Is there really a shortcut to success? That’s a complicated question. At least for the greater part of the world it is. Not so much for BlackBerry it seems.
I know BlackBerry and success don’t really look eye to eye these days, but you’ll have to admit, the KEYone launched last year did come as a breath of fresh air. For the loyalists, for the enthusiasts and for the critics alike. It was a phone that was straight out of the past, and yet, it was very modern. Not so much in terms of design but in terms of the software experience. And of course how that experience was tied so intricately with its physical keyboard in the form of countless shortcuts.
The KEY2 that is launching in India today is a gradual extension of that formula. It’s not a huge upgrade to its predecessor, but the upgrades that it brings in, help improve the all-round experience further keeping intact all the things that made the KEYone so likeable. As likeable as the KEYone was, it was still rough around the edges. The KEY2 is a more polished affair. At the same time, it does a couple of things, that’s a first for BlackBerry or at least something that it has not done in a long, long time. This includes BlackBerry’s first ever dual camera setup, and the introduction of an all new key on the keyboard, something that hasn’t been done by the company in over a decade.
The KEY2 pays homage to the Bold 9900. That’s enough nostalgia to get fans excited. For the rest of the lot, it’s undeniably the most secure and private Android phone, in the market right now. That’s enough to get some applause from some of that audience.
DESIGN AND BUILD QUALITY
The KEY2 is a cleaner and sleeker KEYone. While it’s still housing a tall screen at one end and a physical QWERTY at the other, everything around this package has received a fresh coat of paint. On the back, the phone has a distinct faux leather texture that feels good in the hands, besides assisting in confident grip. In a sea of glossy glassy phones, the KEY2 brings a refreshing change that instantly makes you sit back and notice. Of course, the BlackBerry logo on the back (and the physical keyboard on the front) also has a lot to do with it. I must say I got a lot of attention every time I pulled it out. People wanted to know more about it, but mostly they were surprised that BlackBerry was (is) still making phones.
But coming back to the KEY2, the phone feels really good in the hands. It’s got that BlackBerry feel to it. All the way through. It’s sharp and angular. With clear cut lines and ubiquitous chamfers, the KEY2 looks like it belongs in the boardroom. There is no other place you would want it to be.
The outer frame is carved out of series 7 Aluminum. Even though the KEY2 is lighter than the KEYone, this metal mid-frame imparts considerable heft to it, or at least it provides an assurance that the phone is rock-solid. Its inherent weight may irk some long-term fans though since BlackBerrys of yore have usually been synonymous with bulk. And odd form factor. What I really like about the KEY2 is that it does not warrant a case like a majority of premium flagships do. This one, on the contrary, can take a beating or two and also it would never fly off your hands or slip down a surface.
As likeable as the KEYone was, it was still rough around the edges. The KEY2 is a more polished affair
As for that tall display, it’s good to see BlackBerry minimising the bezels especially on the top. This adds to the overall neat and sophisticated look and style of the KEY2. It uses curved 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass 3 for protection. The bottom end of the display has physical capacitive keys for navigation which are also backlit.
There are a couple of more areas where BlackBerry has brought about some much needed changes over the KEYone. One, all the physical buttons — the volume rocker, the power button and the smart convenience key — are now placed in one row on the right. They’re well-built and offer excellent tactile feedback. The power button, in addition, has a grooved texture as a mark of differentiation from its peers. The left side is, meanwhile, mostly clean except for the hybrid dual SIM/micro-SD card slot.
The other change comes vis-a-vis the physical keyboard. It now comes with a smooth matte finish as opposed to the KEYone that came with a glossy keyboard. Also, the keys are now up to 20 per cent larger, and their spacing has been optimised to provide a more comfortable and accurate typing experience. according to BlackBerry.
The KEY2, like all modern BlackBerry phones, runs Android. More specifically, it runs Android 8.1 Oreo and an almost vanilla version of it, much like Google’s Pixel phones. In fact, even though BlackBerry has thrown in its own launcher and a number of proprietary apps inside the KEY2, there’s no way you’ll be able to differentiate the all-round experience from a Google Pixel phone. Unless you nit-pick the finer details. Only you won’t care since the software experience here is best in-class, even better than the Google Pixel phones to an extent, owing to the added functionality that BlackBerry’s security and productivity application suits bring to the table.
Like all BlackBerry phones in the past, the KEY2 is also geared towards getting your job done. And it wants you to do it as quickly as possible. Although, I’d also like to point out that the KEY2 is a little old-school in the way it wants to get your job done, but more on that later.
Shortcuts, therefore, play a key role in how the KEY2 goes about helping you out. I am assuming, if you’re a businessman/businesswoman, you’d want to be quick and efficient. The KEY2 has all the ingredients to do just that. The phone comes with productivity tools like the BlackBerry Hub, pop-up widgets, a productivity tab and support for up to 52 keyboard shortcuts.
The BlackBerry Hub is a unified inbox that integrates notifications from apps like Gmail, Outlook, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, as well as from calendar events and phone calls and text messages. Moreover, the Hub also allows you to interact directly with these apps without having you to open them separately. Pop-up widgets, meanwhile, let you interact with certain specific app widgets directly from the home screen and without having you to open them separately. The productivity tab, on the other hand, gives you quick access to items — calendar, Hub, contacts and more — by swiping from the right.
If that wasn’t enough, the app drawer has a dedicated section reserved for shortcuts (widgets) including those from third-party applications. You can drag and drop these shortcuts anywhere on the home screen for quick access.
The smart convenience key also makes a comeback allowing you to set up to three shortcuts for every profile: meeting, home, and car. These shortcuts can then quickly be accessed by holding the dedicated physical convenience button from anywhere on the device, provided that it is powered up.
Moving on, just like the KEYone, the KEY2 is also being pitched as the most secure Android phone in the world and BlackBerry claims that it will receive security patches the same day that Google pushes them out. Also, Android P will be coming to it in the days to come. BlackBerry has been fairly consistent in this regard. The phone has “device security built in from the start,” according to the company which, in all its fairness, sounds very reassuring. But chances are, many wouldn’t know (and understand) terms like hardware root of trust or secure bootloader, unless of course you’re a geek or a security professional. Also, the fact that the phone is literally encrypted to the T is hard to tell with the naked eye.
But then, there are also a few security aspects that you can monitor and control. And that is what makes all the difference. The KEY2 comes with an app called DTEK that shows your device security status in real time. The most useful aspect of this app, however, has to be in the way it allows you to manually control app permissions. It gives you even the most miniscule information about an app and also lets you directly allow or restrict certain permissions or to uninstall the app altogether, from within the app itself. The DTEK app can notify you whenever an app like Google requests sensitive data like location and microphone. FYI: It’s a little overwhelming (and creepy) how many times Google actually asks for these permissions, especially your location data, each day.
The KEY2, in addition, comes with an in-house locker where you can store sensitive files, apps and photos. You can hide sensitive apps you store in the locker from the home screen as well. And you can also use the fingerprint scanner on the KEY2 as a shutter button if you want your clicked photos to be stored directly into the locker.
A couple of more privacy-centric apps that deserve a mention include Privacy Shade and Redactor. While Privacy Shade prevents people from eavesdropping on sensitive information on your screen by blocking out everything except for a small viewing area that you can manually control, Redactor lets you hide private information like phone numbers from screenshots before you share them with someone.
I have to say that the keyboard on the KEY2 has left me pleasantly surprised although I’d also like to point out that a phone like the KEY2 isn’t meant for everybody. Even fans and loyalists who’ve used some form of QWERTY mechanism in the past will need some time getting used to it. You’ll need to give it some time, and retrain your muscle memory. The learning curve will be different for different people. Once you’ve used a touch-based capacitive keyboard — even though it has haptic feedback to sort of mimic and actual keyboard — it will be very difficult and even frustrating to go back. But if you do, it will be totally worth it.
If you do manage to get along with it, I am happy to inform you that, this is by far the best physical keyboard experience you’ll get on a modern-day BlackBerry phone. In fact, it will be the best physical keyboard experience you’ll ever get on a BlackBerry. This is because the KEY2 offers a neat combination of old-world charm and new-age features in equal measure. BlackBerry (Optiemus Infracom) has gone a long way to ensure that the KEY2 keyboard is a big improvement over the KEYone keyboard. In all the departments, and unless you’re dead straight about not trying it and giving it a shot, there’s no way you’ll leave without being pleasantly surprised.
BlackBerry’s keyboard in its current avatar has larger keys with ample spacing and with smooth matte finish. They have just the right amount of give, and the clickety-clack you get while typing, is very satisfying.
If you’ve ever cared about the brand BlackBerry, you should care about the KEY2
And it’s jam-packed to the core with features. The QWERTY supports touch-gestures like scrolling (so you can use it as a trackpad to manoeuvre across web pages and even the home screen) and Flick Typing for predictive texting (that makes typing fast and more seamless), as also 52 app shortcuts in the form of short and long press. This means every key on the KEY2’s keyboard is programmable to open something or the other. The currency key can be re-programmed to function as the CTRL key, so on and so forth.
BlackBerry is also introducing a new Speed Key this year that lets you use custom shortcuts from anywhere on the screen. On the KEYone, you could use them only from the home screen. This entails in fast multi-tasking, once you’ve aced the keyboard, and switching between multiple apps is just as efficient as any other high-end phone with more powerful innards.
The space bar, meanwhile, doubles as a fingerprint scanner. It’s fast but it can be a little inconsistent at times.
REST OF THE STUFF
— The KEY2 is not as high-end as other high-end phones in the market right now. It’s a more mid-tier phone with mid-tier hardware. It is powered by a 2.2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor clubbed with 6GB RAM and 64GB storage which is further expandable by up to 256GB via a hybrid micro-SD card slot. While it’s not as powerful as a phone like the OnePlus 6 with a Snapdragon 845, you’ll have to understand that, the KEYone is designed for a different audience. It’s designed for those who like to use their phones as phones and not some multimedia powerhouse. It isn’t designed for casual users — although I’d say even casual users should get acquainted with a BlackBerry, at least once in their lives — but executives who’re constantly switching between calls, churning out emails and excel sheets and scrolling web pages. Executives who wouldn’t want their phone dying on them at odd (and important) times.
The KEY2 is, therefore, designed for users who’d prefer efficiency (and productivity) over raw horsepower. The KEY2 will work well for that audience, and vanilla Android means it’s up to the task, no matter how urgently they need it.
— That the KEY2 isn’t designed to be a multimedia powerhouse is further accentuated by its screen. Much like the KEYone, the KEY2 also comes with a 4.5-inch 1080p IPS LCD screen with an unusual aspect ratio of 3:2. It’s designed for web-scrolling, jotting down notes, sending out emails: you know, all the typical boardroom stuff. It isn’t designed for multimedia consumption. Everything from Netflix to YouTube to regular 1080p videos you’ve saved on your phone’s storage will appear letter-boxed. The same is true about watching/posting Instagram or Snapchat stories because watching IG/Snap stories on different aspect ratios will simply crop the image. Vertically playable games work well, but playing games on the KEY2 in landscape orientation can be a daunting task. It’s best you don’t do it.
As for the quality of the screen itself, it’s more or less the same deal as the KEYone. But there are minor discrepancies. It’s a lot cooler in comparison, and also the phone’s aggressive power saving algorithm means the phone can’t reach desirable brightness levels in outdoor sunny environment, in auto mode. Manually cranking up the brightness helps a little.
— The 3,500mAh battery inside the KEY2 is the second highlight of the phone after its keyboard. When coupled with its power-efficient processor, the KEY2 can easily last you one to one and a half days even when you’re out stress testing it. The phone also supports fast charging and a proprietary feature called Boost charge that can charge the phone from 0-50 per cent in just half an hour.
— The dual-SIM KEY2 supports 4G LTE and VoLTE. Phone calls made with the phone are of excellent quality and we did not encounter any odd call drops issues, beyond the usual, on our review unit. The single speaker out is average at best. It gets very loud but its quality leaves a lot to the imagination.
— Coming to the least exciting bit, the cameras. The KEY2 comes with a dual rear camera system consisting of one 12-megapixel camera (f/1.8 aperture) and a secondary 12-megapixel camera (f/2.6 aperture) for depth sensing and up to 2X optical zoom. There’s a dual tone LED flash and support for 4K video recording. The KEY2 is average at best next to competition but most definitely it’s a good upgrade to the KEYone that was the best BlackBerry camera phone at launch. If you’ve ever used a BlackBerry, this is like second nature but at least they’re getting somewhat better now. Problem is, competition has gone miles ahead. So what you end up getting with the KEY2 are decent at best photos in good light. Dynamic range is unsatisfactory and white balance is off almost all the times unless you’re shooting indoors. HDR doesn’t help much either, more often than not resulting in softer over-saturated photos with not enough detail. Low light photos have lots of noise. Surprisingly, the KEY2 can shoot good portrait shots when the lighting is ideal, which is something to look forward to. The zoom lens, while it brings added functionality, isn’t the best in quality but at least you know you have the option. Video (1080p, 4K) shot with the KEY2 are of acceptable quality although white balance issues persist here as well.
On the front, the KEY2 comes with an 8-megapixel camera with f/2.0 aperture. It’s just bad.
SHOULD YOU BUY IT?
The KEY2 is the best BlackBerry that you can buy right now. It marries old-school charm with modern-day technology, and also manages to offer the best of both worlds in real world usage scenarios. It isn’t perfect, but its clientele will probably be aware of its limitations before getting their hands on it. That’s because even in its imperfections, the BlackBerry KEY2 manages to hold its head high. It is the first BlackBerry phone in years to make sense and even though there are better phones around Rs 43,000 now, the KEY2 will still find takers. Among fans and loyalists who had been waiting for the company to make a comeback. Last year’s KEYone, although it was a good attempt, was not that phone. But the KEY2 is.
If you’ve ever cared about the brand BlackBerry, you should care about the KEY2. If not, there are certainly better phones in the market.
News credit : Indiatoday