Once upon a time, Nokia and Blackberry were the iconic brands in the smartphone market. However, not opting Android OS in the late 2000’s caused both the companies to lose their places to brands such as Samsung and HTC. But they never gave up. Now if we hear those two brand names, what comes to our mind is ‘Nostalgia.’
While Nokia made a grand comeback under HMD Global earlier this year with Android as its new weapon, Blackberry, over the last two years has been trying different avatars to make a statement in the smartphone market. But it eventually didn’t happen, and the company even sold off all its rights to the Chinese company, TCL Communications.
But before TCL Communications taking complete control over Blackberry’ smartphone business, the iconic brand released the Blackberry KEYone, which by far is the best Blackberry we’ve seen in recent times. The KEYone is a smartphone which is designed by Blackberry, built by TCL Communications because Blackberry itself is not making hardware anymore.
The Blackberry KEYone was originally showcased at the CES 2017 event in Las Vegas in January 2017, it was officially launched at the MWC 2017 event in Berlin in February 2017. However, the smartphone made it to the Indian market exactly a couple of months ago on August 1, 2017.
Considering Indian market as a huge one, Blackberry India released a special limited edition of the KEYone in India, dubbed, Blackberry KEYone Limited Edition Black. It’s a good thing that Blackberry is considering Indian market as a key one, but the pricing of the smartphone didn’t seem in that way though.
The Blackberry KEYone Limited Edition Black is priced at Rs. 39,990. Of course, the best part is that the smartphone is still retailing for the same price, unlike the LG G6 which received a Rs. 10,000 price cut in less than a month after official release.
The KEYone is the most expensive Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 SoC smartphone in India, which is also present in smartphones such as Xiaomi Redmi Note 4, and several other mid-range devices. But Blackberry is offering several unique features such as QWERTY keypad (which you can get only in a Blackberry smartphone), 4.5-inch 3:2 display, advanced security system, and a flagship rear camera. Will all these unique features account in for the steep price of Rs. 39,990? Let’s find out in our in-depth review of the smartphone.
Blackberry KEYone Review: Design
This is the highlight of the Blackberry KEYone. The KEYone is designed more like ‘old-age’ Blackberry smartphones. With its QWERTY keypad and all shiny black colour, the KEYone hits the bullseye. While we’re used to big screen, bezel-less touchscreen smartphones, Blackberry made me refreshed with a QWERTY keypad design.
The front of the phone is dominated by the keypad, at least for the KEYone because the front is dominated by a display in most smartphones releasing these days. The addition of QWERTY keypad made the device heavy at 180grams, and the weight is not evenly distributed, which even makes the device feel heavier in hands.
The rear panel comes with a textured faux leather design that gives a good grip with the camera module placed on the top left corner. The volume rockers and a ‘convenience’ key sit to the right of the panel while the power button is on the left side of the device. The convenience key is the Bixby button in Samsung high-end devices, but you can map it to perform different actions.
Overall, the device feels nice in hands, and as I stated earlier, I felt refreshed. Over the last few years, touchscreen smartphones became the USP of the smartphone industry. The addition of convenience key is a nice move from Blackberry, but the sad part is it’s located below the volume rockers. Even after using the device for more than three weeks, I still used to press the convenience key imagining it as the power button. Blackberry should have swapped the convenience key and power button positions. Aside from that, the Blackberry KEYone has a unique design of its own.
Before I wrap the design department, let’s speak about the QWERTY keypad a bit. The good old QWERTY keypad while offering the same functionality this time around comes with integrated smart features in the BlackBerry KEYone.
Blackberry innovatively integrated the fingerprint scanner into the space bar of the keypad. The fingerprint scanner in the KEYone is one of the fastest I have seen in recent times. You can also customise all the 52 keys in the keypad to open an application as per your choice. These keys are backlit to help you type in the dark as well plus also offers the option of ‘flick typing’.
Also, the keypad acts a trackpad, meaning you can slide on the keypad to move from top to bottom or right to left or vice-versa. This is a handy feature, and a nice one to have around.
Blackberry KEYone Review- Display
2017 is all about bezel-less smartphones with 18:9 aspect ratio, but the KEYone comes with a smaller 4.5-inch Full HD display with an aspect ratio of 3:2. The display resolution of the KEYone is 1620 x 1080 pixels.
But the awkward screen-to-body ratio comes into play when you’re sending emails or typing in some applications. Typically, in a 5.5-inch smartphone with an aspect ratio of 16:9, the keyboard will take up the entire bottom part, but in Blackberry KEYone, there’s no hassle of this issue because we have the additional QWERTY keypad.
However, this display is not comfortable to watch videos or movies because it’s more square than the current generation displays. Speaking about the real-life performance, this display offers excellent sunlight legibility, and the viewing angles are decent as well.
Summing up the things about the KEYone’s display, it might be awkward, but you find it extremely useful in chatting applications or mailing apps.
Blackberry KEYone Review: Performance and Battery
As said earlier, the KEYone is the premium smartphone in India to feature a Snapdragon 625 chipset. When Blackberry launched the KEYone in India, I thought the smartphone is surely overpriced because we get the Redmi Note 4 with the same chipset at Rs. 9,999.
Internally, the Blackberry KEYone Limited Edition Black has a mid-range Snapdragon 625 chipset, which is coupled with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. Performance wise, as you would expect, the Snapdragon 625 does a great job in handling day-to-day tasks, but it showed some glitters at times with more apps kept open in the background.
The device also handled games with ease, but some apps and games showed black bars on the top, thanks to the unusual 3:2 aspect ratio display. Also, Adreno 506 GPU handled graphic-intensive tasks with a breeze.
Blackberry has added a battery of 3505mAh in the KEYone, which is almost similar to the battery capacity of the Motorola Moto Z Play that was rated as best battery smartphone in 2016 if you’d recall yourself. The KEYone is no different. Thanks to some stellar software optimisations, the device delivered a screen-on time of more than five hours with every 100% charge. Note that I have used the device with ‘LTE’ connectivity on Airtel 4G SIM card most of the days.
Furthermore, the icing on the cake is the Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 fast charging support. When you connect the device to bundled Blackberry charger in the retail box, you will be shown two options- ‘charging’ and ‘boost.’ If you turn on the boost mode, the device charges rapid fast. Blackberry says that the smartphone charges from 0% to 50% in just 36 minutes with boost mode turned on, and I found these claims to be real.
Blackberry KEYone Review: Camera
Back at the launch event in MWC 2017 in Barcelona, Blackberry highlighted the rear camera of the KEYone saying that it used the same 12MP sensor as the Google Pixel sensor. That said, don’t expect similar performance as the Google Pixel because the aperture size is different and Google’s post image processing is unmatchable.
Number wise, the KEYone has a 12MP rear snapper with a 1/2.3-inch sensor, 1.55µm pixel size, PDAF, and f/2.0 aperture. Up front, the device has an 8MP selfie camera with f/2.2 aperture and 1.12 µm pixel size. The camera application is fairly minimal with several options and modes such as pro mode, HDR mode, and several other scene modes. All those are visible on the camera app launch screen itself.
Moving on, under good lighting conditions, the 12MP rear snapper delivers some excellent images. Pictures shot were really sharp and the colour reproduction is great. The dynamic range is good as well. However, don’t expect the camera to achieve the same Google Pixel results.
With a narrower f/2.0 aperture, the KEYone doesn’t offer a commendable low-light performance. Images appeared great, but at times, they lack details. Bearing the massive price tag, the low-light photography in the KEYone is a disappointment. In contrast, the OnePlus 5 offers better low-light performance than the Blackberry KEYone.
The Blackberry KEYone doesn’t feature Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS), meaning you get shaky video footage. The smartphone can shoot videos of 4K resolution at 30fps, and you can also record slow motion videos with the KEYone. The front-facing camera records 1080p videos only.
The cameras of the KEYone are extremely good, but the rear camera’s low-light performance is a slight bothering, but bearing that, it matches every other smartphone in the similar price range.
Blackberry KEYone Review: Software
I have saved the best thing for the last. The highlight of the Blackberry KEYone is the software. The phone boots near stock Android 7.1.1 Nougat with July 2017 security patches. Blackberry slightly customised the user interface with several features.
The one which I loved is the ability to open an application with each key of the keypad. For example, you can set ‘w’ to open WhatsApp application and it’s completely customizable. However, do make a note that this feature works only with the Blackberry launcher.
Then we have traditional Blackberry services such as DTEK by Blackberry, which is a complete security application by Blackberry that monitors your smartphone. Apart from that, we have a Blackberry Password Keeper app, which stores your passwords, and a dedicated power centre with which you can keep track of your battery usage in the KEYone.
Then we have Blackberry’s Picture Password, which allows you to use a combination of a number and picture to unlock your Blackberry. This basically removes the hassle of typing a password.
Blackberry has optimised the software in the KEYone, but it didn’t receive a single software update during my entire review period, which is a letdown because Blackberry touts itself as a security company, and it has to deliver monthly security patch updates on a timely basis.
Blackberry KEYone Review: Conclusion
When I first heard of the KEYone’s price in the Indian market, I felt awestruck. And one thing which wobbled my head is ‘Who will purchase the KEYone when you have the fastest smartphone in the world right now- the OnePlus 5 in the similar price bracket.’
But after using the KEYone for more than three weeks, I have to change my decision because the KEYone is an entire different smartphone, and also the best Blackberry in recent times.
The innovative keypad fingerprint scanner, more than capable cameras, QWERTY keypad, and a flawless software experience makes the Blackberry KEYone the best smartphone of its own.
Also, it will be completely your decision whether to purchase the KEYone or not because the QWERTY keypad design may not be liked by many in this age of touchscreen smartphones.
Chakri is a go-to guy for your next smartphone recommendation. Back in his engineering days, he used to play with smartphones by installing custom ROMs and that passion got him into the tech industry. He still goes nuts about a smartphone knocking his door for review. Currently managing everything at Telecom Talk, Chakri is trying to master PUBG Mobile in his free time.