BlackBerry KeyOne was not a perfect device, but it did manage to carve a niche of its own. The smartphone offered solid performance, good battery life and was, of course, loved by BlackBerry fans for its physical keyboard. A year later, BlackBerry Key2 has arrived with the physical keyboard once again as its highlight. However, there has been a clear attempt to also improve the design and build quality of the Key2 while adding a dual camera for good measure.
BlackBerry-branded devices are now made by Optiemus Infracom in India though BlackBerry still handles the software and security updates. BlackBerry Key2 is priced at Rs 42,990 and will go on sale in India on July 31 via Amazon India. We tried the Key2 ahead of the launch in the country, and here’s our first look at the smartphone with a physical keyboard.
BlackBerry Key2 first impressions and hands-on: Design, display
As soon as you hold the Key2, you will notice that it is much slimmer and lighter than the KeyOne. It’s now 8.5mm against the KeyOne’s 9.4mm. Also, the phone is 12 grams lighter than its predecessor. Frankly speaking, it’s much more comfortable in the hand. The top corners on the Key2 are sharp, while the bottom corners are rounded. Even with the familiar design, the 7000 aluminum frame and diamond pattern on the rear to give the Key2 a premium look.
The 4.5-inch screen remains the same as its predecessor, though the bezels surrounding the screen have been trimmed. You will find capacitive Android navigation controls below the screen and that hasn’t changed. On the right edge, you will notice the power button and the Convenience Key. The power button is textured and seems perfectly positioned to make it easy to find with your right thumb.
At the bottom is a USB Type-C charging port, alongside speaker grilles. Though loud, like other bottom-firing speakers the audio tends to get blocked when you hold the phone in landscape mode. Thankfully, the Key2 has a headphone jack and comes bundled with earbuds.
The rear of the phone isn’t too different from the KeyOne. The soft-touch material feels nice and helps the phone look different from metal-bodied or glass-back phones. There’s a dual-camera setup on the back as well.
The Key2 offers a 4.5-inch screen (1,620 x 1,080) with a pixel density of 434 pixels per inch and a 3:2 aspect ratio. The screen appears to look sharp, colourful and bright but not as good as an OLED panel. Then you never expect the display to be the highlight of a BlackBerry phone.
BlackBerry Key2 first impressions and hands-on: Keyboard
A BlackBerry phone is incomplete without a physical keyboard. True to its name, the Key2 features a physical keyboard, complete with trackpad functionality and fingerprint sensor in the spacebar. However, the keyboard on the Key2 has been altered a bit. First, the keys are 20 per cent bigger and even the finish is different. It’s a matte texture instead of a glossy plastic on the KeyOne. Interestingly, BlackBerry has added a new Speed key that helps swap between apps quickly.
The keyboard also doubles as a trackpad which allows you to scroll the web pages, thanks to its capacitive nature. Since the keys are bigger users can type faster. However, I would like to use the keys more before taking a final call.
BlackBerry Key2 first impressions and hands-on: Performance, battery
The Key2 is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 660 processor, which is a mid-tier processor. But the company claims the performance should be snappy over the Snapdragon 625 in the KeyOne. The Key2, however, gets 6GB RAM which needless to say should be good enough for a productivity-centric device.
In my brief time spent with the Key2, I never faced any slow down in performance or apps crashing on the device. I could easily edit copies on Google Docs on the move – and frankly, I don’t see myself playing Asphalt 8 on the Key2. BlackBerry Key2 comes with a 3500mAh battery, the same as on the KeyOne, which will last for two days on a single charge. It supports Qualcomm QuickCharge, too. In India, the phone is available in 64GB of storage capacity.
The other feature for a BlackBerry device has been security and the company claims the phone runs on Android Oreo 8.1, with its own DTEK security app. The software is mostly stock Android, but BlackBerry has tweaked the interface and a whole lot of BlackBerry apps come preloaded on the device. I will discuss more about the software in our full review.
BlackBerry Key2 first impressions and hands-on: Camera
The Key2 is the first BlackBerry phone to come with dual rear-facing cameras. The setup consists of two 12-megapixel sensors: one with a f/1.8 aperture, as well as a secondary f/2.6 lens. BlackBerry claims an improved low-light performance on the Key2. Yes, there’s also 2x optical zoom and a portrait mode.
In good lighting, the Key2’s camera shines. Photos look colourful and you will notice enough details. Though I am not convinced by the portrait mode on the Key2. It appears to be inconsistent, especially in poor lighting. To my surprise, in low-light, the Key2 was able to click some nice shots. The Key2 has a solid camera whether you believe it or not. On the front, there’s an 8MP camera, which I found to be passable if not the best in the business.
BlackBerry Key2 first impressions and hands-on: Early verdict
Let’s be honest: BlackBerry Key2 is a niche device and it will appeal to those crowd who want a physical keyboard on a phone. Some users will definitely jump to the Key2 due to the keyboard and the nostalgia factor attached to the BlackBerry brand. Others I believe will either get an iPhone or a Galaxy S device. Remember the Key2 is priced at par with any flagship device available in the market. Stay tuned for a full review of BlackBerry Key2 in the coming weeks.