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BlackBerry KEYone Review

BlackBerry KEYone

Posted: , by Stephen S. Stephen S.

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Call Quality

Good audio quality and a comfortable grip make this BlackBerry a strong voice-call performer

BlackBerry KEYone Review
Stereotypes about BlackBerry users and them being not quite the fastest to embrace new technologies sure had us thinking that voice calls would still be a priority when it came to the KEYone's design, and we're happy to say that the phone hasn't let us down when it comes to call quality.

More than just sounding good, the KEYone feels good to use for even extended-length calls, with its metal frame feeling secure and sturdy in the hand, while that fake-leather back texture gives you something pleasing to grip.

Battery Life

With utterly fantastic battery life, the KEYone goes from useful curiosity to all-day productivity powerhouse

Already, we've seen a good amount of things to like about the KEYone, and many of those centered around its surprisingly versatile keyboard. But the most impressive part of this smartphone may not be the keyboard, or anything related to the BlackBerry name at all. Instead, we're captivated by its jaw-dropping battery life.

There's a lot going right here that supports what you'd need to build a phone with killer battery life. We've got that Snapdragon 625 processor, which is practically second-to-none when it comes to creating handsets with exceptionally low power demands. Then there's also the pint-sized screen, and while we have to presume that that's primarily a decision meant to save room for the keyboard, it also helps reduce the phone's power consumption. Finally, we've got a beefy 3,505mAh battery, one that's large enough to power full-blown phablets; and instead, it's providing massive power reserves for a phone that doesn't need a ton of juice to begin with.

BlackBerry KEYone Review

The end result of all that is a phone that's capable of continuous screen-on operation for easily north of twelve hours. Want a reliable smartphone that won't give you any issues at all getting through a full day of usage? Look no further than the KEYone.

Recharge times are no slouch, either, and we were able to power the KEYone from empty to full in just shy of two hours. Really, the only thing that could make the battery situation on this phone any better would be if it supported wireless charging. Just think how nice that would be, pairing the stylish KEYone with a matching wireless charging stand, maybe decked out in soft leather. But given just how well everything else works here, even that seems like picking at straws. Make no mistake about it: the KEYone is an absolute champ when it comes to battery life.

Conclusion


BlackBerry KEYone Review

Maybe of all the phones we've looked at so far this year, the BlackBerry KEYone was the easiest to let prejudices affect our enthusiasm for the handset. BlackBerry as a brand? Hasn't that experiment played out by now? Hardware QWERTY keyboards on phones? Haven't we all agreed that on-screen keyboards are the obvious way to go?

And when we looked at the middle-of-the-road specs, combined with pricing that, while below flagship level, is still north of similarly-equipped mid-range competition, it was easy to think that the KEYone was attempting to fill some niche that just didn't seem to exist in reality.

BlackBerry KEYone Review
But then we actually started using the phone, and while it didn't happen overnight, eventually we “got it.”

The KEYone is just so different from every other smartphone out there on the market that it takes a little while to appreciate all that it has to offer. We absolutely love things like its stellar battery life, but that's something any phone could do (if the manufacturer set its mind to it). What's really special about the KEYone is how the keyboard enhances the user experience.

On-screen keyboards have gotten so, so good over the past five years that even former hardware-QWERTY die-hards have likely graduated to software systems with predicative text, swipe input, and all that other modern good stuff. But when you start using the KEYone's keyboard you realize that it's more than just an array of physical buttons. It does predictions, it accepts swipe gestures, and it really does go a long way towards offering a best-of-both-worlds compromise.

We'll freely admit that going back to hardware keys takes a bit of adjusting, but it's just so satisfying to type on all these clicky, responsive keys that you'll be looking for extra opportunities to do so – and that means that you'll be getting plenty of practice in. And when we stack on extras like app-launch shortcuts and using the keyboard as a touchpad to effortlessly scroll the phone's screen, that's only making a good thing better.

The KEYone still isn't a phone for everyone. And at just about $550, it's still a little more expensive than we'd like it to be. But for the right user, it's just such an extremely satisfying phone to operate that all its missteps and eccentricities don't seem to really matter. This is a phone that knows exactly what it wants to be, and has no qualms in doing things its own way. That's an increasingly rare thing in today's homogenized smartphone market, and that TCL is able to do it so successfully with the KEYone is all the more impressive.

Thought BlackBerry phones were on the way out? If they're able to recapture some of this KEYone magic for another couple BlackBerry handsets, you may be very much reconsidering that fate.



Pros

  • Incredibly satisfying hardware keyboard
  • Beautiful, solid-feeling construction
  • Phenomenal battery life
  • Decent, reliable camera

Cons

  • Pricing steep compared to similarly-specced phones
  • No extras like wireless charging/waterproofing
  • BlackBerry apps can be hit-and-miss
  • Unusual screen size/shape and device layout isn't for everyone
PhoneArena rating:
8.5Excellent
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PhoneArena rating:
8.5Excellent
Display4.5 inches, 1080 x 1620 pixels (433 ppi) IPS LCD
Camera12 megapixels
Hardware
Qualcomm Snapdragon 625, Octa-core, 2000 MHz, ARM Cortex-A53 processor
3 GB RAM
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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