The BlackBerry KEYone was announced in February and released around May, so I am quite late to review this. However, it is one of the more interesting phones that has been released this year, so I have been eager to get my hands on one.
Considering this year has been all about losing the bezels and having a display covering the entire phone, the BlackBerry is quite an unusual device. They have bucked the trend of bigger screens with the most powerful SoC as possible and instead opted for a mid-range Snapdragon 625 and the inclusion of a hardware keyboard.
The KEYone measures 149.1 x 72.4 x 9.4 mm, the display is 4.5 inches with an aspect ratio of 3:2. It used a IPS LCD with a resolution of 1620 x 1080 and 434ppi and uses Gorilla Glass 4. The phone is made of brushed aluminium and has a soft touch rubber back. The build quality feels exceptional, the aluminium body gives it a very heavy feel, and it is a pleasure to hold. I personally love how it looks too, it is very business-like while not being boring like many other generic Android phones.
The display is excellent but the unusual aspect ratio and resolution might not be to everyone’s tastes.
The brains of the phone are the 2.0GHz Snapdragon 625 SoC which is very much a mid-range chip, but unless you want to play all the latest games it should be more than adequate. In fact, for day to day use, you are probably better off with the 625 vs 825/835 as it will use less battery.
The cameras don’t sound too impressive with a 12MP on the rear and 8MP on the front, but the rear camera uses the same sensor as the original Google Pixel which was generally regarded as a superb camera. During my use I found it to be good, but not excellent. My LG V20 is superior, and even though the KEYone has the same sensor as the Pixel, they don’t have the same software.
The phone comes with a 3,505mAh battery which is larger than average. When you combine the 4.5inch screen with its average resolution and mid-range SoC, you should easily be able to get a full days’ worth of use out of the KEYone and some. As with most Android phones nowadays you get Quick Charge 3. Blackberry has also included a boost mode which gives lightning top-up times at the temporary expense of notifications and background processes. I personally found the battery outperformed my LG V20, and my former Nexus 6P, I generally could get a full days worth of use out of it.
The KEYone has 32GB storage and 3GB RAM, with a micro SD, which again is largely mid-range, but should be more than enough for most/all users. At least you can expand the storage for cheap unlike the Pixel range of phones.
The main selling point of this phone is the keyboard, this is the only device I am aware of that includes a physical keyboard. After years of refusing to give up my keyboard (I had a Palm Pre, and Motorola Milestone 1 & 2) I never thought I would use one again, and I had gotten used to it, to be honest. So, using the keyboard on the KEYone is quite weird, I don’t have big thumbs but it does feels quite squashed together, and typing is generally slower than using an onscreen keyboard. However, accuracy is far superior, apart from my naturally bad spelling, I generally didn’t make any mistakes using the KEYone which is quite a refreshing experience. In general, it is a pleasure to use, and I am sure with regular daily use your typing speed will improve dramatically too. You can still use an on-screen keyboard if you wish, and this works by default in landscape mode.
The keyboard is not some one trick pony either, it has several other features that improve productivity. You can program each key to instantly bring up contacts and apps you use most often, such as pressing “B” to open the browser, this is quite useful as it means you can cut down on the home screen icons allowing quicker access to your main apps.
The keyboard itself is also touch sensitive when you are typing you can swipe up on the keyboard to flick through words. When you want to scroll on a web page or app you can again swipe on the keypad rather than the screen. Again, this is a really useful and well thought out feature, it avoids you having to touch your screen which inevitably blocks your view when scrolling, and allows for quicker reading and processing of information.
The fact that this is clearly aimed at business users means that the mid-range components are not really an issue. The 625 comfortably handles all day to day tasks, which for me primarily involves a lot of emails, telegram, WhatsApp, and Google Maps. I didn’t notice any slowdowns or general any issues with the performance.
The KEYone does not use a vanilla version of Android, it is quite heavily modified, but this is largely due to them wanting to maintain the BlackBerry ethos of productivity and security. It currently runs on Android Nougat 7.1, and BlackBerry promises regular security patches alongside the DTEK security applications preloaded onto the phone.
Some of the added features are quite good though, one of the main features I used is the BlackBerry Hub. The Hub (surprisingly) acts as a hub for all your communications, including email, social media, texts, and calls. Everything is in one place so there is no need to switch between apps or potentially miss notifications. I have tried alternatives to the GMAIL app plenty of times but never liked them, I wouldn’t say the hub is better at email than the GMAIL app, but it is close and having access to all my other networks makes it much more convenient.
You also have a productivity tab which compliments the Hub, this is ever present on your screen and allows you to swipe it open giving you access to your calendar, notes, inbox and contacts. It is a nice feature, but I didn’t actually use it too much, but then again, my calendar events are pretty sparse.