Let’s get this out of the way; the BlackBerry KEYone is not for everyone. This is one device I will not be telling everyone, “Wow! You need to get this!” If you play a lot of video games, watch a lot of videos, need a waterproof device, or strongly prefer a virtual keyboard, I’d recommend another device, such as the Google Pixel.
If you’re more like me, where you use your device for a lot of texting, social media, photo taking, and journal writing, read on.
That sweet, sweet keyboard.
The last BlackBerry I used was years ago, which was the Torch 9800, and the Bold 9000 before that. I can’t quite remember what it was like to type on them, other than being highly accurate, fast, and being able to look away while typing.
When I first tried to type on the KEYone, it was familiar, yet odd. That odd feeling wasn’t the fault of the device, just more so because I’d been forced to adapt to the virtual keyboard for so many years. I knew it would take time to adjust, and I’m so happy I’d given myself that time, because only five days later, I feel right back at home.
Day one, I took my time at the typing. I typed slower again, yet the immediate accuracy was a treat. Day two, I was picking up speed, and it went on. Practice makes perfect!
Now, the keyboard is more than just a bunch of smooth, great feeling, clicky keys on the bottom of the device. All keys collectively create a touchpad (as seen on the BlackBerry PRIV, and Passport). Gliding your fingers back across the keys from right to left delete words. Swiping up under each word suggestion selects that word. Swiping up and down on the keyboard while viewing Instagram or Twitter will scroll your feed. You can even change a setting to enable swipe-texting!
How well does it all work? The swipe-texting is slow and not overly accurate at this time, but can get better with updates. The rest, in my opinion, is flawless, and a joy to use.
The space bar has brilliantly been turned into a fingerprint sensor. You don’t even have to press down the space bar itself – just touch it and it unlocks your KEYone very quickly!
Think I’m done speaking of the physical keyboard? Guess again! Last, but not least, is the fact that each and every key is a shortcut to just about whatever you’d like! …That is, as long as you use the default BlackBerry Launcher. (Nova Launcher lovers, beware.) For me, if I press “T”, it opens Telegram. A long press of “T” opens up Twitter. Thanks to this feature, my home screen has only three icons; Phone, Camera, and the app drawer. Nothing more needed.
Battery life for days!
The next feature I wanted to cover was the KEYone’s awesome battery life. Inside is a 3505 mAh battery, which isn’t the largest we’ve seen in Android devices these days. It is the combination of the Snapdragon 625 processor (known to just sip the battery life) and the small 4.5” LCD screen that has provided me with 2-day battery. I’ve reached 6 hours on-screen time, and probably could have gone on longer before deciding to put it on the quick charger in BlackBerry’s “Boost Mode”. This mode shuts off as much as it can to help charge the device even faster.
It has been a real treat to have a device where I can use it and stop staring at the battery percentage.
Small screen. Lots of space.
The 4.5” IPS LCD screen looks great in my opinion, even if it is “only” 1080p. It is 4.5” and an odd ratio of 3:2, but this hasn’t hindered any app scaling issues for me. Thanks to the physical keyboard, you actually end up with more space on screen too since the virtual keyboard never pops up (unless want it to and turn that on in settings).
If you want movies on the KEYone, you experience letter-boxing when using it horizontally. It’s not ideal, but it gets the job done.
When the brightness of the screen is on full, it’s looks great and I have no troubles seeing content in sunlight. At night, I do feel the brightness could go darker, and a blue-light filter would be nice to have.
Finally. A good camera from BlackBerry.
From what I’ve researched, other the cameras on other BlackBerry devices in the past has been subpar at best. The KEYone shares the same 12MP sensor as the Google Pixel, and this, along with the f2.0 aperture provide from very nice, very sharp photos.
Unlike the Google Pixel and it’s amazing post-processing software and image stabilisation, the KEYone camera doesn’t handle low light shots overly well. I had taken some photos of my daughter at her dance recital just yesterday, and in low light I struggled to capture an image that wasn’t on the blurry side. If BlackBerry can update the software to meet the quality of the Google Pixel, we’ll have a winner.
Overall, I am happy with the camera and appreciate how a manual mode is an option so I can have greater control over settings. The physical keyboard is useful too – press space bar to snap a photo, or glide your finger across the keys to adjust brightness. Slick.
If you’re looking to handle some video with this device, it has you covered. You can shoot up to 4K at 30fps, but if you’re looking for enhanced video stabilisation, you need to drop down to 1080p at 30fps. Slow motion is also present works very well.
On the right-hand side of the device is another button which you have full control over. You can launch your favourite app, start an email, or turn on the flashlight. I set mine to cycle through volume settings. It’s nice to have that mute button back!
I’ve seen a lot of other reviewers complain about the placement of this button, as it’s under the volume buttons and that is the usual spot for the power. The KEYone’s power button is on the left-hand side instead. This took me a day to adjust to and I’m fine with it.
Snapdragon 625 – It’s not a downgrade.
BlackBerry made a smart move to use the Snapdragon 625 processor in the KEYone. As said earlier, it optimised to use little battery power, and it’s handles the apps that most users of the device would use.
I don’t play games on my device to tell you firsthand how well it performs. Loading up my usual apps like Sync for Reddit, Chrome, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. do not feel any slower compared to my Nexus 6P, which has a Snapdragon 810. The whole experience is very smooth for me, and the only time I experienced some jitters, was while BlackBerry HUB was enabled (more on that later).
Android and BlackBerry’s software.
I’ll get this out of the way right now. Unless you’re coming from BB10 and not Android, do yourself a favour and disable BlackBerry Hub (Settings > Apps > Hub > Disable). The app takes up a lot of resources and after disabling it, I noticed the jankiness of my KEYone was gone.
While Hub makes a solid effort at keeping all notifications and emails together as seen on BB10, it is just redundant to Android’s notification shade. Therefore, I have no need for it at all.
The Android operation system is very close to stock, which only a handful of tweaks in the settings, and this, I like. I’ve owned two Nexus devices and the Moto X 2013, so stock Android is just what i’m used to.
Aside from Hub, BlackBerry added other nice apps and features as well, such their version of Calendar, DTEK, Updates, and more.
If you’re concerned about security, BlackBerry has you covered (as they should)! Each month, BlackBerry sends out a security patch. I love this feature, since I see a lot of Samsung devices, for example, with security updates from over 6 months ago!
My final thought.
I’ve been keeping an eye on the BlackBerry KEYone since I saw it on the web nearly a year ago, with the code name, “Mercury”. I’m so happy that after this amount of time, the phone at met all expectations, and even exceeded them in other areas. This is the phone to get BlackBerry back on their feet!