The smartphone industry has gone through a few form factors but there is no denying that a full touch slate has won the smartphone race. But that does not mean that there is no room for anything else- quite the contrary actually. Just this week a friend of mine was trying to decide between a couple of high-end full slate smartphones and then he saw the newly released BlackBerry KEYone and almost instantly made up his mind to go for it. Phones with hardware keyboards still has fans and today we look at the TCL’s BlackBerry KEYone- easily the best in this space.
The BlackBerry KEYone measures 149.1 x 72.4 x 9.4 mm and weighs 180 grams which is definitely larger, thicker and heavier than most new high-end smartphones. But rather than looking big and heavy, the BlackBerry KEYone has a rather commanding look that means business. The anodized aluminum frame feels solid in your hands while the soft touch back make the phone comfortable to hold. Although the silver and black color combination works for the KEYone, I think the phone should have also been released in a full black combination giving it a stealthy look.
The usual set of buttons found on almost all BlackBerry phones are present in the KEYone at their usual locations- the power button is on the left of the device while the volume buttons and the convenience key that can be mapped to any action or application sit on the right. You also have the SIM card and MicroSD slot on the right and my only real complain is that TCL is not offering a dual SIM version. On top is the 3.5mm audio jack while at the bottom sits the USB Type-C connector. Worth noting is that the BlackBerry KEYone comes with a decent pair of earphones and sets of extra tips to accommodate different ear sizes.
Specs-wise, you won't find the latest/greatest hardware on the BlackBerry KEYone but that is completely fine because for it’s intended purpose, it can handle everything you throw at it. It’s powered by the Qualcomm MSM8953 Snapdragon 625 with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. I did not face any slowdowns or stuttering when using the phone for a week- which included lots of emails and messaging across various platforms and some web browsing and news reading.
The front of the phone sports a 4.5-inch screen with a somewhat odd resolution of 1080x1620 pixels and unlike previous BlackBerry phones that had a square or a landscape orientation, the screen on the BlackBerry KEYone is in portrait form with as 3:2 aspect ratio. While this aspect ratio doesn’t necessarily work well for watching movies, it does the job for composing emails and documents well. The IPS screen has good color reproduction and is bright enough to be used outdoors in the Dubai sun.
What’s most interesting about the KEYone is the full qwerty keyboard that sits below the screen- very much along the lines of the BlackBerry Priv. However, since it sits on the front face of the device instead of hiding behind the slider, it has more room in terms of width and depth making it a much better typing experience than the Priv. It’s also capacitive in nature allowing you to scroll through web pages or email lists and allows for gestures that include flicking words up to complete them or swiping them left to delete them. You can also simply start typing on the home screen and get results based on contacts, calls and messages. All this will sounds very familiar to a recent BlackBerry user and seriously ups your productivity.
The gem on this keyboard is the fingerprint sensor that is embedded on the spacebar. It’s ingenious, very intuitive and works accurately. Whoever thought of this idea deserves a salute from me. Like most recent phones, it can wake up and unlock your phone- and it’s very fast at doing that. The fingerprint sensor works well with BlackBerry Password Keeper app as well- though I do wish that app was available on platforms like PC or Mac or even iOS to make it more usable.
Speaking of apps, the BlackBerry KEYone comes with all the BlackBerry apps you’d expect such as the Hub that acts like a messaging notification center for everything from your emails and text messages to your social media alerts or your instant messaging platforms such as Slack or WhatsApp. You also get the DTEK security suite and the aforementioned Password Keeper. And since the KEYone is based on Android, you have full access to the Google Play Store and all Android apps. Worth noting that the KEYone comes with the latest release version of Android 7.1.
Moving on to the camera, something that hasn’t traditionally been a strong feature of BlackBerry phones, I was surprisingly impressed with the 12MP variant offered on the KEYone. It has the same image sensor as Google’s Pixel phone which is considered as one of the best camera phones- though the camera app is a bit on the basic side. However, it’s good enough for a business phone- and there are plenty of 3rd party apps that you can install for additional features. Here are some samples from the camera
Last but certainly not the least, the BlackBerry KEYone is equipped with a massive 3505mAh battery which, coupled with the 4.5-inch screen, offers fantastic battery life. My general usage involved lots of emails and messaging as well as some social media and maps usage. I didn’t necessarily watch as many YouTube videos as I would on a standard slate or pull out the camera as frequently, which would affect the battery life a bit but even then, I got more than two days out of a single charge which is unbelievable good. The phone also supports Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 3.0 standard so even if you find yourself low on battery, you can have it charged about 50% in half an hour which should provide you a full day of use.
Honestly, the TCL BlackBerry KEYone in a winner. This is the Android phone that BlackBerry owners have been waiting for and I’m surprised it took so long to get this out to the consumers. It has a great keyboard and a fantastic battery life along with a very good camera and BlackBerry’s suite of security and apps. Where the challenge lies is the size of the market that still prefers this kind of form factor. It might not be very large but for everyone in it, BlackBerry has done a great service and produced and stellar phone.