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 1620x1080 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 1920x1080 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.

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