Blackberry Keyone: The One we’ve been looking for?

Blackberry was once the king of smart phones, the market leader in the smartphone revolution. But the company has been on a rough road for the last few years. With Apple and Android taking away the masses, Blackberry had major shifts in their business strategies. They entered the Android world with the Priv, which was a unique smart phone in it’s own right,but couldn’t perform as well we its competitors. Their next follow ups – DTEK series also received lukewarm reception and it finally looks now Blackberry went back to the drawing board and focused on their strengths. Enter the KeyOne – the phone with a permanent physical keyboard just like the era of Blackberry Bold series. Do they have a winner in the KeyOne? Let’s find out!

Specifications

  • FULL HD IPS 4.5″ display with a 3:2 aspect ratio.
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor
  • 3GB of RAM
  • 32GB storage
  • microSD slot expandable to 2TB
  • 12-megapixel f/2.0 rear camera with phase-detect autofocus and dual-LED flash
  • 8-megapixel f/2.2 front snapper. 
  • 3505mAh battery

Design 

The Blackberry KeyOne has a unique design and its build quality is great. It stands out with that physical keyboard compared to other full glass panel phones. The phone feels robust and has a very industrial look to it – perfect for their primary target audience, the on-the-go business folk. Unlike other companies, Blackberry has opted for a rubber back phone which gives great grip and feels secure in the hand. Mind you, it’s a heavy phone weighing over 200g and is more than 9mm thick but the curved slopping edges make the phone feel comfortable in one hand and provide excellent weight distribution. There is also a Convenience Key one the right side which you can customize to any action unlike Samsung’s Bixby button! Great Move Blackberry!  

Display 

The KeyOne has a 4.5 inch FULL HD LCD display which is vibrant and has good color reproduction. It’s gets pretty bright and outdoor use even in Dubai’s harsh summer is no problem whatsoever. The drawback of this display is the aspect ratio – 3:2. Watching videos and consuming multimedia isn’t the best because this aspect ratio results in letter boxing and large black bars around the videos. Blackberry may argue that the phone isn’t designed for multimedia but for professional users who check emails, type in large documents etc. The plus side is this aspect ratio does allow more content to be displayed when browsing and reading longer articles and emails.

Keyboard 

Well this is the highlight of the KeyOne. This is the only Android phone with a full physical keyboard currently in the market. This keyboard will attract attention of the Blackberry loyalists who are still holding out on the outdated Blackberries for the keyboard. They keyboard is reminiscent of the Blackberry Classic and Bold series. It comes with 4 rows and each row is separated by shiny metal frame, which gives the phone a premium look and also adds that extra space between rows so one can type in more accurately. They keys are pretty tactile and have a great feedback while typing on them.

They keyboard isn’t just there for typing though. It’s like a full-fledged trackpad – you can scroll through web pages by swiping up and down, navigate the phone swiping left and right and you can flick through words to input text. This is a master stroke by Blackberry and is a very useful feature. I used this very regularly when browsing through my Facebook and Instagram feeds.

Another unique feature of the keyboard is custom actions. Each key can be assigned to a shortcut quick action by short pressing and long pressing them. For example, I remapped the Y key to YouTube so just by hitting Y on the home screen I can straight to the YouTube app. You can assign each key making it possible to make more than 50 short cuts!

Adding to the uniqueness and versatility of the keyboard, the Space bar button has an embedded finger print scanner. The location is perfect and the scanner is very accurate. The space bar button also glows to show you where to place your finger to unlock Another master stoke by Blackberry.

And finally on the typing experience – for the Blackberry keyboard users – they will mostly feel right at home and typing will be a breeze. For me personally, coming from full touch screen phones – it took me a couple of days to get used typing on the physical keyboard. I still tend to type faster using on screen keyboards but I have gotten pretty used to the physical keyboard and BB’s auto correct and word prediction is very good. It learns very fast what you are going to type and reduces the number of keystrokes required to complete sentences.

Software 

The KeyOne comes with Android’s latest iteration 7.1.1. The software is mostly based on Stock android which is great. Blackberry though adds some very handy features on top of it to make the user experience even better. Unlike few other manufacturers that have a whole new skin on Android – Blackberry builds up on the stock experience to add extra features. One feature is the famous Blackberry Hub. The Hub is a place where all  your notifications – emails, call logs, sms, social media app notifications etc are collected. This is helpful when you get tons of notifications and you don’t need to open each app to see the details on who sent what. Then there is the Productivity Tab much like Samsung’s Edge tab. It gives quick access to Calendar events, unread notifications in the Hub, reminders and favourite contacts.

As Blackberry is a security first phone, it comes with their DTEK software which scans your phone and gives you tips and options to completely secure the phone. This is good for business users who thrive on keeping their data secure.

And finally there is device search where you can search for anything on the phone and web – be it emails, contacts, calendar event etc.    

Performance

The KeyOne comes equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 (2 GHz) processor, which is a mid-range processor along with 3GB RAM. Though the processor is mid-range, the phone feels snappy for day to day tasks like browsing, social media tasks, emails etc. 

Though one point to note is playing graphic intense games will have a few stutters here and there unless the graphic quality is reduced. But again, this device main target audience is professionals and gaming wouldn’t be their priority. Also, Blackberry should have probably gone with 4GB RAM which is a standard in upper mid-range devices nowadays. The 3GB RAM makes the phone stutter a bit when doing heavy multi-tasking and additional RAM would have helped the cause. 

Camera 

Blackberry and a good camera never went together all these years. Now with the KeyOne Blackberry is upping their game to the next level. The KeyOne’s main camera comes loaded with the same sensor as the Google Pixel, which is one of the top dogs in mobile cameras at the moment. The camera is a 12MP f2.0 sensor with PDAF and supports 4K video recordings. The camera unfortunately has no Optical Image Stabilization and has gone with a software based EIS. Pictures taken in day light are sharp, punchy with great contrast and can match pics taken from the S8 and HTC U11 thanks to the multi frame processing and the large 1.55um pixels to get in more light. Even low light shots come in decent if you hold your hands steady. Since there is no OIS, there are times when the shots will come a little blurry. Overall, the main camera is the best camera Blackberry has ever used, and will get the job done 9 out of 10 times. 

The front facing Camera is a 8MP one, which is just average. In day light it takes decent quality shots, but really struggles in low light. Not ideal for the Snapchat lovers. But if the camera is used for Skype and the odd selfies, it will do a decent job.

Here’s a few camera samples from the device. 

Battery Life 

This is one area where the KeyOne is a total boss. Thanks to a power efficient chipset and a beefy 3505mAh battery, the phone easily lasted 2 days every single time. The average Screen on-time I got is 5 and half hours, over 2 days with still 15% in the tank. There were days I went extremely heavy on it and it still lasted me 1.5 days will 6.5 hours of SoT. This is perfect power users like business professionals who are always out and about and can’t find time to always top up their batteries. I was streaming a 720p video for 2 hours and the battery fell only 13% at full brightness. Also, the KeyOne supports quick charge technology and can charge from 0 – 50% in 35 minutes, a helpful addition for quick battery top ups.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Verdict

The KeyOne may not be a flagship phone, and cannot match with the prowess of the Galaxy S8 but it stands out with it’s unique design, an amazing physical keyboard, great performance and great battery endurance. This phone is a winner by Blackberry and will surely make loyal Blackberry lovers jump in the Android space with all the perks Blackberry as usual offers. Also, if you are bored of just having similar looking glass slabs phones, this might be the one you can try.