BlackBerry KEYone review

Here’s the thing. The KEYone is going to be the best BlackBerry phone on the market when it comes out in April. It just should have existed about three years ago instead of the Passport

Or, the Passport should have run Android. But after we took the KEYone for a spin at MWC in Barcelona, maybe we can forgive BlackBerry for its tardiness. The KEYone was just about worth the wait, and is a strong Android device regardless of the brand. Here is our BlackBerry KEYone review.

BlackBerry KEYone review: UK price and availability

The KEYone will be available in the UK on 5 May, and is currently available for pre-order from Carphone Warehouse here for £499.

It will retail for £499 in the UK, €599 in Europe and $549 in the US.

BlackBerry KEYone review: Design and build

It’s no secret anymore that BlackBerry phones are now designed and manufactured by its hardware partner TCL. Thankfully, as soon as you hold the KEYone, it doesn’t matter. Quality has not been lost; this is pure BlackBerry.

The device has a pleasing weight to it, unlike the light, slippy DTEK60, which was BlackBerry in spirit but not in practice.

The KEYone brings the physical keyboard back and is the first BlackBerry handset to do since 2015’s Priv. This one is called a Smart Keyboard and, to be fair, it can also claim to be just that. The keys are small and square like the Priv’s, with an attractive see-through tone and the familiar metal rim between the keys like the classic Bold handsets circa 2010. They click pleasingly unlike the comparatively soft response found on 2014’s Passport

The KEYone may have a clunky name, but the build quality on show is far from shoddy. It is truly premium, something we couldn’t say of either the DTEK50 or even DTEK60. The silver metal frame recalls the Passport while framing the unusual 4.5in display and black keyboard.

The back of the phone has a rubbery grip material that hardcore BlackBerry keyboard fans will approve of – the handset never feels like it’s going to slide out of your hands, plus the slim form means you can use it one-handed with relative ease.

This rubber grip is interrupted only by the familiar BlackBerry logo and the camera with flash. The right edge houses the volume rocker and familiar convenience key for opening an app of your choice, while the left is clean metal save for the power/lock switch. The bottom has two speakers and USB-C port. The look is rounded off with the nice touches of permanent capacitive navigation buttons and a fingerprint sensor in the spacebar key.

BlackBerry KEYone review: Features and specifications

The KEYone measures 149.1 x 72.4 x 9.4 mm, an odd shape at first at 3:2, but the 4.5in screen is actually perfect for a device of this size. Having the physical keyboard means the touchscreen isn’t ever onstructed by a software keyboard (though you can interestingly turn on an onscreen keyboard if you want).

That touchscreen is an IPS LCD with a resolution of 1620 x 1080 and 434ppi and uses Gorilla Glass 4. Just above it is the 8Mp front facing camera, while the lens on the rear is a 12Mp with the same sensor as the Google Pixel. We’ll have to wait and see if it produces similar quality images in our full review. It can at least record in full 4K at 30fps.

TCL has made some interesting spec decisions, but they make sense to us. The Octa-Core 2.0GHz Snapdragon 625 may not be cutting-edge high-end, but it needn’t be for a phone whose intended target market are more concerned with battery life and power efficiency than processing speeds.

The 3505mAh battery is the largest ever for a BlackBerry, so hopefully paired with the 625 processor we should see a phone that can last well into a second day off a single charge. It will certainly charge quickly with the Qualcomm Quick Charge 3 support.

All regions will get the KEYone with 32GB storage and 3GB RAM, with a micro SD slot for expansion up to 2TB.

So far, so ordinary for an Android device in 2017. But that’s the thing – Android has turned this BlackBerry into a genuinely viable choice for consumers again, pairing good quality hardware (and a touch of nostalgia) with Nougat 7.1.

BlackBerry KEYone review: Software

It’s great the the KEYone will ship with Android Nougat 7.1, but it’s the tweaks that the company makes to the software that work excellently with the hardware on offer. BlackBerry Hub remains an excellent centre for all your worldly notifications, with the excellent ‘pinch to see unread’ feature one our favourite ever, not just on a BlackBerry.

The DTEK software is here, as it was since the Priv, and for the average consumer there might be a touch too many BlackBerry apps preloaded. No matter; it relies on preloaded Google apps too such as Gmail and Messenger for SMS to avoid doubling up on apps.

Another great feature is the widgets available right from an app icon. If there’s three dots underneath an app, you simply swipe up and a mini widget window to view info quickly (particularly with the calendar app). There’s also the ability to assign things specific as composing a new email to a particular person using a one button keyboard shortcut from the home screen. Once you’ve used the KEYone for a time, you’ll definitely benefit from these little perks.

The software remains oddly unremarkable on the DTEK60 – but with the physical keyboard of the KEYone it makes so much more sense. You can swipe up on the capacitive keyboard to autofill a suggested word. This just doesn't work intuitively on a touchscreen and we're excited to see BlackBerry refine hardware to work with software better on the KEYone.

BlackBerry KEYone: Specs

  • Android Nougat 7.1
  • 4.5in 1620 x 1080 IPS touchscree, 434ppi
  • 2.0GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 octa-core processor
  • Adreno 506 graphics
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32GB storage
  • 12Mp main camera with LED flash, support for 4K video at 30fps
  • 8Mp front camera
  • 802.11b/g/nfor2.4GHz,802.11a/n and ac for 5GHz
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • 4G LTE
  • Nano-SIM
  • GPS
  • NFC
  • 3505mAh non-removable battery
  • 149.1 x 72.4 x 9.4 mm
  • Android Nougat 7.1
  • 4.5in 1620 x 1080 IPS touchscree, 434ppi
  • 2.0GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 octa-core processor
  • Adreno 506 graphics
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32GB storage
  • 12Mp main camera with LED flash, support for 4K video at 30fps
  • 8Mp front camera
  • 802.11b/g/nfor2.4GHz,802.11a/n and ac for 5GHz
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • 4G LTE
  • Nano-SIM
  • GPS
  • NFC
  • 3505mAh non-removable battery
  • 149.1 x 72.4 x 9.4 mm

OUR VERDICT

The KEYone isn’t perfect, and it may well struggle to sell. However we are excited by the time we’ve had with it. It marries BlackBerry’s (and TCL’s) undoubtedly stellar design tastes with software that helps you get stuff done.

Maybe it’ll even be enough for people who want to use Instagram as well as Gmail to pick one up. The company still has a way to go but the KEYone is a confident step in the right direction.

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