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BlackBerry KEYone Review

BlackBerry KEYone

Posted: , by Stephen S.


BlackBerry KEYone Review


Smartphone users come in all shapes and sizes, so why are our phones all so similar? Sure, you have your pick from among plenty of different brands, but when's the last time you used a phone that really felt different? Newer, shinier – absolutely – and no doubt each year when you survey the landscape of new phones arriving, they're all faster and crammed to the brim with upgraded features like better and better cameras. But that's what everyone's doing, and it's easy to feel when shopping for that next handset that you're choosing from between a dozen different versions of the same thing.

But all hope for a little variety isn't lost, and sometimes instead of looking to future innovators to show us what we didn't even know we needed, it pays to take a look back at the past, searching for ideas that once worked well c and maybe could again.

BlackBerry KEYone Review
BlackBerry's a brand that gets a lot of criticism for coasting by on nostalgia, crafting smartphones for stuffy businessman-users who learned how to operate a BlackBerry Bold back in 2008 and can't be bothered to familiarize themselves with anything more modern. And while there's probably some truth in that, you'd be doing yourself a disservice to dismiss the brand entirely based only on prejudices of out-of-touch users or the specter of plummeting market share.

The past few years have seen BlackBerry try to keep itself relevant in a number of ways, most recently by moving to Android for the software powering its phones, and outsourcing hardware to companies like TCL, the firm behind Alcatel handsets. That partnership brought us last year's pair of DTEK phones, but neither made a lot of waves. Now TCL and BlackBerry are trying something a little different, taking that Android-based formula and putting a classic BlackBerry spin on it, as they bring back the hardware QWERTY keyboard for the new BlackBerry KEYone.

Is this finally the perfect storm of design and features that will have dime-a-dozen full-touch phones feeling jealous? Or is this just a crutch for users who never got the hand of touchscreen typing?

We've spent the last week getting to know the KEYone in the hope of finding out. Let's take a look at what we've learned.

In the box:

  • BlackBerry KEYone
  • USB Type-C to standard-A cable
  • Fast charger
  • SIM tool
  • Earbuds
  • Alternate earbud tips
  • Warranty card
  • Safety and product info
  • Quick-start quide


BlackBerry KEYone Review
BlackBerry KEYone Review
BlackBerry KEYone Review
BlackBerry KEYone Review

OK, so you've set your mind on building a phone with a hardware keyboard. Yes, you're aware the calendar says “2017” – you're still seeing this one through. Your next big decision is where to find room for all that hardware. After all, modern smartphone design has been all about bigger screens and smaller everything else for years now, leaving precious extra room in which to squeeze in a keyboard.

Back in 2015, BlackBerry got its ambitious Android experiment started with the Priv, another handset featuring a keyboard. While that time BlackBerry elected to go the portrait-mode slider route, allowing the phone to have a full-size screen as well as that keyboard, the KEYone drops the whole sliding mechanic for a monolithic design.

There are some real benefits to that in terms of usability, keeping features like keyboard app shortcuts and swipe gestures available at all times – at the expense of space. That's driven TCL to go with a petite 4.5-inch screen (one we'll talk more about next), rather than the big 5.43-inch panel on the Priv. Below the screen we find a trio of capacitive Android buttons – another bit of an oddity in the hardware-design department, but like the keyboard itself, a decision that helps to keep the screen clean and uncrowded.

The body of the KEYone feels remarkably solid, with a sturdy aluminum frame, high-quality-feeling textured faux-leather back, and the tasteful, professional-looking juxtaposition of shiny silver and black accents all over.

On the bottom edge below the keyboard we've got the phone's speaker and USB Type-C port, and the headphone jack lives up top. Along the left edge the power button sits alone, and on the right side we have the volume rocker and the KEYone's “Convenience Key,” a programmable shortcut button.

If it's been years since you've used a phone with a keyboard – or as is increasingly likely for a new generation of smartphone users, have never used one before – the KEYone's going to feel a little unnatural at first. And while there's definitely a burn-in period where we learned to appreciate how best to hold and interact with the hardware, it didn't take very long at all before we found ourselves won over by the KEYone's design and construction. It's just quite well done, and feels a whole lot better than you probably thought was possible from a “dying” brand.

BlackBerry KEYone
5.87 x 2.85 x 0.37 inches
149.1 x 72.4 x 9.4 mm
6.35 oz (180 g)

BlackBerry KEYone

Apple iPhone 7
5.44 x 2.64 x 0.28 inches
138.3 x 67.1 x 7.1 mm
4.87 oz (138 g)

Apple iPhone 7

Samsung Galaxy S8
5.86 x 2.68 x 0.31 inches
148.9 x 68.1 x 8.0 mm
5.36 oz (152 g)

Samsung Galaxy S8

5.86 x 2.83 x 0.31 inches
148.9 x 71.9 x 7.9 mm
5.75 oz (163 g)


To see the phones in real size or compare them with other models, visit our Visual Phone Size Comparison page.


Super-bright output helps this compact screen shine

This is really shaping up to be a year dominated by smartphones with non-traditional screens, and following the likes of the LG G6 and Samsung Galaxy S8 thumbing their noses at conventional 16:9 widescreen aspect ratios, the KEYone similarly says to hell with tradition, delivering a 4.5-inch screen with the sort of 3:2 aspect ratio that we normally only see on tablets.

BlackBerry KEYone Review

The 1080 x 1620 resolution is nice and sharp at this screen size, and while the shape of the display isn't exactly media-friendly, it works just fine for viewing documents, working with tables, and consuming all matter of web-based content.

TCL also does a nice job with screen brightness, and while the manual mode tops out a little bit short of what we like to see from our phones, the auto-brightness mode has a much higher maximum output, right up there with the iPhone 7 – a smartphone brightness king.

Color reproduction is a little spotty, but while things may not be super accurate, they at least look good. Maybe don't proof something for the printers on the KEYone, but you should have no problem in regular usage.

Display measurements and quality

Maximum brightness (nits)Higher is better Minimum brightness (nits)Lower is better Contrast Higher is better Color temperature (Kelvins) Gamma Delta E rgbcmy Lower is better Delta E grayscale Lower is better
BlackBerry KEYone 665
Apple iPhone 7 632
Samsung Galaxy S8 570
LG G6 506
View all

  • Options

posted on 04 May 2017, 08:06 6

1. Plasticsh1t (Posts: 2176; Member since: 01 Sep 2014)

BB is back on track with a very unique smartphone. Good job.

posted on 04 May 2017, 10:45 4

17. LebronJamesFanboy (Posts: 645; Member since: 23 Mar 2013)

I'm buying one no matter what. Still going to use my Mi Note 2 or GS7 Edge as daily drivers, but I just can't help it.

This phone looks so damn good to me in terms of build and hardware.

posted on 04 May 2017, 13:29

27. DoggyDangerous (Posts: 1010; Member since: 28 Aug 2015)

I am going to pass on and will opt for Xiaomi mi6. Blackberry has killed this beautiful phone for me by opting for low end soc.

I wish that there will be KeyTwo or Keyone pro with sd835 in future.

posted on 04 May 2017, 13:32 4

28. meanestgenius (Posts: 16598; Member since: 28 May 2014)

There will be a KEYtwo. Not sure it will be the one with the flagship specs, but there is a BlackBerry branded handset coming out from BlackBerry Mobile with a flagship SoC in it.

posted on 04 May 2017, 13:36 3

29. BuffaloSouce (Posts: 287; Member since: 01 May 2017)

It doesn't need the 835 because its not a power hungry media toy like every flagship

posted on 04 May 2017, 15:41 5

33. meanestgenius (Posts: 16598; Member since: 28 May 2014)

Totally agree with you there. This handset is meant for productivity and getting work done, and this handset more than provides that as is.

posted on 05 May 2017, 15:00 3

36. Mxyzptlk (unregistered)

But it costs almost as much as a flagship. It doesn't have a QHD screen, so it's not like it would have been difficult to include a better processor.

posted on 05 May 2017, 16:10 3

43. meanestgenius (Posts: 16598; Member since: 28 May 2014)

I'm actually glad that they didn't include a power hungry processor as opposed to a more power efficient one this time around. This handset screams productivity, and part of productivity means having fantastic power management.

posted on 06 May 2017, 00:34

49. DoggyDangerous (Posts: 1010; Member since: 28 Aug 2015)

I think that productivity mean, to have a powerful soc.

I have a powerful desktop in the office to accommodate the productivity related task. Because a PC with a normal specs cannot accommodate Photoshop, Coral, AutoCAD, eagle eye etc.

posted on 06 May 2017, 01:39

50. meanestgenius (Posts: 16598; Member since: 28 May 2014)

You don't necessarily need the latest and greatest in SoC's for proper productivity. You need something that manages power more and that's less power hungry so you're not plugging your device in 2 or 3 times just to get through the day.

posted on 06 May 2017, 10:28

51. Mxyzptlk (unregistered)

I agree. Some productivity options, like the ones you listed above, would require a much better SoC than what's provided in the KeyONE. Some people don't see that because they think that they are the only ones who will benefit from the KeyONE.

posted on 06 May 2017, 11:16

59. meanestgenius (Posts: 16598; Member since: 28 May 2014)

Some people don't understand that we are talking about smartphones, and SoC at hand is more than up to the task. But of course, some people will say anything negative (not you) about a BlackBerry branded handset, and think that they're he only ones who will benefit from them.

posted on 08 May 2017, 07:47

72. Mxyzptlk (unregistered)

Understand that you can't say anything about blackberry that is even slightly negative otherwise you'll have to hear the salty tears and butthurt from a wasp. Best to just put on a beekeeper suit and spray some Raid on it.

I agree about the SoC can be better. They could have used the same one the G6 is using or even the SD 810.

posted on 08 May 2017, 07:59

79. meanestgenius (Posts: 16598; Member since: 28 May 2014)

Understand that there cannot be a BlackBerry article without its resident troll trying to stir up negativity, even when there is none to begin with. He keeps on crying out in pain every time there is a positive article concerning BlackBerry, as if BlackBerry touched him on his "special parts" when he was a cub.

This is arguably the best SD SoC available for power management, which lends to productivity, which is what BlackBerry is all about. The battery benchmarks prove it.

posted on 08 May 2017, 14:31

86. Mxyzptlk (unregistered)


posted on 08 May 2017, 15:14

95. meanestgenius (Posts: 16598; Member since: 28 May 2014)

Lol, either autocorrect made a fail out of you once again, or you're too much of a coward to direct your comments at me.

posted on 09 May 2017, 14:18

103. Mxyzptlk (unregistered)

You're the last person who should be talking about Autocorrect fail.

And no, I'm not afraid of directing anything. I'm not a keyboard warrior like you.

posted on 09 May 2017, 14:33

115. meanestgenius (Posts: 16598; Member since: 28 May 2014)

Pot, meet kettle.

Lies, lies, and more lies, cowardly keyboard warrior.

posted on 11 May 2017, 11:16

121. Mxyzptlk (unregistered)

Back at you.

Pot meet the motherf-ing kettle, btch.

posted on 11 May 2017, 12:11

127. meanestgenius (Posts: 16598; Member since: 28 May 2014)

A "no, you" response. Another thing you always complain about. Hypocrisy at its finest.

Lol, still touching that nerve deep in your gut, I see.

posted on 08 May 2017, 14:33

87. Mxyzptlk (unregistered)

Understand that there cannot be a blackberry article without a certain someone giving their typical "BlackBerry is the best" sales pitch. Heaven forbid you say something otherwise because then he will hound you until he gets the last word in because he's just that petty. Methinks he has shoved too many BlackBerry's up his rear.

This is arguably an excuse to make for an expensive midrange phone.

posted on 08 May 2017, 15:13

94. meanestgenius (Posts: 16598; Member since: 28 May 2014)

Lol, BlackBerry is best for me. I know that hurts you to your very rotten core, as you have already admitted to making ignorant statements on BlackBerry articles because of me. Heaven forbid that someone else actually like what BlackBerry has to offer, because it sends you into a trolling frenzy because you expect everyone to hate BlackBerry because you do. A device BlackBerry clearly has been rammed up your burned bum as a child, as there is really no other reason (besides me, of course. You even admitted to making ignorant comments because of me.) that you would hate BlackBerry so much.

This is a great midrange phone, and you can't stand it.

posted on 09 May 2017, 14:21

104. Mxyzptlk (unregistered)

I figured you would be triggered by the cold heart truth. You just can't stand the fact that I am correct. And once again your superiority complex rears its ugly head. The world doesn't revolve around you.

I don't deny it being a good midrange phone. It's just lacking the midrange price.

posted on 09 May 2017, 14:37

116. meanestgenius (Posts: 16598; Member since: 28 May 2014)

Lol, I figured you seeing the word "BlackBerry" in the title would trigger you into one of your troll rants. And you've already admitted to making willfully ignorant comments on BlackBerry articles, so you're not fooling anyone. The world isn't as stupid as you are.

You're hating on it because it's a BlackBerry. This is something you're already known for on this site, and it's your own fault.

posted on 11 May 2017, 11:20

122. Mxyzptlk (unregistered)

I figured you would copy my response. You're incapable of coming up with your own material, cornball, to take a page out of your book. Get over yourself. I can talk about whatever subject I want, and I don't need your permission to do so. There's not a d@mn thing you can do about it, so get over it..

Whatever man.

posted on 11 May 2017, 12:14

128. meanestgenius (Posts: 16598; Member since: 28 May 2014)

Says I'm incapable of coming up with my own material, yet he steals JPlightnings words like "cornball" all the time. What a hypocrite, lol. And get over yourself. I can challenge any trolling, factually incorrect and ignorant statement made in a public forum, and I don't need your permission to do so. There's not a gottdam (thanks, JP!) thing you can do about it, so get over it....

Mxy code for, "Meanest is telling the truth."

posted on 21 May 2017, 14:19

134. Admonisher (Posts: 10; Member since: 22 Aug 2015)

Yeah, if you are going to have a desktop taking space, might as well turn it into a useful beast that covers all of your needs : work, creativity and play.

posted on 06 May 2017, 00:29

48. DoggyDangerous (Posts: 1010; Member since: 28 Aug 2015)

It doesn't need but I need as a consumer.

posted on 06 May 2017, 10:29

52. Mxyzptlk (unregistered)

Of course someone would say otherwise just because I disagreed. Smh, what a brick wall.

posted on 06 May 2017, 11:14

58. meanestgenius (Posts: 16598; Member since: 28 May 2014)

Of course someone would prove that he's a hypocrite and say otherwise because I disagree with him. Some people are just dumb as dirt with the judgement of jelly.

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PhoneArena rating:
Display4.5 inches, 1080 x 1620 pixels (433 ppi) IPS LCD
Camera12 megapixels
Qualcomm Snapdragon 625, Octa-core, 2000 MHz, ARM Cortex-A53 processor
Size5.87 x 2.85 x 0.37 inches
(149.1 x 72.4 x 9.4 mm)
6.35 oz  (180 g)

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