Hands on with BlackBerry Key 2 and its more spacious QWERTY keyboard

BlackBerry kickstarted its return from the smartphone graveyard with the QWERTY keyboard-equipped KEYone last year and now it’s back with a successor: the Key 2.

The Key 2 improves on the KEYone in a number of practical ways. The keyboard is larger and easier to type on, there are dual cameras on the rear, and the entire design is slimmer and more streamlined. The best part about the Key 2? You won’t find a notch anywhere.

I was just as surprised as anyone to genuinely find the KEYone an enjoyable phone to use. There was something refreshing about how different it was from every other phone.

Maybe it was nostalgia, or maybe it was the physical keyboard, or maybe TCT, the company that’s now making BlackBerry phones, actually made a great device. I mean, the formula was right: Mash together a BlackBerry keyboard with Android, while maintaining all of the top-notch security a BlackBerry provides.

Now, TCT is hoping lightning will strike again with the Key 2.

Unmistakably BlackBerry

Yep, that's a BlackBerry alright.

Yep, that’s a BlackBerry alright.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

The KEYone was not a phone anyone would call thin and light. It was thick and had a quirky flat top and rounded bottom. 

On the Key 2, the body’s a hair thinner. It’s a boxier design with sharper corners, but the overall look and feel is still unmistakably a BlackBerry. It’s easier to grip in one hand and doesn’t feel as bulky in your pants pocket. I also like that the power button has moved from the oddly positioned top left to a more accessible lower right side; the ribbed texture is also a nice plus.

The back of the phone’s still got a nice grippy matte texture that prevents it from sliding off a table — it’s a nice change from the slippery glass backs so many phones sport now.

Other changes that modernize the Key 2’s design include a screen that now stretches closer to the top. The display’s still the same 4.5-inch (1,620 x 1,080 resolution) touchscreen with 434 pixels per inch (ppi). 

Boxier Key 2 (top) vs. rounder KEYone (bottom).

Boxier Key 2 (top) vs. rounder KEYone (bottom).

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Inside, the phone’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 chip, 6GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage (twice as much as on the KEYone). Select markets will also get a version with 128GB of storage and dual SIM card slots. There’s also a microSD card slot for storage expansion if 64GB of storage isn’t enough down the road. The Key 2 also retains the headphone jack. 

Still got that headphone jack!

Still got that headphone jack!

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

I got up to two days of battery life when I reviewed the KEYone and BlackBerry says that should remain about the same. The battery capacity’s a slightly smaller one — 3,500 mAh versus 3,505 mAh on the KEYone — but thanks to the more power-efficient Snapdragon chipset, the phone’s stamina shouldn’t take much of a dip.

The Key 2 has a regular camera and a 2x telephoto just like iPhone 8 Plus and X. It also shoots portrait mode photos.

The Key 2 has a regular camera and a 2x telephoto just like iPhone 8 Plus and X. It also shoots portrait mode photos.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

On the back, you’ll also find a much-needed camera boost. There are now two cameras on the back — both dual 12-megapixel shooters. The main camera lens has an f/1.8 aperture for solid low-light shots and the second is a 2x telephoto lens with f/2.6 aperture. Up front, there’s an 8-megapixel selfie cam with f/1.8 aperture.

More spacious keyboard with larger keys

A BlackBerry isn’t a BlackBerry if its keyboard is garbage. Fortunately, the Key 2’s keyboard is very, very good. 

The KEYone had a fine keyboard, but the glossy keys were a little too mushy at times. BlackBerry has improved the Key 2’s QWERTY keyboard by giving the rows more room to breathe. The keys are 20 percent larger and no longer have frets. 

New and improved larger keyboard on the Key 2 (left) vs. Key One's old glossy plasticky keyboard (right).

New and improved larger keyboard on the Key 2 (left) vs. Key One’s old glossy plasticky keyboard (right).

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Eagle-eyed users will also notice the second shift key to the right of the space bar is now a “Speed Key.” Hold the Speed Key down in conjunction with a letter and you can quickly launch an app. For example, you can program the Speed Key + “F” key to, say, open Facebook.

The Speed Key is in addition to the Convenience key (still on the right side) and the programmable QWERTY keys.

The fingerprint reader is still inside of the space bar. The keyboard also still doubles as a trackpad.

The fingerprint reader is still inside of the space bar. The keyboard also still doubles as a trackpad.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

In my brief hands-on with the Key 2, I was able to quickly bang out sentences faster on the new phone compared to on the KEYone. The keyboard’s definitely a better typing experience and I think if you’re a keyboard junkie, you’re going to like it very much.

Android with BlackBerry touches

Runs Android 8.1 Oreo.

Runs Android 8.1 Oreo.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Like the KEYone, the Key runs on Android (8.1 Oreo, specifically) and BlackBerry tells me it’ll be updated to Android P at a later date.

At the most basic level, running Android means the Key 2 will work with every app from the Google Play Store. As I said in my KEYone review, the app shortage problem that used to plague past BlackBerry phones is no more.

That said, the phone still has BlackBerry’s own software flourishes. KEYone users are already familiar with the DTEK app that provides an extra layer of security; on Key 2 it gets a UI revamp and a new phone-scanning feature that lets you see what all the things an app has access to (i.e. microphone, location, etc.)

The DTEK security app's been redesigned.

The DTEK security app’s been redesigned.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

There’s also a new “Locker” app that lets you hide certain apps, documents, and media away. This isn’t so much a high-level security feature as it is a convenience that’ll keep files out of sight. For example, you can hide a banking app, work email address, or personal contacts. The Locker app also has its own private browser.

And finally, the Key 2’s got a new “Power Center” app that learns about your charging patterns (i.e. if you always charge up at 9 p.m.) and then sends notifications on your usage to help you reach that charge window.

Price and release date

The Key 2 packs a lot of refinements. It doesn’t follow the mobile trends — it doesn’t have an edge-to-edge screen and it has a physical keyboard — but that’s what makes it special. The phone remains true to BlackBerry’s heritage. It’s not trying to be the phone for everyone. It’s not trying to kill the iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. The Key 2’s for a very specific kind of person who appreciates the value of a physical keyboard and security.

It’ll be available in the U.S. for $649.99 unlocked starting this month. Canada will also be part of the first wave of countries getting the phone. Carriers and respective pricing for them will be announced later.

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Original article by Raymond Wong from Source link

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