The BlackBerry KEYOne: A New Productivity Smartphone

BlackBerry recently announced that TCL are now responsible for the design and manufacture of all new BlackBerry-branded models. TCL have just announced the first BlackBerry-branded smartphone of their sole design and it’s called the BlackBerry KEYOne. For years, BlackBerry used to be synonymous with security and productivity on a mobile device and their handsets included features that other manufacturers and platforms were unable to match. This meant push email and standard Microsoft Office productivity software. The BlackBerry KEYOne was previewed at the Consumer Electronics SHow, Las Vegas, in early January 2017 and officially announced at the Mobile World Congress in late February. Let’s take a look at the BlackBerry KEYOne.

The BlackBerry KEYOne looks both familiar to BlackBerry fans but also has a few differences. Firstly, this is the first Android-powered BlackBerry with a fixed-in-place hardware keyboard occupying the lower part of the smartphone. BlackBerry’s earlier PRIV smartphone had a slider mechanism that kept the keyboard hidden when not in use. As with other modern BlackBerry keyboards, this one is touch sensitive, meaning it can be used as a trackpad to navigate about the operating system and applications. The keyboard also includes a built-in fingerprint scanner on the space bar, which is arguably a more elegant feature than adding a sensor somewhere else on the device.

Above the keyboard there’s a 4.5-inch high resolution LCD panel of 1,620 by 1,080 pixel resolution, giving the device a 3:2 aspect ratio. Under the skin there’s a modern, mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 backed up by 3GB of RAM, 32GB of local storage and a microSD card. There’s a 12MP main camera on the back plus a front facing camera for video calling and selfies. The BlackBerry KEYOne also runs Android 7.1 Nougat out of the box and it will be receiving Google’s security patches on a regular basis too, as other BlackBerry devices plus the Nexus and Pixel devices currently do. Finally, there’s a high capacity 3,505mAh battery and a USB Type-C charger port, which should give the BlackBerry KEYOne both a long battery life and fast recharging. As it stands, the new BlackBerry KEYOne uses mid-range and prudent hardware. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 is built on a small 14nm process, which means it should both sip battery and offer a respectably smooth running speed.

However, the BlackBerry KEYOne is much more than the hardware: the software is important. BlackBerry use what they describe as a hardened Android platform, which is compatible with the Google Play Store and over a million third party applications. The operating system uses a lightweight skin over stock Android, including BlackBerry’s own launcher. BlackBerry incorporate several security-conscious applications and features as part of the operating system such as security-monitor, DTEK, and of course the device is encrypted as standard (this is a feature of Android rather than BlackBerry). There’s the BlackBerry Hub, which is an application designed to bundle all of your notifications into the one place, as owners of the classic BlackBerry devices will have seen. The BlackBerry Hub can pull in calls, texts, emails, social network notifications and more, such as application and operating system updates, into the one place. The BlackBerry Hub is an optional feature and can be turned off if necessary. Other features include the ability to quick-launch applications by holding down a key, which is borrowed from former BlackBerry devices. For example, holding down the ‘g’ key may be assigned to launching Gmail and this shortcut works almost everywhere in the operating system.

The BlackBerry KEYOne is expected to be available from mid-April 2017 and will cost $550. For the dollars, customers will be buying a well made, solid device offering a mid-range hardware specification and a device that concentrates on getting stuff done. For the hardware keyboard users of yesteryear, the BlackBerry KEYOne may be a very successful device. Let’s hope the BlackBerry and TCL launch goes well and we see more devices in the coming months.

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