Back in the days before what seemed like an inevitable doom for BlackBerry, it was a company known for producing keyboarded smartphones for people of all walks of life. Whether you were a kid who wanted a pink Curve, a business man for whom anything but the most serious Business Bold 9900 was sub-par. Or even if you just wanted a regular phone-sized Pearl or a slide-up smartphone, BlackBerry had you covered.
Fast forward to earlier this year, BlackBerry Mobile launched the Key2; a slim, metal, professional follow up to the KeyOne, TCL's first regular BlackBerry-shaped phone running Android. That phone was clearly marked at serious power users who wanted something reliable, and something that looked serious and stylish. But it left a question? What about the BlackBerry of old that built phones in different styles, shapes and sizes. Would we ever see those days again?
Turns out, with the all new Key2 LE, there might just be something starting back up again.
- Four row keyboard
- Polished frets
- Plastic build and dimpled soft touch back
- Three colours - Champagne, Slate and Atomic
In designing the Key2 LE, BlackBerry Mobile was keen to produce something that was clearly still in the same family as the Key2, but with a more approachable all-round look. An aesthetic that wasn't quite as serious, or one that couldn't be perceived by some as being too masculine.
The end result is a phone that remains largely that same but with softer materials, and different colour options. There's no silver or black in sight. Instead we have Atomic (red/navy), Slate (grey-ish blue) and Champagne (soft gold/navy). We love the look of the gold model, but the Atomic is certainly striking, both in looks and name.
As you'd probably suspected, bringing the cost down was part of the aim with the LE, and so BlackBerry Mobile switched the aluminium chassis for a polycarbonate one. In the hand, it feels noticeably more comfortable than the regular Key2, thanks to a slightly different soft touch texture on the back, and edges that don't have the same right-angled finish. Of course, not being cold, flat metal helps too.
Another noticeable change is in the keyboard. It's still larger than the KeyOne's, but each key is roughly 10 per cent smaller than the Key2. What's more, again presumably to save costs and to make the phone more accessible for previous BlackBerry users, the keys don't feature a touch sensitive surface like the Key2, KeyOne and Priv did. Although there is still a fingerprint sensor built into the space bar.
We're happy to see the return of the slimmer polished frets between the rows of keys though. We feel it's a much better aesthetic than the thicker, matte front panel on the Key2.
Otherwise, it's largely the same as its higher-end sibling. It's got a Type C port and speaker grille on the bottom edge, the textured power/sleep button, volume rocker and Convenience Key on the right, and a headphone jack on the top.
Productivity focus remains
- 4.5-inch 1080 x 1620 display
- Snapdragon 636 processor
- 4GB RAM
- 3000 mAh battery
You'd think by producing a phone to be deliberately priced beneath its flagship, BlackBerry Mobile would skimp on specifications and performance. And you'd be right, to a certain extent. It's not as big a jump down as you might expect considering the difference in cost.
The front of the phone utilises the same 4.5-inch 1080 x 1620 resolution LCD panel, which seems accurate and sharp enough on first impressions, even if it didn't blow us away.
Inside, there's a Snapdragon 636 which - while less powerful than the processor in the Key2 - is still more powerful and efficient than the chip that was inside last year's KeyOne. Similarly, there's 4GB RAM and either 32GB or 64GB of storage. In other words, given the display resolution and the experience we had with the KeyOne, this phone should help you get things done without so much as a whimper.
Similarly, the 3,000mAh battery inside is 500mAh less than the Key2's, but still promises up to 22 hours of mixed use from a full charge. Like its flagship counterpart, the LE will easily get you through even the most demanding of days. Light users might even get two days from it.
What's more, BlackBerry has upgraded its power intelligence feature that reminds you when you need to charge your phone based on your own usage patterns. Rather than just look at your charging/usage patterns, the new updated version also takes your calendar into account. That means, if it knows you have a spare hour or two in a busy day and that your battery is not likely to make it to bed time, it'll show you a reminder to plug the phone in during that spare time.
With Quick Charge 3.0 support, it tops up quickly too. Just half an hour plugged in is just about enough to half fill the battery from empty.
Ok, Google that's Convenient...
- Programmable Convenience Key
- Google Assistant integration
If you watched or read our BlackBerry Key2 Tips and Tricks, you'll have seen that we recommended using the Convenience Key as a Google Assistant button. With the ability to use shortcuts on the QWERTY keys, it seemed the most logical option. It seems, with the LE, BlackBerry Mobile agrees.
The Key2 LE is launching with a tighter integration of Google Assistant, and you'll be able to use three different Convenience Key presses to activate three different GA functions.
Firstly, a single click will launch the Google Assistant as normal. Second is a long press which activates "walky talky" mode which, launches Google Assistant in its ready-to-listen state, so you don't need to wait for it to prompt you to give a command. Let go of the button, and it knows you're done.
Lastly, you can double tap the Convenience Key to launch Google Lens. For those unaware, this is Google's AI-powered camera feature that allows you to translate words, or find out information on objects by recognising them and producing relavant app actions.
Secure apps and clones
- Android Oreo
- Dual apps
From a software perspective, the Key2 LE runs largely the same operating system as the original Key2. That's to say it's Android Oreo with BlackBerry suite of apps and features. This includes elements like the Hub for managing notifications, DTEK app for monitoring security elements, Notes, Tasks, Calendar and more.
There are a couple of new additions here though. We've mentioned Google Assistant activation and Battery management already, but there's one extra thing that's now part of the system and, incidentally, will also be making its way to the Key2 via software update in the near future. That feature: app cloning.
For messaging apps that support it, you can create a cloned version of the app. Similar to what we've seen from the likes of Huawei and OnePlus, except BlackBerry's method of creating the clones is far easier. Rather than dive into the depths of the settings menu, you just long press on an app icon, drag it to the top of the screen and let go over the "Clone" tap, et voila, you have two versions of the same app.
This can be really useful if you have work and personal accounts you want to keep separate. What's particularly useful, is that you can also lock individual apps behind fingerprints/passwords using the secure locker. So if you need your work conversations kept private, you can choose to just have the cloned version of the app stuck behind the password/fingerprint scan.
Camera as an after thought?
- 13MP + 5MP dual camera
- LED flash
BlackBerry has always been about getting things done, with a device that won't let you down and comfortably lasts you even your most demanding days. It's not ever been lauded for its camera performance.
With the Key2, the camera was decent enough, at least in daylight. For the LE model, there's a lower quality pair of sensors on the back. This time, there's a 13-megapixel main sensor and 5-megapixel secondary depth sensor. Sadly, no telephoto lens for 2x "optical zoom", but you do still get blurred background effects in Portrait Mode.
On the whole, there's a lot to like about the Key2 LE. It somehow feels more comfortable to hold and use than its more expensive sibling and, while there is some cost cutting done in some places, it's not to the detriment of the overall experience.
The £349 price is significantly cheaper than the original Key2, and certainly one worth considering if you have a hankering for a great physical keyboard, long battery life and don't want to spend the £579 required to buy the slightly more powerful Key2.