BlackBerry KEY2 vs. Samsung Galaxy S9 camera comparison: Close on price, not quality

At first thought, you may not consider the BlackBerry KEY2 and Samsung Galaxy S9 direct competitors, and of course, the glaring difference of one having a physical keyboard and a bit lower-end components would follow that logic. But keep this in mind: the KEY2, with its price jump from the KEYone, is now $649, while the Galaxy S9 is available unlocked for just $50 more (opens in new tab). With the price similarity, it's reasonable to expect the KEY2 to offer a camera experience to match.

With some testing and experience, we can now tell you where the KEY2's dual camera setup stands, and whether its photography prowess is up to speed with its price and the competition.

Daylight photos

Just as Daniel found in our complete KEY2 review, the phone is capable of taking some solid photos, particularly in daylight situations. Leaning heavily on HDR, its colors are punchy — and the fine details are pretty good even in close-up shots. But when you set its photos next to a camera as fantastically capable as the Galaxy S9's, you can tell it's a step below the flagship level.

The KEY2's photos are colorful, but lack the dynamic range and detail of the GS9.

You'll notice that the KEY2's photos are often just as colorful as the Galaxy S9's, if not more so, but that it's generally the result of over-saturation that at the same time kills off the depth and wide dynamic range that makes a photo feel more lifelike. You get the rich colors, but it comes at the cost of depth and actual dynamic range — all of the colors are boosted, which isn't accurate. When you start to zoom in on photos to see the details, the Galaxy S9 is way ahead in terms of fine lines and textures. For the most part, this just comes across in the KEY2's photos as being a bit over-processed and just a little soft.

HDR is basically a requirement on the KEY2 — keep it turned on for the most eye-pleasing results.

In tricky shots where there's a mix of lighting or a wide dynamic range is needed, the KEY2 doesn't get the job done unless HDR automatically comes on — if it doesn't, the photo just looks washed out and lacking color. You can tap to meter, which usually gets things right for the subject, but leaves the rest of the scene bland. The Galaxy S9, on the other hand, can usually get a good shot with pleasing colors regardless of whether HDR triggers. For the most part, the KEY2 is best off just being left in HDR mode in order to get the best possible photo.

Finally, a quick mention of the 2X zoom capabilities of these cameras. The similarly priced Galaxy S9 doesn't have a secondary camera, but the more expensive GS9+ does and it's configured in the same fashion as the KEY2 to provide 2X zoom. The KEY2's secondary camera heavily over-processes images, which is a shame, and it really doesn't compete well against the Galaxy S9+'s secondary camera. 2X images are often a soft and blotchy mess, even in good lighting — so it's just about as usable as 2X digital zoom on the standard Galaxy S9. The KEY2 does have the upper hand of offering dual-camera portrait mode, which is similar in quality to the other offerings out there today.

Low light photos

On paper, the Galaxy S9 has a huge advantage in low light. It has a larger sensor, brighter lens, optical image stabilization and a more advanced image processor. All of those benefits play out in the resulting images, with the Galaxy S9 handily beating the KEY2 in every situation with dim lighting.

BlackBerry has a long way to go to catch up to where Samsung's cameras are today.

Just take a look at the sample images above and you'll see what I mean. The KEY2 generally hits the mark in terms of color and white balance, but that's about it — everything else is some combination of soft, grainy, blotchy and over-processed. Now and then when you have a scene with mixed lighting you can get a crisp shot, but there's little rhyme or reason as to why and it definitely isn't reproducible. This is the kind of low-light performance we saw from mid-range phones a couple years back, and it's quite puzzling as to why it's this bad when the same camera takes daylight photos are actually pretty good.

Yes putting the KEY2 up against one of the best low-light smartphone cameras available is over-emphasizing its shortcomings, but as stated at the beginning the Galaxy S9 is merely $50 more unlocked — and with that tiny increase in price, you can go from low-light photos that are a grainy mess to those that rival standalone digital cameras.

Which camera is best?

BlackBerry KEY2 and Galaxy S9+

Let's be honest, we didn't expect this to be all that close from the get-go. Whereas the Galaxy S9 builds on years of Samsung's excellence in mobile photography, the KEY2 is coming from something of a less storied history of TCL-tuned BlackBerry cameras.

Overall, the KEY2's camera is above average — but that's well behind what the GS9 is capable of.

In daylight scenes, the KEY2 actually does a good job — it can take colorful photos with good exposure and decent detail. They're above average and easily good enough for BlackBerry's target market. But when you see what the Galaxy S9 can capture in the same scenes, you can tell that the dynamic range and fine details just aren't there to compete with today's top-end phones. Given the KEY2's smaller camera sensor and lack of OIS, it isn't surprising that it's also outperformed by a wide margin in low light conditions. Phones like the Galaxy S9 (and so many others) have large sensors, OIS and much more advanced processing to handle low-light scenes with better colors, less noise and generally better overall clarity.

If the KEY2's low light photography were as close to the Galaxy S9 as its daylight capabilities are, you could argue that it was at least in the ballpark of being good enough for the money. But the very poor low light capabilities, when added on top of its starting position of not being as good in the daytime, show that the KEY2 is a full step below top-end cameras available today. If the camera is a point of emphasis in your smartphone buying choice, it is absolutely worth spending the extra $50 on a Galaxy S9 (or any other ~$700 phone available) — you'll get a notably better photography experience in every situation. But if all you need as "above average" from your smartphone's camera, and find the rest of the KEY2's features appealing, this phone will get the job done — just don't expect to wow anyone with your photos.

Andrew Martonik

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

  • IMHO, the Key2 should not a be a phone people should buy if they are worried about camera quality or gaming. To me this is cleary what this phone should not focused on. For me personally, they last thing I would care about buying this phone is picture quality. I really want the Key2. It's the only phone I would even considering swapping my Note 8 out with.
  • Why did you get the Note 8?
  • LOL.
  • Workhorse with the S Pen of course. Have clients sign there paperwork on my phone has been spectacular. Other perks but that's the main things. Best phone for business for me. Just wish I had the keyboard.
  • I like the KEY2 and I don't take many photos with my S8. However, I think BB and TCL need to do better work with their camera software. The reason I say this is that they're forcing consumers to make a choice--a physical keyboard or a high-quality camera experience--and that limits their audience. Instead of, "great battery life and a great camera PLUS a physical keyboard", people view it as, "great battery life and a physical keyboard, but a mediocre camera". I'm not concerned about the people who are definitely going to buy/avoid the KEY2 due to the physical keyboard--they won't be swayed one way or the other by a camera. It's the people in the middle whom BB/TCL needs to think about more strategically. If you're on the fence, the merely-okay camera in the KEY2 is going to be strike against it, and you'll be less likely to buy the phone. Even if you don't take photos very often, you just want your camera to work well when you do. I love that the KEY2 uses an SD660, which is a great SOC for a majority of people, and I'm fine with the LCD (even if I wish it had OLED). Some tradeoffs have to be made in the value-engineering process. But I think it's a mistake to not put more effort into the cameras and make the KEY2 more attractive in the eyes of a lot of people.
  • Yawn. Another Camera comparison. How about you compare typing and security and OS experience?
  • Everything better on the S9, Pixel and many other phones when compared to Key2. Other than die hard blackberry fans and physical keyboard lovers both which are small numbers, no one is going to get this since it doesn't offer anything to other normal people.
  • It's fine for 99% of the population.
  • The only thing going for the Key2 is the physical keyboard. Nothing else.
  • And tight security and no touchwiz. Sounds like a good phone to me.
  • I wouldn't underestimate Knox , Samsung's flagships are secure enough. I see no Touchwiz anywhere. Your statement is so 2014...
  • Most companies depend on either iOS or BB.
  • omg, some daytime photos are even better on key2 than the S9, didn't expect that.
    For Low light photos, S9.
    I would like to see portrait mode, where most say that key2 is gorgeous
  • What? This is like comparing a Lexus versus a Tesla. Two great brands, each with their own strengths and customers. The real comparison, which absolutely no tech news or gadget guru is making, is the Key2 versus other physical keyboard phones and their the commitment and roll-out of security patches. Let's try and be fair. A comparison of a Business/Secure phone against a Camera/Gaming phone is not helpful to any consumer.
  • The Galaxy S9 is not a "camera/gaming" phone, it's an all-around mass-appeal smartphone designed to appeal to a massive market. It's not a one-trick device — it just happens to also have a fantastic camera.
  • Having a camera in your device is a handy feature but not solely why I buy a smartphone. No doubt there are some who do as they are so involved with social media and the need to post pictures of themselves to let the world know what they're doing. I just don't get it... Sorry. If I want to take pictures that will provide me the quality and results that I am hoping for... I use my camera!!! That's what they are specifically designed for. I don't expect my camera to send text messages, emails, or phone calls, post to social media, etc. Bob
  • Ok, we will get off your lawn Bob ....
  • The best Smartphone cameras are now good enough for most people not to require a dedicated camera.
    The same reason most photographer's don't use large or even medium format cameras.
  • Even the entry level Nikon D3200 from 2012 takes significantly better photos than today's smart phones.
  • Yep, and the Pentax 645Z takes better pictures than that.
    But when it's good enough, it's good enough.
  • I agree most flagship smartphones cameras are on par with point and shoot digital cameras.
    But nowhere near to medium and large format pro cameras. That's an overstatement.
    Even if picture quality could look appealing, details and low light capabilities are a couple steps below, and don't get me started on the zooming capabilities...
  • The KEY2 did better than I expected, and in some cases I'd pick the KEY2 photo over the S9. Which says a lot because I love my S9 photos.
  • My hope would be that someone does a comparison between the One plus 6 and Key2. I think that the Key2 should be on par with the One plus. IMHO, If the Key2 is not on par with the one plus then that is unacceptable.
  • You clown, you think that a camera is the only reason to buy a phone? What about security? What about accurate typing? I've been using swiftkey and others since windows mobile 6.5 and it always sucked. What about battery life? I've heard that the blackberry gets wonderful battery life. Has touchwiz finally stopped slowing down after a while and giving android a bad reputation because of it? Sorry, but their are more reasons than camera quality to get a phone. You aren't talking to the masses that mindlessly buy a phone because of advertising and camera quality alone when you write these articles on this site. You damn sure aren't talking to the average consumer when you talk about blackberry's offerings nowadays either.
  • But this is a camera comparison?
    Kind of a clue there...
    You may want to check out the full S9 Vs KEY2 when they do it.
  • This is a comparison about one thing: the camera. This is not making any attempt to say one is better than the other overall based solely on the camera performance.
  • The bloggers have been fairly consistent with the message that the Key series are not entertainment devices. So I'm not clear on why a camera comparison is necessary other than to say the camera is functional and the results will be as expected to anyone buying this device for it's intended purpose.
    OTOH The Key price point and comparison to other "premium devices" is fair comment, which has also been discussed everywhere.
  • The KEY2 is definitely not a media/entertainment device, as you said. But it's also a $650 phone, and camera quality is extremely important to most phone buyers. It's still something people care about, and want to know if it's good enough to consider if they want a hardware keyboard device.
  • Some of the daylight photos of the Key2 look better than the S9's. Well, the S9 has a clear edge when it comes to low light photos.
  • So because the phone is a similar (cheaper) price when brand new now to a phone that is already months old and has reduced in price a lot, you think that somehow means the cameras should be comparable?! That is the stupidest basis for an 'article' you could imagine.
  • S9 is a far from perfect camera. The focus on removing noise from the images often loses detail. Anything that moves in medium to low light is blurry. Awesome for inorganic still life. Frustrating for anything that's living and you can't them to stand still like a small child or pet. Fur never quite looks the way it should either. Wish Samsung gave me an option of how aggressive the camera app should be when removing noise from photos. A lot of the time I like my wife's Note 8 images better.
  • This is a really good and indepth review! I had been waiting for someone to review the camera quality before making a decision on whether I would get the Key2. I presently own the KeyOne and I must say it's a really rugged and beautiful phone. However, minus the recent lags I've been experiencing (I don't even want to rant on this now), I must say I've been very disappointed with the camera quality. Coincidentally, most of the time I need to take pictures (which is rarely) are in low light situations and the KeyOne bitterly disappoints. I was hoping they would work on it in the Key2 but it looks like they didn't. That and the fact that the price is now "flagship" range is a major deal breaker. I would stick with the KeyONE till it dies and probably switch to a phone with great camera quality.
  • No links exist in the article to actually see the photos. I hope the comparison of photos had some semblance of testing validity. Lol, hardly fair to compare photos the Key 2 took by looking at them on its LCD display 1080 x 1620 VS S9 photos viewed on its 2960 x1140 Quad HD+ display. Let me guess... The Key 2 can't easily make Gifs and its camera can't make AR emojis either. I do like your cost logic... The key2 is only $50 less than the S9, so they should compare fairly well... I only wish you, Andrew, & Android Central would apply the same financial logic you made of the Key 2 VS S9 when comparing a Samsung Note 8 to a Pixel 2XL. The Pixel 2XL is only $50 cheaper.... Yet the Pixel 2XL doesn't have micro SD, wireless charging, or even a headphone jack.
  • I didn't even know this was a question on the table. Someone who buys the Key2 would not have the camera as a high priority, and would likely only use it for food shots, or pics of the kids or grandkids. It's all about the keyboard and security, but at least the camera is not a complete potato. I will say that I'm a bit baffled at why they put dual cameras on it though, as if they were attempting to join the top ranks.
  • Andrew, good job on the article, and I love toggling between the shots for comparison.
    About the photos; although I like the S9 shots better, there is something to be said for the BB low-light shots being more realistic. I'm in a photography class right now, and the teacher hates that way some cameras make night shots look like daylight. She recalled a photoshoot in a dim restaurant, and while she attempted to capture the character and mood of the lighting, other photographers were fine with it looking like a lit up McDonalds.
  • My last BB was the Passport -- a great phone with an awful, and I truly mean awful, camera. I lasted 2 years before I left BB for Android (Nexus & Pixel phones) to get a better camera. I'm still waiting for BB to produce a more well rounded product but they seem to be technically limited to offering only a one trick pony. A friend of mine had a Keyone for a short time & always complained about the poor camera, especially focus issues. He used it for work & had to take a lot of pics for his shop's service dept (documentation purposes) but had to switch phones due to the cappy camera. I'll reiterate: he bought it for work/business purposes but ended up moving to a Pixel XL to get his work done. The Keytwo continues the BB "we don't care about the camera" tradition. It looks like BB is content in knowing that it's entire potential customer base for the Keytwo will be Keyone users, or 0.02% of the market.