If you know about the BlackBerry KeyOne, you’ll already know the basics of the BlackBerry Key2. At first glance the phones are very similar, but there are some pleasing additions to the Key2 that make it a better phone.
It has thinner bezels, an extra camera, a much better keyboard and even – for the first time in a decade – a new key on that famous keyboard.
We had hands-on time with the BlackBerry Key2 before its launch. Here are our impressions.
BlackBerry Key2 price and availability
The BlackBerry Key2 is available to pre-order from 7 June. In the UK it retails for £569, £70 more than the initial RRP of the £499 KeyOne.
It’ll be available in both black and silver versions from launch and is to ship at the end of June.
BlackBerry Key2 design and build
First things first – the Key2 looks a lot like the KeyOne . There are enough differences to justify a new model, but yes, the look is similar. But hey, a BlackBerry has always been a BlackBerry and only the most hardened fans can tell any of the Bold and Curve phones from the 2000s apart.
With that out the way, the Key2 is an incredibly well-built phone. It feels solid, more so than the KeyOne did, and that phone was hardly a light touch. But the Key2 is hardier thanks to a rigid series 7 aluminium frame that intersects the keyboard and wraps the entirety of the device.
The 4.5in display reaches higher to the top making the forehead smaller, but it isn’t taller – it has budged up so that the keys of the updated keyboard can be 20% larger. It’s immediately noticeable and a good thing.
The keys are now matte rather than the glossy finish of the KeyOne. These taller matte keys are already better, but the clicky response is also excellent and a definite improvement. Even with not long to type on Key2, we know this a better keyboard already.
The keyboard set up, particularly on the silver version (it also comes in all black) bears more than a passing resemblance to the BlackBerry Passport Silver Edition, and BlackBerry Mobile told us in a briefing that this was on purpose. It also said that it modelled the tactile keys off the legendary Bold 9900. If this all means something to you, you’ll love the feel of the Key2.
The Key2 is in good company with its design heritage, and with bigger, matte, well-spaced keys that are now angled unlike the flat KeyOne keyboard, this is a subtle but huge improvement.
The volume, power and convenience keys are now all on the right side, and the space bar houses the fingerprint sensor. There’s also a new key where usually BlackBerry keyboards have the right side shift key. It’s called the speed key.
You can assign individual keys to launch specific apps, both short and long press. So you could tap T and open Twitter, for example. You used to have to go back to the home screen to launch these shortcuts, but the speed key changes that. Used like a shift key, hold it down and tap T, and you’ll flip to Twitter from anywhere in the OS.
We tested this, and it’s lightning fast with no clunky animations. The phone just zips to the app and is a massive time saver. BlackBerry fans will salivate, and if it sounds like a convoluted method it isn’t – it just works.
While the keyboard takes centre stage, there are also dual cameras for the first time on a BlackBerry, a new feel to the soft touch back and a thinner (8.5mm), lighter (168g) frame.
BlackBerry Key2 features and specs
The Key2 makes some decent improvements in the specs department too. The Snapdragon 660 is one of Qualcomm’s best processors to balance power efficiency and performance, and paired with 6GB RAM as standard means the Key2 is noticeably faster than the KeyOne right out the box.
There’s also now 64GB storage as standard. All these models will be single SIM with micro SD expansion (up to 256GB), though a 128GB dual SIM/SD version will also be available in the UK and other markets.
The display is the same 4.5in as on the KeyOne but still works well for the form factor. It’s Gorilla Glass 3 protected with a 1620×1080 resolution. This is not a phone for watching Netflix on or for intense gaming due to the odd 3:2 aspect ratio, but BlackBerry knows it and owns it in the way it expects you to use the phone.
The capacitive Android navigation buttons are still below the display and about the keyboard but are now lit when you need them instead of permanently marked.
Eye catching dual 12Mp cameras (f/1.8 and f/2.6) also bring portrait mode to a BlackBerry for the first time and is a small sign from the company that even though this is a productivity focussed device, it needs to get with the times considering it’s now pushing £600. We’ll check out how good these cameras are in our full review soon.
BlackBerry claims improved image stabilisation, a 2x optical zoom (we’ll see if it’s actually optical or just lossless zoom), and has Google Lens built in.
The keyboard still acts as a touch sensitive trackpad, and it seemed responsive and less jittery than the KeyOne tended to be, although our hands-on time was short. Key2 charges via USB-C, and retains the excellent boost mode that charges even faster via Quick Charge 3.0.
Battery life was one of the best features of the KeyOne, and the Key2 has a 3500mAh battery compared to the 3505mAh in the last phone. BlackBerry was very confident about the performance again here and claims no user will ever run out of battery during a full day of use, with most users easily going into a second day.
It also stated you’ll get 50% charge in 36 minutes. We’ll see, but battery life will be a key selling point of the phone along with the now unique keyboard.
There’s no waterproofing, but the faithful 3.5mm headphone jack remains with redesigned BB headphones in the box. Dual down facing HD speakers are welcome here too, with noise cancelling speakerphone.
BlackBerry Key2 software
With the KeyOne still stuck on Android Nougat, the Key2 has Oreo 8.1. BlackBerry are excellent at pushing frequent security patches from Google, and the Key2 also benefits from BlackBerry’s unique hardware root of trust function that is built directly into the phone’s processor.
As well as the DTEK app that gives you an overview of your on-device security, the Locker app returns with more features. You can hide apps entirely from the app drawer and store them only in the Locker app, accessible only by fingerprint or password. Photos, if taken with the fingerprint scanner space bar, will go directly under lock and key and not into the gallery or the cloud.
It’s a niche feature aimed at enterprise users, but there is some commercial appeal – BlackBerry used the example of hiding searches for presents for spouses, but a few jokes were made about browsing history and video files. But this is, again, a genuinely unique feature in smartphones and is well implemented in the software.
The hardware speed key works great with the software too, and keyboard shortcuts are front and centre of BlackBerry’s messaging for the phone. The company says it’s also working hard to ensure the shortcuts and speed key play nice with third party launchers – another improvement over KeyOne.
KeyOne (left) next to the Key2
You’ll also get BlackBerry Hub software, which we ended up turning off on the KeyOne simply because it made the whole phone run slower. But an app that collects and helps you manage all your notifications in one place is very much welcome and we hope that 6GB RAM will go some way to making Hub far more usable on Key2.