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BlackBerry Keyone review: The return of the keyboard warrior

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The BlackBerry Keyone has a Nokia 3310-nostalgia element to it. One of the first phones I owned was the BlackBerry 8820, I got it as I started out freelance technology journalist and wanted to have emails on the go. At the time, it was the most reliable, push notification email system, a luxury back in the day.

Unfortunately, the Canadian company has declined in popularity, as with the rise of Apple and its iPhones, and the increased popularity of Google’s Android operating system with manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, HTC, Huawei and other companies, BlackBerry lost its popularity and unique selling point. With a decline in its products, BlackBerry switched from using its own operating system to Android.

BlackBerry Keyone review

So what is the BlackBerry Keyone? Essentially, it’s a reimagining of the firm’s glory days, combined with a modern kind of pragmatism. It has a physical keyboard, which makes it unusual, but like many smartphones, it has a touchscreen display (albeit a small 4.5in one), and it runs Android 7.0 Nougat, so it terms of the way it functions and the apps it can run, it’s as normal as they come.

Essentially, this is an Android smartphone that physical keyboard diehards have been waiting for. The trouble is that it’s pricey and the core specification is somewhat underwhelming.

BlackBerry Keyone: Price and competition

If you’re after a smartphone with a physical keyboard, there’s essentially no competition for the BlackBerry Keyone, unless you fancy ruining your Samsung Galaxy S7 with a case that blocks most of its screen. Perhaps Blackberry knows this and it’s why has set the price so high.

It’s available SIM-free for £499 at Selfridges and at Carphone Warehouse. We also expect it to become available on contract, although no prices have yet been announced. In the US, the KeyOne is available for $549 through selected retailers.

At that price the competition among phones without hardware keyboards is steep. It’s more expensive than the superlative OnePlus 3T, £50 cheaper than the excellent Huawei P10 and a touch pricier than the Honor 8 Pro, but anyone looking to spend this much on a smartphone will almost certainly have also considered moving up to an LG G6 (£650), Samsung Galaxy S8 (£679) or an iPhone 7 (£599).

BlackBerry KeyOne specifications

  • 4.5in, 3:2 aspect ratio, 1,680 x 1,080 screen
  • 2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor
  • 3GB of RAM
  • 32GB storage
  • microSD slot
  • 12-megapixel f/2.0 rear camera with phase-detect autofocus and dual-LED flash
  • 8-megapixel f/2.2 front camera
  • Android 7.1 Nougat
  • Price: £499 / $549 / €599
  • Release date: 27 April 2017

BlackBerry KeyOne: Key features and design

I guess what I’m saying here is that the BlackBerry Keyone has its work cut out, and in when it comes to its appearance things don’t get off on the right foot. Although its appearance is pleasant enough, it doesn’t have what you’d call supermodel looks. Sure, it’s practical. The dimpled, soft-touch plastic rear, anodised silver frame and Gorilla Glass screen topping look like they’d survive the odd encounter with keys in your pocket. Also I also rather like the exaggerated lines of the Keyone’s bluntly rounded edges.

However, it’s a rather dumpy 9.4mm thick and 180g in weight and, considering the display is a mere 4.5in across the diagonal, the chassis of the phone is pretty wide and tall, measuring 72.4mm across and 149mm from top to toe. That’s mainly due to the need to accommodate that physical keyboard, but surely BlackBerry could have shaved off a bit more than this.

Elsewhere, it’s fairly run of the mill. The right edge accommodates a volume rocker and what looks initially to be the phone’s power key, but turns out to be a customisable shortcut key for whatever you want. The SIM and microSD tray sits above the volume buttons and, on the opposite side, you’ll find the power key. The bottom edge hosts a USB Type-C port, and there’s no way to remove or replace the battery, at least not quickly.

So is it worth sacrificing a big screen for that keyboard? Well, it isn’t typical BlackBerry fare, that’s for sure. The click of each sculpted key is positive enough, but it’s a little soft and rubbery in feel – a long way from the hard, plastic keys of old. And, while I’ve found it relatively comfortable to type on I’m not yet convinced it’s any better than a decent touchscreen keyboard in terms of speed and accuracy. Perhaps I need more practice, but the lack of Swype text entry, in particular, had me pining for my Pixel XL after a couple of days of use.

This keyboard offers more than just a collection of buttons, though; BlackBerry has also attempted to beef it up in a handful of clever ways. To start with, the surface of the keyboard is touch-sensitive, so you can, with a swipe of the thumb, use it to navigate left and right through your homescreens and scroll vertically through menus and web pages.

Plus, while typing, you can select one of the three-word suggestions that pop up at the bottom of the screen simply by swiping up beneath it. Oddly, though, you can’t pan around Google Maps with the keyboard.

The space bar doubles up as your fingerprint reader, which is clever and works well, but I did have to keep reminding myself it was there. And BlackBerry’s software allows you to assign keyboard shortcuts to short and long presses of the individual letter keys, so you could launch Chrome, for instance, by clicking the C key. I’m not sure this is any quicker or better than simply tapping a shortcut icon on the touchscreen, though.

BlackBerry Keyone review: Display

Initial impressions of the 4.5in IPS screen on the BlackBerry Keyone are positive. To the eye, there’s plenty of contrast and colours look balanced and rich without being oversaturated. I’m not sure how long I could put up with the small dimensions. The Keyone’s screen simply feels cramped compared with phones of a similar size and shape that don’t have to accommodate a physical keyboard.

Measurements carried out with our X-rite colour calibrator back up these initial impressions. It’s a bright screen, but at 497cd/m2 not exceptionally so for IPS screens. Samsung’s AMOLED displays are capable of going brighter than this, as are Apple’s IPS-based iPhone displays. Still, you shouldn’t have too much trouble reading your emails unless the sun is really intense.

From eyeballing the display I’d guessed its colour performance would be respectable and that turned out to be the case. It’s capable of reproducing 96.5%% of the sRGB colour space, which is good and means colours don’t look muddy or dull.

In short, the BlackBerry’s display is of decent quality, technically speaking. It won’t knock your socks off and it’s too small for my liking, but if that’s a sacrifice you’re willing to make to get a physical keyboard, then it can’t be considered a weakness.

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