Android mobile platform, and subsequently, a return to a familiar form-factor that first brought the company notoriety in the space. And with last year's release of the KEYOne, it seemingly reaffirmed that the company was back on track – once again becoming a relevant player.
Now, though, we're finally getting a proper successor in the form of the BlackBerry KEY2, which may seem to stick with the usual routine, but don't let its familiar looks fool you because it's rich in new features and hardware that should make it one coveted smartphone. In an era where the all-touchscreen form-factor reigns supreme, it's really impressive that the KEY2 will continue to win over people with its portrait style physical keyboard. Let's find out how this one stacks up!
From afar, it's tough to discern any notable changes to the design of the KEY2, since it doesn't stray too far from the recipe that perfected already with the KEYOne. Upon closer inspection, however, it becomes abundantly clear that a phone that even more premium in its construction than previously before! It all starts with the solid and substantial feel of the phone, which features a series 7 aluminum frame, 2.5D Gorilla Glass, and a new diamond pattern rear cover. One notable difference that really stands out here with the design is how they shaved off even more off its chassis, resulting in a sleeker looking smartphone at 8.5mm thin!
Other changes to the design include the repositioning of the rigid power button, which now sits more appropriately on the right edge of the phone and in between the volume and convenience keys. While we're not all too surprised that the USB Type-C port is found here once again, we're just grateful that they've kept the 3.5mm headphone jack. Given how many newer phones have been phasing it out, it's a relief and wonder to recognize that BlackBerry and TCL still view it as an asset to consumers.
Setting itself apart from the majority of smartphones out there, its portrait style keyboard offers additional utility that power users crave. For the most part, the layout of the keyboard hasn't changed all that much, but they've been able to increase the height of the keys by 20% – making it more distinguishable to the fingers. It helps, too, that the buttons offer superior tactility to provide that satisfying response when typing away. Inspecting it a bit closer, there's now a dedicated speed key that allows users to enable shortcuts to a multitude of things, even when they're within an app already.
In the specs department, we're essentially presented with the same display as before – so that's a 4.5-inch 1620 x 1080 IPS LCD Display with a 3:2 screen aspect ratio. Despite having the same screen size and resolution, we have no complaints about its characteristics, mainly because it exudes qualities that we find agreeable. For starters, the 2.5D Gorilla Glass 3 gives it a more elegant look, as the subtle curve around the edges seamlessly meets the aluminum frame. Colors appear natural in tone without appearing dull or washed out, while distortion isn't too bad at various viewing angles.
The only questionable thing is its brightness output. So far, it appears sufficient enough during the overcast conditions we were checking it out, but we're eager to see how potent it can become under direct sunlight.
If security and privacy are high on your list, then you won't be disappointed by the BlackBerry KEY2 at all. Simply, it's the most secure smartphone you'll find on the market, which is a testament to how the company takes pride in its efforts in this particular area. Running Android 8.1 Oreo, the typical Android experience is obviously enhanced by the wealth of signature software features that have accompanied previous devices – like DTEK for providing users with an overview of the phone's security, BlackBerry Hub as the one-stop area for all your messaging needs, and leveraging the capacitive nature of the keyboard to scroll.
When it comes to privacy, the KEY2 has an enhanced Locker to give users control of not only making folders and documents private, but even apps too from prying eyes. Are you afraid of someone coming across your web surfing history? Well, fear no longer because with the KEY2, you can quickly clear anything that's cached. Like we said, BlackBerry takes pride in its legendary reputation for security – making the KEY2 one of the most secure phones you can pick up!
Many people tend to gauge a phone's caliber by what kind of processor they're packing. In the case of the BlackBerry KEY2, it's actually powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 660 SoC. Now, this might be a predicament for some people, especially given how top of the line phones have leveraged the Snapdragon 845 so far. Don't let the Snapdragon 660 influence your decision, just because the phone feels responsive enough to handle heavy multitasking during our time checking it out. Better yet, it's paired with an ample 6GB of RAM and comes with either 64GB or 128GB of internal storage – with expansion courtesy of its microSD card slot!
Call it a first for them, but BlackBerry is finally in the dual-camera game. The KEY2 is rocking a pair of 12MP accompanied with a dual tone LED flash, dual phase detection auto-focus, and 4K HDR video recording. With the new dual camera implementation, it allows the KEY2 to capture portrait shots – allowing it to isolate subjects while softening the background. After snapping up a few shots in portrait mode, we're really impressed by how well it's able to apply the bokeh effect to the shot. For the most part, it seems to apply the correct amount of softening around the edges of our subject. Meanwhile, there's a single fixed 8MP camera around the front. Unfortunately, there's no portrait mode offered with the front-facing camera.
Already, there's a lot to like about the KEY2, but its new cameras are equally just as compelling. There's so much hardware and goodies packed into its body already, so we're crossing our fingers that it can deliver the goods in this department as well.
There was no denying that the KEYOne impressed a ton of people with its impeccable battery life, achieving one of the best results in our own battery tests. Well, the KEY2 will no doubt live up to the expectations with its 3500 mAh battery capacity. We're told that it's the kind of thing that can easily reach two-days from a single charge, so we're eager to see how it stacks in real life situations. What's impressive, too, is that they're able to retain almost the same capacity while trimming the thickness of the phone. Its recharge time should benefit as well with this new model, seeing that Qualcomm's Quick Charge 3.0 technology leverage here.
Let's get the most pressing matter about the BlackBerry KEY2 out of the way, which is none other than its price. When it begins to ship globally later this month, it'll be attached with a retail price of $649. There's no word yet on carrier availability here in the US, but we guess that'll be announced respectively by the carriers that intend on selling it. Naturally, the question that remains here is whether or not the $649 cost will get consumers to budge – more so when it's an increase of $100 over its predecessor initial cost last year.
Despite that, the BlackBerry KEY2's price now sits in that range occupied by most flagships such as the iPhone 8 and Samsung Galaxy S9, which start out respectively at $700 and $720. The $649 KEY2 is nonetheless still a discount against them, but it certainly will make anyone rethink their decision. We've seen how the OnePlus 6 has set the benchmark with its pricing of $530, which by comparison leverages the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip.
Then again, the BlackBerry KEY2 isn't one to battle in the specs arena. Rather, it sets out on a path that shows consumers that it's a phone for utility. Right from the onset, it's setting itself on a path of success for its tweaked design, dual-camera implementation, long-lasting battery life, and the most secure smartphone around. And yeah, there's the matter of its physical keyboard too, which adds yet even more utility than your average smartphone. When you add up all of those factors, the BlackBerry KEY2's $649 cost seems more reasonable than initially thought!