Looks like a beaut, doesn't it? It was given a quick preview session via new parent company TCL (which owns Alcatel) at CES 2017 - and shown off in full at a launch party at MWC 2017.
BlackBerry KeyOne preview: The keyboard
- 4 row capacitive keyboard
- Programmable shortcuts
- Fingerprint sensor space bar
There are some obvious BlackBerry hallmarks in the KeyOne: that full QWERTY keyboard being the most apparent. It has capacitive buttons that can be swiped across to control the Android handset, much like the BlackBerry Priv (and much-maligned Passport).
Its secret weapon - which will undoubtedly please many BlackBerry loyalists - is that each button can be assigned a shortcut. You can program them to launch specific functions by pressing, or long-pressing any of the physical keys.
The rest of the keyboard is very much in line with BlackBerry tradition. Four rows of small, sculpted keys that are separated by three slim metal frets. These seem easy to type on, thanks to that shape and separation.
New this time, however, is a fingerprint scanner home/spacebar key. Instead of building a separate home button in the front, or placing one on the back, BlackBerry opted to use buttons that were already there. Time will tell if that was a genius move, or result in user frustration.
BlackBerry KeyOne preview: Software and Design
- Android 7.1 Nougat
- Full suite of BlackBerry layers/apps
In typical BlackBerry style, the KeyOne will be of considerable use for security purposes - whether via apps or embedded within the operating system itself. That's a primary purpose to buy BlackBerry - and that'll remain unchanged under TCT management.
Software includes the DTEK app which makes it really easy to keep an eye on your phone's security status, and help you easily detect which apps are getting far too cosy with some of your phone's permissions.
It will also come loaded with the Hub, a handy place for instant access to all of your notifications and messages, as well app widget shortcuts from home screen app icons. These, along with the rest of the BlackBerry apps are loaded on to a stock-ish version of Android 7.1 Nougat.
The build quality of the KeyOne is formidable. It's a fairly chunky phone by today's super-slim standards, but not to excess. The phone is relatively narrow and - combined with the generously curved edges - makes a phone that's instantly a joy to hold.
To look at, the KeyOne is like an elongated Silver Edition Passport in a sense. Its proportions are far better, though, with a well-balanced feel and grippy rear. There's even a big circular camera which protrudes slightly
The buttons are very Alcatel-like though: the power button is miles away to the top left side, which is a nuisance; while the convenience key and volume up/down to the right are seem too low down the phone just looking at them, but feel like they're in the right place for typing balance once you pick it up.
BlackBerry KeyOne preview: Screen, camera and power
- 3:2 display with 1620 x 1080 resolution
- 12MP camera
- Snapdragon 625 processor
- 3GB RAM
- 3,505mAh battery
Moving on to the screen and internal engine, and it's here that could make a break the phone in some minds. Sitting right above that QWERTY keyboard is an unusually proportioned full HD screen. It's 4.5-inches of IPS LCD technology, but with a 3:2 ratio we haven't really seen since the older generation iPhones. This move away from the traditional 16:9 smartphone form was undoubtedly to fit in a keyboard without making a ridiculously long device.
On first looks it's certainly bright and sharp enough, with its 434ppi pixel density ensuring that details aren't fuzzy or pixelated. With that said, we envision media consumption being a little awkward for those wanting to play/watch titles in landscape mode. Not only is the 3:2 ratio going to ensure heavy letter-boxing, having the keyboard will mean an awkward grip.
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Powering that display is a more than capable Snapdragon 625 processor paired with 3GB RAM. It may not top any spec tables, but for the way most people will use the KeyOne, it's certainly enough to ensure a smooth, easy experience.
Whether you're playing the odd casual game, hopping in and out of the Hub, setting calendar appointments, replying to messages, it shouldn't have any trouble. Our first play with the phone was generally smooth and responsive, although we need more time with the device to get a thorough experience of that.
The thickness of the phone does have its benefits too, it means a beefy 3,505mAh battery was squeezed in to keep the phone going all day, while the presence of a USB Type-C port and Quick Charge 3.0 ensures it'll top up very quickly once empty.
As for cameras, that's a 12-megapixel sensor in the protrusion on the back with Phase Detection Autofocus (PDAF), as well as an f/2.0 lens. There's the usual dual-LED two tone flash next to it too. The camera has the usual feature set for a high-end phone, including 4K video recording, image and video stabilisation, panorama and burst modes, as well as live filters.
We've had a love-hate relationship with some recent BlackBerry devices. But with the keyboard firmly back, security as top priority as ever, and decent software features such as BlackBerry Hub running on an app-friendly Android base, the KeyOne looks like it'll float the boats of the BlackBerry elite once more.
What's more, there aren't many phones out there that feel as instantly at home in the hand as the new BlackBerry does, and no decent phones left in the world with a great physical keyboard. It may be for a small niche, but for those, the KeyOne seems perfect.
It will cost £499 when it arrives in the UK in April, which is significantly lower than the cost of the PRIV when that first launched, but still pricier than the current all-touch smartphones.