Last year, we proclaimed the original Blackberry Keyone as one of the best android devices you could buy in 2017. This year, TCL/Blackberry have brought us something different. The KEY2 is a refined piece of hardware that builds on the already stellar reputation of the original with some much-needed upgrades to make this a productivity juggernaut, but don’t call this a comeback – it is so much more than that.
While the original Keyone felt like TCL was trying to claw their way back into the smartphone market, a lot has changed in this space since the initial release. To summarize it eloquently, high end smartphones are becoming more affordable (except you iPhone X) and mid-range devices are being fitted with more premium features. It is nice to see that the second iteration or KEY2 as it is known has considered current market trends and TCL haven’t tried to make their latest offering something it doesn’t need to be. While the changes may be modest overall, the focus this time around is on evolution instead of revolution and it brings the KEY2 in line with other competitors’ offerings.
One thing we really loved about the original Keyone was its rugged build, there was no fragile back glass or slippery sides to lose grip on and again this year we see reassuring fine-tuning. The device features a stunning Series 7 aluminum alloy frame with straight edges for better handling as well as a textured diamond non-slip back for excellent grip and to top it off a 4.5-inch gorilla glass screen flanked by a hardware based keyboard (more on that to come). Nonetheless, the build continues to impress us, we don’t feel the need to treat the device like it could fall and break at any time.
Again, the KEY2 is fitted with some solid future proofing too, firstly the device is powered by a 3500mah battery with USB-C charging port with Quick Charge 3.0. There is also an upgraded Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 CPU; a big jump to 6gb of ram and a respectable 64gb of internal storage capacity paired with rare microSD expand-ability. You also get a plethora of connectivity options including enough LTE bands to give you worldwide coverage, Wi-Fi 802.11ac, new Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, and even a FM radio.
Now we can’t talk about hardware without mentioning the keyboard. Yes, it’s back and better than before. Most likely a big selling feature for the KEY2 is the hardware based full qwerty keyboard. While many criticized the original, saying that this was an old school approach to typing, we loved it. In fact, we became so accustomed to the keyboard that we found our texts and emails were much more accurate and less prone to auto correction errors. The embedded space bar fingerprint reader was very accurate and we loved the whole experience so much that entire review copies were typed on the original. This time around, Blackberry has altered the experience in a more positive way with flatter, matte keys that are about 20 percent larger and are still touch sensitive, meaning you can use it to scroll down web pages, swipe up to select appropriate word suggestions and even assign individual letters as shortcuts to apps. However, by far the best new feature is the inclusion of the new Speed Key, that essentially is a quick switch multitasking button, allowing you to jump in and out of apps quickly and efficiently, a big improvement over the original configuration.
Software wise, the phone ships with the latest Android 8.1 operating system complete with the usual array of Blackberry Security add-ons. You get the very versatile DTEK security suite, the classic Blackberry Hub and launcher, privacy shade and even the very clever Locker app, allowing you to password protect photos and files safely from prying eyes. Again, this is what sets this type of device apart from others on the market. The focus is on security and productivity and these features are important to some consumers. We do really like that the included software, too, feels less clunky and more streamlined, this could be in part to the added ram but functionally they all work extremely well.
Last but certainly not least, is the brand new dual lens camera on the KEY2. The camera on the original was a mostly positive affair for us, it took much better than expected photographs, video looked great at 1080p (only option with digital stabilization) but it was a pretty standard one lens affair and even in 2017 seemed outdated. This time around, the device features a pair of 12-megapixel sensors, one with a f/1.8 aperture and 1.28μm sensor pixels and another with a f/2.6 aperture and 1.0μm sensor pixels. While one works better at producing clear, sharp and vibrant shots, the other is used for zooming and bokeh effects on portrait shots, notably missing from the original. The photos we took did look good but not great. The best way to summarize our experience would be to say that the f/1.8 lens is probably going to be your preferred point and click shooter and it does a better job than most, the other suitable when zoom is needed. Most daylight shots were positive, nighttime shots were again a mixed bag (like last year) and video at 4K will need a steady hand as there is still no optical image stabilization, something we would have expected from a 2018 device. This is not to say the overall experience is bad but just don’t expect iPhone or Samsung quality, photos are decent and you should adjust your expectations accordingly.
So where does this leave the KEY2? We have enjoyed reviewing this device, it proves that companies don’t need to keep reinventing their smartphones year to year, sometimes all that is needed is a bit of polish and shine. The KEY2 remains a strong productivity device that has amazing battery life, a strong suite of software and a mostly positive camera experience. What makes this device so appealing is that it simply works and does what it says it can very well. Blackberry continues to make strides into the smartphone world by taking a different approach, one that puts your security first but can also stand up to the most demanding of tasks and sail through them with ease. The KEY2 remains a strong android device, it has an excellent build that is unique but is more than just looks, it has brains too and that is why the KEY2 is the One Cut Product of the Month for July.
The device will be available soon through most good retail vendors.