The Nokia 3310 may have induced a sense of nostalgia at MWC 2017, but it isn’t the only one to do so. BlackBerry was the first one to sort of go back to its roots with the KEYone smartphone. The KEYone brings back the display and physical keypad combination that BlackBerry has always been known for. I spent some time with the new smartphone at the ongoing MWC 2017, and here are my first impressions.
The BlackBerry KEYone (codenamed ‘Mercury’) has been manufactured by TCL Communications Technology, which now owns the global rights to build and sell BlackBerry-branded phones. The smartphone was briefly teased at CES 2017 back in January, and was official launched at MWC 2017. If there’s one word to describe the BlackBerry KEYone, it would be ‘retro’. Just like the BlackBerry of the old, the KEYone features a display, and a physical QWERTY keypad on the front. The build quality is solid, and the smartphone oozes premiumness from all angles. The sides are curved while the upper and lower edges are flat. The metal body makes the smartphone a tad slippery to hold, but at the back is a faux leather back panel that offers decent grip. ALSO READ: Nokia 3310 hands-on and first impressions
The QWERTY keypad takes you back in time in a manner ofspeaking, and is clearly one of the talking points of the new smartphone. For those who have used the BlackBerry Passport, this keypad will feel familiar. But forothers it will take a bit of time to get used to typing on a keypad after years of using on-screen keyboards. The build quality of the keypad is good, and there’s a nice ‘clickety’ feel to the individual keys. Besides acting as a traditional keyboard, the keypad on the KEYone is also capacitive. So basically you can drag your fingers over the keyboard to flick words onto the screen. ALSO READ: LG G6 hands-on and first impressions
The spacebar doubles up as a fingerprint sensor for the KEYone, and the keypad can be customized to fire up different apps. For example, you can program the key ‘I’ to open your email inbox on a long press or the letter ‘M’ to open Maps. It’s fun to return to typing on a keypad, but it does a take a bit of time getting used to it.
With a combination of touchscreen display and keypad, BlackBerry is offering an experience that is rare in today’s era of Android smartphones that pretty much look the same. Speaking of which, the BlackBerry KEYone runs on Android 7.1.1 Nougat out-of-the-box. Unsurprisingly, you get apps like BBM, BBM Hub preloaded on the smartphone. Like the recent BlackBerry smartphones, the KEYone too comes with the DTEK app, which essentially monitors the phone to grade you on all of the security features you’ve enabled. It also monitors your camera, microphone, location data and personal information to make sure that these features aren’t being tapped into by hackers.
Over the keypad is a 4.5-inch display with a resolution of 1620×1080 pixels and aspect ratio of 3:2. In the short time I spent with the smartphone, the display looked bright and sharp. Under the glare of the spotlights, the display was quite legible, and viewing angles were good as well. ALSO READ: Moto G5, G5 Plus hands-on and first impressions
Under the hood is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 625 SoC paired with 3GB of RAM. The choice of chipset is a tad surprising to say the least, especially when you consider that the KEYone is priced at $549 (Rs 36,700 approximately). That said, in the short time I spent with the smartphone, performance was smooth, even with multiple apps open in the background. We will however reserve our judgement till we closely look at the performance over a longer time frame in our review.
For photography, the KEYone is equipped with a 12-megapixel back camera with dual-LED flash, and an 8-megapixel front-facing camera for selfies. The rear camera comes with a Sony IMX378 sensor, PDAF and EIS support, and f/2.0 aperture. The selfie features f/2.2 aperture, 1.125um pixel size, and 84-degree field of view. The bad lighting conditions at the demo booth made it impossible to really test either of the cameras, and we will again reserve our verdict till we have tested the cameras for a longer time in different lighting conditions.
Making sure everything ticks is a 3,505mAh battery, which the company claims is good enough to last a day. Courtesy of a USB Type-C port, the KEYone supports Quick Charge 3.0 that should help in charging the smartphone’s battery to up to 80 percent in about half hour. ALSO READ: Nokia 3 hands-on and first impressions
To sum up, the KEYone is an interesting smartphone that promises a lot of things. But you get the feeling that it is too-little-too-late for BlackBerry. Despite a solid build quality, and Android OS onboard, the choice of SoC and the steep pricing are likely to big turn offs. Current smartphones priced close to Rs 40,000 offer much more and the BlackBerry KEYone will find it difficult to compete against some of the high-end Android devices. We will take a closer look at the KEYone in our review, so stay tuned.