BlackBerry Key² Android handset mixes old and new

Once upon a time if you asked someone to name a company that made cell phones and was named after a fruit, the answer would have been BlackBerry and not Apple. The Canadian firm has had a rough go of it since app stores and touchscreen keyboards began to dominate the mobile device landscape, but it's still designing hardware. The company's latest offering is the Key², an Android phone with midrange hardware specs, BB's signature physical keyboard, and a battery the manufacturer says lasts up to two days.

The Key²'s specs are upper-midrange, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 tasked with whipping bits and bytes in line. The SoC is paired with 6 GB of memory and 64 GB or 128 GB of onboard storage space. The phone has a microSD slot, but BB says the maximum supported card capacity is just 256 GB. The company says it chose not to use Qualcomm's high-end Snapdragon 845 in order to rein in power consumption.

The 4.5″ screen is pretty small in comparison to other phones we've covered lately, but its 1620×1080 resolution is almost as high as many recent 6″ flagships. The application of number magic to those figures reveals a pixel density of 433 PPI and a 3:2 aspect ratio. That ratio makes the Key² an odd duck among Android phones, but it's growing increasingly common among productivity-focused mobile PCs like Microsoft's popular Surface line. BlackBerry might not be the first company that comes to mind when the topic of RGB LEDs comes up, but the Key² uses one as a notification indicator.

The Key² measures 6″ tall (15.1 cm), 2.8″ wide (7.2 cm), 0.33″ thick (0.9 cm), and weighs 5.8 oz (165 g). The handset is obviously steering clear of the current bezel-less design trend. The non-slip textured back also flies in the face of the current obsession with smooth metal, ceramic, and glass backs. The keyboard has 35 backlit keys and an integrated fingerprint sensor. The sides of the phone get the usual power button and volume rocker, plus a customizable Convenience key that can be programed to open a particular app or do other functions like muting a call. The keyboard has  “Speed Key” modifier button that lets users define up to 52 key combos to open favorite applications. The surface of the entire keyboard works as a touchpad for gesture input.

The battery is an integrated 3500-mAh unit that BB says is good for 25 hours of mixed use. Users can charge up using the USB 3.0 Type-C port on the bottom of the device and deliver electrons faster with the USB Power Delivery 2.0 v1.2 and Qualcomm QuickCharge 3.0 accelerated charging schemes. The top-left corner of the phone has an audio combo jack for connecting a headset.

The camera setup is modern midrange, with a dual-sensor setup in the back and an eight-megapixel snapper in the front that can shoot 1920×1080 video at 30 FPS. The rear camera has a pair of 12-MP sensors: one with an f/1.8, 79.3° wide-angle lens and the other with an f/2.6, 50° lens. The rear camera can shoot 4K video at 30 FPS.

The Key² comes factory-loaded with Android Oreo 8.1, but the manufacturer says it has added privacy-focused features like its DTEK app-monitoring  and Privacy Shade apps, along with Mozilla's non-tracking Firefox Focus web browser. BB is promising monthly security updates and at least one major OS update as part of the Key²'s membership in Google's Android Enterprise Recommended program.

BlackBerry says the Key² Android smartphone will start shipping later this month. The company says the 64 GB model will cost $649, but didn't provide a price for the version with 128 GB of internal storage. That price is a tough pill to swallow given the hardware specs, but physical keyboard addicts aren't exactly swimming in alternatives.

Comments closed
    • Coyote_ar
    • 3 years ago

    given how thin they can make phones now, i wouldnt mind something with a sliding keyboard as in the motorola milestone. that was really good for typing.

      • Kretschmer
      • 3 years ago

      This! I would gladly carry a phone that was 40% thicker to get a physical keyboard.

    • Kretschmer
    • 3 years ago

    I’ve missed having the keyboard since my last slide-out phone, and would happily buy into a similar product with today’s hardware. Sadly, keyboard phones seem to either be BlackBerry units with their horizontally-challenged keys or bargain basement junk.

    • sweatshopking
    • 3 years ago

    Actually, in a situation similar to Nokia, blackberry isn’t designing phones. TCL is and they are also building them. The name is licensed.

    • davidbowser
    • 3 years ago

    Just from a handset and market diversity perspective, I REALLY hope this works out. I sometimes find myself cursing the fat fingering virtual keyboard and getting fond flashbacks to my Palm Treo.

    • Wilko
    • 3 years ago

    I kinda miss the days when Blackberry phones were the standard for business phones instead of the current trends of flagship phones.

    -Galaxy S7 user

    • Ninjitsu
    • 3 years ago

    OMG finally i phone i would want to buy… except that price is ridiculous :/

    also
    [quote<]but BB says the maximum supported card capacity is just 256 GB[/quote<] "just"?

    • uni-mitation
    • 3 years ago

    [quote<] That price is a tough pill to swallow given the hardware specs, but physical keyboard addicts aren't exactly swimming in alternatives. [/quote<] Rubbing an open wound! It is true. We keyboard addicts are only forced to gargantuan $600 plus phones! My sweet BB Q10 is still working fine. I will carry on. uni-mitation

      • Shobai
      • 3 years ago

      Bank apps no longer supporting BB 10 ‘s Android runtime was the final straw for me. I ended up getting the widest flagship-spec phone I could find, and ~AU$150 cheaper than the KEYone.

      I miss the physical keys every day.

      • tipoo
      • 3 years ago

      Several keys on our Q10 got jammed, and what little app support it had is slowly fading away. Stays around as a backup phone.

      I had the Android runtime on it for a while but it was more trouble than it was worth.

      Funny enough a BB10 OS update was pushed a few weeks ago, i assumed that was all but dead.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 3 years ago

    [quote<]The non-slip textured back also flies in the face of the current obsession with smooth metal, ceramic, and glass backs.[/quote<] I would not mind getting back to this. I don't feel like metal adds much sturdiness, especially not the thicknesses recent phones use, and everything is is just so prone to cracking. I'd like my $6-700 phone to not shatter when I drop it.

      • Chrispy_
      • 3 years ago

      The KeyOne’s rubber back does feel exceptionally good in the hand. After years of glass-backed and soft-touch plastic where the soft-touch gets worn smooth with use, actual rubber is a huge step up!

        • derFunkenstein
        • 3 years ago

        Non-slip surfaces are why I put my phones in thick, hermetically-sealed Otterbox cases. If I didn’t need a case that’d be even better.

    • kvndoom
    • 3 years ago

    Do want.

    Can’t afford.

    I’m glad my Priv is still chugging along. I’ll probably replace it with a pre-loved black Key1 within the next year or so.

      • uni-mitation
      • 3 years ago

      How has been your experience with the Priv?

      uni-mitation

    • Chrispy_
    • 3 years ago

    The KeyOne isn’t actually a bad piece of hardware. It’s definitely nice to have a physical keyboard and you can disable/remove all the blackberry junk software.

    Before firing one up for the first time, I was dubiously hopeful that the One in KeyOne was Android One, meaning no third party crapplications replacing the stock android ones that actually work and look normal.

    Sadly, no. Like many skinned-OS phones, there’s a blackberry email client, a blackberry message client, blackberry calendar, clock, browser, yada yada yada. I don’t know about you guys but one of the reasons I hate non-Google apps is because I want my Google experience synced across devices. Synced calendar, alarms, contacts, emails, messaging, search etc. I don’t use Samsung/Blackberry/HTC software on any devices other than those devices so I’m not going to make a silly exception just for them.

    Luckily, all the Blackberry (cr)apps can be disabled and the android defaults used instead – which puts these new Blackberry phones one step above Samsung, in my opinion.

      • uni-mitation
      • 3 years ago

      What about the Blackberry Hub? Did you find it an useful feature for your productivity?

      uni-mitation

        • Chrispy_
        • 3 years ago

        These KeyOnes were not my phones, I was just setting them up and rolling them out for staff. One thing I can confirm though, is that everyone who was used to Blackberry Hub from the older Blackberries generally hated it and found it painful to use. I’ve had to support a few dozen die-hard blackberry fans who refused to move to all touchscreen phones and even these devoted Blackberry zealots had nothing nice to say about Blackberry Hub.

        Blackberry’s terrible software is certainly a very significant part of the reason why they lost their marketshare and almost died off as a company.

          • uni-mitation
          • 3 years ago

          I tend to agree with this assessment of why they lost such a dominant position. Going back to 2007 Blackberry just simply ignored Apple. By the time they decided to join in the app wars, Android was solidly placed as Apple’s competitor. A market that was such an uphill battle that they were forced to exit the handset market for good.

          I tend to appreciate all of the good things of BB 10; however, it died due to the slow response by BB. Between being forced to take an OS that seems to treat the user more like a product than the actual customer & an OS that sort of respects your privacy but treats you like a child, I dare say I would choose neither. Maybe one of those custom Android ROMS.

          uni-mitation

          Edit: I think it was a detrimental decision for BB to also not license their OS to third-party OEMs. In a market where you needed to grow a substantial installed base to play catch-up every new handset would have created enough market demand for third-party software developers to develop BB 10 apps.

            • Chrispy_
            • 3 years ago

            It sounds like you want to look at LineageOS on Android then. That’s the easy option for a mobile OS that is both privacy-and-security-conscious yet still powerfully configurable rather than a locked-down children’s toy.

            • sweatshopking
            • 3 years ago

            Unless you like decent battery life. I’ve had zero luck with the lineage kernel.

            • Chrispy_
            • 3 years ago

            My S7 seems fine on Lineage 14 – The only comparison point was the Samsung official ROM which was worse for battery life.

            • sweatshopking
            • 3 years ago

            I was running it most recently on a oneplus-5t, and it cost me about 30% or more. Was Oreo though.

            • Chrispy_
            • 3 years ago

            Maybe that’s just proving that OnePlus really know their sh*t.

            They certainly made a name for themselves by being the one company other than Google that you could turn to if you wanted absolutely zero adware/bloatware/vendor-specific/needless crap.

        • MrDweezil
        • 3 years ago

        It’s not possible for Hub on Android to be what it was on BB’s own OS.

    • tipoo
    • 3 years ago

    I kind of dig the idea, but why do they keep going for such middling SoCs at the “regular” flagship (not counting the flagship-er 1K phones) pricing?

    I suppose if battery life is really really good for it.

      • Chrispy_
      • 3 years ago

      Because this is a messaging device first and foremost so gaming and media that would benefit from a faster SoC just aren’t a priority.

      Let’s face it, in landscape mode the screen is the wrong aspect ratio and one side of your screen is a keyboard; This is not a media/gaming device.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 3 years ago

        Not media. Web/JavaScript performance is what suffers the most, outside of games.

        edit: at least the 660 has Kryo CPU cores and not Cortex A53s that are common in the Snapdragon 600 family.

          • Chrispy_
          • 3 years ago

          Yeah, there comes a point where you have to ask yourself if it’s really worth nuking your battery just to plaster over the problems of abysmal code. They’re gonna run like junk on everything anyway and you can’t fix stupid.

      • Rza79
      • 3 years ago

      Considering it has four A73’s and four A53’s, I don’t seen how it wouldn’t be sufficient for such a device. On a device where 3D performance isn’t priority, the Adreno 512 will be more than enough.

      • uni-mitation
      • 3 years ago

      This is phone slightly oriented to the business/productivity class. Imagine having people working on Excel, Word, pushing out emails, texts, and etc on a continual basis on that phone. That is why they put a keyboard for the sweet tactile feedback & shortcuts. You need a phone that is at least a bit rugged to stand the business cycle. It is not about looking hip. Getting stuff done is a higher priority.

      Of course, I am none too happy about the non-removable user battery. A user-removable battery is a must in the business sphere.

      #BatteryLivesMatter

      uni-mitation

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