Review: BlackBerry KeyOne

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

The keyboard
The keyboard on the KeyOne is the reason that this handset will either appeal or not. Or potentially, appeal initially, and then lead you to a world of regret.

By now, a BlackBerry keyboard holds few surprises; the one thing about an iconic feature is that you can't easily change it and retain that same feeling, so for some time, BlackBerry has been delivering a three or four-row, metal-strutted Qwerty on its devices.  The Passport, for example, had a three row setup, due to its broader dimensions.

It's a feature that continues to baffle me, with annual interludes of forgetting it's even a possibility on a phone anymore. When you think of BlackBerry's brand (and 'exec' image user base), you think of work. You think of productivity. You think of the days when you used to bash out hundreds of text messages on a T9, predictive text keyboard.

Compared to a T9, it's unsurprising that BlackBerry's keyboard was seen as a step forward, but compared to the versatility and reliably flawless functionality of an on-screen one, it's a step back.

Yes, it supports gestures - you can swipe to delete, insert word predictions and a few other bits - and it has a number of genuinely useful and smart options. The problem, for me, is that when it comes to the actual typing part, it's less efficient and slower than using an on-screen keyboard, which is an option if you want to activate it.

It's more consistent use, for me, came as essentially a touchpad - using it to navigate menu screens and scroll through web pages. Slightly oddly, you can activate a swipe input mode using the physical keyboard, which I suspect I would never, ever get the hang of using. Initial tests confirm this suspicion.

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The gentle backlighting on the keyboard was always appreciated though, and in theory (if you can remember what they all do) you can set two quick launch functions for every single key. To set a function or app to launch when you press a single key, just press any button on the keyboard; to assign a long-press function, just hold your finger down a little longer.

In short, in some way, the performance of the Qwerty is almost irrelevant.

People that want a BlackBerry phone and/or Qwerty keyboard will be entirely satisfied by the performance of the KeyOne in that regard. It's dependable and smart.

People (and that's most people) that no longer have a need for one won't, and shouldn't, be swayed by it though. It's a better keyboard for an existing user base, not one that will win over the mainstream, and that's okay given BlackBerry's market positioning, skewing back towards its enterprise roots.

Next page: Performance, software, battery - and verdict

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