BlackBerry is back and I'm both optimistic and cautious

BlackBerry Key2
BlackBerry Key2 (Image credit: Android Central)

If you're a regular reader of Android Central or happen to catch one of my Twitter posts, you might know I'm a big BlackBerry fan. The "new" BlackBerry version two where Android was the operating system of choice even more so than the original. I get the modern convenience of Android and the physical keyboard I love all in one device.

That's why I was excited when we first got the news that BlackBerry, OnwardMobility, and FIH Mobile (the company that manufactured the BlackBerry Passport and Classic) got together to bring BlackBerry back from the dead again. For me, the BlackBerry Key2 from TCL and BlackBerry was the best Android phone and had everything a phone I could design for myself included. That changed when someone, somewhere decided to forget to update it past Android Oreo.

Later versions of Android have been largely focused on security and privacy and critical (for me, anyway) options like the one-time permission for location sharing were long overdue and a must-have feature. Once Android 10 came around, I had to retire the Key2 that I really liked.

My Key2 still runs perfectly. It's just stuck on an old version of the software.

Part of my mind is really hoping BlackBerry and OnWardMobility will remake the Key2 (a Key3?) or a revamped BlackBerry Priv that was actually great to type on and price it reasonably as well as keep the damn thing updated as TCL and BlackBerry did with their phones at first. Another part of my mind is almost certain that none of this will happen.

The folks at OnWardMobility certainly seem optimistic, as you would imagine. The news even brought CrackBerry Kevin Michaluk and the rest of the CrackBerry crew together to talk with OnWardMobility CEO Peter Franklin during a special edition podcast about the news and OnWardMobility's plans for the BlackBerry brand. Watching brought back some memories and got that hopeful side of my brain in high gear.

I have to put aside my hopes, though. An Android phone that carries a BlackBerry name and has BlackBerry's signature feature, the physical keyboard, doesn't have a lot of appeal for most people. Something more has to be there if OnWardMobility wants to sell enough phones to be successful. Franklin says timely updates are very much part of the plan and the story, but you can get those from a Pixel phone — another brand that isn't successful.

You need only look at Samsung to see what sells.

Any Android phone has to look at the giant that is Samsung for inspiration when designing a phone people will buy. The display matters, the camera matters, the build quality matters. Security and a physical keyboard don't matter very much except for a few people like myself.

OnWardMobility is doing one thing very right — asking the remaining BlackBerry diehards what they want to see in a new phone. There aren't hundreds of millions of BlackBerry fans like there was 10 years ago, but there may be enough to offer an incentive to make this business venture successful. And if OnWardMobility can find a way to get the attention and dollars of new BlackBerry customers, it could turn from successful to lucrative.

None of this is easy. Ask anyone who used or still uses the BlackBerry Key2 — it is a well-built phone that does everything promised. It also didn't sell enough to keep TCL and BlackBerry Mobile interested in continuing production or support. The feedback from its predecessor, the KeyOne, was considered and addressed but it wasn't enough.

I'm optimistic, but I'm very cautious.

We don't know where the breakdown happened, but we do know that nobody outside of smartphone enthusiasts even knew there was a "new" BlackBerry out there, and those that did know just didn't care enough to spend their money. These are the hurdles that OnWardMobility will face and there is no telling if they will be able to overcome them.

I'm already certain that I'll buy the newest BlackBerry once its available. I know a few of you will, too. But I don't know if enough people will buy one to make this thing work. I'm both optimistic and cautious.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • A well built BlackBerry slider with great screen size and keyboard like the Passport would be a winner if it had killer specs. Desiign, build, and sell it at a price point that a phone of that caliber warrants.
  • A slider is the only way to appeal to slabbers who just won't give up their precious "screen real estate" for the typing experience
  • A guarantee by BlackBerry Ltd (not the new 3rd party manufacturer) of 2 OS updates and 3 years of monthly security updates. Anything less is a deal killer for me. Even at that, it will be hard to leave my Pixel 4xl, but I may go back if they get it right.
  • They'll need to match Samsung (and Google on the OS) with 3 letter upgrades to the OS and 4 yrs of security patches, afterall what good is a secure device if you can't use after a short period.
  • A start up company out of the blue may not immediately match Google or Samsung's software support since those companies have billions of cash laying around, but it CAN be better than TCL if it can bring 3 full years of software updates even if the third year is quarterly, and 2 OS upgrades would be nice.
    Remember, the $650 KEY2 didn't even get ONE of those
  • Yes not even 1 letter upgrade - how pathetic and TCL isn't a small startup. That a start-up would have difficulty matching Samsung and Google on OS updates highlights how much harder it is to enter this crowded market. We'll soon find out what this phone looks like and how the market reacts to it.
  • All good things must come to an end. Blackberry is a device of the past. People just need to let it go same as we did with palm pilots. It's over. Just my $0.02
  • If it wasn't for blackberry,modern cellphones wouldn't exist
  • Agreed. Plus I've lived through many broken promises from Blackberry. I'm done with them.
  • If you want that keyboard though, there isn't much choice on the market. All the other manufacturers are churning nothing but slabs
  • If you want that keyboard though, you don't really have much choice. Other manufacturers churn out nothing but slabs
  • It's the device of the past for slabbers like you, keep tapping on glass. I'm glad they're still around to offer that tactile experience that no other manufacturer is providing...too busy slapping 4 or more camera lenses on their phones.
  • Great article I share the same feelings. The CEO of Onward although enthusiastic and seems like a nice guy didn't convince me he was convinced this would work. The kind of device he was talking about won't be cheap and he needs more involvement from BBLtd so that government and business take Onward seriously - corporate America won't drop their Samsung and Apple phones on start-up that may not be there in 12 months. It was also mentioned a new keyboard would be developed, I think that would be a fatal mistake because the main reason you buy a BB device is because of the proprietary keyboard refined over many years.
  • I would have bought a Key2 if it worked/was whitelisted on Verizon. Instead, VZW offered the Key2 LE which, in my opinion, was inferior to the true Key2. Make a good phone and get VZW to recognize it and I would buy a BB in a heartbeat.
  • I got my KEY2 (not LE) working on Verizon Wireless. A bit of a challenge, but definitely possible.
  • I am so excited. I've missed the convenience of a physical keyboard. If they put out a new BlackBerry, I will absolutely try it out and maybe even consider buying it.
  • I had the Key2, it was a great phone but too small. Reviewers and Reddit loves to say they want small phones. But large phones sell. They need a Galaxy Note 20 Ultra sized Key2
  • I'm super optimistic and fired up and even though I just finished setting up my Pixel 4a, I am buying one (or two) of the new Blackberry when it comes out! American made is a fantastic idea!
  • The tech world is a better place with BlackBerry back in the game. Although I likely won't buy one, I hope they succeed.
  • Meh, I've moved on from the need to have a physical keyboard on my phone. Sure, I liked my Bold 9700, but I really don't see myself going back to a small screen just for a keyboard. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • You can always look at it from the other way around: I won't go back to no keyboard just to have a bit more screen
  • First of all saying "no keyboard" is not really correct because it will still have a keyboard, just not a physical one. And we're not talking about a "bit" of screen but nearly a 50% difference. Once you watch a movie at home on a 65" screen, very few people would be satisfied to go back to a 32" screen. So few people want, or need, a physical keyboard that I am convinced that that is what destroyed BB sales.
  • Same set of 0.001% of the people get excited about blackberry and as usual they will be disappointing. Don't see it changing this time as well IMO.
  • I was a BlackBerry customer for nearly a decade, had several devices, including the ill fated PlayBook. I loved the BlackBerry 10 OS and even their hardware. The potential was clearly there. A lot of talented people used to work at that company. All stupidly wasted. But there was always something lacking. The lack of promotion and a clear marketing strategy, the lack of support and care for their own products, an inconsistency in the treatment of their customers, the missing instinct needed to read the markets and the ability to pivot/change in order to satisfy the needs and asks of the market and customers...and the lack of talented leadership crucial to steering BlackBerry in the right direction. The worst was the company's top leadership. The changeover to Android came too late and the company they chose to licence their devices to, TCL, was one of the worst choices possible. Nevermind that the devices continued to be priced way too high. Honestly, at this point, even if they make a comeback, I wish them the best of luck, I'm just not interested anymore. Too much hassle and too little in return to hope for as a client . Besides, there is soo much choice outhere in the Android field, at different price points, features etc. Simply put, why would I purchase a BlackBerry?!
  • Well said!!! I was going to type up a reply but, you did it for me! "Missing Instinct", polite way to put it, seemed to be arrogance on the part of the founders believing their customers didn't need/want what other companies were coming out with. Technology and competition steamrolled them out of relevance. 9650 and PlayBook were my last BBs, may they RIP. Samsung Note 9 owner here, I only upgrade every 4 generations or so now as these new devices are NOW more than I need in a mobile device. If BB could've only made it this far!!! :)
  • Your last BB devices are ancient, did you even try a KEYone/KEY2/LE? It's a different animal
  • Agreed. I will look at the next BlackBerry device but as a die-hard BlackBerry user, the company has failed the brand with lack of advertising. Currently using a Pixel 3a because my Key2 was showing its age. Loved it, but OS is outdated too soon.
  • For the physical keyboard... Still using my BlackBerry Key2 as I need the accuracy the pkb gives me... That's the reason I will buy a new BlackBerry as soon as it is released... Another reason is that no one has managed to root a BlackBerry Android phone yet...
  • There is so much choice? Are you kidding me? Did you LOOK at what the other manufacturers are making? Can you tell any of their phones apart at a glance? Aside from BB and the occasional Kickstarter, there's nothing but slabs
  • Being able to recognize a phone at first glance doesn't do anything for me. I need a phone that can fulfill my needs as a customer. BlackBerry couldn't. And it's not like I didn't give them enough chances. All the BlackBerry phones I had, except the Curve 9360, were VKB devices. And personally, I'd never go back to a physical keyboard. Or BlackBerry.
  • I agree with this. They all look alike. I realize that looks are only superficial when compared to performance...but let's face it...looks are what attracts us in the first place. Same thing as when looking for a mate (wife or husband). If the person is ugly to us...we will probably not invest the time needed to learn anything about them. (sad but true)
    Same with a house, a car, or anything really. I like having a unique looking phone...we all like a little fashion...thus my interest in Sony devices...they can usually be identified by looks only...but they also have reached the ridiculous in pricing so I stay away. I wish we could go back about 4 or 5 years in design with today's functionality.
  • Yikes...if I was comparing a human's looks with those of an inanimate object, I guess I was probably dealing with more serious issues than being able to tell phones appart. By the way "Spartacus" is one of my favourite movies! You did a great job on that one...
  • People just wanted a Passport with Android. They keep overthinking it. A square phone isn't for everyone, but it was a much needed dose of originality for a stale brand.
  • Stale brand? Samsung sounds alot more stale to me, they released like 15 phones last year and aside from the Galaxy Fold, ALL of them were slabs of glass. Now THAT'S stale
  • I loved BlackBerry. But they were always behind everyone else with average specs. Passport was my favourite. I have a Note 10 now. Give me a BlackBerry version of this and I'm interested.
  • What we need is specs and pics. I've said it before Passport keyboard, android 11 and large screen-but not like the key one. PICTURES!
  • I'll buy it... I might not like it.. but I'll try to support them once again. Lol . I'm a sucker for bb. Was my go to device brand for over 10 years. Even when other brands were clearly making better devices. Damn crackberry . Make it flagship enough to stand it's own ground. Pricing at this point is what it is. Only build what you can sell. Kinda like the foldable a of today . Maybe if they can make a great PRIV like device made for modern day android. We will have a winner for our little corner of the market. Can't see a pkb design winning the masses back. But a slider with the option of pkb will do enough for everyone if done correctly
  • Would be good if BlackBerry could be part of the Android One program with respect to updates and still use their hardened unrootable version of Android with built in threat protection... And of course include their software suite with the Hub etc...
  • BlackBerry was my first smartphone, the BlackBerry 7520 so it's been over a decade. After the KEY2 lost support I went with the Note 10+ and wow I dont think I can go back. Yes I rather type on a physical keyboard (especially work emails) but with my line of work, I absolutely love the DeX and the performance of the Samsung Note 10+.
    I just wish BlackBerry made a physical keyboard for the Note 10+.
    Or Samsung making a BlackBerry licence device would be awesome. Needs to have a big screen (wide for reading documents and emails), great camera, great specs, desktop mode (like Samsung and Huawei), and Bold 9000 keyboard!
  • They won't sell devices off of the name anymore only if the phone has top specs and performs well.
  • I hope it's good, but I won't get my hopes up
  • Should be rebranded as DingleBerry
  • Nobody wants physical keyboards in 2020. Blackberry died twice with good reason. Very niche devices which will never grab the attention of today's market. That ship has sailed
  • They are niche devices, and a niche market is the opposite of the mainstream one. These devices are for those who appreciate a real keyboard. There are already plenty of boring pieces of glass on the smartphone market for people to choose from.
  • People bought a bunch of the Titans, which were almost a Blackberry. Who knows?
  • Great article - I share the exact sentiment. Loved my K2, but no OS updates was a deal breaker for me. Moved on to an LG slab and I'm not a fan at all. I'm thinking that Onward has some deals in the works with some corporate buyers. BB fans will be the everyday consumers, but I just don't know how many people will be lured away from their slabs. It seems like unless you know the joy of a PKB from experience, typing on glass really doesn't bug you.