Blackberry KEYone Black Edition 64GB Evaluation

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Product: Blackberry KEYone Black Edition 64GB Smartphone
Provided By: Blackberry Canada
Price: $649 CAD ($509 USD) at time of publication

 

Introduction:

Over the past month, I've been using one of the more anticipated Blackberry devices since the odd Blackberry Passport launched. The KEYone is the successor to that device and this one packs in a current version of Android, a solid processor, lots of RAM and a few other features that make it distinctly Blackberry. While this one is made by TCL, the specifications show a lot of promise and with it weighing in with 64GB of built-in storage as well as a MicroSD card slot, things keep looking up. This is the first Blackberry device I've used in many years, so I really hoped that it lived up to my expectations. While it certainly isn't an entry-level phone, it's not quite a flagship either in terms of performance. It falls in the super-crowded mid-range device and as such it has a lot to compete with and live up to.

Box

 

The KEYone is available at many wireless providers here in Canada, and our unit came to us unlocked and it works just fine on the Bell network. Before we spoil the ending, let's take a look at this device and what you get in the package as we kick things off.

 

First Look:

The Blackberry KEYone is a pretty interesting device as it is about the same size as a Samsung Galaxy S8 that has a 5.8-inch screen. The KEYone however, only has a 4.5-inch screen. A significant portion of the device is taken up with the physical keyboard and below-screen soft-buttons that control app switching, back and home functions. Once you get above these, you have a vivid 4.5-inch display that has a solid resolution of 1620x1080 at 433 pixels per inch. The screen itself is no slouch, it's just an odd 2:3 aspect ratio.

The device is powered by a mid-range Snapdragon 625 processor that packs in eight cores running at a modest 2.0GHz. The GPU is an Adreno 506 that runs at 650Mhz. While it's not a Razer phone, it should be able to handle pretty much any casual game you want to throw at it while you wait for your next meeting.

KEYone - Open Box

 

The bundle included with the KEYone is pretty basic - and it works. Included is a nice set of earbuds, a changing cable, quick charger, SIM eject tool and a bit of paper to help you get started. The KEYone has bottom facing speakers that are decent and is in fact much better than a speaker located on the back of the device. The volume on the external speaker is good, but the audio-jack and included earbuds are what you really need to enjoy music. Thank goodness that Blackberry realizes that people want a headphone jack.

KEYone Bundle

 

The Snapdragon 625 is a pretty efficient processor and Blackberry has teamed that up with a massive 3505mAh battery to help you get the most out of the device. With the smaller screen size, efficient CPU and a large battery, you should expect to get more than a day out of the KEYone. The real test will be if you can get two. Having a device that lasts a day and a half isn't really any better in the practical sense, than a device that only gets a full day.

The button layout and position on the KEYone is a bit of a problem for me. The volume keys are located nicely on the right side and are within easy reach of your thumb. The power button is on the left side across from the top of the volume button. Those positions are pretty safe and work well. My issue is with the "convenience" key that is located below the volume buttons on the right side. It is conveniently located where you push it far too often and launch shortcuts (camera by default) constantly. Also, when you talk on the phone, this key defaults to mute the microphone - which you will likely do during 50% of your phone calls if you're right-handed. It's not convenient at all.

KEYone - Power Button
Power Button

KEYone - Volume and Convenience Keys
Volume & Convenience Keys

 

I absolutely hate the position of the convenience key - although I do like the idea of it for sure. You can setup what function you want it to perform when you are at work, on the road or at home. You can, in-fact program it to bring up a menu and then choose from three different applications, function or shortcuts. Still, I found myself pushing this way too often. During a call, muting and unmuting the microphone became a game of frustrating, albeit, non-lethal Russian roulette and I didn't know if I was being heard or not. A software update could remove the mute feature, but the position of the key higher on the device would eliminate my biggest headaches with this device. While I found this to be incredibly frustrating, this is my experience with my larger hands and the way I use the device. Other people haven't experience (or complained) about this nearly as much as I have. Above the volume keys is the SIM card / MicroSD card slot. With 64GB of built-in storage, there are many that probably won't need additional space. If you're Jason Schneider, you'll be grabbing the biggest MicroSD card this supports (256GB) before you turn it on.

The top and bottom of the device are pretty basic with bottom speakers and a USB-C port and on the opposite end, a microphone and headphone jack. The microphone helps eliminate background noise and enhances speakerphone functionality.

KEYone - Bottom Speakers and USB-C
Bottom Speakers and USB-C

KEYone - Top Headphone and Microphone
Top Headphone and Microphone

 

While the storage is easily expandable, the battery is not easily replaceable. That is common, and while I don't like it - it seems to be the way things are these days.

On the next page, we'll cover more of the features and specifications from Blackberry and then talk about how well the device works in the real world and if you should consider the KEYone for your next business (or personal) device.


Features:

The following features and specifications have been pulled from the Blackberry website and posted here for your convenience. This is by no means a complete overview of their features and product information. For a complete list of specifications, please go to their site for all the details.

 

Impressively designed and distinctly different, BlackBerry KEYone reimagines how we communicate and get things done.

Built to Last - Purpose built to allow you to do more.

  • Strong aluminum frame
  • Impact resistant display
  • Soft textured back 

Do more. Faster. - Smarter keyboard with shortcuts.

  • Shortcuts
    Program each key to instantly bring up contacts and apps you use most often, such as pressing “B” to open browser.
  • Flick typing
    Predictive text made even faster with the ability to flick words onto your screen as you type.
  • Touch navigation
    Responds to touch gestures like a trackpad, to quickly scroll through webpages or emails.

Do more. Everything. - Zero compromise.

  • Android 7.1 Nougat
  • Access to over one million apps on Google Play
  • Home screen widgets 

Do more. Longer. - The biggest battery ever put into a BlackBerry smartphone. All day battery life.

  • Powerful 3505 mAh battery
  • Quick Charge capability
  • Power management tools like Boost for faster recharging 

Most secure Android smartphone. - Secured with BlackBerry security software, the world’s most trusted mobile security software.

  • DTEK security monitoring app
  • Best-in-class monthly Android security updates
  • Security built-in from the start 

Impressive photo quality. - The camera on KEYone delivers sharp, crisp photos in any light.

  • 12MP Main Camera - Large 1.55μm pixels
  • Sony IMX378 Sensor - Industry leading camera sensor
  • 8MP Front Camera - Wide-angle lens with flash 

All your messages in one place.
BlackBerry® Hub is an irreplaceable tool for consolidating all of your messages in one place - whether it’s email, calendar, social or phone calls.


 

 

Specifications:

Physical (Smart Keyboard)
Contextual auto-correction, next-word prediction and a personalised learning engine that gets to know the way you type with on screen flick typing.

Navigation
Touch screen, with touch sensitive keyboard

Dedicated keys
Volume Up/Down, Lock (for Power On/Off) Customisable BlackBerry Convenience Key (usable as Mute Key when on an active call or to open the camera)

Display
433 PPI - 1620 x 1080 IPS LCD - 24-bit colour depth

Screen size
4.5” diagonal - 3:2 aspect ratio 

Processor
Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 625 Octa-Core 2.0 GHz, 64-bit Adreno 506, 650MHz GPU

Expandable memory
Expandable memory via hot swappable microSD - (Up to 256GB)

Memory
3 GB RAM - 32 GB Flash

Ports
USB Type-C - USB 3.1 

Battery
3505 mAh (typical) 4.4V non-removable Lithium Ion battery QC3.0 - 50% charge in 36 minutes

Rear camera

  • 12MP auto-focus large pixel camera
  • 4K video recording at 30 fps
  • Phase Detect Auto Focus (PDAF), Fast focus lock
  • HDR 6-element f2.0 lens
  • Dual Tone LED Flash – Enhanced photo colour balance
  • 4x digital zoom
  • Continuous & touch to focus, face detection, electric image stabilisation
  • Panorama, Burst, Live Filters
  • Multi-Frame Low Light Enhancement

Front camera

  • 8MP Fixed-Focus, f2.2
  • 1.125um pixel size
  • 84˚ wide angle/field of view lens
  • Image & video stabilisation
  • 1080p HD video recording at 30 fps
  • Light-up LCD Flash
  • Wide Selfie Mode (also known as Selfie Panorama)
  • Multi-Frame Low Light Enhancement 

 

Network bands (On Tested Device)
BBB100-1 Canada, LATAM, APAC, US V1
4G: FDD-LTE B1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/17/19/20/28/29/30; TDD-LTE B38/39/40/41
3G: WCDMA 850/900/1700/1900/2100 MHz
2G: GSM 850/900/1800/1900 MHz

Connectivity
802.11 b/g/n 2.4 GHz - 802.11 a/n 5GHz - 802.11 ac 5GHz - 4G Mobile Hotspot - Wi-Fi Direct

FM Radio

Bluetooth®
Bluetooth 4.2 Low Energy (LE) and EDR

NFC

GPS

Sensors
Accelerometer - Magnetometer - Gyroscope - Proximity - Ambient light - Hall Effect

 

On the next page we'll take a look and see if the device performs as it they claim during general usage.


Using the KEYone:

I've used Android devices for many years now, but had a other devices in the past including Windows Phones, Nokia devices and more. While my wife has had an Apple device, I've tried to stay away from "the dark side" as much as I can. I do love physical keyboards on phones though and loved my Nokia E71 as well as HTC Windows Phone slider back in the day for that very reason. Blackberry really was the one that perfected the physical keyboard on a phone, so I was very excited to get a chance to look at this phone in depth when they offered a review sample. 

In terms of hardware, it's more than capable. Software is courtesy of a no-nonsense install of Android - so that should be good as well. Those two bits are fantastic. While the device itself isn't cheap off contract, you'll be able to pick one up for free, or close to it, if you sign up on a new 2-year contract. 

KEYone

I installed a nice 64GB memory card as well as my SIM card into the KEYone and went through a quick setup process, initialed the transfer wizard - which worked like a charm. In a very short time I had a fully functioning, familiar device that had all my applications, accounts and data restored to it and it was ready to go. I enrolled a few fingerprints into it to help protect my data and was good to go. The fingerprint sensor is located on the space bar and is a great position for it.

The volume keys are conveniently located where a slight reach with your thumb controls the volume (if you're right-handed) and the power button is located opposite. The only thing that really frustrated me was the dedicated "convenience" key that is positioned too low on the right side to be considered convenient at all.

The screen is bright enough for usage in anything but direct sunlight and is average for vibrancy, contrast and overall usability. As the screen is an IPS LCD, it won't be as bright or as vivid as an AMOLED screen, but it keeps up with mainstream devices for sure. The 8-core processor has plenty of horsepower to record in 4K, slow motion and do most every task you need to get done. In fact, the Snapdragon 625 processor excels at providing enough horsepower, all while being quite efficient on battery usage. I'm not sure if the power management is to blame or perhaps the processor itself, but there were a few times where applications were quite laggy. Again, I'm not sure if the phone was simply trying to conserve power and the CPU / GPU wasn't speeding up, or if the phone simply lacks power for some applications. I have a hard time believing it's out of power with 8-cores running at 2GHz each. In fact, that should be more power than a new MacBook Air.

There is so much about the KEYone that sets it apart from a standard Android device. Blackberry has incorporated a "Privacy Shade" with blocks out most of the screen and lets your view either a variable sized round or rectangle section. It's a bit clunky, but if you're trying to keep your Christmas list away from prying eyes, it works well enough. Another feature of the device is that you can set the physical keyboard to a whole host of keyboard shortcuts. Think of each key on the keyboard as a macro key like you find on your high-end gaming keyboard for your PC. You can specify each key to do a specific function or launch a specific application by simply doing a long-press. For instance, you can set up the "C" key long press to launch the Chrome browser, "T" long press to launch Twitter and so on. You can specify each key to launch it's own application, settings and more. This is a brilliant bit that can be as simple or as complicated as you decide to make it.

The Blackberry KEYone is priced close to a flagship device with slightly-better-than-mainstream features. The keyboard is a great touch that works exceptionally well, but I'm not sure it's worth the $200 extra over a device with similar storage, RAM and CPU but without the keyboard.


Camera Testing:

The camera on the KEYone is very nice as it has a nice Sony IMX378 sensor and can handle HDR like a champ. The camera is also capable of full manual settings as well for those of you that don't like "auto" settings. Full control of focus, shutter speed, ISO, white balance and exposure are available. Both front and rear cameras on the KEYone have digital zoom only, but the digital zoom works pretty well on the rear unit without massive distortion. Overall, the image quality is decent, but they are not as vivid as the camera on the Samsung Galaxy S8.

The samples below have been shot with the Blackberry camera app and haven't been retouched in any way at all. They have been pulled of the camera and backed up to my Google account for you to enjoy. Click on the images below to view them on Google Plus with the ability to zoom in.

Panorama
Panorama

 

KEYone Sample KEYone Sample

KEYone Sample

KEYone Sample

KEYone Sample - Digital Zoom
Digital Zoom

 

Video:

As far as video goes, the KEYone is more than capable as it offers 4K video recording, 1080p at up to 60fps and slow-motion video at 720p at 120fps. While that's not crazy slow, the effect is workable. It's been frigid here at BCCHQ South during testing, so all you get is some snow activity.

 

 

On the next page, we'll touch briefly on a few other tidbits and then post up our conclusion.


Battery Life, Calling & More:

The battery life on the KEYone is fantastic. After using my Galaxy S8 and other mainstream devices, you get used to trying to conserve power to make it through the day. Even with a 1080p screen, I can get through 2 days of light-medium use and a day and a half of heavy use thanks to the large battery. With only WiFi enabled (no SIM), you'll get through days and days of usage on this device.

In terms of size, the KEYone is a pretty large phone that doesn't have a large screen. Screen size is listed at 4.5-inches with a 3:2 aspect ratio, but the device is as large as a Galaxy S8 - which is quite a bit smaller than a Nexus 6. It is quite pocketable and is easy to hang onto with the textured back. It feels like a very solid device and isn't slippery like the S8.

Blackberry includes an entire suite of BB Applications that include their messenger, DTEK, Hub and a bunch more software that sets a Blackberry device apart from the competition. In terms of software and setup, I'm very happy with their offering. The physical keyboard is awesome once you go change a few settings to disable the on-screen keyboard as well. Once you are left with just the physical keyboard, flick typing works very well and really speeds up productivity. The physical keyboard - once setup, combined with a stock Google experience make this phone feel and run very fast for the most part.

Check out our video below of some hands-on with the Blackberry KEYone.

In terms of call quality, the Blackberry KEYone is a champ - if you don't keep accidentally hitting the "convenience key" and muting your microphone. The call quality is fantastic in ideal conditions and hangs in there very well in loud environments as well. The built-in speaker is great and whether I'm on speaker or talking with the handset, the call is always loud enough and comes through clearly. The location of the speaker has been moved to the bottom and it is plenty loud to play and share music in a small-medium sized room.

 

On the last page, we’ll wrap things up with our final thoughts.


Final Thoughts:

It's been a good long time since I've used a Blackberry device and for the most part, I was quite impressed - despite what I say in the video on the previous page. The fact is that there are a lot of good things about the KEYone, but a couple irk me to the point where I just don't want to own one - today. The biggest beef for me; and one that plagued me daily - was the "convenience" key. I couldn't find where to shut this off entirely. If you disable the camera function and touch the key, it launches the "convenience key" settings. Also during phone calls, pressing this key is almost automatic and it will mute your microphone. It will let you know that it is muted with a tone, but you'll be pressing it more often that you want - if you have medium-large hands such as myself. Being able to completely disable this through software would make me much happier. I would prefer it placed higher up on the phone and leave the same functionality - but not where it gets pressed all the time.

The screen brightness is a bit weak as well. It's not a dim phone, but even at max brightness it feels dim when viewed alongside AMOLED devices. It really isn't full daylight usable and it will have you ducking for shadows in order to read email, messages and more. It's not a deal breaker, but the screen falls short of what I expect in a device of this price.

KEYone

 

On the positive side, once you configure the keyboard to have the functionality that Blackberry brags about, you're golden. It's the nicest experience and fastest keyboard I've ever used. The "flick" feature is great, and it learns pretty quickly your speech mannerisms, phrases and responses. It can be contextually aware - and if you check the box, you'll be impressed at how wonderful it is.

The battery life is stellar. For a large phone that I do a lot of typing on, I didn't expect it to get me through much more than a day, but it gets an extra day if I don't play games on it and an extra half a day if I do. The Snapdragon 625 is a power sipping beast that still performs very well. 

The Black Edition that we tested has 4GB of memory, 64GB of internal storage and the ability to add up to another 256GB of storage to your device. As this is aimed primarily at the business sector, that much storage offline - on your device is fantastic. You can use this as a removable storage device and it won't limit what you can do on your device. 

The inclusion of a headphone jack is fantastic and shows that not everyone is all about wireless earbuds and charging multiple devices daily. 


KEYone

KEYone

 

Other little things that Blackberry does with software are fantastic, and the soft back on the device makes it easy to hold without dropping. There really is so much to like about the KEYone, but for me, the "convenience" key is the deal-breaker at the moment. If they find a way to disable it through an update - or make it work via a double-press, I'd be happy to use one of these as my main device. Right now however, I feel that it would drive me insane. Since I've gone back to my main phone and don't constantly launch applications or mute myself during calls, I'm a happier man.

Blackberry, please add a double-press option to the Convenience key so I (and others) don't lose our minds. Thanks.

 

Pros:

  • Physical Keyboard
  • Fast LTE Performance
  • 802.11ac 
  • FM Radio
  • Great Battery Life
  • 4GB of RAM
  • 64GB Storage
  • Bare OS is Easy to Navigate and is Snappy
  • 8-Core Snapdragon 625
  • Fingerprint Reader in Spacebar is perfect
  • MicroSD Slot
  • Keyboard Shortcuts are Pretty Slick

 

Cons:

  • "Convenience" key Isn't
  • Display is a bit Dim
  • Graphic Intensive Applications Suffer
  • Power Button is Occasionally Sticky
  • Privacy Shade is a Good Idea, but Feels a bit like a Gimmick

 


I'd like to thank Blackberry for sending over the KEYone for us to review. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them in the forum here.