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

Performance, software and battery
Despite being pretty uninspired on paper, BlackBerry's tweaks to Android continue to be some of the more worthwhile. In bringing across features like the BlackBerry Hub (as it has done on previous devices), the sprawling mess of Android notifications can be tamed with relative ease.

For anyone unfamiliar with BlackBerry Hub, it essentially aggregates all your incoming notifications from different sources (SMS, email, messaging, social networks, etc.) and allows you to view that information in a whole host of different ways.

For example, you can view it all in one stream, enable threaded messaging (or disable it), set specific colours for each account, set unread labels, and perhaps most usefully, create custom views of accounts. This means you can, say, set one for all your different email accounts, one for multiple Twitter accounts.

It's also very easy to set-up and, once done, is a pleasure to use. 

The BlackBerry Launcher has a quick action tab that allows you to view an overview of the newest notifications, along with your schedule for the day and access to contacts hovering on the right side of the screen by default.

Again, this is fairly customisable, allowing you to move it, change the colour, height, and transparency, as well as switch it off altogether.

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Customisability is a theme that runs throughout the default BlackBerry launcher, even allowing you to use third-party icon packs without installing apps like Nova Launcher. Beneath those tweaks, you'll find the KeyOne arriving running Android 7.1 (Nougat).

Another strong point on the KeyOne is the battery life you can eke out of the 3,505mAh power pack, which is handy as its fast-charging isn't as fast as some of its rivals. A solid hour of (not overly graphical) gaming drained just 13 per centwhich is considerably better than some of the alternatives.

Similarly, streaming movies and TV will drain around 10 per cent per hour from your battery at around 70 per cent screen brightness. That might not sound too impressive, but many smartphones would easily drain an extra 5 per cent or more here.

As long as you're not constantly streaming HD video or gaming all day long, the KeyOne is one of the few phones available that offers genuine two-day battery life. And if you are a super-user, it'll still easily get you through a full day.

Along with the user-focused Android tweaks, the KeyOne also ships with BlackBerry's DTEK security system on board too, which should keep any system admins that need to manage corporate devices across a network pretty happy. As a suite of tools for consumers, it has its uses too, keeping you logged in to services via a built-in password manager, for example.

Price and verdict
At £499, the BlackBerry KeyOne isn't a straightforward purchase, but the price of the handset isn't quite as relevant here as it is on other phones.

There are so few options for a Qwerty-equipped Android phone, let alone one that's actually worth using, that cost alone probably won't be the deciding factor.

Plus, of course, a significant part of BlackBerry's proposition is still aimed at businesses, which aren't as price-sensitive to individual device costs.

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Combining the thoughtful - largely productivity-focused - operating system tweaks with a truly smart keyboard (again, providing you're really, really sure you want a physical Qwerty) is a genuinely unique and compelling proposition.

The problem, I suspect, is that most people would rather watch YouTube without black bars than use a physical keyboard on their phone in 2017.

If you definitely want a keyboard on your phone, you're not going to get a whole lot better than this - even the camera is entirely acceptable quality, which isn't always a given, even on a £500 phone. Add in that it has a two-day battery and there are yet more reasons to consider it. Again, there aren't many devices that can deliver on this claim.

The BlackBerry KeyOne is good in many ways, and I'd almost consider one as my daily phone for the battery and productivity alone. But that keyboard, good as it is, just isn't something I need in my life anymore.

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