BlackBerry KEY2 review

GSMArena team, 10 July 2018.

Alternative devices

The KEY2 is up against some really compelling devices - particularly because it has been priced at $650. This is the same price as an entry level Pixel 2. Not only this, but there are also some value-driven devices that are below $600.

At $650, the KEY2 does one thing right: the keyboard. There is currently is no modern alternative for a smartphone with a physical keyboard like the KEY2's, add the ability to put 52 programmable shortcuts and you have yourself a compelling device for a multitasker.

Unfortunately (for BlackBerry), there are other phones that are more competitively priced which offer a superior experience in other aspects of the BlackBerry, most notably the camera.

Blackberry KEY2 review

The first smartphone that came to mind is the OnePlus 6. It has a lower starting point of $530 and offers Oxygen OS, a minimally skinned version of Android that offers plenty of minimally obtrusive software features and options. Moreover, you'll get the highest-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 and a snappy software experience.

More than that is the camera, which is quite excellent. This is a camera that can easily be found on a $700 smartphone for less than $550, this is not as much as we can say about KEY2's camera, which we think belongs on a sub-$300 smartphone. As far as battery life, the KEY2 will definitely outlast the OnePlus 6.

Like the OnePlus 6, the Honor View 10 is also a high-value device that's priced competitively. To put it simply, this device is the Honor version of the Huawei Mate 10 Pro. It has the same EMUI software suite, Huawei's top-of-the-line Kirin 970 CPU, and a more-than-decent camera experience. EMUI is packed with features and customizations, but some may not prefer it over the KEY2 and OnePlus 6's stock android look. The View 10 also has a generously sized battery to match the KEY2's endurance.

When we think of productivity, the Galaxy Note8 comes to mind. It has the S-Pen, which is unmatched by any other smartphone maker to this day. We understand that the S-Pen isn't a replacement for a keyboard, in fact - those who use the S-Pen probably don't care for the BlackBerry's keyboard, and vice versa. The Note8 has a very large screen, optimal for taking hand-written notes, arranging and managing files and documents, as well as multi-window features.

The Note8 surely is pricier, but we've seen them go on sale often, especially this far into its life cycle. Otherwise, you'll be getting an excellent camera and a software experience that's both feature-rich and snappy.

OnePlus 6 Huawei Honor View 10 Samsung Galaxy Note8
OnePlus 6 Huawei Honor View 10 Samsung Galaxy Note8

The verdict

BlackBerry was once at the top of the smartphone game and it is really difficult for a brand to revive itself as BlackBerry has done. The KEY2 is a compelling revival of BlackBerry's legacy devices. Otherwise, the hardware build is great and the KEY2 is a wonderful successor to the KEYOne: it improved on two major aspects of the smartphone experience: software performance (CPU), and the refinement of the keyboard was both unexpected and welcome.

Blackberry KEY2 review

That said, the KEY2 missed one huge mark: the camera. We expected the camera to be the same or better than the KEYOne's, but despite being a dual-camera, it somehow was inferior to the KEYOne's. To add insult to injury, BlackBerry went ahead and raised the starting price by $100.

We understand that the manufacturing process of this device is likely more expensive than a conventional 2018 smartphone: there's an entire mechanical keyboard whose design and manufacturing R&D likely soaked up financial resources. Hence, the higher price point.

Pros

  • Lighter and sleeker body with attractive design
  • Excellent keyboard with improved feedback
  • Over 50 fully-customizable keyboard and convenience key shortcuts
  • Textured back plate
  • Extensive BlackBerry suite of apps

Cons

  • Lackluster camera
  • Arguably high price-point

The KEY2 is a step in the right direction for the KEY line's hardware and form factor, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. Otherwise, we'd love to see another BlackBerry with a physical keyboard using a more conventional 16:9 display and on-screen navigation keys. Or perhaps a true successor to the BlackBerry Priv: one with a slide-up display.

Blackberry KEY2 review

As for the demographic of who would buy this device, it is still very much a niche smartphone. We can't imagine that an iPhone 8 or Galaxy S9 owner would be rushing to go get a BlackBerry. The KEY2 is for whoever really misses the physical feel of a keyboard or for those who are still holding onto a legacy BlackBerry for the same reason just mentioned.

BlackBerry's reception has been generally good since it revealed the KEYOne. This is a brand that is certainly on the right path to a successful revival, though, it will be a very long road ahead. BlackBerry needs to figure out how to cater to its legacy users while also appealing to the younger, digital generation of smartphone users. If it doesn't, it will likely remain what it is today in 2018: a niche brand.

Reader comments

I purchased this phone in 2019 , my previous phone was a iPhone 7plus , and honestly I was not impressed with typing long emails ,and or trying to type in a moving vehicle (not when I'm driving) also I never got use to typing on a glass screen I just...

I disliked this model.As soon as I learnt it was Android 😟👎

  • Anonymous

which case?