BlackBerry Key2 Review

BlackBerry Key2

BlackBerry Key2

BlackBerry

June, 2018
4.5" IPS LCD display, Snapdragon 660 chipset, Dual: 12 MP + 12 MP primary camera, 8 MP front camera, 3500 mAh battery, 128 GB storage, 6 GB RAM, Corning Gorilla Glass 3.
EUR:€650 | USD:$754 | PKR:102,999 | INR:54,529

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BlackBerry Key2 Review

BlackBerry Key2 Review


Introduction

Who would have thought that we will be getting smartphones with physical keyboard in this age and time, until Blackberry adapted Android and released their phones using Android OS. Since then, they have been releasing some phones and the one which got most hype was Blackberry KeyOne. Now, for 2018, Blackberry has released yet another edition of their Key series flagships, Blackberry Key2 and its fair to say, this looks like Blackberry might just be back in the game. It is a phone defined by its most retro feature: physical keyboard. Just about every design, software, and hardware decision manufacturer TCL has made comes down to physical keys in some way, whether it's form-factor, size of touchscreen, or their new "Speed Key" that promises to make navigating Android 8.1 Oreo a lot smoother. Whether or not this brand-new device from Blackberry holds the formula to be a success in market, let's find out.

Design

Blackberry Key2 feels like a decently-made smartphone, with a build quality one would expect for its price. It is one of more impressive devices from Blackberry, with everything feeling like it's made out of metal or glass. There's something absolutely original about this newest BlackBerry, no notched display to apologize for, and no absent headphone jack to spin "consumers want a slimmer phone" excuses for. Just crisp metal, tactile plastics, and a pleasing sense of familiarity.

Front of device is three quarters of screen and a physical keyboard. On top of screen is where you find an earpiece and a front facing camera. Main attraction on this phone, however, is the iconic Blackberry keyboard, which seems to be designed to tickle reminiscence thoughts in brain of a previous Blackberry user. It's much bigger now, than how it was on Blackberry KeyOne, and feels very much similar to arguably Blackberry's best phone, Blackberry Bold 9900. It's not that alone, however. Aluminum frame with its joining edges feels sturdy and reassuring. Textured back panel has a firm grip that makes you question glass backs of most mainstream smartphones. Yes, they look shiny and glamorous in photos and yes, Blackberry Key2 does tend to pick up fingerprint on its back, but it's so aggressively practical that you can't really blame it.

Back of phone isn't too different from Blackberry KeyOne. Soft-touch material feels nice to touch, and best of all, it doesn't capture fingerprint marks like most glass phones these days as it'll almost always look presentable. Camera module isn't as big and bold as it was on Blackberry KeyOne either even when there are two lenses now, but they still manage to look understated. There's a Blackberry logo at middle of this phone and it's in a black accent, making this phone look very classy and professional.

You won't find a fingerprint scanner anywhere on this phone but don't be fooled into believing that there is not any. Blackberry has smartly embedded fingerprint scanner inside space key on its keyboard and it works very well. A 4.5-inch display moves up a little, and bezels surrounding display have shrunk, giving phone a slightly more contemporary look. You'll still find capacitive Android navigation keys below screen, but all other buttons on this phone are now on right side, including power button and Convenience Key. Power button is textured, so you'll know which button you're about to press.

At bottom is where you'll find a USB Type-C charging port, with speaker grilles surrounding it, and at top of phone is a headphone jack that's slightly off-center. This slightly askew placement may be the only design flaw I've found with Blackberry Key2 as it just looks strange but I'm just happy they did not omit it altogether like most manufacturers these days.

Overall, it's a classy and professional looking smartphone, one which makes you remember the good old days when Blackberry was on top of their game, and one which will certainly not disappoint a Blackberry fan.

Display

Blackberry Key2 has a fairly smaller display as compared to most flagship these days as phone is all about its physical keyboard. It has a 4.5 inch IPS LCD screen with a resolution of 1,620 x 1,080p, pixel density of 434 pixels and a 3:2 aspect ratio. Screen looks sharp, colorful, and bright enough to see on an overcast day. Blacks don't look as rich as I've seen on OLED screens, but I didn't have any problems with 4.5-inch display here. It's protected by Gorilla Glass 3, which is a bit of a disappointment as most flagship phones use stronger Gorilla Glass 5.

One sacrifice that is made in having a physical keyboard is display size. While I haven't seen any real impact on productivity, multimedia experiences are compromised by smaller 4.5 inch display and spreadsheets are not as easy to work with either.

Phone isn't much about its display, but whatever it is offering, most people will be satisfied with it. As you get to have a physical keyboard for typing and navigating purposes, most people won't have major issues with phone's smaller display size.

Hardware

Phones these days, specially flagships, are on a race to compete with each other with better and better specs. Blackberry, however, went for pretty midrange specs for its flagship device for 2018. Blackberry Key2 is powered by Snapdragon 660 processor and Adreno 512 GPU coupled with 6 GB of RAM and either 64 GB or 128 GB of on-board storage. Of course, if you need more storage, there's a MicroSD card slot as well.

Snapdragon 660 may not be Qualcomm's high-end chip, but I have no complaints from the time I've already spent with this phone. Heavy webpages have scrolled without lag, all applications worked as they're supposed to and scrolling through interface wasn't any issue either. Blackberry Key2 is all about physical keyboard and if it's not good, then what's the point and I can fairly say that this is their best ever keyboard on a smartphone since their transition to Android. Major issue with Blackberry KeyOne was that most user complained of slow typing speed. With Blackberry Key2, moving screen a little higher means there's more room at bottom for a slightly bigger keyboard. Raised issues are gone between rows of keys, keys are a bit bigger, and in general, there's more breathing room. Matte keys slope down a bit, and they deliver a satisfying tactile sensation when pressed as they're not too soft, but they're certainly not stiff. Extra room really does help us type faster and not to mention the fact that backlit keyboard is still capacitive, meaning you can flick upwards under predictive word bar to use suggested words quickly for even faster typing. Keyboard also doubles as a trackpad, allowing you to scroll through OS and apps.

Biggest change to Blackberry Key2's keyboard is addition of a new key. It's called ‘Speed Key', and it replaces extra shift key that sat on far-right side of keyboard. If you are in an app, press and hold Speed Key, and then short tap or long tap any other key to jump to a remapped app. It's kind of like alt-tabbing on a computer, but it gets you where you want to go much faster, perfect for multi-taskers. For example, if you're in Chrome, but you want to jump to Gmail, press and hold the Speed Key, and then tap the G key (presuming you've remapped the G key to Gmail). You'll jump straight into the app, without having to exit Chrome, opening the app drawer, and finding the Gmail icon.

Phone does feature USB Type-C for fast charging and a 3.5 mm headphone jack to satisfy your music needs. Fingerprint scanner is hidden inside space key on keyboard and it works one hundred per cent of times I've tested it. If you're a wireless charging fan, however, you're out of luck.

It's a well-rounded hardware setup by Blackberry, with fairly enough power to let you through all daily and most business tasks you'd want to perform, while giving users luxury of a brilliantly built physical keyboard.

Battery

Blackberry KeyOne was one of the best smartphones when it came to battery life and now, its successor looks no different. Blackberry Key2 has a 3,500mAh battery, which means it should still offer fantastic battery life. It's only 5mAh smaller than battery on Blackberry KeyOne, which could easily stay powered for two days. It also supports Qualcomm's Quick Charge 3.0, so you can juice up faster, precisely 0 to 50% in 36 mins.

During my battery test, phone gave a whopping 9 hours of screen-on time which is actually not surprising as I expected it to last really long on a single charge, all thanks to an energy efficient processor, large battery capacity and small display. You don't get wireless charging on this phone but with such battery timing, most users won't even need it, and due to the fact that it charges really fast, this is a great phone for anyone concerned majorly about battery life.

Camera

Blackberry Key2 uses a pair of 12-megapixel sensors, one with an f/1.8 aperture and another with an f/2.6 aperture. In most cases, you'll wind up relying on that first camera, and that's a good thing, wider aperture and larger pixels means it absorbs more light and produces brighter photos. Working with HDR mode that's on by default, this primary camera has captured some surprisingly nice photos over period of time of my camera test. Other cameras are better able to demonstrate fine details on a subject, but overall clarity and saturation left us with relatively few complaints. For a BlackBerry, a kind of phone that no one has ever really equated with top-tier image quality, that's not bad at all. Secondary camera is meant for tighter, zoomed shots as 2x optical zoom option offers best results, though if you're not super-picky, you can dial in up to 4x with digital zoom. In my test, zoom has been occasionally nice to have, but sensor itself didn't typically produce shots as nice as primary one which is a let-down. Thankfully, both cameras come together pretty well when you fire up Portrait mode.

Blackberry Key2 does not seem nearly as good as most flagships at loading up backgrounds with ample bokeh, and low-light portraits can come out looking kind of grainy, but I've seen much worse from more expensive phones too. Unfortunately, during my time testing camera of Blackberry Key2 has left me with some lingering questions about its low-light performance. In short, it's really hit-or-miss. In some cases, phone captures respectable (if somewhat unremarkable) photos in dim conditions. Other times, however, camera struggled to produce images with any kind of crispness or clarity, as one shot snapped from back of a dimly lit room looked extremely bad and blurry. This made me think that the fact that neither of two rear cameras has optical image stabilization definitely doesn't help. Another bummer is that 2x zoom option doesn't look good at all. It often strips away a lot of detail, and you're better off not using it, especially in low-light environments as photos either look incredibly blurry or too sharp.

Blackberry Key2 shoots videos up to 4K at 30 fps and I was actually impressed, given there's no Optical Image Stabilization. Videos came out less shaky as compared to other smartphones with no OIS and there was ample detail as well. Problems, however, arise when you enter a low light setting where camera certainly struggles to record videos with less noise and more sharpness. It doesn't feature any slow-mo mode but that's not a big deal as most people still feel that it's a gimmick and not that important.

On front, you're getting an 8 MP sensor with an f/2.0 aperture which takes somewhat decent selfies but when compared to top dogs such as Apple iPhone X or Google Pixel 2, there was no competition whatsoever. Videos can be shot up till 1080p and overall, it's an average front camera performance.

For most users, camera on Blackberry's latest offering will be average and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It still manages to carry out essentials of photography pretty well and in my opinion, just with a few tweaks, this can become a really good camera.

Software

Blackberry's own OS was one of the best OS in history of smartphones. However, like most great things, it got obsolete and company decided to adopt Android for their phones. Blackberry Key2 runs on Android 8.1 Oreo, and BlackBerry have said it will get two Android OS upgrades for sure. That means it will get Android P, though maybe not immediately after it's launched, and it will get Android Q in 2019. Software is mostly stock Android, but there are a few changes made by BlackBerry with a whole lot of BlackBerry apps. Most noticeable visual addition is BlackBerry Productivity Tab, which sticks out on right edge of screen as it now lets you add widgets, so you don't need to swipe through too many home screens.

Apps present on phone will mostly be familiar for BlackBerry users, but there are a few new ones and big updates to older apps. There's BlackBerry Hub, where you can see all your notifications, BBM, BlackBerry Privacy Shade, and Locker. Locker app now lets you store and hide apps, requiring a passcode or fingerprint activation (via the spacebar key) to open them. Handy if you want to keep a dating/social app a private from coworkers, or other sensitive files. Locker now also has privacy-focused Firefox Focus browser pre-installed, which deletes browsing history as soon as you leave app. Default browser on phone is still Chrome, though. Photos taken with fingerprint sensor are also hidden away in gallery app, and they're not uploaded to Google Photos cloud, another privacy-friendly feature. A new app called Power Center tells you what apps are draining your battery, and it learns your charging habits so it will send an alert when it knows you won't make it to your typical charging window.

BlackBerry also claims to have employed use of machine learning throughout its operating system as well. For example, DTEK app will tell you if there's an app accessing sensitive information like a microphone, and you can deny the request. This happens after you have agreed to allow app to access microphone through Google Play permissions, as an extra security measure.

Convenience Key on Blackberry Key2 now has three modes. There's a Car profile, a Meeting profile, and a Home profile. So, if you press this button when phone is connected to your car's Bluetooth, then it will present you with three pre-configured apps of your choosing such as Google Maps, or Spotify. Work profile apps will show up when you're connected to your work Wi-Fi, and your Home apps will be present on your home Wi-Fi. This is indeed, my favorite software feature on Blackberry Key2 as it makes managing work life with home life much easier.

All of these software changes may seem to be fairly overwhelming to some users but they also make this device arguably the most secured Android smartphone in market to date.

Conclusion

BlackBerry Key2 will be available in USA starting on July 13 for $650 for base model. It will be available from Amazon and Best Buy, with pre-orders kicking off on June 29, and it will only work on GSM networks like AT&T and T-Mobile, coming in two colors: Black or Silver. Phone's slightly more expensive than last year's Blackberry KeyOne, but I think that build quality and dedication to creating a perfect keyboard is going to make this phone worth its price tag, especially considering there are hardly any phones out there with a physical keyboard.

Sure, it doesn't have Snapdragon 845 like OnePlus 6, but again, people buying this phone care more about keyboard and security than raw specifications. To be fair, it is a phone designed entirely for BlackBerry fans. You won't want this if you're thinking of upgrading from a Samsung Galaxy S8 or Apple iPhone 7, although there's something charming about a physical keyboard still. A slightly underpowered processor might not be up for all tasks, but it helps keep price a little lower and seems to combine well with improvements BlackBerry has brought.

In the end, I would like to say that for those who are looking for a multimedia phone, large displays and top of the line specs, Blackberry will certainly not entice them to their latest offering. For those who want a secured Android experience with a nostalgic professional feel with a physical keyboard, Blackberry Key2 is the best you can get in today's market.