For the better part of a decade, nothing was more impressive than owning a BlackBerry. During the late 2000s, the BlackBerry was an iconic name in the world of smartphones in America. At that time, BlackBerry was a huge contender in U.S., but then tables were turned.
Now in 2017, Blackberry and TCL generated lots of intrigue when they announced the arrival of BlackBerry KeyOne at Mobile World Congress in February. In today’s age of modern large screens, sometimes all screens, it is refreshing to see alternatives with a physical QWERTY always present and available to use.
Not many phones in this price range are willing to offer a physical keyboard. There is a market of people, for sure, longing for physical keyboards, though a small one. In such situation, the Android-powered BlackBerry KeyOne is a great choice.
BlackBerry is no longer the only company making the BlackBerry phones. The Chinese company TCL, which makes excellent washing machines and televisions, has signed partnership with BlackBerry to regain some of the market share lost by BlackBerry over the past several years by evolving landscape of touch-screen smartphones, giving BlackBerry KeyOne a physical keyboard hoping that the new form factor will entice people, who are otherwise bored of glass slabs.
TCL is manufacturing the phone, and the BlackBerry is in charge of software and updates. This is all a part of company’s new mobile strategy. But don’t worry, because the BlackBerry KeyOne features all the qualities of a traditional BlackBerry phone, including a priority on security, and excellent battery life. But here the key selling point is its keyboard, because there is no other reason of buying the KeyOne with its $550 price tag.
Price, Availability and Warranty:
The BlackBerry KeyOne is available in two unlocked configuration at $550 in U.S., one for CDMA networks like Verizon, and for GSM networks like T-Mobile and AT&T. The phone is available from Amazon and Best Buy beginning May 31, and additional carrier support will probably start this summer, and this includes Sprint retail availability.
The BlackBerry KeyOne comes with a standard one-year limited warranty covering the manufacturing defects. Water damage and accidental drops are not included under the warranty.
Let’s have a closer look!
There are no two ways about the BlackBerry KeyOne, it is a beast. And it doesn’t mess around in this department. It is a hulking mass of metal, glass and premium-feeling and super tactile keys. It feels like an old BlackBerry smashed together with a modern phone, and the BlackBerry has got it right.
The BlackBerry runs against the current grain of wafer-thin smartphones with oversized screens. The BlackBerry KeyOne is bulky and thick and has a smaller 4.5 inch display as compared to many latest smartphones of other brands. It is not just to say it ugly, but its top edge that has the LED indicator and the front-facing camera looks a little outdated. Its backlit keyboard is too glassy has got a two-tone front.
The BlackBerry KeyOne is clearly designed for enterprise and looks as though meant to be a productivity workhorse. The phone retains the familiar look of previous BlackBerry made flagships; TCL has done a good job.
It is still different in its own. You might have not seen a smartphone having a top with flat corners, but the bottom that is more rounded. The back is elegant, minimal and has a rubbery texture that offers extra grip when handling the phone.
On the top edge of the BlackBerry KeyOne, you will find the power button, and the volume rocker is located on the right. Below the volume rocker, there is a Convenience Key which acts as a handy trigger for your favorite app or shortcut.
On the bottom, the BlackBerry KeyOne has a USB Type-C port that is surrounded by two speaker cut outs. The speakers provide decent sound quality but don’t get loud enough for blasting music.
The capacitive navigation buttons are resided above the keyboard. They are accidently pressed more often when typing and they hardly offer any haptic feedback. TCL should have placed them below the keyboard or should have just opted for on-screen keys.
The BlackBerry KeyOne feels exceptionally well built, kind of thick and heavy but in a good way. The phone will be able to survive accidental drops easily. But its keyboard seems to collect dust between the key rows and similarly the bezels around the camera. Therefore you will need to clean them often.
The BlackBerry KeyOne features 1,620×1,080 pixel resolution packed into merely 4.5 inches. Its sharp LCD display hits an impressive 433 pixels per inch. The screen is not as bright as you might expect, but you would not have too much trouble reading the screen in broad daylight.
The phone comes with a 3:2 aspect ratio and the resolution is cropped from 16:9 1080p display. This means there are still 1080 pixels across the screen but the display is only 1620 pixels tall. Therefore you may not see as much content as you might used to be.
The videos play with giant black borders around them, which make the content look really small. Though it is watchable, but the big-screen smartphones like LG G6 and Galaxy S8 are much better devices for movies and TV fans. You will find playing games also a little awkward, because you are ignoring a quarter of the phone, and heavy gamers will want to look at the alternatives.
Nonetheless, the display is pretty sharp at 433ppi. Its colors are vivid and fairly accurate, making viewing photos on this display a pleasant experience. Viewing angles are not as good. Contrast and brightness shifts down upon turning the display about 35 degree and further. This makes it harder to see the by default enabled Android’s Ambient Display feature.
With an average DeltaE of 4.1 and a max DeltaE of 9.2, color accuracy on the BlackBerry KeyOne is decent and blacks are respectably dark in spite of using an IPS LCD panel. The display’s screen brightness is capable of reaching 467 nits when slider is maxed out, and when Adaptive brightness is enabled, the display reaches a much higher 670 nits. This ensures, as mentioned earlier, you will be able to read your urgent mail in the brightest of summer days.
For night owls, unfortunately, the BlackBerry KeyOne’s display is unable to drop below 17 nits at its dimmest and this is quite bright comparing with most other smartphones that can go lower than even 2 nits easily. You might turn on a light as one might be easily bothered by this much light.
Despite a couple of shortcomings, the BlackBerry KeyOne features a solid display worthy for an email workhorse.
Connectivity and Performance:
The BlackBerry KeyOne runs with a Snapdragon 625. This enables it to be quite versatile in terms of network connectivity, because of its quad-band GSM modem, capable of LTE-A with theoretical upload speeds of 50Mbps and download speeds of up to 450Mbps.
Two variants will be available for America; one will work in Latin America, Canada, the Asia-Pacific region and the US. While the other one is for the US and has CDMA network compatibility on Verizon and Sprint.
All variants will support Wi-Fi 801.11 a/n and ac for 5GHz (dual-band Wi-Fi) and 802.11 b/g/n for 2.4GHz. Bluetooth 4.2, GLONASS, A-GPS, BDS2, Wi-Fi Direct and FM radio are also present. To connect external storage, you will be able to use a USB OTG. NFC can be used for mobile payments as well. The phone’s USB-C port is capable of USB 3.1 speeds and Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0.
The BlackBerry KeyOne also features a 3.5mm headphone jack. It even comes with a pair of earbuds and extra tips.
In terms of performance, the BlackBerry KeyOne certainly is not competitive with other smartphones that belong to this price tag. This device runs a 2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor instead of an 821, 825 or 835, and features 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage as standard.
The Octa-core chip doesn’t provide terrible performance, but with regular use, the chip paired with 3GB of RAM, the combo keeps the BlackBerry KeyOne chugging along stutter free. Apps and web pages open in milliseconds and video stream is fluid. Multipage web browsing also works fine.
BlackBerry has been using Android since the days of the Priv, and afterwards with the release of first TCL-made BlackBerry devices: the DTEK 50 and DTEK 60. The BlackBerry KeyOne formula for software has remained the same since the Priv.
Out of the box, the BlackBerry KeyOne comes running Android 7.1.1 with a mostly stock/vanilla feel and look. The software expertise of BlackBerry is not reflected in the UI as much as it does in the apps that BlackBerry developed, aiming at productivity and security. These apps can’t be regarded as ‘bloatware’, because most of the apps are quite useful addition to the BlackBerry package.
Unlike the Priv’s keyboard, which was more optional as it could slide away, the keyboard of BlackBerry KeyOne is permanent and is always there. We could have seen Android phones with physical keyboards before, for sure, but it’s been several years since that happened. Worry is not about Android being not able to work well with a physical keyboard but it’s the apps that are concerned about.
Its unconventional 3:2 aspect ratio may bring incompatibilities with some applications, mostly with apps like Snapchat or games designed for use with a 16:9 display. Unlike the traditional placement of nav buttons under the virtual keyboard on Android, the BlackBerry KeyOne features them between the keyboard and the display.
When you are learning to get used to a physical keyboard again, you unintentionally press the home button in an attempt to press a key on the top row, and this throws off what you were carefully trying to write. But as soon as you find yourself used to hard keys, your accuracy will definitely get improved.
There is not much new to see in terms of lock screen. There are available a couple of shortcuts, a large screen and standard Nougat behavior for notifications. One important thing is that after 5 unsuccessful unlock attempts, the phone will require you to manually type “blackberry” to continue. This might bring you at peace if you kept worried about your phone going off in your bag or purse. When enabled, default is 10 failed attempts.
The BlackBerry KeyOne comes with another option called “picture password” along with the standard options for screen lock. It makes it harder for wandering eyes to know your unlock method. But it may be overkill for some. A randomized number grid shows over a predetermined photo and to unlock, you drag a pre-chosen digit over a pre-determined spot on the photo.
If you haven’t use a more recent BlackBerry, the phone’s screen unlock sound which is more like an email alert than a soft click, may be annoying for you. But you can change it from Settings.
The KeyOne’s launcher resembles a lot with the stock Google launcher, but with a few tweaks. Its default grid is 5×5 plus four apps at the dock, and the middle spot of the dock is reserved for the app drawer button.
Though the phone doesn’t come with icon packs, but the launcher natively supports them. Pressing on the “Play Store” icon performs a Play Store search for “icon packs” yielding hundreds of results.
- Also Read: Most Anticipated Smartphones of 2017
BlackBerry has integrated a feature into its launcher to prevent your home screens from getting clogged up with widgets. When you swipe up on any app’s icon that supports widgets, you will get a pop-up version of that app’s widgets. For the first time you are asked to select the widget you want to pop up. It is a nifty way of seeing app without opening it and it also saves precious space on your home screens.
The BlackBerry KeyOne also features a “Dark” theme that would make any previous BlackBerry user feel back at home. Since the display doesn’t go dim enough for comfortable bed-side use, this theme might help with seeing the screen at night. The app drawer also turns dark in this mode. There is no such theme for the rest of the UI.
The Masonry is the default app switcher view that arranges apps in a clumsy and unpredictable arrangement. If you are trying to switch quickly between apps, then switch to the standard “Tiles” or “Rolodex”. Tiles are arranged in 3 rows of 2 recent apps. You will find the “Recents” setting under the Display options.
The BlackBerry KeyOne features Productivity tab. This enables you to look at the most important information for your day quickly: Hub notifications, your calendar, tasks and your favorite contacts.
When you pull the tab it opens a full-screen view of what you need to refer to. There are four tabs of the apps mentioned above, on the right and tapping on them switches between relevant screens.
The BlackBerry Hub is a powerful feature adding organization to your notifications for you to never lose track of your messages or alerts. It is essentially an inbox for all your notifications and if you swipe a notification away from the notification shade, it still enters in the Hub. It also acts as a powerful search tool, allowing you to dig through Facebook, SMS, Calendar events, Contacts and Emails all in one go.
If a client texts you a question and you can only answer it when you are in the office tomorrow, you can snooze this message in the Hub, so you will be reminded of it first in the morning. It allows you to snooze by preset amounts of time, a specified location, time, or even a Wi-Fi network associated with the location relevant to reminder.
There is also the DTEK app which monitors the device security by performing a safety check continually. It scans every app you install and also recommends you certain steps to keep your phone safe.
The BlackBerry KeyOne presents a thoughtful and excellent Android experience for people not willing to put their hands on company’s latest phone, or just finding an Android smartphone with a physical keyboard.
The BlackBerry KeyOne offers excellent keyboard. Typing will take a day or two for you to get used to it, but once you do, you find yourself typing more accurately. Its built-in auto-correct is so reliable.
In most apps, the protective bar opens up above the capacitive buttons providing useful suggestions that make typing easier. You can also swipe up on the right, left or center of the keyboard to choose the predicted word. This will save you an extra step.
With BlackBerry KeyOne, you also not have to rely on emoticons over emojis. Just tap and hold the button left of the spacebar and this will activate keyboard settings. Above the predictive words, a bar will pop up, allowing you to choose Android emojis, paste them from clipboard, access the keyboard settings and trigger voice typing.
To use numbers and symbols, tap Alt, and double tap it to use them continually. It also applies to the Caps Lock and Shift key. Keyboard can also be used to swipe and scroll through screens, and it works pretty well. But touchscreen is better for this function.
Its spacebar doubles as a fingerprint sensor. It doesn’t require you to press it down, just place your finger over it and unlock your device quickly. The keyboard does require a few days from you to get used to, so don’t dismiss it if you face any mixed impressions. Definitely touchscreen are faster, but it doesn’t mean keyboard shouldn’t have a place. Give it a try and you find this physical keyboard, more satisfying.
The BlackBerry KeyOne features a decent 12 megapixel camera on the back. It captures finely detailed photos with fairly accurate colors, though colors suffer in low-light. It doesn’t feature optical image stabilization, so be still while taking photos in low-light environments in order to avoid blurry shots. Shutter lag is minimal.
Its standard camera app offers HDR, filters and slow-motion video. You can also trigger a manual mode in the settings, if you need more granular controls. The only fault of this camera is autofocus. It seems to take too long to focus on certain objects. We hope it will be fixed in an update. The BlackBerry KeyOne doesn’t fall behind in camera. It also features 8 megapixel front-facing camera which is capable, and best in broad daylight.
Another standout feature of the BlackBerry KeyOne is its battery which lasts longer than Galaxy S8 and far longer than a Google Pixel. It is possible because of the 3,505mAh battery, the Snapdragon 625 and the smaller screen, providing excellent battery optimization and allowing for more than a day of battery life.
You definitely get a full day and a half with medium to heavy use, and this includes watching a few videos, browsing social media and news, streaming music and playing a few games.
Whenever you plug in a charger, a specific mode pops up that also offers fast charging. You can choose to charge your phone like normal and you can also use its Boost Mode which puts your phone on airplane plane to charge faster.
- Great keyboard customization options
- Top-notch security
- Excellent battery life
- Occasional performance stutters
- Subpar navigation icons