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Blackberry KEY2: Hands-on mobile review

Friday, August 31st 2018 by Oprah Flash

You may have already read about my chunky butterfingers in the Sony Xperia XA2 review, well they are back to clash around and wreak havoc on the physical keyboard of the Blackberry KEY2.

Without further ado, let’s get stuck in.

First Impressions

Real talk, it was not love at first sight. Opening the box I first thought, “Woah that’s a big phone!” But in comparison to my Huawei Mate 10 Pro it’s roughly the same size so it’s not out of place with any of the other smartphones on the market right now. The thing that sets it apart from the rest – its USP – is the nostalgic qwerty keyboard combined with the more modern touchscreen.

When you mix acrylic nails with chubby butterfingers you get nothing but disaster when trying to type anything with the physical keyboard. Whether or not you choose to set a shortcut, it's still a bit of a headache trying to press the tiny buttons with your glamourous talons.

For the more practical phone-users among us (obviously not me) the shortcut feature comes in quite handy.

Blackberry has put a lot of focus on productivity and privacy. Can I see it making a comeback as the go-to work phone? In all honesty, no I can’t. Blackberry has sort of missed the boat on that one. Fear not though, if you’re looking for something that does everything your mates’ phone does but looks a bit different to the standard rectangular block we’ve all become accustomed to, the Blackberry KEY2 is right up your alley.

The manufacturer does seem to hype the BBM feature but in 2018 it’s not really necessary. Everybody and their Aunt has WhatsApp or some other form of web messaging app and even if they don’t, you’d need someone else with a Blackberry for it to work and at the moment that’s quite hard to find.

The Blackberry Key2 with a 4.5-inch touchscreen and integrated keyboard

Fingerprint scanner and security

This year, Blackberry hopped aboard the biometrics train and evolved its keyboard to include a fingerprint scanner. You can use it to unlock the phone as well as the pre-loaded privacy app. For me it’s not very tactile, you often have to try a couple of times for it to recognise your print in which case you end up putting in your pin anyway.

Two features that I found interesting, were the privacy shade and redactor that allow you to cover parts of the screen when taking a screenshot. The Locker lets you control who has access to the content on your mobile and gives you the option to not have your web browsing session tracked. The in-built DTEK app regularly scans the handset for viruses and malware and gives you the opportunity to manage the access your downloaded apps have to your phone.

Return of the mack

Keyboards worked well in yesteryear when we didn’t have have such responsive virtual keyboards. At first, it’s exciting and a novel change to the smartphones we’ve become used to. Give it a few hours (or days depending on how often you use it) and the physical keyboard will start to get on your nerves.

While it can’t be faulted for being easy-to-use, the general process of typing has been extended. We all know any message you send is dry without an emoji but to access emojis you then have to use the on-screen keyboard which then takes up even more space of the already-too-small display.

The KEY2’s predecessor, the KeyOne, also has a keyboard but 2018 sees Blackberry introduce a Speed Key that enables shortcuts. When you get over the annoyance of typing on the small keys, the shortcuts come in useful.



Vogue

Looks-wise, the Blackberry KEY2 is certainly different to all of its competitors so if you make a habit of breaking the mould, this could be the phone for you.

Personally though, it didn’t tick my boxes. It’s 151.4mm x 71.8 mm dimensions mean it’s roughly the same size of my Huawei Mate 10 Pro and many other phones on sale at the moment. However, the split touchscreen and keyboard display makes it appear huge.

Aside from the physical keyboard, Blackberry phones are known for their durability – for a while at least, they were everyone’s staple work phone. Here, it’s an aluminium body with a screen made up of 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass to offer some added crack resistance, but it’s not waterproof so you’ll need more than a bag of rice if you mistake it for a bathbomb.

The soft-touch back panel has diamond-shaped detailing for added grip. I agree its does feel comfortable in your hand and you are less worried about dropping it but the material irked me. It’s a magnet for fingerprints, dust and debris.

Blackberry hasn’t followed in the iPhone’s footsteps when it comes to the 3.5mm headphone jack, it is intact on the Key 2. Under the volume control and power buttons is a Convenience Key. Once you’ve set it up you can use this button can quickly open the app or widget of your choice.

Fingerprints show up very quickly

Toolbox

Running on the latest version of Android (Oreo 8.1) the KEY2 has all the latest features like Google Assistant and Google Lens, combined with some of Blackberry's own interface and apps.

With the handset we tested you get 64GB of internal storage with an alternative 128GB option available. This is ample but you can expand it up to 256GB with the help of a micro SD card. Under its keyboarded exterior it’s packing a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor with 6GB of RAM making it perfect for you to handle several tasks and apps at a time.

This phone is focused on productivity and a side tab on the home screen makes it easy to view all your tasks in one place.

Shortcuts on the keyboard do come in handy but not enough to convince me to take the plunge and get a Blackberry, for me it may just stay as a fond memory of a work phone from the good old days.

These days, phone manufacturers like to reassure you that you’re getting a powerful battery with your new phone. No-one likes having to recharge their phone every few hours. With the Blackberry KEY2, there is a 3500 mAh battery, which will typically get you through the day with moderate use – texting, browsing, updating your calendar and so on.

I watched some YouTube videos and played games (for research purposes I promise) to run down the battery to empty so I could test the time it takes to refill its juice. From 0% to 100% with the phone switched off and using the charger provided in the box, you’ll wait an average of an hour and 45 mins, longer if the phone is switched on if you’re using it.

Let’s forget about entertainment

Not the phone if you like watching telly on your phone or if you're a savvy social media user. The addition of the keyboard brings your screen down to 4.5-inches with a 3:2 aspect ratio. When watching videos on Youtube or Netflix, the bars that appear around the edges can get annoying and make you feel truly nostalgic like you’re using a medieval phone. If that’s what floats your boat then fair play to you but for me, the annoyance isn’t worth the £579 price tag.

For me the speakers aren’t the best on the market but they are okay. Other reviews have disagreed with me though, with the content creator behind Unbox Therapy calling them “tinny”.

Lights, Camera Action

Tudor Alley in Lichfield taken on the Blackbery KEY2

You have to remember that this is a phone with productivity as its main focus, so other features like entertainment may not be as advanced as those you would find in its Samsung or Huawei counterparts.

When it comes to taking pictures, you’ve got a 12MP dual camera to play with. On the front of the phone there is an 8MP Fixed Focus camera for selfies. For me the camera got the job done. This is not the phone you’d purposely buy for its camera capabilities, for that you need a Huawei P20 Pro with its mammoth 40MP triple lens or one of the latest iPhones. With that considered, you can still take some decent photos.

We’ve become accustomed to being able to do weird and wonderful things on our phones. You won’t get that with the Blackberry KEY2. The picture taking features are simple, basic portrait mode, no wide angle and no bokeh effect. You’d have more fun taking pictures on the Samsung S9 or any other flagship phone.

Is this phone for you?

Have I missed the keyboard? No. Am I happy it’s back? Not particularly. Would I buy it? Hmmm maybe. It’s a good little phone with same sort of functionality you’d expect from a mid-range Android phone.

It’s not a bad phone, if it was released just as it is but a couple of years ago, it would be a great phone, but as it stands there are more advanced and attractive features available in other handsets on the market for roughly the same price. It’s Blackberry’s flagship phone so it has a flagship RRP of £579 but I personally don’t think you are getting your money’s worth. It belongs in the mid-range price bracket at best.

It's good for people who miss the keyboards and are diehard Blackberry fans. If you struggle with typing on touchscreen keyboards you may enjoy this phone.

My biggest bugbear about this phone is that it still vibrates when it receives an email, even when it’s on silent. Such a petty small thing to be annoyed about but there you go. You can probably change this in the Blackberry Hub settings but by this point I was too irritated to find out.

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