Since BlackBerry’s attempt at coming back, I feel like everything they have been working on has been a lot of trial and errors but not quite there yet, well until now. The KEY2 is the first BlackBerry since the Bold days that I actually want to keep using after my review of the device. If there are any key selling points, it would be two things, it’s the most secure device I’ve used to date and the keyboard is such a joy to use, it even brings that clicking feeling back when you hear it, you know someone’s using a BlackBerry device.
Design and Keyboard:
If you like me jumped ship a while ago to touchscreen smartphones then you might find using the KEY2 takes getting used to again at first as I’m one of those people who doesn’t even look at my keyboard anymore in order to type away. Having a physical keyboard now seems alien, but after two weeks of non-stop use, it all comes back easy and with a new speed key, productivity is at an all-time high with the KEY2 especially when multitasking.
Face-on, the KEY2 takes a lot of its design from the KEYOne, however, taking on a lot of user feedback, the new KEY2 sees some upgrades, for example, it’s lighter, an aluminium frame that makes it more durable after some of the screen issues faced with the previous gen, it feels very comfortable in hand when using it all day for typing emails and notes, thanks to its textured back. As you can imagine, a serious user on the go will be taking the device in and out of his or her pocket throughout the day and the last thing you want is a slippery device that will drop and smash in no time.
Besides being a device for the privacy and security conscious folks, it has a lot of customisability options available; you can use the convenience key on the side to open apps that you have assigned, for example, you can set shortcut keys to open apps and use the speed key too. You will also notice that all the buttons are placed on one side and the power button is even slightly grooved so you can easily feel for it and differentiate between the keys.
For display, you have a 3:2 aspect ratio 4.5 inch LCD display with 1620 x 1080 resolution. Watching videos and generally using the display, you get a sharp screen however not as bright as the LG G7 ThinQ and black bars appear when watching videos in that 3:2 aspect ratio. It’s a compromise you have to live with, in exchange for a physical keyboard which takes up almost half of the phone.
Compared to the KEY One, the KEY2’s keyboard is 20% larger, although not so easily noticed when you look at them side-by-side, you feel it when typing. It feels a lot more accurate to type on when compared to using an onscreen keyboard. One thing I have an issue with tho is that sometimes the Android on-screen keyboard still pops up in the middle of me typing and it would have been nice for BlackBerry to work closely with Google in the future to make it more BlackBerry keyboard focused. Just to add to the Speed Key function, you can programme up to 52 shortcuts, meaning you can launch apps by pressing the Speed Key and your programmed function, for example, pressing the Speed Key + I for me opens Instagram.
Everything else we know about the BlackBerry keyboard is still there, such as flick typing to complete your sentences and it still doubles up as a trackpad for scrolling. The trackpad feature is great, but I still find myself trying to also tap it to like a photo on Instagram.
Software is KEY
The KEY2 is a perfect amalgamation of Android 8.1 and some of the best things about BlackBerry as a company. BlackBerry is known for its privacy and security features and the KEY2 is no different; you get DTEK security which monitors your phone for any vulnerabilities and also allows you to set permission for apps installed.
There’s a locker feature which doesn’t just allow you to lock files away from prying eyes, but you can also lock apps so that if you were to hand your device over to someone else to say look at your gallery, you can lock your email app so that can’t get into that also. There are other privacy features like a customised Firefox browser that only browses in incognito so that everything you check on there is not saved or stored anywhere.
I also like the Privacy Shade feature which lets you view sections of your screen so that someone leaning over your shoulder on the train can’t see the full picture. There’s also a screenshot feature that lets you block sections so you can share only the bits you want others to see, almost like what the government does when sharing classified documents.
Performance is not for gaming or heavy media consumption
If you’re looking for a device to play Fortnite on all the time then the KEY2 is probably not the one for you. It’s rocking a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor with 6GB RAM and for storage, you can get the 64GB or 128GB variants; either way, you can add extra storage using a microSD card up to 256GB. Looking at those specs, you may have suspected that it’s focused at multitasking with a huge RAM and storing all your files with a bug storage space that’s also expandable.
Using it daily, I did notice sometimes Instagram would crash when it can’t cope, but when performing other tasks like recording audio, writing emails, general communication, it runs smoothly with hardly any issue at all. Where it really struggles for me is the camera department. Although it has a 12MP dual lens setup with 2x optical zoom, an 8MP front-facing camera, I wouldn’t call the KEY2 a camera smartphone, but ideal or adequate for taking photos for social media or for documentation.
As for battery performance, it has a 3,500 mAh battery that lasts more than a day, in fact, it’s on par with the Huawei P20 pro which sports a bigger battery. Battery drain is not drastic like the OnePlus 6 when using processor-intensive apps either which is good for the workforce on the move.
Is It Just A Hype?
Certainly not! It has some software niggles especially in the camera area; the camera app is slow, there’s no differentiation between the shutter button for video vs stills, portrait mode is not great, but I don’t think BlackBerry is marketing this as the ultimate camera phone. It does the things it’s designed to do very well such as typing with accuracy and speed, security and privacy, battery life doe an all-day use and sturdier than its predecessor. The KEY2 is definitely a step in the right direction for BlackBerry and I think BlackBerry fans will welcome it with open arms and even the KEY One users will be definitely be tempted to upgrade.