BlackBerry KEY2 Review – King of the Keyboards

Best for Business

 

For the better part of a month I been using the BlackBerry KEY2 first using it as a secondary device for a week or so and then switching over to using it as my main daily driver for a few weeks. I threw my T-Mobile sim in there and made it my business to take calls, setup my calendar plans, play games and watch content. With all this time dedicated to the KEY2 read on to see if its crash or burn with the 2nd iteration of TCL’s BlackBerry KEY series.

Style

First off soon as you grab the KEY2 you will feel how improved it is over its predecessor. While they are gently the same dimensions the KEY2 is about a tenth of an inch taller, and has chiseled out to feel more professional and easier to hold. It has this smoothed textured back from head to toe for better grip and it’s a clean aluminum frame that fits around the outside parts of the phone.

With the Black version you get this mix of sleek and stealth with really the difference being in the white lettered keys. The Silver version i feel stays out more and looks great too but really depends on what you are going for. As far as what’s laid out on the device you are getting a USB Type C port and a mono speaker on the bottom which pumps out some decent audio but if you are used to stereo speakers it’s a slight miss.

Headphone jack still remains on top and I like what BlackBerry did this year putting the Power, Volume Rocker and Convenience key all on the right side. Those buttons feel better, sound less clicky and are some responsive. An issue I had last year was towards the Convenience Key and how easy it was to press while typing based on the way I held the phone. Surprisingly and thankfully I believe i ran into that issue 1x during the whole time using the KEY2.

From an aesthetics standpoint TCL has managed to create a terrific piece of hardware that doesn’t feel cheap and its feels like it was crafted with perception. Frankly it’s a nice change from the full screen slabs of glass we are getting used to.

Hardware & Keyboard

Where last year the KEY felt like it brought back nostalgia but this time the KEY2 is all business. BlackBerry has opted for more keyboard space on the KEY2 with 20% more typing real estate. Its keyboard takes you back to the BOLD days and might be one of the best keyboard created for BlackBerry. They have a nice matte finish and much on comfortable to type on. KEY2 having a thinner frame helps as well.

Besides the better alignment of keys and space BlackBerry has added a Speed KEY. It’s supposed to make keyboard shortcuts faster as you can now do it from any apps that you are in instead of running back to the home screen and pressing a button. Its quick and I think it was one of the better features added this year. All you do is hold it and press the desired Letter and voila instant app.

Spacebar still doubles as a fingerprint sensor which worked for me but I felt like I had to give it a couple more with presses this year then in the past. You can swipe up and down to scroll the screen or apps which also allows you to do Flick predictive type and “type swiping” but I didn’t utilize them much. Nothing beats the typing experience on a BlackBerry and can’t be duplicated no matter what companies make 3rd party hardware attachments.

One of the issues last year was while it the KEY was for productivity afterwhile it would get bogged down and start to slow down defeating the purpose. BlackBerry definitely heard those woe and made some upgrades for a smoother more efficient smartphone on the KEY2.

TCL has decided to keep its chipset in the midrange area again this year using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 660 processor, but doubling other specs now giving you 6GB RAM, and a storage capacity of 64GB which you push up even further thanks to microSD capabilities. You are getting a slight battery bump as well using 3500mAh. No lie the mix of these specs add to a phone you won’t have to run to the charger for a couple of days depending on your usage. You can get back to 50% battery in about a half hour and back to full strength in about 1 ½ hours thanks to using Quick Charge 3.0. You do get cues sometimes saying your battery is being used more than usual and maybe want to reup on the juice to continue your day. It has some of the best battery life I used on any smartphone this year and I have tried a great deal of them.

Display

Not much as changed in this area as you are still getting a 4.5” IPS LCD 1080p display with 434ppi on its close to 6” frame. Thanks to TCL opting out adding any curves to the KEY2 this year it does look better and doesn’t feel as glossy. Of course if you getting the KEY2 I imagine you aren’t getting it for watching hours of content in high res which is a market this phone isn’t catered to. Nor is it for playing high-end graphic intense games. This is not to say I haven’t watched some YouTube and played some games such as Spider Man Unlimited or Candy Crush Soda. If you are looking to do more of that then you may have to look at other devices. But for everyday typing, occasional multimedia usage and reading articles it’s great in my opinion.

Software

With new hardware of course comes new software with the KEY2 utilizing Android’s Oreo 8.1. It does multitasking at great lengths allowing you various ways to complete your goals. There is the new Speed key, the usual Recent button, Convenience Key for starters. BlackBerry has implemented a discreet slide out tray on the right side to give quick access to calendars, apps and emails but I personally couldn’t get into using it while others may. BlackBerry HUB has been the bread and butter of BlackBerry for the past few years and they didn’t miss a step. If you use a lot of social apps and have tons of email accounts this is the place to be.

BlackBerry also states it has one of the most secure phones on the market and while using this I can say it maybe right. They have security software called DTEK that keeps an eye on everything and lies discreetly in the background. You gives you full easy access to permissions and tells you exactly what each app is using. I know some other phones will say “I can do this on my phone” but not at this level. There is even an event log that shows you what apps have been accessing. They have worked with Firefox to provide a secure locker if you want to have apps only you can access and also deletes any browsing history soon as you close it. One feature I thought would be cheesy and works better than expected is Privacy Shade. It will black out the rest of the screen giving you a tiny window just for your viewing. This is customizable too so picking how dark it actually is or what size is totally up to you.Best of all this is activated with just three swipes from any screen. If you are a screenshotter but hit editing content they have a Redactor feature to black out info before hitting Send.

I did have some gripes with the software though. For the most part a lot of apps I used are fine but social apps like Instagram and Snapchat falter a bit. Mainly with IG is their stories as they don’t size up properly and the same goes for Snapchat. Some games look smaller too and don’t out the screen as much. I imagine once developers get hands on the KEY2 these will be addressed like the KEY last year.

Bigger issues for me were instances of glitches such as the phone getting stuck in landscape mode at times. I’d have to rotate it a good deal or close out of an app to get back to the right orientation. Also there isn’t any WiFi calling option and I had to go deep into the options of the phone itself to enable it and if I reset the device I have to do it again. For where I live I get bad phone reception no matter the carrier in my apartment and rely on WiFi calling quite a deal. Hoping this gets updated in the future.

Camera

The BlackBerry KEY2 is the first BB is have dual rear cameras and they both come in at 12MP and are capable of shooting 4K content. I personally felt like the camera was a hit or miss with the KEY2. It can take decent photos in lit bright outside conditions but falters in low light and even some indoor conditions. I used the 8MP camera for selfies but I felt it would add saturation and give me this orangeish look at times.

 

I did some recording in 4K at night during 4th of July fireworks show and even some in broad daylight. The fact the KEY2 doesn’t have OIS or even EIS can lead to some shaky video or even snapping some photos over. It’s not the fastest shooter either and may get a snag at times. I won’t compare it to higher end phones because that’s not fair but something like say the OnePlus 6 in its price range snaps some better shots. For the business or productivity person this is geared towards the camera though will suit just fine if you want to snap a photo here or there. You can check out some samples and tell me what you think.

Unlocked Options

As mentioned earlier I been using this for the better part of a month with my T-Mobile sim. Using it to make and take calls, text, email and download content. Compared to the OnePlus though I felt I got better reception and cell service and that’s using T-Mobile as well and at the same time. I hope T-Mobile can push something to the KEY2 in regards to WiFi calling. Being GSM unlocked you can also use this with AT&T for service. If you saw my last KEY2 article I mentioned trying Verizon and it working for a minute or two before kicking out. With the phone’s actual release I’ll circle back and see if any updates occurred.

Verdict

With the various changes that TCL and BlackBerry have done from KEY to KEY2 it has become a vastly and more welcoming device. I have been enjoying my time with it and am continuing to use it as my daily as of this typing. Its hits on so many marks with a killer battery that goes in for days and security software that lets you keep an eye on every app in the device. The keyboard has been improved and has assigned on providing better accuracy in my typing experience. While its software is secure I feel they can go in and fix some minor glitches that will help the user. Camera isn’t anything special and while it doesn’t work for me it may just do fine for others. At its pricing I would of liked to see a bit more or even if it was maybe $50 less. Also hope with its full release that carriers will be able to push some updates out to cater to its service better. The BlackBerry KEY2 is available for $649 on their website and BestBuy.com