The BlackBerry Key2 arrives with dual cameras and a refined look

BlackBerry has officially announced the Key2, its sequel to
last year’s KeyOne. It’s a midrange smartphone with the
company’s iconic physical keyboard. The Key2 looks a lot like
its predecessor, except TCL — which makes most BlackBerry
phones now — has slimmed down the top bezel and made space for
slightly wider keys. The navigation buttons on top of the
keyboard are now backlit as well, so they disappear when not in
use, making the screen look bigger than it is.

The Key2 also slims down the chunkier and industrial-looking
KeyOne. From far away it could almost pass for a Samsung Galaxy
Note 8, but one look at its physical keyboard, and you know
it’s a BlackBerry. That’s what the brand is counting on to push
sales. BlackBerry’s senior vice president Alain Lejeune said in
a statement that TCL’s goal had been to “capture all the traits
that have made BlackBerry smartphones iconic, while introducing
new innovations and experiences,” which mostly come through
software.

Still, even if the Key2 is “the most advanced BlackBerry
smartphone ever,” it hasn’t moved far from the past. The Key2
has a 4.5-inch LCD screen with a 3:2 aspect ratio,
just like its predecessor
. When you use either phone, it’s
a trade-off between screen space for streaming shows or playing
games and the keyboard for sending emails. The screen real
estate dilemma grows worse if you prefer a virtual keyboard at
times, especially for entering symbols like & and {}, which
aren’t offered on the physical keyboard.

But while BlackBerry didn’t do anything new with the phone’s
size and screen, it did add a highly advertised extra camera on
the rear of the phone. The Key2 has dual 12-megapixel cameras,
one with an aperture of f/1.8 and one with a f/2.6 that provide
Portrait Mode and faster autofocus. The front 8-megapixel
camera has slow-motion and panorama modes as well as the
ability to record 1080p video at 30 fps. Its camera specs rival
more expensive flagships like the iPhone 8 Plus, although they
fall slightly short compared to the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 or
S9’s lower aperture lenses.

Another aspect where the BlackBerry Key2 shines is battery
life. The Key2 has the same big 3,500mAh battery seen in the
KeyOne that should get you through two days of use.

BlackBerry decided to remove the extra right shift key and
replace it with a “speed” key, which resembles an app launcher
and lets you set specific keys as shortcuts. For example, you
can set it up the so that “I” opens up Instagram. Then when you
press I, while holding onto the speed key, Instagram opens.
This can be done for any of the 52 keys on the physical
keyboard.

The spacebar still doubles as a camera shutter key and as a
fingerprint sensor. The Key2 also lets you use the entire
keyboard as a touchpad, which can be used mainly for scrolling
webpages. Now, you can gesture on the keyboard to scroll
through pages; just be careful not to press down on any keys.

The Key2 keeps the 3.5mm headphone jack on the top left, and
places the power button and volume controls on the right side.
The phone also keeps the “convenience key” seen on the KeyOne,
which is an extra button on the right that can be programmed
with a shortcut. (That makes a total of 53 programmable keys.)

Some of the BlackBerry Key2’s more interesting updates can be
found in its security apps, Dtek, Locker, and Power Center.
(These software updates will also roll out to the KeyOne.)
BlackBerry spokespeople told me that while these security
updates had been in development long before
Cambridge Analytica
, they were even more necessary at a
time like this. Dtek, in addition to being able to offer
information about your operating system and security, can now
tell you what permissions each app has received and detect if
an app is acting strangely.

The Locker mode, which started as a BlackBerry Motion
exclusive, came to the KeyOne last December as part of a
monthly security update. Now on the Key2, it will come
preinstalled. In addition to being a place for you to store
fingerprint-protected private photos and files, it’s now a hub
for you to store private apps and access Firefox Focus,
Mozilla’s private browser.

Finally, Power Center will learn your charging habits. So if it
figures out that you usually charge your phone at 10PM every
night, if you skip a night, it will warn you and tell you how
much time you have left before you’re low on battery.

The rest of the Key2’s specs are slight improvements to the
KeyOne. The Key2 runs Android Oreo out of the box and is
powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660, which is typical for
midrange phones right now. Both RAM and internal storage have
been doubled to 6GB of memory and storage options of 64GB and
128GB. The Key2 starts at $649 for the basic storage option and
starts shipping globally this month. It comes in black or gray.

I can only envision that you’d use this phone if you
love your physical keyboard
like you enjoy the satisfying
clack of a mechanical keyboard or typewriter, or if you’re
nostalgic for the 2000s and also happen to be paranoid about
security. The question remains: are any of you BlackBerry fans
still out there?

Correction June 7th, 10:59AM ET:
This story initially said the Key2’s power button was on
the left side of the phone. It is actually on the right
side.

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