The "1-Minute" Review
- Odd screen resolution
- Dim display
- So-so camera
The smartphone era hasn’t been kind to BlackBerry. Since their partnership with TCL, they’ve tried to bring the BlackBerry experience into the age of touchscreens with little success. The KEY2 is their latest release and looks to improve upon the response to the KEYone and make the BlackBerry a contender in the productivity-centric market.
The phone features a rigid aluminum frame with a soft-grip rear coating. Reviewers found the phone pleasant in the hand with plenty of grip and easy access to the various buttons around the side. However, some questioned the balance of the phone.
Around front, you’ll find a 4.5-inch 1080p IPS display with full QWERTY keyboard. Reviewers found the display offered plenty of detail but fell behind many similarly priced phones in terms of color, contrast, and overall brightness. While it’s plenty for emails and productivity, the screen isn’t ideal for media consumption or gaming due to the odd 3:2 aspect ratio.
Opinions on the keyboard varied. CrackBerry said, “The KEY2 keyboard, in my opinion, is among one of the best BlackBerry keyboards ever built on a BlackBerry smartphone.” Still, other reviewers found it hard to use and inaccurate.
It likely comes down to your keyboard preferences. Still, when it comes to phones with physical keyboards, the KEY2 is one of the most powerful options available. If you like a clicky keyboard, with low-profile keys, you’ll likely be impressed. But if you’re looking for the chunky BlackBerry keyboards of the past, you’ll be disappointed.
In terms of processing power, TCL went with an octa-core 2.2Ghz Snapdragon 660 processor paired with 6GB of RAM. This provides smooth app switching, and respectable, stutter-free performance in most productivity-based apps, social media, or other daily tasks. But for gaming, the phone falls flat.
Depending on the variant, you’ll find either 64 or 128GB of internal storage. This is plenty for most users. But should you need more space, microSD support up to 256GB makes expanding storage easy and affordable.
The phone runs a nearly stock version of Android 8.1 Oreo with the usual addition of BlackBerry apps. Reviewers found some apps great -- such as the granular privacy options in the DTEK app and the built-in file browser -- and others a bit underwhelming -- such as BlackBerry Messenger. However, the bloat is in line (if not better) than most of the competition.
While BlackBerry has never been known for its cameras, the 12MP dual lens rear camera with 2x optical zoom performed well in decent lighting. Reviewers found it confusing that the auto-focus feature was disabled by default. And the low-light performance is hit or miss. But it was capable of taking balanced, detailed outdoor shots and portraits.
There’s also a front-facing 8MP lens with a flash for selfies. As expected, it doesn’t compete with the rear shooter in terms of image quality but allows for respectable snapshots for social sharing or plenty of quality for video chat.
The phone’s 3500mAh battery will last a full day with ease on a single charge. If you’re a light to moderate phone user, you might even squeeze two days out of a single charge -- an accomplishment even compared to 2018’s flagship phones. When you need to top up, the USB Type-C charging and Quick Charge 3.0 support mean you won’t need to wait long.
Pricing was the biggest complaint from reviewers. The phone is priced like a flagship but has specs firmly in the mid-tier bracket. And the focus on productivity puts the phone in a very specific niche. As an everyday phone for the average person, it might not compete. But for someone looking to get things done, manage schedules, dive into social media, or use their phone as a work-centric device, it offers tools and a format that few phones can match.
CrackBerry sums this up well saying, “It's not going to cater to everyone, that's just the nature of QWERTY devices...” The Verge was more skeptical, saying, “The very thing that makes the KEY2 a BlackBerry is the same thing that keeps the Key2 from competing in a modern smartphone world. A BlackBerry needs a keyboard, but no one needs a keyboard on a smartphone in 2018.”
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