BlackBerry KEYone: Seeing the forest for the trees

It's easy to forget that on-screen keyboards weren't always as good as they are today. In fact, for years they kinda sucked. Those were the years in which BlackBerry ruled for pounding out message after message. It also was the only real source for secure(ish) messaging. And the cult following that became what we all know (and, yes, love) as CrackBerry was born.

A lot has changed since then, of course. The iPhone changed everything, actually. Android got good and spread everywhere. And the BlackBerry faithful — you fine folks — were left with a choice. Adapt, or languish.

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I was never a BlackBerry guy, but that doesn't mean I didn't appreciate a good physical keyboard back in the day. My first smartphone was a Treo 750. I had an HTC Touch Pro 2 — angled screen and all. I rocked a Motorola Q9h like it was nobody's business. The OG Moto DROID after that. But proper capacitive displays and multitouch — along with increasingly good text prediction — led me to give up the keyboard for the larger displays.

That leads us to the BlackBerry KEYone. It's as retro as it is forward-looking. It by nearly all accounts a very solid phone. We tend to overuse the word "workhorse," but not in this case. The internals give great battery life. The Android operating system gives flexibility.

This is the phone BlackBerry fans have deserved for years.

And the keyboard is a gift. It's not a necessity anymore. We've all gotten by just fine without them. And the world has mostly moved on from BBM to other forms of secure messaging, be it iMessage or Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger or Signal or something else.

But the rebirthed BlackBerry Mobile (with Alcatel parent company TCL on board as the manufacturer) has given us something special here. Maybe not a phone you have to have, but one that a good many people truly want to have. A phone with a keyboard. A phone with more special sauce tucked into those little plastic things than we'll probably ever see anywhere else. I really am in love with the fingerprint sensor in the space bar, to say nothing of swiping all over the thing to move the cursor around. (And a phone running Android — which really is the only way this was every going ton happen anyway.)

Nobody else has ever done that. No other company will ever do that, because they don't have to.

And I'd be remiss in not mentioning the fact that BlackBerry has consistently been the only other company to keep its phones on current software, second to only Google itself. (Yes, Apple, too, but you know what I mean.)

Add all that up. You have some seriously solid hardware. While not cutting edge, it's definitely built to last. You have software with customizations that folks will want, and updates that we should all require. And you have a keyboard experience that takes us back to the good old days when we actually needed keyboards.

This isn't a phone for everyone. It's not trying to be. It's not going to be.

It's a phone for people who love BlackBerry. It's a phone for people who still want to love BlackBerry. And for those folks, BlackBerry Mobile and TCL have nailed it.

Phil Nickinson