It’s safe to say that BlackBerry is back, the KeyOne is one of the most exciting phones to be released in the last year. It dares to play with the trend of the candy bar that is ever so popular. Whilst it’s hardly the revolution of the Priv it’s a nice amalgamation of the two form factors and providing a physical keyboard that has really been lost to time.
Built by TCL, as opposed to BlackBerry, the KeyOne was codenamed the Mercury before release. The rumours of the qwerty keyboard being on the front of the device much like the traditional classic BlackBerry was met with much criticism and equal portions of excitement. The Priv had hardly set the world on fire but thankfully BlackBerry decided this wasn’t going to put them off.
Looking around the device, on the top is a 3.5 mm headphone jack and the microphone hole. There is also an interesting cut into the device that gives it something of an industrial feel and looks.
On the left side are the SIM card slot, a volume rocker and the customisable button that can be set up to launch any app you wish.
On the left side is a lonely power button.
On the bottom is a USB Type C connection and two grills for the loudspeaker, the right of which contains a fairly average light speaker.
The back features the same camera optics as the Google Pixel, a 12-megapixel shooter with an f-stop of 2.0 dual LED flash and a 1.55 micropixel size. Video wise, the camera manages 2160p at 30 frames per second. Below this is a rubberised backing that is easy to grip and does not slip out of the hand easily. Slightly above the centre is the BlackBerry logo.
To the front of the device, we have a front facing 8-megapixel camera that can shoot 1080p video, an ear speaker, a notification light and the sensor array. Below this is a 4.5″ 1080×1620 pixel screen working out at a 433 PPI pixel density. This is an IPS LCD touch screen with Corning Gorilla Glass 4. Under the screen are some capacitive Android function buttons. Under this again is the generous QWERTY keyboard available in multiple languages and key arrangements, here we have the German Qwertz model. To the very bottom of the keyboard is the spacebar that also doubles as the fingerprint sensor.
Inside the device is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 Octa Core processor backed by an Adreno 560 GPU and 3 gigabytes of RAM. There is 32 Gigabytes of storage plus the expandable storage. At the time of writing this review news has arrived that there will be a Black version of the BlackBerry KeyOne featuring 64 Gigabytes of storage and 4 gigabytes of RAM, however, this appears to be only for India at this point in time.
Also inside is a non-removable lithium ion 3505 mAh battery. This battery as it is by far away one of the greatest features of the phone. Whilst in itself it is quite a large battery, the screen is significantly smaller than most other devices out there and it runs a fairly low power processor in the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625. This results in a pretty fantastic battery experience that even when under heavy use for the entire day will probably finish with about 25% powered left over. The Blackberry KeyOne features a battery boost technology that on setup can charge the battery very quickly in order to get the maximum percentage in a short time by switching off power heavy features to optimise the charge time. When compared to other phones on the market this is a device that is not going to run out of battery power very soon and even if you’re close to it getting back up and running again with a comfortable amount of battery left is quick and easy to do. You are aided by a bar on the right side of the lock screen that climbs toward the top of the screen as the battery power increases.
The next big hardware addition is obviously the keyboard, a feature that not many other phones on the market at the moment can boast about. Initially, the keyboard feels a little cramped and the layout does not lend itself well for fast typing. After a week the user will be well on their way to being comfortable with the keyboard and productivity will sharply increase. Pushing out large emails and reviews, I find the keyboard to be easily navigated quickly, however, using the alt function to access the numbers and other punctuation marks was a little bit annoying. Symbols on the letters were also quite difficult to find as they are quite small.
And this would bring us all into the build quality. The phone has a mostly metal exterior with the silver rounded edges adding a superior feel but also a good deal of weight. The black rubberised backing helps offset that slippery feel at the sides. This is a heavy solid device that screams quality and there is no plastic here accent for the hardened rubberised feel of the buttons on the keyboard. The only element of this phone that I felt was a little ropey was the SIM card tray which seems to jiggle a little between its connections however with luck you should really only use this once or twice in the entire life of having this BlackBerry.
When it comes to software there is no shortage of features that Blackberry has added. Going into them seems an incredibly ambitious task. Calendars, contacts, advanced notes, task creation, alarms, messaging hubs, productivity bars, the KeyOne has a phenomenal software feature set. It’s difficult to say if people will use all of it, personally I found it little disconnected as putting a task or an event into the BlackBerry calendar meant I would only be notified of it on my Blackberry, switching across to the Google Calendar meant various different devices notifying me of upcoming appointments and tasks alongside the Chrome browser on my desktop. BlackBerry has equipped the KeyOne with the DTEK security as well to ensure that you are protected and offers recommendations to secure your device even more. There are handy utilities like the Password Keeper, however, I’m guessing that anyone who uses a password keeper probably has a multi platform password keeper as this one works exclusively to BlackBerry.
A nice addition was the privacy shade that allows you to cover up most of the screen, save for a small area that you’re working in to avoid onlookers stealing information from the screen. There’s a very functional note-taking application alongside an excellent screenshot tool that allows you to add a lot to your screenshots before you send them directly from the application.
This is a business device first and foremost in there for that camera somewhat reflects that. there isn’t a wild amount of features or settings as you would expect to find on a Samsung product or the iPhone. Instead, you have some basic filters to give your photographs of particular look most of which I’m sure you will never bother with and then a couple of different shooting modes for video there is a slow mo function and stills has a panoramic mode. HDR mode is present, and you can change the aspect ratio of various photographs from 4×3, 16×9, 1×1 and 3×2.
Video has a generous number of video sizes and qualities.
Spending time with the KeyOne wasn’t all beer and skittles, I did note from time to time there was a massive slow down making the phone almost inoperable for a few minutes at a time, certainly this has only happened maybe 3 times in a fortnight, however, that’s three times too many. It’s difficult to determine whether it was a fault of Blackberry or perhaps an application like Snapchat that doesn’t respond well to the Android operating system, especially when it’s so heavily overlaid with Blackberry’s additions.
Another little issue I found was that the connectivity was a little scatty. The phone jumps between 3G, H+ and 4G at an alarming rate, speaking or other KeyOne users I can say this isn’t a fault of the network. Also, the is an issue whereby the phone does not like to lock on to a preferred home network. Walking between three different WiFi networks in my house, the KeyOne will blissfully carry on with the 3G and ignore the WiFi.
Gaming sees the Blackberry running a little hot, a particular game I’m playing at the moment Last Day on Earth could generate quite a bit of heat above the Blackberry logo on the back of the device.
The Blackberry is one of the most interesting devices on the market at the moment and is thoroughly recommendable. Whilst there are some slight problems here and there ultimately the overall experience is brilliant. This phone is primarily focused on business and productivity, not gaming or Media. Whilst it can easily do both it’s probably best to keep the KeyOne in the element that was originally designed to perform. The KeyOne is a head Turner, great looking, fairly heavy, whilst also being somewhat solid and can easily handle every day to day office activity you could need it to do. I’ll be sad to see it go back to BlackBerry, however, the recently announced 4-gigabyte black version might have taken at the top spot on my most desirable phone list. This is the best Blackberry Blackberry have ever made.