BlackBerry has been making strives over the past year jumping into the productivity smartphone space with the BlackBerry KEYone in 2017 and then its successor the KEY2 in 2018. I personally have found a soft spot for the KEY series finding my return to using a keyboard enjoyable. This is if I can try not and factor it as a multimedia powerhouse. With this success TCL/BlackBerry wanted to bring their BlackBerries to a broader audience thus the KEY2 LE was born. It has many of the features the KEY2 has with some compromises and a lower price point. It can boast one thing the KEY2 doesn’t have… Verizon LTE support. Is the KEY2 LE a stand in the right direction and be the BlackBerry’s next “Curve”?
Like the KEY2, the KEY2 LE is light in the hand and comes in at a feathery 156g. This is compared to the 168g grams of the KEY2. BlackBerry managed to keep the same appearance on the KEY2 LE but also provide three color options in Slate, Champagne, and Atomic. TCL was nice enough to provide us with the gold colored Champagne version. KEY2 LE has a grippy rubbered texture on the back which makes it nice in hand for holding and typing.
The Champagne colorway is an interesting one as it seems to blend in colors of Gold that are on the polycarbonate frame while the back and keyboard are more of a dark navy-blue blend. Layout is still the same with headphone jack on top and mono speaker on the bottom while Type C port resides in the middle. Power, Vol and Convenience Keys all rest on the right side with the Power button having those slight grooves to tell the difference without looking.
Hardware & KEYboard
So, as I mentioned earlier the KEY2 LE is what the Curve was to the Bold ala KEY2. Once you start to dig into the hardware you will notice comparisons to this and differences between the phones. First off, it’s using a Snapdragon 636 processor and mixing that with 4GB RAM. These specs can be compared to the KEY1 of 2017. It does come with at least 64GB storage w/ microSD options if you need to expand. Unfortunately, you also won’t get the battery beast of its bigger brother as it has 3,000mAh where the KEY2 has 3,500. I also found issue with the KEY2 LE not fully charging unless I used its included charger. I thought maybe it was a slow charge, but I leave it hours on end and would at best get around 60-70%. Battery life on the KEY2 LE was okay but didn’t find it to be an all day champion like the KEY2.
The KEY2 LE essentially has the same backlit 35 Key layout as the KEY2 which still features the Spacebar doubling as a fingerprint sensor. I felt the sensor worked better on here than the KEY2 as that one gave me slight issues needing multiple presses to register at times. One thing missing from the KEY2 LE keyboard is that its not capacitive. So, no scrolling webpages, apps or even doing predictive type since you can’t swipe up and down. If you never had it, you won’t miss it but its also been a cool feature to have. At times I actually liked typing on the KEY2 LE better than the KEY2 with its keyboard being more clicky but also a bit tighter.
Screen resolution mirrors the KEY2 LE and it has the same 4.5” IPS LCD 1080p display as its counterpart with 434ppi. Great for reading articles, doing your usual productivity or booting up the occasional puzzle type game. That’s what its mainly suited for trying to have it do anything else won’t fare with great results. Also, if you put the KEY2 and LE side to side, the LE seems to be brighter but the KEY2 having more detail in color. Its coated with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 but I felt it was still prone to scratches. I have a slight scuff I’m still trying to figure out how I got.
The KEY2 LE mirrors pretty much all the same software that the KEY2 has which can be good and bad. It does utilize BlackBerry’s DTEK security software which is superb for giving you detail on what each app is doing on your phone and what you want them to access. Privacy shade is available for those shoulder watchers you want to block from your screen and alongside that is Redactor which lets you block out certain content before sending it out to someone. These are all good and welcome and you can make terrific use out of it. Now here are some gripes. Its running Android 8.1 Oreo which at the time for the KEY2 wasn’t bad as most phones were rolling to Pie (KEY2 is still on 8.1 by the way) but it’s a whole OS behind and we will be hearing about Android 10 soon. Dual Apping was only available on the LE but has since been put available on the KEY2 as well. This can take advantage of the Dual Sim if you want to for instance use WhatsApp which always needs a phone number.
Dual sensors were first brought to the KEY2 and the LE gets the same treatment with some minor changes. Instead of the dual 12MP sensors we got on the KEY2 we are presented with a 13MP and 5MP lens combo on the back. Even with the change in lens the KEY2LE surprisingly provides photos with accurate color detailing. Low lit areas fared decent not producing a ton of noise behind images. Portrait mode works better on here than the KEY2. This can be in part to the change in lens and I don’t have to back up further from an object or person. The front facing 8MP lenses on the LE I felt suffered giving me soft grainy images compared to the more detailed punchy colors on the KEY2. This could also be contributed to the fact HDR is disabled on the KEY2 LE front camera. I think for everyday photos and even video the KEY2 LE is reasonable for day to day normal quick snapping.
With the KEY2 I used it primarily with my carrier T-Mobile. It was only GSM unlocked so it either worked with them or AT&T. One of the biggest requests from consumers was for it to work with Verizon. Luckily with the KEY2 LE that wish was granted. For the LE I have used it solely with a VZW sim and results have been great. Whether I was in NYC or during my week long trip in Vegas for CES, service got a thumbs up. One issue that has carried over from the KEY2 is no Wi-Fi Calling. As I mentioned in a prior article its more important then most think especially with bad signal areas in households. If you want to get a KEY2 LE from Verizon, its only available for business and enterprise which was announced a few weeks ago at CES. Otherwise its unlocked for GSM and Verizon.
Going from the KEY2 to the KEY2 LE resulted in mixed results. The LE is suited for those that want a KEY2 but not pay the $649.99 price tag so of course you are compromising with a lower processor that can affect performance, no capacitive keyboard and significant change in build quality. On the plus side you the phone does feel lighter and easier to grip and I like typing on the LE keyboard more even with its omissions. Also, what will gear a decent amount of folks to the LE over the KEY2 is its inclusion of Verizon phone services. Its been wanted for awhile now and Big Red has flipped the switch for this device. That and the $200 price difference making it $449.99 doesn’t hurt either.