Last year, BlackBerry Mobile - now under the banner of TCL - launched its first traditionally-styled BlackBerry running Android. It was called the KeyOne, and it was the cause for much excitement among both die-hard BlackBerry fans and those who left BlackBerry for Android or iPhone years ago but still felt a passion for the former Canadian tech giant.
There's no doubting the KeyOne was a success. It was never going to be competing for sales in the same numbers as Apple or Samsung, but it's enabled TCL to plan and build even more BlackBerry branded phones.
Following comments from BlackBerry's global general manager, Alain Lejeune, at CES in Las Vegas, we know that the company is planning "at least two new BlackBerry smartphones later this year". One of those is sure to be the follow-up to 2017's KeyOne.
What will it be called?
- KeyTwo, KeyOne 2 or something else?
This one is right up in the air. So far, BlackBerry fans appear to be calling it the KeyTwo, which certainly makes sense. And given that nothing has even come close to being announced yet, it would be foolish to guess. BlackBerry has been pretty creative with names in recent years, so we're hedging our bets.
- Snapdragon 660 processor
- 6GB RAM
This is perhaps the one element of the next KeyOne's feature list that has seen any kind of evidence pointing towards it. Dutch tech site, TelefoonAbonnement uncovered benchmarking results from a device model number BBF100-1. This original test result is available to see on the Geekbench.
Purely for reference, BlackBerry devices on Android tend to follow a pattern of model numbers. As an example, the BlackBerry Motion is BBD100-1 and the Black Edition KeyOne is BBB100-2.
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This test indicates a device powered by the new eight-core Snapdragon 660 processor with 6GB RAM. If accurate, and this is the next gen KeyOne, that would mean a device with a more powerful processor and more RAM, which should mean a faster, more efficient device.
Very little else is indicated anywhere. One thing we can be sure if is a big, long-lasting battery.
Both the KeyOne and Motion have focussed on being devices for productive people that need a phone they can use all day long without reaching for the charger. As such, the Motion has a 4,000mAh battery, while the KeyOne sports a 3,505mAh. We'd expect a minimum of 3,500mAh battery on the new one.
- Physical QWERTY keyboard
- Convenience Key is likely
In comments made to during CES (as reported by CrackBerry), BlackBerry's head of device portfolio confirmed that two of the devices launched this year will have physical keyboard-based designs. This all but confirms that the company is planning to launch a device like the KeyOne, improving areas that need improving to bring performance up to date.
From a design perspective, that suggests we should see something that looks very similar to the KeyOne, but with refined elements. Pointing out the obvious, that means we'll see a non-traditional ratio screen at the top, with a four-row QWERTY underneath.
There are a couple of other staples in recent BlackBerry Mobile design. One of those is the physical Convenience Key, which can be programmed as a shortcut to a number of specific functions or apps.
Another standard theme is a back panel that's nice to grip. The KeyOne has a soft-touch grippy plastic back covered in dimples, while the Motion's has a Kevlar-like weave that doesn't slip easily. It's another of those useful elements that makes it easy to use all day.
- Android Oreo
- Usual selection of BlackBerry apps
Software is another element we can be fairly sure on. Since it's 2018, and Oreo has been out now for a few months, it's safe to assume Android 8.0 or Android 8.1 will be present on the next KeyOne. As much is given away in the aforementioned GeekBench test.
Given that it is a BlackBerry device, and the company is know for its useful software additions, we can be sure to find the Hub, DTEK security app, Productivity Edge, Device Search and BBM among others.
- Unusual 4:3 ratio display
Given that this device is going to have a physical keyboard, that restricts the display somewhat. You're obviously not going to find a bezel-free 18:9 ratio display. Instead, we're likely to a screen similar in shape to the 4.5-inch 1080x1620 screen on the original KeyOne.
Being a new device with more internal power, we hope there's a boost in resolution, although at 433 pixels-per-inch, the IPS LCD display in the first model is more than adequate. Perhaps a switch to AMOLED to get a more contrast-full colour saturated screen would good.
Release date and price
- MWC launch is probable
- Launch a little later in Spring
It's been a year since we were given a first sneak peak at the KeyOne in Las Vegas during CES 2017. That means we can't be too far away from its successor being announced. Last year's was announced properly at MWC in Barcelona at the end of February, and we suspect the same will be true for the next KeyOne device.
BlackBerry has to be careful not to price people out of buying the KeyOne, and so the company can't charge top dollar for the device, especially given its mid-range specs. The sub £500 price point of the first one, we think, was just about right. We think it's likely to be a similar £450-£500 price this year too.