Interface and Functionality

BlackBerry may be betting on its software, but this interface is an absolute hardware showcase

BlackBerry KEYone Review

When BlackBerry went the way of Android, it was imperative that the company find ways to make its offerings stand out from the rest of the Android crop. As we've seen from so many other manufacturers, that meant popping the hood on Google's operating system and implementing some tweaks of the company's own. A lot of that focuses on security, like the DTEK app, and while it's easy to see how a lot of that is designed to lure in business customers, it's also quite novice-friendly, breaking down phone security settings into an easy-to-understand rating.

Other aspects of BlackBerry's value-add include bundling in its BBM messaging service. Again, that's going to appeal to a certain subset of users more than others, but it wouldn't be a BlackBerry phone without its presence. The BlackBerry Hub is a little more appealing to users as a whole, but the more time we spend with the KEYone, the less we care about its software features, and more about the ways TCL is using the phone's hardware to change our expectations for an Android interface.

One of the KEYone's more unique features is the ability for users to interact with the phone's screen without actually touching it, thanks to capacitive sensors embedded into the phone's hardware keyboard, effectively letting it double as a touchpad. BlackBerry's pulled this trick before, and we're happy to see it back now.

There's something surprisingly freeing about being able to read a website, scrolling through its pages, without a finger obscuring your view or worse: smudging up the screen. The feature largely works well, but we did notice a few issues with sensitivity, like the speed of scrolling didn't always feel consistent, and sometimes just lifting our finger straight off the keyboard unintentionally scrolled the screen.

Another cool trick is the ability to set up keyboard shortcuts, where pressing a letter on the physical keyboard can quick-launch an app or perform a phone action. With so many letters to choose from, and the ability to launch different apps depending on whether you short-press or long-press the key, there's no shortage of possibilities here. Actually remembering which key triggers which effect is another problem, but we'll leave you to figure that out for yourself.

Speaking of shortcuts, we've got this Convenience Key living below the phone's volume rocker. Just like a keyboard shortcut, pressing it can either perform a phone action or pull up the app of your choice. In using it, we found its presence a little confusing at times – even while fully aware of what the key is and what it does, it was still very easy to mistakenly hit it when we meant to press power. Presumably we'd get more used to it in time, but that adjustment period may vary depending on your previous history with phone-button layout.

That hiccup aside, configurable hardware buttons are always fun, and there's an extra bit of enjoyment in taking an ostensibly professional, business-focused phone like the KEYone and giving it a dedicated Snapchat button.

Finally, we've got to talk about the fingerprint scanner, and TCL has pulled the neat trick of integrating the KEYone's scanner into the phone's space bar. That's a really clever move, and ends up being a very convenient spot to place the component. In operation, it tends to work reasonably well – not the fastest, most accurate scanner we've ever tested, but far from the worst, either. Our one gripe is that occasionally it would just refuse to recognize our prints at all; but we suppose that's what PIN backup is for.

Processor and Memory

Some extra RAM would be great, but these other mid-range specs work really well

BlackBerry KEYone Review

It's easy to criticize TCL for building a BlackBerry without what we consider flagship-level specs: there's only 3GB of RAM, and the phone's powered by the mid-range Snapdragon 625 processor. Now the RAM – that's unfortunate, as it wouldn't have cost much more to move to 4GB, and we definitely noticed some issues with apps reloading while multitasking.

But the choice of processor is one we're going to have to defend, as while it doesn't make the KEYone a great handset for really high-end games or use with a virtual reality headset, those are absolutely not the intended use cases for this smartphone in the first place. Honestly, the 625 is fast enough for what your average BlackBerry user is going to want to do, but its trump card isn't even performance nor pricing: it's power efficiency.

We're going to circle back around to battery life in just a few moments, but the choice to have the KEYone powered by a Snapdragon 625 (combined with a couple other important hardware decisions) gives this handset the ability to casually sip away at its power reserves long after higher-profile flagship phones would have run out of juice.

AnTuTu Higher is better
BlackBerry KEYone 62685
Apple iPhone 7 168795
Samsung Galaxy S8 166646.66
LG G6 157208
Vellamo Metal Higher is better
BlackBerry KEYone 1368
Samsung Galaxy S8 3074
LG G6 3632.33
Vellamo Browser Higher is better
BlackBerry KEYone 3220
Samsung Galaxy S8 6759
LG G6 4733.33
JetStream Higher is better
BlackBerry KEYone 29.802
Apple iPhone 7 144.71
Samsung Galaxy S8 55.503
LG G6 57.368
GFXBench T-Rex HD on-screen Higher is better
BlackBerry KEYone 24
Apple iPhone 7 57.3
Samsung Galaxy S8 60
LG G6 50
GFXBench Manhattan 3.1 on-screen Higher is better
BlackBerry KEYone 7.4
Apple iPhone 7 59.1
Samsung Galaxy S8 41
LG G6 14
Basemark OS II Higher is better
BlackBerry KEYone 1136
Apple iPhone 7 3355
Samsung Galaxy S8 3201.66
LG G6 2122

The KEYone ships with 32GB internal storage, as well as the option for expansion via microSD. Nothing's particularly surprising about either of those developments, and while we always love seeing 64GB phones, 32GB feels sufficient for a handset like this one.


No matter who you get your cellular service from, the KEYone is happy to accommodate

BlackBerry KEYone Review
The KEYone isn't trying to impress anyone with next-gen cellular tech. There's no big emphasis on high-throughput cellular data, advanced MIMO systems, or anything of the sort. But what we do get instead is possibly even more valuable, with broad support for existing cellular networks.

BlackBerry's going to be selling both GSM and CDMA-equipped unlocked KEYone handsets, practically ensuring that you'll be able to pick up a model that's ready to go with the carrier of your choice. And even if that whole “unlocked” sales business has you feeling wary, worry not, because TCL has affirmed that major carriers are going to be selling the phone, too. We don't have an exhaustive list just yet, but can say that Sprint will be among them.



1. Plasticsh1t

Posts: 3083; Member since: Sep 01, 2014

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

17. LebronJamesFanboy

Posts: 671; Member since: Mar 23, 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.

27. DoggyDangerous

Posts: 1028; Member since: Aug 28, 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.

28. meanestgenius

Posts: 21017; Member since: May 28, 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.

29. BuffaloSouce

Posts: 1074; Member since: May 01, 2017

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

33. meanestgenius

Posts: 21017; Member since: May 28, 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.

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.

43. meanestgenius

Posts: 21017; Member since: May 28, 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.

49. DoggyDangerous

Posts: 1028; Member since: Aug 28, 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.

50. meanestgenius

Posts: 21017; Member since: May 28, 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.

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.

59. meanestgenius

Posts: 21017; Member since: May 28, 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.

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.

79. meanestgenius

Posts: 21017; Member since: May 28, 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.

86. Mxyzptlk unregistered


95. meanestgenius

Posts: 21017; Member since: May 28, 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.

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.

115. meanestgenius

Posts: 21017; Member since: May 28, 2014

Pot, meet kettle. Lies, lies, and more lies, cowardly keyboard warrior.

121. Mxyzptlk unregistered

Back at you. Pot meet the motherf-ing kettle, btch.

127. meanestgenius

Posts: 21017; Member since: May 28, 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.

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.

94. meanestgenius

Posts: 21017; Member since: May 28, 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.

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.

116. meanestgenius

Posts: 21017; Member since: May 28, 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.

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.

128. meanestgenius

Posts: 21017; Member since: May 28, 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."

134. Admonisher

Posts: 10; Member since: Aug 22, 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.

48. DoggyDangerous

Posts: 1028; Member since: Aug 28, 2015

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

52. Mxyzptlk unregistered

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

58. meanestgenius

Posts: 21017; Member since: May 28, 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.
  • Display 4.5" 1080 x 1620 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 8 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 625, Octa-core, 2000 MHz
  • Storage 32 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 3505 mAh

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