Last year, we eviscerated the BlackBerry Keyone. Physical “keyboards are bad,” we argued, and they were never better than on-screen keyboards. You could make all the same arguments against the new BlackBerry Key2, but after using this unique, productivity-focused device for a few weeks, I don’t get the hate.
It’s true that the BlackBerry of old did not keep up with trends, became uncool, and died a slow and painful death. In 2013, I even felt compelled to advise everyone to avoid its phones completely because I wasn’t sure the company would survive.
Today, the situation is different. BlackBerry’s old operating system no longer exists, and it doesn’t make smartphones itself anymore. The Key2 was made by TCL under the BlackBerry brand, and it’s powered by the latest version of Google’s Android. BlackBerry adds in a few productivity apps, and some work-friendly DTEK security software, which quietly runs in the background. Unless you’re still scared of being seen as uncool there’s no reason to avoid a BlackBerry. I’m happy to report that no one has mocked me in public for rocking a phone with a physical keyboard—at least not yet.
Click Those Keys
It’s odd seeing a BlackBerry phone in 2018, with that same QWERTY keyboard you might remember from 2008. Physical keyboards are so rare these days, it’s hard to find one that isn’t in a bargain bin with a pile of flip phones.
It’s been a while since my thumbs tapped on real keys, so it took some getting used to, but typing on a real keyboard has its benefits. The buttons are backlit and about 20 percent bigger than last year’s model so there was plenty of space for my thumbs. Once I was in the groove, I found that the physical keys to be more precise. I still feel like I need to watch my fingers—when I messed up, I messed up big time—but like a software keyboard, Blackberry’s autocorrect is there to save your bacon. The only regular trouble I had was remembering where the Alt key was, so I could select letters and punctuation.
Though it’s mostly straightforward, the keyboard holds a few secrets. For instance, the spacebar hides the phone’s fingerprint sensor—I can’t think of a more appropriate spot for it, right there on the Key2’s chin. You can also slide your finger up, down, left, or right on the surface of the keyboard to scroll through pages, which can be very handy. Lastly, if you choose, you can map any app to every one of the QWERTY keys on the keyboard. I chose to let the A key opens Amazon now and I can call up the calculator by simply pressing C.
The biggest drawback of this BlackBerry’s design? The keyboard eats into real estate usually reserved for screen space. Its 4.5-inch 1,620 x 1,080 pixel LCD screen is just big enough that it doesn’t cause headaches. You have enough screen space to watch videos, play games, and use apps without feeling too boxed in, but you notice it.
Bumps, Bruises, and Battery Life
The Key2 is surprisingly comfortable to hold, and seems very durable. Unlike many devices, it’s designed to take a fall. The frame is made of aluminum, which extends out from the screen’s edges, likely protecting it from cracks and scrapes better in the event of a light drop.
The back is also covered in a comfortable rubber coating, which improves grip and traction. I’ve had terrible luck with phones this year. As careful as I am, multiple Android phones have slid right off my table or counter thanks to their all-glass designs, but the Key2? It doesn’t budge. It probably doesn’t need a case. I wouldn’t want to drop it, but I feel like it has a fighting chance when dropped—which is more than I can say for many competing handsets.
The only thing missing is waterproofing—so don’t take it for a swim.
It’s been a while since I’ve gotten excited about a phone’s battery life, but the Key2 is a phone that can legitimately get two full days of juice on light to medium use. With my use, it rarely had less than a 40 percent charge by 11 p.m. and I’ve left it unplugged some nights because I was confident it would still be alive to play my alarm come the morning. This phone is the cure for your smartphone range anxiety.
The mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor doesn’t impress on paper, but I haven’t noticed any slowdown, likely thanks to the generous 6GB of RAM. Still, this isn’t the phone to buy if you play graphically-intense games. The 64GB of file storage in the regular model should be enough for many, especially since you can buy a MicroSD card to give your media and apps more elbow room.
The Key2 is not the phone that will put BlackBerry cameras on the map. The dual 12-megapixel rear cameras are adequate enough outdoors. I took a lot of lovely photos on a trip to Cape Cod around the Fourth of July. Close ups can come out particularly well, though it’s tough to tell just how focused the camera is. The second rear camera allows you to zoom 2x and there is a basic portrait mode, but these extra features don’t usually lead to better photos.
Low light is tough for the Key2’s camera. I managed to snap a couple decent fireworks shots, but many night shots came out grainy, and soft. The 8-megapixel selfie cam had more trouble in the dark, making skin tones look horribly discolored. Don’t buy the Key2 for its camera, but if photos aren’t your top concern, don’t rule it out, either.
Should You Key2?
The Key2 is not for everyone, and that’s OK. You have to be willing to spend time re-learning how to type, and be okay with the quirks and shortcomings. But as someone who came in expecting to get annoyed, I found myself appreciating it more and more.
On a road trip where I was without my laptop, I found myself tapping some paragraphs out on the little guy. I also like the spacebar fingerprint sensor and the ability to launch apps with the click of a key. Its durable exterior might not win awards for its industrial design, but I love that I don’t have to baby it constantly. Most of all I adore its real-world multi-day battery life.
Am I crazy for liking this phone so much? Possibly. After all, the keyboard does shrink the screen considerably, and the phone isn’t waterproof. $650 is also a high price to pay for a phone with a mid-range processor in it, and the Key2 isn’t currently compatible with Sprint or Verizon. But what can I say? I like it. If you long for the days of tiny, clicky physical phone keyboards long past, you might like it, too.
social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #wired https://www.wired.com/review/review-blackberry-key2