BlackBerry Key2 review: Hands on with BlackBerry’s next-gen keyboard smartphone

Do we really need a smartphone with a physical keyboard? No, not really, is the answer, but evidently enough people bought the 2017 BlackBerry Key for BlackBerry to feel justified in making another one. The Key2 is its replacement, and there are a number of changes – though nothing major enough to get us really excited.

The BlackBerry Key2 is really only for those who haven’t been able to get on board with touchscreen phones since their inception, despite the incredible improvements that have been made to them over time. If you prefer tapping keys to haptic feedback and gorilla glass then the BlackBerry Key2 may be just what you’re looking for, but this is still a smartphone with Android Oreo 8.1. If you want to make the most of it, a little touchscreen action will still be involved; sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

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BlackBerry Key2 review: Specifications, price and release date

The BlackBerry Key2 is available for pre-order in the UK from June and will be shipped to retailers later this month at a cost of £579. Take a look at the table below for a full breakdown of the Key2’s hardware specifications.

4.5in, 1,080 x 1,620, 433ppi, IPS display
Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor, Adreno 512 GPU, X12 LTE modem
64GB or 128GB storage
MicroSD expansion (128GB model comes with dual-SIM/microSD)
Dual 12-megapixel, f/1.8 cameras with 2x optical zoom
3,500mAh lithium-ion battery with Quick Charge 3 support
Price: £579 inc VAT, SIM free
Release date: June, 2018

Buy the BlackBerry Key2 now from Carphone Warehouse

BlackBerry Key2 review: Design and first impressions

For a smartphone that has an (arguably unnecessary) keyboard taking up the lower third of its length, the Key2 cuts a nice figure. It’s got a more stylish appearance then the first BlackBerry Key, with a matte finish replacing the former model’s gloss, and every effort has been made to produce cleaner lines through the wraparound aluminium frame. The silver version in particular looks extremely snazzy; it’s exactly the kind of device you’d expect to see in a corporate exec’s hands as they talk loudly about the deal they’ve just done so that everyone can hear.

The rear panel is now comprised of extra-grippy plastic, and is of course emblazoned with the iconic BlackBerry logo we’ve all come to know, if not quite love. It’s altogether more svelte than the bold and chunky BlackBerry Key of 2017, and a similar approach has been taken to the keyboard. Gone are the chrome bars which separated each row of the QWERTY layout, and bigger are the individual keys; they’ve been increased in size by 20%, which should allow for faster typing with fewer mistakes. We love to push a button as much as the next person, and we concede that the keys on the Key2 are satisfying to press.

The layout still isn’t perfect, though. There are still gaps between each row of keys for the aluminium shell, and the wasted space looks less intentional than poorly thought-out design. Then there’s the touchpad element of the keyboard; it can be used to scroll up and down the page, but it is far from seamless; you’d have to really hate touching the screen to want to use it.

Once again, the fingerprint sensor has been built into the space bar and, happily, the ‘back’, ‘home’, and ‘recent apps’ keys are no longer permanent stencils and will now only light up when needed.  Finally, and this is a key change, BlackBerry has added – wait for it – another key! The so-called ‘speed key’ lets you shortcut to apps by assigning each one its own letter, thus helping screen-o-phobes to avoid touching glass as much as physically possible.

We still prefer our smartphones to be all screen and no board, and have for some time – touchscreen keyboards have become much more accurate and speedy in recent years, making the physical keyboard redundant. The case for the keyboard is weaker still when you consider how much bigger the screen could be without it.

Speaking of the screen, it hasn’t changed since last year’s model. It remains a cramped 4.5in, which for many will be barely good enough to watch YouTube videos, let alone entire films or series on Netflix. The display resolution is an uninspiring 1,080 x 1,620, and the screen is hemmed in by bezels of conspicuous width. Still, we’ll say one thing for Blackberry’s puny panel: at least there’s no notch to be found.

Buy the BlackBerry Key2 now from Carphone Warehouse

BlackBerry Key2 review: Performance and software

This is the most powerful BlackBerry phone yet, but if you take a look at the Key2’s specifications, that’s really not saying much.

For what you’re paying (£579, to remind you) the BlackBerry Key2 doesn’t offer a sufficient amount of processing power. It was the same case with the predecessor, and BlackBerry hasn’t learned, opting for a Snapdragon 660 supported by 6GB of RAM and 64GB storage. Compare the processor of the Key2 to the cutting edge Snapdragon 845 built into both the OnePlus 6 and LG G7 (both in the same price range), and the Key2 doesn’t look like a wise investment. The Key2’s CPU and graphics performance are simply sub-par, and the same goes for its cellular download speed; at 600Mbits/sec, it’s lagging well behind other flagship phones in 2018, some of which are now bordering on Gigabit/sec.  

BlackBerry claim that the 3,500mAh lithium battery they’ve crammed inside will keep the Key2 running for 48 hours. If you didn’t use it during that period, then maybe. Supposedly, it will be able to get you through even “the most demanding” of days without ever needing to charge it. We’ll see about that when the phone arrives at Expert Reviews for our benchmark testing. The phone also supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge feature, which should enable it to go from dead to a 50% charge in 36 minutes flat.

The Key2 runs on the Android Oreo 8.1 OS, although the UI has been overhauled specifically to suit the BlackBerry style. There are a few nifty features here, such as BlackBerry Hub, a service which consolidates all of your messages from all of your various apps into one easy to manage place. This is a particularly useful time saver for those in the business world, or so BlackBerry says. It also has a built-in security and privacy checker called DTEK, which has been developed by BlackBerry exclusively for its smartphone range. DTEK lets you view how different apps are accessing your information, helping you to keep a closer eye on the privacy implications.

Buy the BlackBerry Key2 now from Carphone Warehouse

BlackBerry Key2 review: Camera

BlackBerry has at least managed to keep up with the competition in one department, and that’s the camera. It’s doubled down on the single camera of the BlackBerry Key to dual 12MP f/1.8 cameras with a 2x optical zoom. These two lenses work in unison to cater for snazzy selfies with a bokeh (blurred background) effect. The formidable camera setup is similar to that of the similarly price HTC U12+, though not quite up to the standard of a photography powerhouse like the Huawei P20 Pro.  

BlackBerry Key2 review: Early verdict

The BlackBerry Key2 looks nicer than the 2017 Key and is also more powerful. It has a better keyboard and better software, while its cameras have seen a significant overhaul. At almost £600, though, we’d be hard-pressed to recommend it right now (though there’s always a possibility that minds will be blown when we have a sample for review).

If, however, you’re a loyal BlackBerry customer, a diehard keyboard warrior, or one of BlackBerry’s longstanding corporate clients, then the Key2 may still draw you in. After all, with so few keyboard smartphones around, it’s almost by default the best you can buy.

Buy the BlackBerry Key2 now from Carphone Warehouse

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