Review: BlackBerry KEYone smart phone
4.5Overall Score

Price (RRP): $899
Manufacturer: BlackBerry

It’s hard when you’re dominant in a field, and someone else slides in, doing what you’re doing, but in a different way. A way, it turns out, that the market comes to prefer.

So it was with BlackBerry. Or, more precisely, Research in Motion, as the company that created the BlackBerry phone was originally called. It was way back in 1999 that the first BlackBerry appeared. But it wasn’t a phone. It was a pager, with a magical new feature: it handled email.

It had a monochrome screen (ugghh, the screens of those days!), but a nifty keyboard laid out in a semi-circle to encourage two-thumb typing. And, of course, it connected to the mobile network, so business types could handle email wherever they were.

 

BlackBerry came to dominate the field, soon adding phone functionality. Then along came those keyboard-less alternatives: first the iPhone and then a plethora of Android phones. In 2010 Apple iPhone sales overtook the BlackBerry on a durable basis, but still more than a third of American smart phone users were using a BlackBerry.

But by five years later, user share had dropped to one per cent. Last year the BlackBerry name was sold to Chinese giant TCL Communications. Which brings us the BlackBerry KEYone smart phone which brings back and updates the keyboard-equipped BlackBerry.

Features

The BlackBerry KEYone combines a decent Android phone with a physical keyboard. For those who like thumb typing, this is just the thing.

I shall shortly return to that and several other business orientated features of this phone, but let’s first check out the Android and general smart phone side of things.

This is a handsome looking phone. The black textured back and largely aluminium edges, along with the black keyboard make it distinctive. You’re not going to mistake it for one of a dozen other phones. The screen size is reduced to make room for the keyboard, but it remains a reasonable 4.5 inches with 1080 by 1620 pixel resolution. It’s covered with Corning Gorilla Glass 4.

The phone runs a middling processor – the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625. While not the fastest processor on the Qualcomm shelf, it still packs Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0. That lets the phone get up to half full in 36 minutes, which is a decent feat given that the battery is a fairly capacious 3500mAh.

The operational memory is 3GB while 32GB of storage is provided, along with a tray for microSD expansion of up to 2TB.

The phone supports 4G LTE, of course, along with dual band WiFi up to 802.11ac. It can act as a WiFi hot spot, it offers Bluetooth 4.2 and NFC and direct communications with the physical USB Type-C port via On-The-Go. There’s a headphone/microphone jack on the top. The microphones have active noise cancellation.

The front camera is an 8MP unit, fixed focus with up to 1080p video support. The rear camera is 12 megapixels and has a Sony IMX378 sensor. It has a maximum aperture of f2.0. Twin LEDs are provided for flash and High Dynamic Range shooting is available. Video up to UltraHD at 30fps can be shot.

The physical keyboard doesn’t eliminate the soft one, which can be brought up (and occasionally pops up, unwanted). Shift and Alt keys allow ready access to just about every character you’re likely to need, while a “sym” key brings up a soft keyboard with those characters you’ll almost never need.