BlackBerry Key2 review (hands on): A blast from the past that no one really needs
The BlackBerry Key2 is a phone for a very particular type of person. The sort who, for one reason or another, decided right from the start that touchscreens weren’t for them and never were going to be.
I was one of those people once. And then I changed. Or, rather, onscreen keyboards changed. They got better to the point at which there really wasn’t any point trying to shoehorn several rows of physical keys onto a smartphone any more.
Still, there are some people (quite a lot, it would appear) who are adamant a physical keyboard is better than a virtual one and who am I to argue? That’s why TCL has released an update to its Android-based BlackBerry keyboard phone: the Key One is now superseded by the BlackBerry Key2.
READ NEXT: BlackBerry Key One review
BlackBerry Key2 review: Specifications, price and release date
|4.5in, 1,080 x 1,620, 433ppi, IPS display|
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor, Adreno 512 GPU, X12 LTE modem|
|64GB or 128GB storage|
|MicroSD expansion (128GB model comes with dual-SIM/microSD)|
|Dual 12-megapixel, f/1.8 cameras with 2x optical zoom|
|3,500mAh lithium-ion battery with Quick Charge 3 support|
|Price: £579 inc VAT, SIM free|
|Release date: June 2018|
BlackBerry Key2 review: Design and first impressions
So, what’s new? It doesn’t look all that different from a distance than the BlackBerry Key One but, as always with a new phone launch, the design has been refined with TCL taking “every effort to create cleaner lines” in 2018’s keyboard warrior. I rather liked the chunky, bold styling of the previous model but it’s undeniable that the Key2 is an altogether more sophisticated-looking thing.It’s wrapped around the edges with an aluminium frame, finished in either silver or black, and the rear panel is a textured, grippy plastic embossed with the famous BlackBerry logo, of course. The phone is 1mm thinner than the BlackBerry Key One and 12g lighter, at 8.5mm and 168g respectively. It has a 25% narrower “forehead” and no notch, and the button layout around the edges is different, with the volume, power and customisable convenience key sitting on the right-hand side instead of split across left and right.
The screen hasn’t changed. It’s still a rather cramped 4.5in, 1,080 x 1,620 effort with broad bezels by modern standards, but its surroundings have been updated. The back, home and recent apps keys beneath the screen aren’t stencilled on permanently and now light up only when needed and, of course, the keyboard has been refined.
The key tops are 20% larger than on the BlackBerry Key One and have a flatter, matte finish to them and the prominent chrome “frets” between rows have gone. There’s space still between the rows, but these are all of a piece with the aluminium chassis, a design change I’m not a big fan of.
As with the BlackBerry Key One, the keyboard can act as a (not particularly good) touchpad, allowing you to scroll up and down web pages without your finger obscuring the display. The fingerprint reader remains built into the spacebar.
The big update here, though, is a new key. Excited? I’d forgive you if you weren’t but bear with me here. This happens to be the first new key BlackBerry has introduced to its keyboard in over a decade. It’s a shortcut key, dubbed the “speed key” which is used to launch apps more quickly. Hold it down, press the letter you’ve assigned to the app in question and – you guessed it – the app loads without you having to sully your fingers with the touchscreen.
[Pause for applause]
To give the Key2 its due, this keyboard is a very good example of the breed. The keys have a good, positive click, they don’t feel too mushy and it’s pretty easy to get up to a reasonable speed once you get a feel for the layout. The question remains, however: do you really need a physical keyboard any more? I’d argue not.
BlackBerry Key2 review: Performance, camera and software
What undermined the BlackBerry Key One was its price to performance ratio. Alas, the BlackBerry Key2 repeats that mistake. On launch, the phone will be available for £579, a price at which phones like the OnePlus 6 and LG G7 are able to squeeze in a top-line Snapdragon 845 processor.
Instead, the BlackBerry Key2 has a Snapdragon 660 on board, backed by 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, plus microSD expansion capabilities. This isn’t a bad chip, and the phone feels relatively responsive with it on board, but it’s a rung below the performance of the leading Snapdragon silicon both in terms of its raw CPU and graphics speed and its top cellular download speed.
While the leading smartphones are edging into a territory where Gigabit/sec download speeds and more are possible, the BlackBerry Key2, courtesy of the Snapdragon 660’s X12 modem, is limited to 600Mbits/sec.
It’s a chip you’d expect to find powering mid-range smartphones such as the Nokia 7 Plus, not a phone costing nearly £600. And the 3,500mAh battery doesn’t look anything particularly special either, although TCL is claiming this is a phone you’ll never need to charge, even on the “most demanding day you can imagine”. I’d take that claim with an unhealthily large dose of salt.
Still, the BlackBerry Key2 does at least catch up in one area and that’s the camera. Where the BlackBerry Key One was stuck with a single camera, the BlackBerry Key2, appropriately, is endowed with a pair of 12-megapixel snappers, one of which offers a 2x optical zoom and both of which work in tandem to produce portrait-style, blurred background photographs. TCL says the new rear dual rear camera offers faster autofocus, image stabilisation and auto white balance as well.
BlackBerry Key2 review: Early verdict
I’m personally not convinced the world still needs a smartphone with a keyboard, not when touchscreen keyboards are so good today but if you do fancy something different from the usual black slabs, the BlackBerry Key2 appears to be well designed, well put together and reasonably attractive as well, especially the silver model.
The keyboard is decent, it’s slimmer, lighter and should be faster than before and it should meet the needs of businesses, too with TCL’s specially customised “hardened” version of Android 8.1 Oreo installed.
The question is, at £579, who other than BlackBerry diehards is going to buy one of these? Even with all the improvements, I’m struggling to think of anyone right now.