A great keyboard for BlackBerry fans

The Key2 offers good reasons for BlackBerry fans to upgrade.
The Key2 offers good reasons for BlackBerry fans to upgrade.PHOTO: BLACKBERRY

The latest BlackBerry Key2 is unlikely to make you fall in love with a smartphone with a physical keyboard, which BlackBerry is famous for. But it might just convince former users to give BlackBerry another chance.

TCL Communication, which licenses the BlackBerry brand, probably knows that it is futile to try to win new converts. The Key2 is about retaining current users by giving them what they want - an Android-powered BlackBerry experience.

Seen in this light, the Key2 is a qualified success. Its top feature is obviously the physical Qwerty keyboard that produces a nostalgiainducing clicky sound when pressed.

For those who have never used a keyboard-equipped smartphone, there is definitely a learning curve.

Its Qwerty keyboard has small keys. I found myself slowing down and tapping these keys with my fingernails instead of fingertips. It requires a more precise and deliberate typing style. You cannot tap furiously and rely on the autocorrect functionality like you would with a virtual touch-based keyboard.

The keyboard also has some neat tricks. It works like a touchpad. Swipe up or down on any part of it to scroll through a webpage. Swipe left or right to cycle through your pages of app icons. The Spacebar even doubles as a fingerprint sensor to unlock the phone.

That is not all. The Key2 adds a new Speed key that, when pressed together with another key, can be assigned a keyboard shortcut to launch an app or perform an action.

  • SPECS

  • PRICE: $899

    PROCESSOR: Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 (Quad-core 2.2GHz, quad-core 1.8GHz)

    DISPLAY: 4.5-inch, IPS LCD, 1,620 x 1,080 pixels, 433 ppi pixel density

    OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 8.1

    MEMORY: 64GB (microSD expandable to 256GB), 6GB RAM

    REAR CAMERA: 12MP (f/1.8) and 12MP (f/2.6)

    FRONT CAMERA: 8MP (f/2.0)

    BATTERY: Non-removable 3,500mAh

  • RATING

  • FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 3/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 2/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    OVERALL: 3/5

This feature also distinguishes between a long press and a normal tap, so you get twice the number of potential keyboard shortcuts.

There are other keyboard gestures, such as swiping upwards to accept a word suggestion while typing, as well as swiping from right to left to delete words.

In short, the Key2 makes it easier than ever to keep your fingers on the keyboard, instead of having to move up and tap on its relatively modest 4.5-inch screen.

The small screen is probably one of the Key2's main flaws. With current smartphones flaunting screens from 5.5 inches to more than 6 inches, the Key2's display feels cramped, especially as some of the screen real estate is taken up by Android's software navigation keys.

It is also not as bright as it should be and is thus not as viewable in bright daylight.

The Key2 is blocky and feels like a slab compared to the thin and sleek smartphones in the market.

But its physical keyboard imparts to the device a professional aura. I like its grippy textured back that feels more sturdy than glass. Its aluminium frame is solid and rigid.

In a first for a BlackBerry smartphone, the Key2 sports dual cameras that support portrait mode and 2x optical zoom.

The cameras take decent photos, especially with the default HDR feature. Faraway objects look slightly soft and not as sharp, but overall, the photos taken in well-lit conditions are acceptable.

However, its low-light performance is poor, often producing blurry and grainy photos. The background blur, or bokeh, effect from its portrait mode also looks grainy.

Fans will feel at home with the Key2's interface, though it can seem rather busy because of the many pre-configured shortcut icons.

It is preloaded with numerous BlackBerry apps, such as the BlackBerry Hub that consolidates all notifications from social media and other instant messaging apps.

With its mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 chip, the Key2 is not going to top the performance charts. It feels responsive enough, thanks to its 6GB of RAM.

Its non-removable 3,500mAh battery lasts more than one day of normal usage, though I could not stretch it to two days. It lasted 10 hours and 15 minutes in the video-loop battery test with the screen set to maximum brightness.

Given its mid-range hardware features, the Key2 is relatively pricey at $899. This price tag may seem prohibitive to new users, though die-hard BlackBerry fans will find sufficiently good reasons to upgrade.

• Verdict: The improved keyboard on the Key2 makes it feel like a classic BlackBerry device, and not just an Android phone with a physical keyboard.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2018, with the headline 'A great keyboard for BlackBerry fans'. Print Edition | Subscribe