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BlackBerry KEY2 Review: Keyboards are here to stay and so does the BlackBerry
BlackBerry KEY2 is priced at Rs. 42,990 in the Indian market
BlackBerry KEYone was called a 'Comeback' device for the Canadian smartphone maker. The smartphone was a well-thought attempt to stay put in mobile business and to show the world that the classic keyboards still have a place in the race of pixel-popping displays. KEYone was loved by hardcore BlackBerry fans as it ran Android and beautifully blended a workable physical keyboard with a touch-screen. But at the same time, it was also criticized for its low-end specs and midrange performance at a high price-point.
- Best-in-class intelligent physical keyboard
- Good battery backup
- Paramount security and BlackBerry suite of apps are good
- Refined and premium design
- Crisp 4.5-inch full HD+ screen
- 4K recording
- High-price for mid-range specifications
- Not a big multimedia device
- Average camera performance
While KEYone was not a runaway success, it did clear two things. BlackBerry is the one and only smartphone maker who can build such devices in the modern times, and second, users still like to use them and can invest in BlackBerry smartphones. Resultant, the Canadian smartphone maker has come up with the successor of KEYone- the KEY2 and it's now available in the Indian market at Amazon.in starting 31st July at a price of Rs 42,990. Interestingly, Optiemus Infracom, BlackBerry brand licensee is manufacturing the BlackBerry KEY2 for Indian customers locally at its facility at Noida, India.
Once again the BlackBerry KEY2 is priced higher for the specifications it brings to the table, but it promises to deliver a more private, more secure, and safer experience and next-level productivity. Does it succeed on this claim? Let's find out.
Design: Instantly recognizable and more refined that KEYone
The KEY2 might look just like its predecessor but a lot has changed in last one year. The new Key2 is lighter by 12 grams and is also 1mm thinner. However, it is slightly taller than its predecessor. If you have used the KEYone, you will instantly feel the difference in overall weight and in-hand feel. I personally liked the KEYone more as it felt a bit heavier and robust, more like old BlackBerry handsets. The new KEY2 lacks that weighty metal feels, but this doesn't mean the new device is not tough. It's equally solid and feels premium from every corner. Moreover, KEY2 is more modern and comes with some notable changes. There's a new key on the intelligent keyboard, the bezels are slimmer and all the physical buttons are shifted on the right edge.
Soft leather finish at back panel
As far as aesthetics are concerned, BlackBerry Key2 is very comfortable to hold, even better than its predecessor as it is flatter and sits comfortably in your palm. The handset has flat chamfered edges that hold buttons (volume rockers, power button, and Convenience key) on the right side and SIM card slot on the left edge. You will find the Type C USB port and down-firing speaker at the bottom. BlackBerry has also provided the 3.5mm headphone jack at the top along with a microphone. The rear side of the smartphone now sports a dual-lens camera setup. There's the iconic BlackBerry logo in the center placed on the soft-touch leather finish material that offers best-in-class grip.
Overall, BlackBerry Key2 is the most unique looking smartphone in today's time. It's an elegant looking BlackBerry that is bound to give you attention from every other smartphone user around you. But Key2's aim is not to look different. The design is all about practicality and the same has been achieved by incorporating an intelligent and workable physical keyboard. Let's find out more about the keyboard on Key2.
Keyboard: Relive old BB days with a modern touch
The KEY series is built around the QWERTY keyboard, BlackBerry's exclusive feature which is still alive in the days of full touchscreen devices. Having been a touch-screen phone user, like most of us, I was a bit hesitant at first to shift to actual buttons. The learning curve for the first three-four days can be very irritating. However, once you get the hang of it, there's no going back. I only miss full-screen devices now for streaming videos and occasional gaming. Other than that, I am in love with BlackBerry KEY2 for its unique keypad experience.
The touch and feel of actual buttons are always better than the touch-screen's soft buttons. And just like the last year's KEYone, the KEY2 also flaunts the intelligent touch-sensitive keyboard but offers some minor yet important changes. The new keypad comes with matte finish texture and follows a new fret design, which improves typing experience to some extent. The company has also introduced a new ‘Speed Key', which works as a universal shortcut key. It can be customized to instantly access apps, contacts, and even other useful functions.
KEY2's keypad is completely programmable. The 52 keys on the intelligent keypad can be programmed to launch the most used apps or contacts. At any point of time, you can have 52 customized shortcuts to pace up the mobile user experience. If used efficiently, the shortcuts can dramatically change the way you use your smartphone. Moreover, the QWERTY keypad also doubles as a touchpad and let you slide your fingers across to navigate between the web pages and the home screens. It's just so satisfying sliding your thumb on the keypad and seeing the content on screen moving in the same direction. It's a smart and neat feature that helps you make the most out of the smaller 4.5-inch screen. And like the last year's KEYone, the spacebar key on KEY2 integrates the biometric sensor and can be used to unlock the device. How can I forget the ‘Convenience' key? It can also be programmed to access your phone audio profiles.
I noticed that the keys on KEY2 offer better typing experience when compared to its predecessor. Your thumbs rest well on the new keypad and the click mechanism has also improved slightly. Overall, if you are shifting from a non-BlackBerry device, you will take time to get accustomed to this whole new physical keys experience. If nostalgia is bringing you back to KEY2 from a full touchscreen device, the learning curve can be shorter. Besides, one-hand typing can be a pain as it gets really difficult to use the stretched physical keypad with just one thumb for typing a message. On-screen navigation is easily possible even with one hand.
Display: Entertainment lovers, stay away
If there's one department where BlackBerry hasn't improved, it is the display. Like the predecessor, KEY2 also sports a 4.5-inch screen with similar resolution and aspect ratio. The IPS LCD screen has a 1,620 x 1,080 pixel resolution offering a pixel density of 434 pixels per inch which at such a smaller footprint makes for a sharp and crisp content delivery. The screen is very sharp, punches vibrant colors and is also bright enough to be used comfortably on a sunny day. However, I did notice a slight decrease in the brightness levels as compared to the display on KEYone.
The display on KEY2 is not built for entertainment purposes. It's not a big screen and you won't prefer the output for video playback and gameplay. The display has a 3:2 aspect ratio and you will be welcomed with unwanted letterbox bars on top and bottom. It works well for Emails; excel sheets, note making, and occasional Netflix or YouTube playback.
BlackBerry's first dual-lens Camera device
When KEYone came out last year, I was surprised to find out that a BlackBerry device can be good at taking pictures. Because it goes without any saying that photography was never BlackBerry's focus. KEYone's camera was not the best shooter around, but certainly not the worst either and as per BlackBerry's standards, KEYone did a good job as a camera device. Fast forward to 2018, BlackBerry KEY2 brings some noticeable improvements. The smartphone follows the latest trends and sports a dual-lens camera module. The dual-camera on new BlackBerry is rather interesting. KEY2 has two 12MP sensors; one works on bright f/1.8 aperture with 1.28-micron pixels. The secondary 12MP shooter is basically a telephoto lens that uses 1-micron pixels and a comparatively darker, or you can say a slower aperture of f/2.6. As it is a telephoto lens, KEY2 also comes equipped with 2X optical zoom. For selfies, BlackBerry KEY2 has an 8MP front-facing shooter.
Crisp and Vibrant shots in good light
For hardcore BlackBerry users who are just occasional photographers, KEY2 would do just fine. The images captured in ample sunlight (with 12MP primary camera) are impressive and show punchy colors. The HDR mode is also effective and brings out a lot of hidden details in darker areas. Pictures shot by KEY2 also exhibit impressive detailing and look brilliant on the 4.5-inch display. You can also spot a good bokeh effect in the above picture. The depth of field effect generated by the secondary lens on KEY2 is pleasing and will not disappoint you in most of the cases.
Talking about some issues with the KEY2's camera, the White balance is a bit off and the software over-sharpens the final output. The camera struggles a lot in low-light. The image output in challenging light is often blurry and full of noise. The KEY2 camera struggles to focus in low-light and the worst part, there's no PRO mode on the device. You only get Slow-motion, Panorama, Scanner and some filters. Selfie camera is also of samesort and offers decent output only when there's ample light around.
Overall, the images shot by KEY2 will do just fine for hardcore BlackBerry users. And anyone who keeps photography in his/her highest regards, KEY2 is not for you.
Hardware and Software
The KEY2 is not a sluggish device, thanks to Snapdragon 660 CPU and 6GB of RAM. There's a significant improvement in the computing and multitasking department. The smartphone feels snappy and did not give me any major reasons to miss the latest Snapdragon 845 CPU. Mostly because I already knew what there's in store and what I actually want from the KEY2 in terms of performance. You can do multitasking, open more than 12 apps and the handset will take care of everything without any performance issues. I even tried my hands on gaming and played Marvel Spiderman Unlimited, the fast-paced action game that has some slick graphics. I was greeted with a lag-free smooth gameplay, but yes the display felt too small for gaming. Isn't that obvious? You are anyhow not going to buy this handset for gaming.
The KEY2 ships with Android 8.1 Oreo and there's a lot going on here for enhanced security, and even for customization. KEY2 uses a typical Android App drawer UI that is easy-to-use and allow you to tweak a number of things. There's a variety of shortcuts, widgets, etc. and you can also change app icons to give KEY2 a different look. But more than customization, secure ecosystem is what makes KEY2 a pure productivity centric device. KEY2 ships with Blackberry DTEK app that constantly monitors the activity of installed apps on your device. DTEK allows you to control the security settings on your KEY2 and notifies if there's a special request by an app to access any resource, phone's sensors in KEY's case. The DTEK app also allows you to run scans to keep the phone's security in check. You also get BlackBerry HUB, to manage all your messages and notifications and it makes things a lot easier if you prefer all your notifications at one place.
Solid Battery life
Technically, KEY2 is the successor of KEYone and should get a bigger and powerful battery cell. However, Blackberry decided to cut down the battery power by 50 mAh and shipped the KEY2 with a 3,500 mAh battery unit. In real life, the battery life did not suffer from the loss. KEY2 is backed by the efficient Snapdragon 660 CPU that is designed on the 14nm process. Combined with the near stock Android Oreo and a low-resolution 4.5-inch display, the handset delivers long-lasting battery backup. The smartphone managed to last a day and a half even with heavy usage. You also get Quick Charge 3.0 a battery saver mode in the UI.
BlackBerry KEY2 is a brilliant smartphone. The only caveat is; it's just not for everyone. It wonderfully addresses your productivity tasks and can also take care of occasional multimedia jobs. The design and typing experience is improved making KEY2 a very good successor to the last year's KEYone. The camera is now dual-lens and can offer bokeh shots; however, the overall performance is arguable. The smartphone is remarkably good at software and also performs wonderfully in multitasking and other number crunching tasks. But as we all know, you are not supposed to buy it for gaming and video Netflix.
Summing up all, if you are in the market for a good camera, big screen, and a multimedia-oriented handset, KEY2 is not for you. However, if you seek paramount security, one-of-its-kind typing experience, and robust software-hardware performance, look no further.