Though MWC officially kicks off on Monday, February 27, many of the biggest manufacturers are already getting a head start in presenting their newest devices prior to the event this weekend. This is the case for BlackBerry as well, the long-standing manufacturer just dropped its latest smartphone, the KEYone, which was code-named Mercury. Here are our first impressions of the BlackBerry device with the trademark physical keyboard.
BlackBerry KEYone release date and price
Having briefly shown its face at CES in Las Vegas under the codename Mercury, the new BlackBerry KEYone was finally made official at MWC 2017. The smartphone will be available worldwide, but an exact date for the US is as yet unknown. The device will come to the UK on May 5. As for the price, the KEYone will go for $549 in the US and £499 in the UK.
BlackBerry KEYone design and build quality
The KEYone is a phone created with hardcore fans of BlackBerry in mind. While some previous smartphones like the DTEK 50 may have been disappointing, this isn't the case for the KEYone, which is the first smartphone of a new generation of handsets manufactured by TCL (a second should be launched this year). The new arrival has a clear mission: to please those who still like a physical keyboard. This market which has been abandoned by other manufacturers is nevertheless according to the brand still acclaimed by many users, including former BlackBerry users, who aim above all for productivity with their smartphone. The phone is therefore designed for professionals. The haptic feedback that a physical keyboard produces is impossible to achieve with a virtual one. There are some people who still swear by it.
In terms of design, the Priv-style slide-up format has been kicked to the curb, adopting instead a one-piece structure made up of a display and a QWERTY keyboard. Despite the physical presence of the latter, the device still manages to remain quite compact. It is smaller than many other contenders on the market, most of which opted for a 5.5-inch format (Google Pixel XL, iPhone 7 Plus, OnePlus 3T…). Below the display, BlackBerry has conserved the capacitative navigation buttons from Android.
Despite the body being made out of aluminium and BlackBerry promises good stability, the keyboard is constructed out of plastic and the back of the smartphone has received a soft-touch textured back. To stay with the times, BlackBerry also decided to include a fingerprint scanner that has been integrated into the space bar of the keyboard on the front of the device.
The keyboard, just like the one on the Priv, can also recognize gestures. This means that it does not only serve the purpose of typing, it can also be used as a trackpad. You can swipe your finger up and down, right and left in order to gain access to your home screen or launch various apps. Other functions include copy and paste, keyboard shortcuts using short or long press for each letter of the every letter on the keyboard, U for Uber and F for Facebook, for example, and double-tap to bring up the cursor. No extra home key was created, the space bar works both as a fingerprint scanner and the home button, in addition to the Android home button found on the phone as well.
In fact, even though the keyboard seems quite simple at first glance, it hides a wealth of features and is very comfortable to use with both hands.
The rest of the device is set up rather traditionally. The volume buttons are located on the right side with the Nano SIM card found above, while on the left you will find the power button. The USB Type-C and speakers are located on the bottom, with the headphone jack on the top (BlackBerry decided to keep this feature, while other manufacturers are debating removing it completely).
Even if the build quality is on the whole is fairly serious, the rear coating is a bit of a surprise and gives a lower range feel than some competing flagships. It is also important to clarify that while BlackBerry deals with the design and promotion, it is TCL, a Chinese firm, which manufactures the smartphone. TCL is not a newcomer in the industry, the company has already made Alcatel smartphones.
BlackBerry KEYone display
The BlackBerry KEYone has a 4.5-inch Full HD display with a resolution of 1,620 x 1,080. It has 433 ppi and a 3:2 aspect ratio. Unfortunately, seeing as I first tried the device at the press conference in Barcelona while indoors, I was not able to test the display’s capabilities outdoors in natural lighting.
BlackBerry KEYone software
It is Android 7.1 Nougat, which will run on the BlackBerry KEYone. BlackBerry has confirmed that security updates will be released continuously throughout the life of the device, including, of course, the monthly security updates from Google for Android. BlackBerry also encrypted the processor for more security.
If you are familiar with BlackBerry smartphones running Android, you’ll already be used to the setup on this year's newcomer. The interface is very similar to that of stock Android, albeit a few BlackBerry additions that target organization, security and productivity. Brand apps such as BBM, BlackBerry Hub and DTEK are therefore housed on the device. The device will focus on security, and the DTEK app will help give users more personalized privacy and security options by managing app permissions in great detail.
BlackBerry KEYone performance
Under the hood, the KEYone is powered by a Snapdragon 625 processor by Qualcomm with an Adreno 506 GPU. For those who expected to get the jacked up Snapdragon 835, you’ll be disappointed seeing as the latter is reserved for the first batch of Galaxy S8 devices by Samsung. That being said, the octa-core processor that ticks at 2 GHz is hardly shabby. The CPU will also have an X5 LTE radio which will allow for two times faster download speeds compared to previous models. Paired with 4 GB of RAM, the BlackBerry offers fluid performance that will likely not disappoint. This is, however, just a first impression in consideration of the tech specs delivered and what was initially observed at the press conference. We will give a more accurate assessment of the performance after we've had a chance to do a full review.
BlackBerry KEYone audio
The KEYone offers stereo speakers. This area is also difficult to adequately assess after just minutes of usage in the noisy room reserved for testing after the press conference. We’ll be able to better judge the quality of the audio in the calm of our office back home after MWC.
BlackBerry KEYone camera
For the camera, the BlackBerry KEYone offers a 12 MP main camera (a Sony IMX378 sensor with an f / 2.0 aperture). No optical stabilization is present. The front camera has 8 MP and an f / 2.2 aperture.
BlackBerry KEYone battery
Again, lengthy battery tests will have be conducted in order to deliver a final verdict, but with a capacity of 3,505 mAh, it is likely to not disappoint. It should be able to reach 50 percent in 36 minutes with Quick Charge 3.0. The presence of Nougat's Doze mode also ensures that owners would get good battery life out of the phone. The final review will reveal more.
BlackBerry KEYone technical specifications
|Dimensions:||149.3 x 72.5 x 9.4 mm|
|Battery size:||3505 mAh|
|Screen size:||4.5 in|
|Screen:||1680 x 1080 pixels (433 ppi)|
|Front camera:||8 megapixels|
|Rear camera:||12 megapixels|
|Android version:||7.1 - Nougat|
|Internal storage:||32 GB|
|Chipset:||Qualcomm Snapdragon 625|
|Number of cores:||8|
|Max. clock speed:||2 GHz|
|Connectivity:||HSPA, LTE, NFC, Bluetooth 4.2|
BlackBerry is not dead and the KEYone is the proof (thanks to TCL). The phone’s slogan “Distinctly Different” is actually spot on, seeing as the device comes with a physical keyboard, a rare trait in today's market. Clearly, the smartphone is promising, with the inclusion of a fingerprint scanner and Android Nougat on board, and will surely wow the crowds. The only setback is, of course, the slightly lower build quality, but it will still be able to attract a professional audience that prioritizes productivity.
Samsung, Apple and the other major players don’t necessarily need to worry, but those averse to virtual keyboards will be happy that BlackBerry is still present on the smartphone market.
What do you think about the KEYone? Has BlackBerry succeeded in making a smartphone that will stand out and excel in 2017 or is the phone resting too much on its nostalgic laurels? Are you a fan? Let us know in the comments below.