Review: BlackBerry KEY2


Seeing a mobile device with a physical keyboard may not be the ideal way to capture the attention of this generation… But the BlackBerry KEY2 may just change that!

It’s true that the BlackBerry of old did not keep up with trends, became uncool, and died a slow and painful death. In 2013, we even felt compelled to advise everyone to avoid its phones completely because we weren’t sure the company would survive.

Today, the situation is different. BlackBerry’s old operating system no longer exists, and it doesn’t make smartphones itself anymore. The Key2 was made by TCL under the BlackBerry brand, and it’s powered by the latest version of Google’s Android. BlackBerry adds in a few productivity apps, and some work-friendly DTEK security software, which quietly runs in the background. 

It’s odd seeing a BlackBerry phone in 2018, with that same QWERTY keyboard you might remember from 2008. Physical keyboards are so rare these days, it’s hard to find one that isn’t in a bargain bin with a pile of flip phones.

It’s been a while since we’re tapped on real keys, so it took some getting used to, but typing on a real keyboard has its benefits. The buttons are backlit and about 20 percent bigger than last year’s model so there was plenty of space for my thumbs. Once we got into the groove, we found that the physical keys to be more precise. The only regular trouble we had was remembering where the Alt key was, so we could select letters and punctuation.

Though it’s mostly straightforward, the keyboard holds a few secrets. For instance, the spacebar hides the phone’s fingerprint sensor— we can’t think of a more appropriate spot for it, right there on the Key2’s chin. You can also slide your finger up, down, left, or right on the surface of the keyboard to scroll through pages, which can be very handy. Lastly, if you choose, you can map any app to every one of the QWERTY keys on the keyboard. 

The biggest drawback of this BlackBerry’s design? The keyboard eats into real estate usually reserved for screen space. Its 4.5-inch 1,620 x 1,080 pixel LCD screen is just big enough that it doesn’t cause headaches. You have enough screen space to watch videos, play games, and use apps without feeling too boxed in, but you notice it.

The Key2 is surprisingly comfortable to hold, and seems very durable. Unlike many devices, it’s designed to take a fall. The frame is made of aluminum, which extends out from the screen’s edges, likely protecting it from cracks and scrapes better in the event of a light drop.

The only thing missing is waterproofing—so don’t take it for a swim.

It’s been a while since we’ve gotten excited about a phone’s battery life, but the Key2 is a phone that can legitimately get two full days of juice on light to medium use. With our use, it rarely had less than a 40 percent charge by 11 p.m. and we’ve left it unplugged some nights because we were confident it would still be alive to play the alarm come the morning. This phone is the cure for your smartphone range anxiety.

The mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor doesn’t impress on paper, but we haven’t noticed any slowdown, likely thanks to the generous 6GB of RAM. Still, this isn’t the phone to buy if you play graphically-intense games. The 64GB of file storage in the regular model should be enough for many, especially since you can buy a MicroSD card to give your media and apps more elbow room.

The Key2 is not the phone that will put BlackBerry cameras on the map. The dual 12-megapixel rear cameras are adequate enough outdoors. The second rear camera allows you to zoom 2x and there is a basic portrait mode, but these extra features don’t usually lead to better photos.

Low light is tough for the Key2’s camera. We managed to snap a couple decent fireworks shots, but many night shots came out grainy, and soft. The 8-megapixel selfie cam had more trouble in the dark, making skin tones look horribly discoloured. Don’t buy the Key2 for its camera, but if photos aren’t your top concern, don’t rule it out, either.

The Key2 is not for everyone, and that’s OK. You have to be willing to spend time re-learning how to type, and be okay with the quirks and shortcomings.

Even though we’ve had a lot of joy with this device, the keyboard does shrink the screen considerably, and the phone isn’t waterproof. Quite a hefty price tag as well for a phone with a mid-range processor in it. If you long for the days of tiny, clicky physical phone keyboards long past, you might like it, too.

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