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Lifewire / Jordan Provost
Keyboard looks and feels great
Huge suite of Blackberry apps
Lots of customization
Slow network connection
For traveling business professionals—or fans of physical keyboards—the Blackberry KEYone provides a wealth of customizable options within a durable, powerful package.
As a producer of work-friendly mobile phones, the BlackBerry brand has become synonymous with business. The BlackBerry KEYone easily checks all the boxes for a business phone. Many of its best features are fully customizable, including custom shortcuts and programmable buttons. Its signature QWERTY keyboard is wonderfully tactile and flush with customizable settings, a dream come true for many who dislike digital touchscreen keyboards.
The BlackBerry KEYone provides the full range of BlackBerry apps and features in an impressive mid-range package.
If you find the giant glass design of most modern phones fragile and off-putting, the KEYone’s aluminum frame and textured back are both pleasing and durable. This is a phone with a very solid grip, with curved edges and a soft but bumpy back that strike a great balance between comfort and durability.
Both the speakers and receiver are located on the bottom of the device, on either side of the USB-Type C charging port, leaving the rear free of any clutter save the camera and flashlight. The KEYone features three buttons, a power button on the left to quickly wake and sleep the phone screen, and on the right a volume up/down button, and what BlackBerry calls a Customizable Convenience Key, which can be programmed to display various shortcuts. Thankfully the power button is small, and located up and away from where our hand naturally rests on the phone, preventing us from accidentally turning the screen off.
Setting up a new phone is as simple as inserting the SIM card and following a few prompts. BlackBerry includes an almost overwhelming amount of options and features for the KEYone, but thankfully doesn’t force them on you all at once. Instead, the KEYone has a natural tutorial system that activates any time we started a new BlackBerry app or button for the first time, walking us through what the app does and how best to use its features. It’s a very intuitive system and a great way to gently ease the user into the phone’s capabilities.
A Getting Started folder is included on the home screen with two programs: Content Transfer and Preview. Content Transfer lets you repeat the process of setting up the phone, installing previous apps and login details. Preview is an all-in-one tutorial and interactive manual for the KEYone that provides every piece of information and detail you could ask for. The manual was impressive and made us feel very well-informed, despite the phone’s overall complexity.
While many phones are built for gaming or movie streaming, BlackBerry knows its customers are looking for a phone that can rapidly switch between web browsing, emailing, and texting. Although the KEYone boasts a powerful Qualcommn Snapdragon 625 Octa-Core 2.0 Ghz processor, it’s more suited to fast task-switching than processing 3D graphics. In the PC Mark Work 2.0 test, the KEYone achieved a solid score of 4855.
The KEYone performed demonstrably worse with graphically intensive games, however. The online game PUBG Mobile recommended low settings only. Even then we had severe frame rate drops, stuttering, and occasional freezing in crowded areas with lots of players and action, rendering the game mostly unplayable. The GFX Benchmark T-Rex test resulted in 25 fps, while the Car Chase struggled to cooperate with 4.3 fps. Many popular mobile games don’t require any kind of advanced graphics processing, but hardcore gamers will want to look elsewhere for their mobile needs.
Check out our other reviews of the best text messaging phones available on the market today.
The connection quality on our 4G LTE network was slightly concerning. We tried half a dozen different locations within the suburbs near a major metropolitan area, and we never got our download speeds above 11 Mbps according to the Ookla Speedtest app. Often the download speed was closer to 8 or 9 Mbps down, with a 7 Mbps upload.
It fared even worse indoors, with an abysmal 2.6 Mbps down and barely 1 Mbps up. The BlackBerry KEYone needs to be on a wi-fi network as much as possible, especially when in buildings.
The BlackBerry KEYone is about the same overall size as most smartphones. But its physical keyboard and permanent touch navigational buttons eat into the screen size, resulting in a much smaller 4.5-inch screen with a 3:2 aspect ratio. That’s smaller than older iPhone models like the iPhone 8. But the screen, a crisp 1620 x 1080 LCD HD display, looks great. Movies streamed from Netflix looked crystal clear, but you may feel the pain of the small screen when watching HD movies, most of which are shot in an ultra wide (Cinemascope) screen ratio of 2.35:1.
The screen features adaptive lighting to quickly adjust the brightness levels as needed, and we found it highly responsive whether outdoors in daylight or in a dark room. The physical keyboard features the same automated backlighting, gently and naturally lighting up every key for ease of use in dark rooms.
Its signature QWERTY keyboard is wonderfully tactile and flush with customizable settings, a dream come true for many who dislike digital touchscreen keyboards.
The single speaker packs an impressive punch. Even when streaming loud action movies at full volume, we never experienced any audio distortion. Since the speaker is located on the bottom of the phone, you can easily leave it on a table or other surface and not worry about any muffled sounds. The KEYone also includes four-foot wired earbuds. The only negative quirk is that the audio jack is located at the top of the phone, which could create some awkward tangling issues when using the phone in portrait mode.
The KEYone features a 12MP rear camera with an 8MP front. The rear camera is capable of HDR lighting, and includes auto-focus and 4x digital zoom. It can also record 4K video at 30 frames per second, with the front camera capping out at 1080p video recording.
These camera stats are in line with similarly priced phones, though with a single camera the KEYone lacks fancier options like wide-angle and telephoto capabilities. Serious photo enthusiasts can find phones with better cameras, but most users should come away satisfied with the camera and video quality of the KEYone, especially at the mid-range price.
BlackBerry boasts that the KEYone features their largest battery ever (the newer Key2 features the same size). The 3,505 mAh battery is easily capable of meeting the demands of users who need to constantly answer emails, texts, and phone calls, as well as browse the web, watch videos, and check appointments. BlackBerry lists the KEYone’s battery life at 26 hours of “mixed use.” Leaving it on standby overnight without plugging it in only shaved off about 5% battery life.
BlackBerry included two very welcoming battery-related features. The first is Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0. When plugging in the phone to an outlet, you can select the Quick Charge’s Boost mode to quickly charge about 50% in a little over half an hour—this can come in handy if you’re just about to head out the door.
We were also impressed by the included Battery Level app, which offers detailed information on how much battery life remains (in days and hours), when the phone was last fully charged, and which apps are using up the most power. It also provided alerts whenever an app was draining a disproportionate amount of our battery and memory usage.
The 3,505 mAh battery is easily capable of meeting the demands of users who need to constantly answer emails, texts, and phone calls, as well as browse the web, watch videos, and check appointments.
Software is where Blackberry blows away the mid-range competition, though you’ll need the more expensive Black edition to enjoy the full 64 GB storage. We tested the more common Silver edition, which includes 32 GB of storage space and 3 GB of RAM to make the KEYone a multitasking machine. Like most modern Android phones, the KEYone’s storage can easily be upgraded with a MicroSD card (up to 256 GB).
If you’re getting a BlackBerry, you should know that they come preloaded with a ton of BlackBerry-specific apps, which is part of their “love it or hate it” reputation. The KEYone’s Android OS includes over a dozen pre-installed apps like BlackBerry Hub, BlackBerry Calendar, BBM for messaging and DTEK for security, as well as several commonly used Google apps like Gmail, Google Photos, Chrome, and Youtube. Most if not all of the apps will require updates right off the bat.
Even for non-business use, these BlackBerry apps can help keep your phone organized. The Hub, for example, puts all social media notifications, phone calls, emails, and text messages within a single feed, while DTEK acts as a Windows Firewall for your phone, alerting you to any vulnerabilities and options for app permissions. On the flip side, these apps do take up storage space. After installing only a handful of gaming and social media apps, we were quickly approaching 50% capacity of the 32 GB storage (the Android OS itself takes up about 9 GB).
At around $300, the BlackBerry KEYone is firmly in the mid-range category for smartphones. For that price you get a solid camera, a comfortable physical keyboard, impressive sound and video, and a huge number of pre-installed BlackBerry apps.
But there are some downsides. The KEYone comes up short (literally) in terms of screen size, and you can definitely find phones with better cameras—including dual-lens cameras—in cheaper phones. With the KEYone, you’re definitely paying a premium for the physical keyboard.
The regular iPhone 8 has similar screen size and camera prowess, but it comes with Apple’s infamously inflated price tag of over $500 MSRP. For Android-based phones, the Nokia 6.1 is a close competitor with its 5.5-inch screen, better processing, more RAM, and more storage space, all for under $300.
However, when it comes to other phones with QWERTY keyboards, the BlackBerry KEYone easily takes home the blue ribbon. Though that’s more a testament to the fact that BlackBerry has no real competition, as most phones manufacturers have opted for larger screens.
Worth it if you love a physical keyboard.
Most of all, you’ll need to decide if the lovely physical keyboard is worth the reduced screen size. If you don’t need a phone for business, the KEYone and all its BlackBerry apps become a tougher sell. But we still came away impressed with the total package for any consumer, and it’s certainly the phone to get if you’re looking for a solid modern design with a keyboard.