Blackberry Key2: Review

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In the era of full-screen phones where every button, camera or sensor takes up precious space, BlackBerry has returned to the market with its new mechanical keyboard smartphone.

A few months ago, we talked about the BlackBerry KeyOne; now it’s the turn of the BlackBerry Key2, which is in the same price range despite a massive leap forward on the technical side.

Packaging

The black box features the BlackBerry logo and is quite coarse, in contrast with the smooth surface of the cardboard. Inside the box we find the phone, the power adaptor, the USB-USB type C cable, the earphones with multiple rubber earpieces of different sizes, various manuals and the SIM / microSD removal pin.

Technical Specifications

PROCESSORQualcomm SDM660 Snapdragon 660
GPUAdreno 512
DISPLAY3:2, 4.5″, 1080×1620, 434 PPI
ROM64/128 GB, expandable to 256 GB with microSD
RAM6 GB
REAR CAMERADual 12MP+12MP with IA, PDAF, aperture ƒ/1.8 e f/2.6, 1.0μm, flash LED
FRONT CAMERA8 MP, f/2.0, 1.12µm
SIMnano SIM
CONNECTIVITYWi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.0, A-GPS+ GLONASS+BDS2
BATTERY3500 mAh Li-Ion
OSAndroid 8.1 (Oreo)
OTHERFingerprint Scanner, Compass, Accelerometer, Proximity Sensor, Light Sensor, Gyroscope, Capacitive Mechanical Keyboard
DIMENSIONS / WEIGHT151.4 x 71.8 x 8.5 mm, 168 g

 

The version of the BlackBerry hardware has been upgraded to meet with the mid-high range thanks to an Octacore Qualcomm Kyro processor, with 4 cores at 1.8 GHz and the remaining at 2.2 GHz. To support the CPU, there is 6 GB of RAM, double that of the previous model.

The Snapdragon 660 scores just over 140000 points on the Antutu benchmark, with high performance in WiFi and network, and good battery consumption.

GeekBench shows us the results we expected with a single-core result similar to the Xiaomi Redmi Pro, but well above average in the multi-core result.

Design

The design is practically the same as that of the KeyOne, but there are some details that have not only improved the aesthetics, but also the usability. In general, the dimensions remain unchanged except for the thickness, which has decreased by 1 mm from 9.5 mm to 8.5 mm. It’s also lighter: from 180g to 168g.

Looking at it from the front, you immediately notice the rather thick frame that wraps around the display. Leaving aside the top edge, which is used for the loudspeaker and the front camera, there is an unused strip between the display and the keyboard that could hold buttons. The screen-to-body ratio is 52% because of the keyboard, but it could be higher if Blackberry had used the empty spaces as well.

As mentioned at the beginning, the keys are 20% more raised and better spaced, making it easier to type. The whole keyboard is touch sensitive, acting as a touchpad and is very useful for scrolling horizontally. If you have to scroll vertically for example though, web pages can be a bit slow. The space bar, as we will see, has many features –  including that of the fingerprint sensor to unlock the phone.

On the back, the plastic shell is textured for greater grip; very useful on this phone, which is larger than average and therefore less stable in the hands. The silver logo stands out in the middle, while on the top left you have the dual camera for the first time on a BlackBerry phone.

The side frame is made of aluminium and is more refined; and the buttons are more accurate than the previous model. On the left side, you’ll find the slot for the sim and microSD. On the right side, as standard, there are the volume buttons and the on switch. Between the two, there’s also a third button that allows quick access to frequently used apps. This button can also be configured to change profile and switch to another profile –  such as your work profile, for example.

On the lower edge, you’ve got the USB type C port, flanked by two large speakers. The headphone jack input is on the upper edge instead.

Display

To make room for the keyboard, the designers have decided to give up a large screen that has a diagonal of only 4.5 inches. Blackberry does not like to follow trends, and in fact, beyond the keyboard, the width-to-width ratio of the screen is not the classic 16:9 but 3:2, which is more reminiscent of a square than a rectangle. This, however, leads to problems for some applications to adapt to full screen, but above all, it strongly limits the performance of games, although typical Blackberry owners aren’t using the phone for gaming! Also, using the phone in landscape mode is not great, because of the unusable keyboard and the screen is being too small to accommodate a virtual one.

Like the KeyOne, the resolution is 1620 × 1080 pixels. There’s also Corning Gorilla Glass 3 to protect the display from scratches and impacts.

Camera

The BlackBerry camera has two 12 Megapixel sensors: the first with an aperture of f / 1.8 and a pixellation of 1.28 μm, while the second has an aperture of f / 2.6 and 1.0 μm pixels. Most of the time, the camera will be based on the first sensor, which can capture more light and take brighter pictures. The second camera intervenes when more detail is required or when you need to zoom: the optical zoom reaches up to 2x and offers the best results; the digital one reaches 4x but the picture will be poorer quality. In addition, the two cameras have integrated Google Lens, which allows you to recognize what you are photographing.

The front camera mounts an 8-megapixel sensor, but leaves something to be desired when the light is scarce. It’s a matter of luck: some photos are crisp and others are completely out of focus. So, night shot lovers beware! Here is a sample shot:

Audio

In our tests, we noticed that the speakers at the bottom were not as powerful as other phones. Furthermore, when the volume is being held, there is always a fixed background noise, while the bass is almost impossible to hear. The volume is not as high as that of other smartphones, but it is not a phone that is not meant to be used in open and noisy spaces; rather, offices and other quiet places.

As for the loudspeaker, the quality is good and if there are no problems with the network, you can hear the other person perfectly well.

Battery

The 3500 mAh lithium ion battery is the same as KeyOne and the Blackberry guarantees that it can last up to two days! It supports QuickCharge 3.0, although the Snapdragon 660 supports the latest QuickCharge 4.0 protocol. How many times have you ever forgotten to charge your phone just before you leave your house? Blackberry has got you covered with this, thanks to an app that learns when you typically charge the phone and then reminds you to do so. This is useful when you travel often and it is easy to forget to recharge due to time zone shifts.

Software

In terms of software, the Android 8.1 Oreo OS is practically intact but with a few extras: the classic red asterisk for Blackberry OS notifications, the possibility of a “dark theme” for the launcher and the Blackberry personalised messaging app. Also included are some apps that focus on security, such as DTEK, which collects all the privacy settings and permissions of the apps we are using. And if you feel a bit spied on in public, you can select a part of the screen that will remain visible, while the remaining area will be darker.

On the keyboard, the Speed ​​Key is very useful for quick app access. Clicking this button in combination with another onthe keyboard, automatically opens an application. Gamers will die of jealousy, because you can program which app to connect to from the settings menu, with each combination totalling 52 possible shortcuts! For example, by clicking SpeedKey + G, the Google homepage opens! This saves you from wasting time looking for the app in the classic grid.

But BlackBerry has not taken care of the mechanical keyboard’s interaction with the apps of a modern smartphone. Sometimes, clicking a field to compose an email also cues the virtual keyboard, reducing the space that is visible on the screen.

Conclusion

The BlackBerry Key2 is definitely the perfect phone for those loyal to mechanical keyboards. For those who are accustomed to a modern smartphone though, having the keyboard takes up more space, is not aesthetically pleasing, and is frustrating to get used to. As for the software, it has certainly been improved, but it is still not fluid enough and many features do not always work the first time, like virtual keyboards that pop up, combinations of keys that do not work, etc. However, the battery life and management app are excellent, and will never leave the phone dead while you are out. You can buy for a Key2 for just under € 650, but at this price many of the features remain below expectations. There have been improvements compared with the previous model KeyOne, but there is still a long way to go to compete with all-screen smartphones.

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