BlackBerry is a unique brand that brings to mind being successful and one of the true business leaders and forgers. It’s a brand that – back in the day – made you feel you had made and accomplished many milestones among the hard grind of the business world.
And then Android and iPhone came of age, and all of a sudden what we knew as BlackBerry became a whole lot less relevant, and ultimately disappeared all but completely.
Towards the end of 2016, TCL bought the rights to the BlackBerry brand and created BlackBerry Mobile. It had success when it launched the Key1 back in February 2017, though not so much in Australia .. the brand didn’t quite take off, and the device faded into the back of our minds pretty quickly.
Fast forward to today and BlackBerry is set to arrive back on our shores after an almost two year hiatus, with TCL/BlackBerry Mobile launching the Key2 through Amazon Australia.
With the brand’s history in mind, we thought it would be a good idea to review the Key2 and see what’s new, but also to look at how it can fit the needs of both the business user and personal consumer.
The BlackBerry Key2 is a remarkably rugged, high-end design. Made from both metal and rubberized textured plastic, it certainly feels high-end in the hand.
The BlackBerry Key2 has a (small, by current standards) 4.5-inch IPS LCD display that is clear, bright and easy to read, but it is small, making broader media consumption difficult. This isn’t an enjoyable device upon which to watch a movie.
Under the 4.5-inch display, is the QWERTY keyboard which again is a bit hard to use with solid hands. I get that some people like a physical keyboard, but really, I think we’re a bit past this now, and all but the most stubborn two-finger typists would find and on-screen keyboard easier.
The space bar also houses a fingerprint scanner which I will go into further in the review.
The Key2 comes with USB-C on the base of the device, with two speakers located each side of the port. Being 2019, there’s a convenience key (in addition to power and volume) which – by default – summons the Google Assistant. For those who still want and need an audio jack, the Key2 comes with a 3.5mm Audio jack.
On the back is a dual 12MP rear camera and also a single LED Flashlight. There is also the customary BlackBerry branding in the centre rear of the device.
Lights, Camera, Action
The BlackBerry Key2 comes with a dual 12MP camera which is perfectly serviceable, but mostly unremarkable. It takes good photos in well lit conditions, but this is not a low-light performer.
While some daytime pics were ok and gave a slight pass, the majority were underwhelming. Whether this is because of the lens technology or a software glitch I am unsure. All I can say is that cameras are a centerpiece of mobile phones in 2019, and here they’re not as wow as they should be.
The front facing camera is an 8MP single camera and while it does okay with a lot of natural lighting, in low light the results aren’t quite so great. But still, most people buying a BlackBerry phone probably aren’t after the camera.
Die hard BlackBerry fans will rejoice the fact the Key2 comes with the usual QWERTY physical keyboard below the 4.5-inch display which is the main selling point for any BlackBerry device.
However, using the physical keyboard/pad was a bit frustrating given how small the keys are over say a typical on screen keyboard. Personally, I prefer an onscreen keyboard over physical, as trying to type was a nightmare.
There is also a fingerprint scanner placed within the space bar of the keyboard/pad which is okay, but placement can be a little dicey depending how you hold your phone.
Given it is 2019, I really do believe physical keyboard are not necessary on mobile phones. Tablets and convertibles can get away with it due to their size, but a small mobile really can’t afford the sacrificed screen space.
Connectivity wise, the BlackBerry Key2 comes with general Wi-Fi standards – 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot, which ensured a stable strong connection when connected to my home Wi-Fi network.
There is also Bluetooth version 5.0 LE available and was strong when connected to my Bluetooth speaker both in the car and at home.
SIM wise, I used an Optus SIM which seemed to get some strong network connectivity but I am unsure of the exact bands the device will cover here, as I believe the review device I was given was an international version.
The BlackBerry Key2 comes with Android 8.0 directly out of the box and during the review I did notice two security updates became available which is a good sign. However, there’s less certainty around the BlackBerry Key2 seeing an upgrade to Android 9.0.
I would encourage TCL/BlackBerry Mobile look at making any major firmware update for the Key2, especially to Android 9.0 (Pie), but my guess would be that this may not happen.
There is also the dedicated Hub service, that combines all your messages from different sources say from either Telegram messages, to Instagram or WhatsApp messages. Once you click on any of these messages you are taken out of the Hub and into their own respective apps. Personally I would have preferred to reply to these messages directly from the Hub app – maybe this is something TCL/BlackBerry can look into.
A main selling point is the Key2’s security features which are built into the software. Think Samsung’s Knox program, and that’s essentially the same thing as BlackBerry calls its DTEK software. In simple terms, this can segregate your work and personal data / apps / etc, and keep your data secure in the event of loss.
Battery wise, the Key2 comes with a 3500mAh battery which is okay,but when aimed at the road warrior, it could do with being a bit bigger.
During the review, the Key2 lasted from 7am to 3pm with heavy usage, but in regular use, the battery typically arrived at 30-35% by 4pm to 6pm. That’s enough to get through the work day, but it’s definitely on the light side.
Sadly, the Key2 lacks any form of wireless charging which might otherwise offset the slightly underwhelming battery life. It does, however, support USB-C fast charging, so you could readily top off during the day as needed.
In conclusion, the BlackBerry Key2 is a great device for the business focused consumer, but as a personal device, the Key2 is much harder to recommend.
Why? My main concerns are the lack of Android 9 Pie (or a commitment to deliver said update), and the lacklustre camera performance.
Even as a BYOD device for work, the Key2 might be a bit too much of a compromise for users that – these days – typically look for some combination of longer battery life, a great camera, and prompt software updates. The Key2 does reasonably well in most areas, but perhaps not quite well enough.
For personal or BYOD buyers, there are better options (that might even be cheaper) from such as Nokia, Samsung or even Google with its Pixel devices. In each case, software updates are more likely (or guaranteed for a period), and most offer better than average camera performance (except some lower-end Nokia devices).
If you are a diehard BlackBerry fan, and want to once again own an official BlackBerry device, then the Key2 could be what your after.
The BlackBerry Key2 will be available from $799 for the BlackBerry Key2 LE whilst the BlackBerry Key2 will be available for $1,160.34 along with the Key2 red edition available for $1,334.69 through Amazon Australia’s website directly.