I won’t bury the lede: the new BlackBerry KEY2 phone is a very good phone.
And I admit to being a BlackBerry fan, a long time user, going back almost 20 years to the RIM 850/950 models, which you may remember were basically pagers with little keyboards that allowed emailing, keeping an address book & calendar. They weren’t even called “BlackBerry” yet, just took the initials of the original company name: Research In Motion.
Every smartphone I’ve had since then has been a BlackBerry as it became the device everyone had to have, before the iPhone & later all the Androids took over. But I stuck with BlackBerry, as did President Barak Obama until 2016, and even Google executive chair Eric Schmidt until 2014. We all liked that physical keyboard, but more & more people switched to phones with virtual keyboards, bigger screens and lots & lots of apps.
Then in 2016 BlackBerry got out of the phone making business, turning it over to China’s TCL Corporation, which you may know from their flat screen TVs. With BlackBerry’s help, TCL has made phones that run a secure version of Android plus some dedicated apps beyond what’s in the Google Play Store.
The latest physical keyboard model is the BlackBerry KEY2, an update to the BlackBerry KEYone released in 2017.
The BlackBerry KEY2 is a smidge longer than the earlier model and a little lighter in weight. It has a faster processor, doubles the RAM from 3 to 6 GB and internal storage to a minimum of 64 GB, plus up to 256 GB on a microSD card. There’s an 8-megapixel “selfie” camera and a dual lens 12 MP rear camera with 2X optical zoom. Like the KEYone there are bottom-edge speakers, a 3.5mm headphone jack and USB-C port for charging and connecting to a computer.
The keyboard of the BlackBerry KEY2 has been made slightly larger with a different “touch” which makes it even easier to use. The right-side upshift key has been replaced with a “Speed Key” which allows the programming of shortcuts such as “P” for phone or “E” for email, with no need to find them on the screen first. Keys can also be programmed as different shortcuts for a short or long press. Plus you can run your finger over the keys making it a trackpad.
The volume and power buttons are on the right edge, with the power button ribbed so you won’t mistake it for the Convenience button below it, which used to just bring up one app, and now can display different profiles, such as Work, Home & Car, depending on which Wi-Fi or Bluetooth you’re on, and offer a choice of your most used apps for each profile, such as Google Maps when you’re in your car.
The BlackBerry KEY2 has the same long-lasting battery as the KEYone, generally good all day or longer without needing a recharge.
BlackBerry’s strength was always security, and there’s plenty of it in this model, including a new “Locker” app that allows you to put photos and documents and certain apps behind another password layer and use a privacy-enabled Firefox browser.
For complete specs on the BlackBerry KEY2, look at their website.
I found the KEY2 to be better than the KEYone, but it’s not night & day: noticeably a little faster, typing with fewer mistakes, a little lighter in my hand, and I can make good use of the Speed Key. The newer phone is also sleeker looking. The cameras are good, but not great, although I’ve never bought a phone because it’s as good as a “real” camera.
My main quibble is that the alternate functions of the physical keys – numbers, symbols and punctuation – are greyed compared to the letters themselves and more difficult to see than on previous BlackBerries. Not sure why they did that.
If you have an older generation BlackBerry, the KEY2 is the one to upgrade to. Those who are happy with their virtual keyboards on iPhones & Androids – in other words – gave up their BlackBerries a while ago and don’t miss the physical keyboard – may not switch back.
But as a long time BlackBerry user who finds the Hub indispensable for juggling 4 different email accounts, plus texts and phone calls, and who prefers a physical keyboard for my bad eyesight & clumsy fingers, the BlackBerry KEY2 is a very good smartphone.
The price – unlocked – is $649 direct or currently slightly discounted on Amazon. The KEY2 only works on LTE/GSM networks such as AT&T and T-Mobile; a CDMA version for the Verizon & Sprint networks does not seem to be in the cards, but they’re both dropping CDMA soon anyway. If the price is off-putting, TCL has now released the BlackBerry KEY2 LE for $399. It’s similar but different: a slightly slower processor, only 4 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage, and more plastic than aluminum in the body, among other things. But it comes in 3 colors, not just the black or silver of the “full” Blackberry KEY2.
Here’s the promotional video for the BlackBerry KEY2: