Review: BlackBerry KeyOne

Ben Woods
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The BlackBerry KeyOne - one of the few Android devices with a 'proper' Qwerty keyboard
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The BlackBerry KeyOne - one of the few Android devices with a 'proper' Qwerty keyboard

If you hanker for the days when your smartphone had a 'proper' keyboard, the BlackBerry KeyOne could be just for you

Ten years ago, every smartphone maker wanted to make their devices look just like BlackBerrys, competing to make devices with physical keyboards. The Nokia E-71, for example, was intended to compete squarely with BlackBerry for the all-important business users who simply had to be able to send and receive emails on the move. 

Today, a different bunch of device makers are all competing to make their devices look as much like Apple iPhones as possible - without being sued by Apple, of course. 

And pretty much the only keyboarded smartphones these days come from BlackBerry. Its latest device, the BlackBerry KeyOne, is one of the only modern Android phones with a physical Qwerty keyboard, which today packs a fair amount of novelty factor in market full of devices all competing to look the same.

Of course, this is no BlackBerry as you used to know it, coming instead from a deal with TCL Corporation to build the phones. But with a £499 retail price in the UK it's going to have to be pretty good to attract the wallets of potential buyers. 

Design
The BlackBerry KeyOne, despite being definitively different from most other Android phones available, felt strangely familiar upon first unboxing, and it was only after holding it for a couple of minutes that it became clear why it felt like a phone I'd used before; it's reminiscent of the industrial design of the Lumia range.

That means it has an entirely flat top, with just a 3.5mm headphone port, and rounded edges that make it more comfortable to hold. Of course, the addition of a Qwerty keyboard is a pretty significant change to the design, and the slots at the bottom of the phone are different too, but there are definitely some similarities in the shape.

alt='BlackBerry KeyOne keyboard'

While that might conjur up slightly negative connotations, the Lumia 900 that springs to mind launched in 2012, the full aluminium frame, soft-touch textured rear panel and metal struts between each row of keys combine to give the impression of being a suitably premium handset, and that's no bad thing given that it's competing against similarly priced devices like the Huawei P10, which touts its slim design above much else.

Previous BlackBerry Qwerty-equipped handsets (that's quite a sentence) like the Passport used a square display, but the KeyOne has a more regular rectangular shape. Due to the keyboard, the 4.5-inch display doesn't have a 16:9 aspect ratio, instead offering 3:2. People focused on productivity will like this, people that use their phones for watching TV and movies won't, due to the black bars used to fill out the aspect difference on widescreen content.

On the right side of the phone, there's a volume rocker and the 'Convenience Key' - a button that you can essentially set to perform a function (like set an alarm, or call a specific person using speed dial,  for example) or you can set it to open any app you have installed. I went through a few options, but settled on using it to launch the camera, though it doesn't then act as the shutter button too (but you can use the volume rocker). There's also the now commonplace combined SIM and SD slot just above the volume rocker. 

On the left side, there's the power key and on the bottom there's the USB Type C charging port and speaker grilles.

Flipping it over reveals the black soft-touch rear panel, replete with the BlackBerry logo in silver and the 12-megapixel autofocus camera. You're almost certainly not buying this phone, or even considering it, for the camera though.

Nestled into the space bar of the four-row keyboard is a very responsive fingerprint sensor.

Officially, the BlackBerry KeyOne measures up at 149.3 x 72.5 x 9.4mm, so it's not going to win any awards for svelte lines, and at 180 grams, it's clear that the addition of the keyboard doesn't come without (numerous) drawbacks. That said, it's still not particularly heavy, being about 40 grams more than an iPhone 7. Alternatively, you could consider it the weight of an iPhone 7 plus a Kit Kat Chunky. I'm just saying, you could.

Next page: Hardware, camera and storage 

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