Monday, 16 July 2018

BlackBerry KEY2 review

Who better than blackberry would be able to successfully manufacture and market a smartphone in 2018 with a QWERTY keyboard, this is the BlackBerry key2 and it's the only smartphone on the market to have a fully equipped QWERTY physical keyboard. The Key2 comes as a refinement of its predecessor the Key1, so exactly how much has the Key2 improved over the Key1? Let's find out together.
BlackBerry KEY2 Official Image

Maybe those from a younger generation haven't seen or heard of a blackberry phone, but when you do see one regardless of how old you are you'll know it right away, the Key2 keeps the blackberry’s classic form factor some kind of display sitting above some kind of keyboard, we'll get back to the keyboard in just a little bit. The key2 has a really nice textured back on the phone which makes us wonder why other manufacturers aren't doing this, it improves grip and prevents the phone from sliding through smooth surface.
Inside BlackBerry KEY2 Box

Above the classic blackberry logo is a new dual camera which can do two times zoom and take portrait shots, at the top there's a 3.5 millimeter headphone jack which works great with the included earbuds, there are even extra replacement tips included in the box. All the key twos buttons are now on the right side a volume rocker, textured power key and BlackBerry's convenience key, the keys themselves feel very satisfying and click and feel just like the keyboard. This isn't any kind of keyboard though it was referenced after the BlackBerry Bold 9000 keyboard one of the best the phone maker has ever designed, so the key tooth buttons have really good feedback and it's typing accuracy has greatly improved, the keys themselves are a bit roomier than the key1 and the keys are now matte instead of queasy even the fingerprint scanner is matte, it's also quick and reliable for unlocking the phone.

The backlit keyboard looks awesome in the dark and we appreciate the disappearing capacitive navigation keys, we kind of wish this display was taller and the navigation buttons were on screen so it wouldn't need to use the awkward 3x2 aspect ratio.

There's definitely a relearning curve when coming from a virtual keyboard in fact it took me a few days to get back into the groove of typing on these keys, the downside to this keyboard is it makes doing things with one hand more difficult this is definitely a two-handed phone of course it's not entirely impossible to type with one hand if you're determined enough.

Moving on to the display, there's a 4.5 inch with a funky 3 by 2 aspect ratio and for resolution think of 1080p except the wider dimensions are cropped off, this aspect ratio makes it awkward to watch anything on the screen most videos are either 4x3 or 16x9 so you'll definitely see letterboxing either above or next to the video. What this display is good for is viewing documents, writing long emails and maybe scrolling through twitter, well what it's not good for is viewing Snapchat or Instagram stories the weird aspect ratio crops all the top and bottom ends of the stories you watch and the stories you create are also cropped on taller displays this just makes for a bad experience with all platform stories in general. The LCD does get fairly bright but out in direct sunlight visibility is just average, there's a tab that lives just on the edge of the display and this is a shortcut to the BlackBerry hub you can peek at your calendar, hub emails, tasks and contacts the hub is a fully customizable email client that also shows you most apps notifications, you can filter notifications by app and there are even options to snooze notifications so you can get back to them later which is pretty cool.

D-Tech is another great BlackBerry tool, it's a fully comprehensive security suite and what makes this different from the regular permission settings that come on Android is that you can receive alerts when an app has requested a sensitive permission, we haven't realized how often are actually pinging our location until we see it on D-Tech, two other blackberry specific features are privacy shade and redactor, privacy shade makes it harder for people with wandering eyes to peek at your messages while the redactor lets you block out sensitive information before sending a screenshot or showing something to somebody.

If you love shortcuts then you'll love this phone each of these letters on the keyboard can be programmed to a short or a long press shortcut for a total of 52 programmable shortcuts ranging from calling your boss to toggling Bluetooth, there's also a new button on the keyboard called the speed key this lets you access your keyboard shortcuts without having to go back to the home screen first think of it as a shortcut for your shortcuts and if you thought 52 shortcuts was not enough there's a contextual and programmable shortcut key called the convenience key, it's the one right below the power button and you can program this to perform any shortcut, what's awesome is you can set different shortcuts whether you're home, in your car or in a meeting, by this point we have to say we're impressed by the extensive customization that BlackBerry has thought to put into its phones.

Performance is much improved over the Key1, the Key2 runs so much quicker and smoother thanks to the snapdragon 660, not only this but BlackBerry has also doubled the amount of RAM to 6 gigabytes for better multitasking, casual games run perfectly fine on the key2, its landscape games that are really awkward to play on this phone and if you hold the phone with the keyboard to the left it's really easy to block the loudspeaker with your palm, so games on the Key2 not a really good idea.

This choice of processor won't win any benchmarks but its power efficiency along with the smaller display definitely helped the phones 3500 milliamp hour battery reach a great endurance score at 86 hours, the phone is quick charge 3 compatible and the included charger brought the phone up to 47% in half an hour of charging, if you want to charge it even quicker though you can choose to use boost mode so the phone's power draw is reduced while charging to really minimize charging time.

Finally we've reached the camera, this camera system is made up of dual 12 megapixel sensors this setup uses a combination of a wide lens and a telephoto lens for shooting up 2 time zoom and bouquet portrait shots. You would think that this dual camera could shoot better than the Key1 single sensor camera, but that's not the case, the cameras photos are only averaged, in fact the dynamic range was not good details are not very good either and some of the pictures have noticeable noise, colors are just a tad oversaturated and contrast is too high, this is not a good recipe for balanced exposure. The Key2 HDR mode uses image stacking to expose better and to reduce noise, but setting HDR to automatic resulted in softer looking images set HDR all the way on and the pictures are softened even more, HDR is meant to help dynamic range, but we found that the Key2 HDR mode was more of a hit or miss situation, we even found the white balance to be inconsistent between shots on occasion. If you take the phone inside you won't find any better looking images, details are progressively worse and HDR won't make it any better in indoor lighting, HDR will soften the image. So if you're trying to take a low-light shot we recommend you take it with HDR off and then use an editing tool to adjust exposure.

Portrait shots were surprisingly good just a tad bit oversaturated for our tastes otherwise the bouquet was pretty much spot-on, selfies are on a whole different level this is an 8 megapixel camera and it takes below average selfies. The white balance is even more consistent here than on the main camera and contrast is still high, colors are oversaturated still and the selfie camera eclipsed highlights very easily so it struggles with dynamic range in general.

Moving on to video it's not very good either foliage was quite dark in 1080P, so resulting details were no good, again this is due to poor dynamic range switch to 4k and there's noticeable improvement in details. We really think the Key2 could have benefited from optical image stabilization, there's an enhanced video stabilization mode but it's only offered in 1080p video, we would not recommend shooting 4k video handheld unless you're using something like the DJI Osmo or you have it set down on the tripod.

The Key2 is such an excellent Blackberry, it's keyboard is A+ the UI is vastly customizable and versatile and the battery lasts well a day or two,  this makes it the perfect phone for road warriors like real estate agents or field workers who need to be in constant communication.

We feel that the phone could have improved in two categories, the display could afford to be a little bit sharper and brighter while the camera on this phone should have just been the same one from the Key1, it was a bit slow but it took very respectable photos, so we understand the Key2 is not a phone for professional photographers, we expected the Key2 camera to be the same or better than the Key1 and we're sad to say that blackberry really dropped the ball here.

Still it was so refreshing to see a phone that wasn't trying to emulate any other smartphones notches or antenna lines, the Key2 is uniquely and unapologetically a blackberry and nothing else. You'll definitely find better value in another phone like the Oneplus 6 or even the honor U10 both starting at less than $600 and have way better dual camera setups, but again those who do end up buying this phone are so on the keyboard.

Blackberry is still climbing its way back up as it regains relevance in the smartphone market, so for now the brand and the product remain in a niche category, many people have moved on from physical keyboards years ago, but for those who'd rather not and frankly don't like to take many pictures, the BlackBerry Key2 is an excellent choice.

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