Time was Blackberry was the phone of Presidents, Prime Ministers and texting teenage girls. Pre-iPhone it was the only smartphone to have. It said I am serious about my communications. It didn’t take too many years for Apple and Samsung to knock Blackberry off its lofty perch at the top of the tree.
A lot has changed in recent years as BlackBerry struggled to regain its former glory.. The company switched to making Android phones with little success. Finally BlackBerry signed a deal with Chinese manufacturer TCL (which owns Alcatel) to produce its phones under license. The first three phones out of this alliance didn’t go anywhere. None of them were true, up to date replacements for the classic BlackBerrys.
Now comes the KeyOne: the first Android-powered BlackBerry with a physical keyboard up front, under the screen. Is this the Android phone BlackBerry lovers have long wished for?
Out of its stylish black box this is an impressive and sophisticated looking phone. The KEYone comes with a 4.5-inch touch display of impact and scratch resistant Corning Gorilla Glass 4. It is housed in a sleek aluminum frame with a soft textured back for extra grip While it is rubber,it looks and feels like leather. The KEYone’s keyboard features touch navigation and advanced predictive text, allowing you to flick words onto your screen as you type.
At 5.87 x 2.85 x 0.37 inches (149.1 x 72.4 x 9.4 mm) 6.35 oz (180 g) the KEYone is quite a bit thicker and heavier than other flagship phones but it is well balanced doesn’t feel that heavy. On the bottom edge below the keyboard there is the phone’s single speaker and USB Type-C port. The headphone jack is up top. Along the left edge is the power button, and on the right side we have the volume rocker and the KEYone’s “Convenience Key,” a programmable shortcut button.
Now the 1080 x 1620 screen has a 3:2 aspect ratio (more commonly seen on tablets) to accommodate the keyboard at the bottom. The screen is nice and sharp but the shape of the display isn’t exactly media-friendly, HD videos don’t fit well. Because Blackberry has used a slightly smaller font, the screen works just fine for viewing documents, working with tables, and web browsing.
The fingerprint reader is embedded in a place that makes an incredible amount of sense for a BlackBerry — the spacebar. A couple of LEDs even pulse to show when it can be used, and unlocking the device is as easy as resting one’s thumb on the sensor. I found it was accurate and very responsive.
The keyboard features up to 52 customizable shortcuts that transform each letter key for quick access to your favorite apps and most important contacts. Touch navigation responds to touch gestures like a trackpad, to quickly scroll through webpages or emails. Flick typing offers predictive text, made even faster with the ability to flick words onto your screen as you type.
The KEYone is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 mobile platform with the Qualcomm® Adreno™ 506 GPU. Not the latest technology but powerful enough to make this phone comfortable to use. This also means the The big 3505mAh battery will keep the KEYone going for up to two full days of mixed use and if you do run it down at an inconvenient time Qualcomm Quick Charge™ 3.0 technology enables up to 50 percent charge in roughly 36 minutes.
The phone comes with Android™ 7.1 Nougat giving you access to the entire Google Play™ store. This includes BlackBerry Hub which brings all your messages into one consolidated place. This includes emails, texts and messages from any social media account.
Aside from the keyboard the real big deal with the KEYone is the enhanced security features. From a hardened operating system to BlackBerry Limited’s proprietary technique for establishing a hardware root of trust adding security keys to the processor, the BlackBerry KEYone is designed to offer the most secure Android smartphone experience possible. The KEYone comes pre-loaded with DTEK™ by BlackBerry, offering constant security monitoring and protection of your operating system and apps by letting you know when your privacy could be at risk and how you can take action to improve it. A quick glimpse lets you see the overall security rating for your device and provides simple access allowing you to easily improve your security status. This BlackBerry security application monitors your other apps, alerting you if one is accessing your camera to take a picture or video, turning your microphone on, sending a text message, accessing your contacts or location.
In the past BlackBerry hasn’t paid much attention to the camera but this phone features a pretty decent shooter, a 12-megapixel sensor with large pixels and 4K video recording capabilities. It’s also equipped with phase detection autofocus (PDAF) and a feature called fast focus lock, which means you can focus on whatever you’re shooting quickly. It succeeded in focusing in good light far more often than it failed, even when objects were close-up to the lens. Under good lighting conditions, the camera delivered well-exposed shots with good colour and sharpness. In lower-light situations, results were mixed: occasionally blurry due to no image stabilization and there was often image noise.
And the front camera takes pretty good selfies under good lighting conditions.
Overall this is a good looking sophisticated Android smartphone that performs really well especially when it comes to work. The screen aspect ratio and the game unfriendly mid-range processor make it less of a phone for play. It will be a no brainer for BlackBerry lovers who long for the hardware keyboard. Those who have switched to iPhone or Samsung are not likely to be lured back even for this impressive phone.
The BlackBerry KEYone is available from the big three as well as Sasktel beginning at $0 with a 2 year premium plan to $700 with no plan.