One Week With the BlackBerry KEYone

Well, I’ve had a week with the BlackBerry KEYone. Here are my thoughts.

I know most people wait until they get to the end of their “review” and give their opinion. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to give it first. Are you ready for it? I love this phone. Right now, it is my top pick for favorite BlackBerry, and therefore, favorite phone.

Realistically though, I tend to get excited about new things. Often at times, my excitement bleeds over to friends and family who get tired of hearing about it, and then will provide a joke or two at my expense when I’ve moved on to being even more excited about my next gadget. So let’s look at a few of the individual parts of the phone.

KEYone Keyboard:

You can’t not talk about the keyboard on this phone. It’s what excites BlackBerry and former BlackBerry users. It’s what has led to much derision from slab phone users on previous BlackBerry phones. Strangely enough, we seem to be getting primarily positive responses about this phone.

I’ve shown my KEYone to many of my iPhone toting friends. Trust me, I am surrounded by iPhone users. In the past, my choice in BlackBerry has been met with contempt from these users. This time, the responses are much different. Many are curious, all are shocked when shown what the keyboard can actually do, and a few have even begrudgingly shown interest.

But I’m a BlackBerry user. I’m not new to a physical keyboard. I’m not even new to BlackBerry’s capacitive keyboard or the ability to map shortcuts to that keyboard. Those things that may just shock and awe user’s of other phone makers aren’t what I’m looking at. Not at this point. What I’m looking at is comfort. Strictly comfort. And this phone wins. Hands down.

Now, there’s a few things I do prefer from previous handsets keyboards over the KEYone.

I miss the Chiclet keys. Yes. I said it. I actually prefer the keyboards of older, less premium devices, like the Curves and the Q5. My first BlackBerry was a Curve and I instantly fell in love with those keyboards. But realistically, they were not as attractive. Not by a longshot. And I’m sure I’m in the minority as far as my love for them.

The keys on the KEYone are glossy. They look to have a thick clear coat over them. Enough that if you look closely from the bottom of the phone, you can see the letter’s doubling up as if through glass. From a durability point of view, I think that’s probably a good thing. I don’t imagine we’ll be seeing letters rub off on these keys. However, I prefer the flat style keys we’ve seen before on the Classic and Priv.

Those two phones, the Classic and Priv had two very similar, and very dissimilar keyboards. Confusing isn’t it? The over all size of the keyboard was nearly identical, however the Classic has very sculpted keys and a great click to it’s keyboard. The Priv was much more shallow in it’s design, of course, because of the slider, and it’s keys were more mushy. I know the Priv took a lot of flack for it’s keyboard. Personally, I loved the keyboard. I could fly on the Priv keyboard with amazing speed and accuracy. I believe faster than on the Classic to be honest. The Keyone really falls between the Priv and Classic to me. The keys are much more sculpted than the Priv, yet not as sharp as the Classic. The click is near perfect. There is less of a click than the Classic, but so much more than the Priv.

In short, the KEYone’s keyboard being neither too hard nor too soft, would be the keyboard which Goldilocks would choose.

The Screen:

The screen of the KEYone was a concern. For about an hour. All of us old time BlackBerry users were at one time used to the tiny screens of the old BBOS phones. But that changed when BB10 came about. We could have a full screen experience with a BlackBerry OS that was actually meant to be full screen. Sure, we had the option for the Storm and Torch before, but come on, even that wasn’t really a full experience. BB10 was, and was great on the full screen. Still some of us, chose phones with smaller screens. I was one of them. I used both a Q5 and a Classic for some time. By choice. And I loved my time on each. But there’s no denying that I felt what was missing. While I was gaining what I wanted in terms of form factor, I was also giving up something else I wanted which was screen size. There was a compromise being made there. And looking back on it now, it was quite a painful compromise.

The BlackBerry Passport gave us a physical keyboard phone, with a big screen. A big square screen. And there was some big wins with this phone. A spacious keyboard, which has now spoiled many people who think any other keyboard is too small, and a large square screen. The square screen allowed for some amazing tricks as far as content creation and document viewing. As far as media consumption, I didn’t have an issue with the square screen. Even letterboxed videos were plenty large enough to see. But I’m going to be honest, and this may sound like sacrilege to some. I wouldn’t go back to the Passport form factor. Every phone I’ve used since the Passport, has made me miss the Passport a little less. The Classic, the Leap, the Priv, and now the KEYone, all brought a level of physical comfort I never felt with my Passport. I still have my Passport, and I love it for the beast of a phone that it was, but it will never see an active SIM again. And before you say that’s OS based, my second SIM is currently in my BB10 powered BlackBerry Leap.

Now, moving on to the BlackBerry Priv gave me a nice, big, bright screen. And I loved it. I didn’t care for the curved edges, but I lived with it. When I switched from my Priv to my KEYone, it was noticeably smaller, and I was noticeably worried. What was I giving up? Did I need to give it up?

Honestly, I completely forgot about it inside of an hour. The screen is large enough that you can have a BBM conversation without scrolling each time to see what you missed. Watching videos is easy on the eyes. None of my apps are shrunk down in any noticeable fashion, and nothing is hanging off the edge. And you’ll really notice a win, in that the BlackBerry physical keyboard is actually shorter on the phone than slab phone’s virtual keyboard, meaning, when entering text, the KEYone has more screen real estate than a like sized slab phone. There really are no compromises with this screen.

The Camera:

Sorry folks, this will be short. I’m not much of a photographer. I typically use my phone for snapshot reminders. For me it’s easier to just snap a quick photo than to make myself a note. I do plan on giving the camera a run for it’s money, but I’ve only had the phone a week, and haven’t really had the opportunity yet.

I can tell you, I keep finding myself doing a double take at those quick snapshots. I’m used to these photos being fairly bad shots. Not out of any weakness of the camera on any of the phones, but because I’m not putting any effort in to it. They’re reminders. I don’t wait for focus, I don’t worry about framing or lighting, I just snap a pic and move on. With the KEYone camera, I find myself discovering quite often, that these are extremely crisp and clear photos. I’m not much of a photographer at all, but the KEYone may just push me into being one.

The Speaker:

This ain’t no Passport my friends. There’s no point in denying that. The Passport was by far the best sounding BlackBerry I have over owned with it’s very loud, very clear, stereo speakers. I have heard, although not with my own ears, that the Z30 was even better than the Passport. There is no competition with the KEYone, but at the same time, I’ve never heard any other phone that was competition for the Passport. The sound is crisp, and is loud enough. I have no problem hearing a YouTube video, or having a phone call over the speakerphone, even while driving in a car. But if you’re an audiophile and plan on using the KEYone as your primary music source, use a speaker or headphones.

KEYone

The Design:

I keep coming back to this. This phone is beautiful. I keep calling it ‘classy-industrial” which are two things that really shouldn’t go together. There are a few things that keep drawing my eye to them.

The top of the phone is all industrial, all business. The flat top with the headphone jack that can’t be missed, although I really wish that was centered, but I’m a bit neurotic that way. The openings in the metal are no frills function over form. The camera lens, proximity sensor, speaker and RGB LED all have very different cutouts, for very different purposes. While this should be another trigger for my neurotic tendencies, it’s not.

The metal ring around the phone. This is classic BlackBerry design. It’s the Classic Bold styling of BlackBerry. (see what I did there?) But there’s something different to it. It’s not a glossy finish, which I really appreciate. I much prefer the matte. And it’s not the flat band styling of yesteryear. Now, I kind of wish it was. I liked that flat metal band. I liked it a lot. However, this rounded edge seems to be getting a lot of positive traction from my non-BlackBerry using friends, so I’m thinking it’s helping to win some people over. On top of that, the rounded edge is much more comfortable in the hand. Surprisingly comfortable.

The frets. I’ve always loved the frets in the BlackBerry Bold style of keyboard. Granted, they don’t really serve a purpose, but they look great. And the KEYone takes the design of the frets a step further by doing something which is very easily missed. The frets are cut in to that outer band. I’m sure it would have been much easier to just but the frets and the band into one another, but BlackBerry Mobile did not take the easy way out. This is one minimal design feature that is nothing but beauty.

The camera. I’m not talking about how it works. I’m talking about how it looks! There is no missing the camera on the KEYone. It seems that many manufacturers are going for the minimal approach to the camera. Just a small glass lens. I remember not too long ago that Apple was having an issue with the fact that their camera actually protruded from the back of the phone. Gasp! Not BlackBerry. This camera is a beast and they aim to show it off. This is an unapologetic design decision that makes the camera look like it is there for business. And it is.

The OS:

The KEYone is the second phone to be running BlackBerry’s version of Nougat, the first being the Aurora from BB Merah Putih. But I’ve never actually seen that phone, so this is my first experience with BlackBerry’s version of Nougat.

I’d expect anyone expecting a world of difference from Marshmallow to Nougat would be disappointed. It’s just not that different. Not to me anyway. Sure, some of the menus are different, and notifications look slightly different. But it’s still Android, and it was Android before. I feel like there was a bigger jump from Lollipop to Marshmallow than from Marshmallow to Nougat. I’m sure there are many Android fans out there that could tell me just how wrong I am, and I wouldn’t argue the point. But I’m not someone that prioritizes specs over function, and I’m not someone that digs into every menu looking for every last trick. I’m concerned about my user experience and comfort, and I’m just not seeing that much of a difference.

There is really only one difference that I greatly appreciate, and that is the ability to quick reply using BBM. Now, it feels so much more like BB10. We had the ability to quick reply to text messages on Marshmallow, but I simply don’t text message much at all, and when I did, I just found myself wishing that I could do it with BBM. Now I can. And that’s a good thing.

Comfort:

This is what it all comes down to. My comfort. My ability to do what I want to do, easily. I’ve got to say, this phone is the big winner.

Before the KEYone, I’d say the most comfortable phone I’ve ever held in hand was the BlackBerry Classic. Now, without a doubt, I’d say it is the KEYone. The KEYone feels like it was designed for my hand. While the Priv was never uncomfortable, it often times just felt a little too long. That’s definitely not the case with the KEYone. It’s the perfect height. I can comfortably type one handed, and can fly using both hands. Although the phone is thin, it doesn’t feel too thin. There is just the right amount of heft to the device so that you feel like you have a quality device in your hand, instead of some fragile play-thing.

The BlackBerry Mobile KEYone brings all the various best aspects from previous phones into one gorgeous package. The KEYone runs smooth, and has the fastest reboot cycle of any BlackBerry I’ve ever used. The current BlackBerry Android and accompanying apps allow me to utilize BlackBerry Android as I’ve used every BlackBerry phone before it. Oh, and there is access to the Google Play Store, so there’s apps. All the apps. If that’s what you’re in to. It has the classic BlackBerry four row keyboard, that is capacitive like the Passport and Priv before it. There’s a great looking screen, that does not leave you wanting for more, yet the phone is as perfectly balanced and comfortable to use as previous Bolds and Classics. Oh, and it just happens to have the best camera we’ve seen on a BlackBerry. This phone is a winner, and is currently my favorite BlackBerry, with good reason. Until the next one that is.

Brad

Founder & Owner of UTB Blogs. Former BlackBerry Elite. When I'm not talking or writing about BlackBerry, you'll find me using my BlackBerry.

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