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BlackBerry KEYone vs. BlackBerry Priv: No contest

An Android phone with a keyboard is a niche product. I think everyone knows it, including the company that makes them. But because the choice is so small (as in just one) it's important you make sure what you're buying is good enough to replace what you already have.

We'll tell you up front that the BlackBerry KEYone is a much better phone than the BlackBerry Priv, and we'll explain why we think that way if you need more convincing.

Hardware, specs and features

The KEYone is a really well-built phone. Not just a well built phone among phones with a physical keyboard but well-built in general. It's hefty and thick by today's standards and is a glorious mix of metal, rubber, and glass. And keys. It's solid, and when you compare it to most other phones on the market you get the impression that it will last forever.

The KEYone is a solid phone and you know it as soon as you pick it up.

This is a stark contrast to the Priv, which came in two flavors: Built fine, or really wobbly and creaky. I got lucky and mine doesn't suffer from a clicky back cover or a loose keyboard slide, but even then it's easy to see that the KEYone is using better and thicker metal and it's put together more solidly.

A big part of the reason is that the Priv was a slider. You had the full-screen experience and a flick of the thumb revealed a BlackBerry keyboard. The KEYone has none of the inherent problems a slider has because it follows the typical BlackBerry look with a screen that only covers three-quarters of the face, with the keyboard itself taking the remainder. I'm a fan of the slider, in theory anyway. But I'm more of a fan of how well built the KEYone is.

Everything inside the KEYone is also a huge improvement over the Priv. And it shows, especially when you're doing all the BlackBerry things this BlackBerry was designed to do.

The KEYone's hardware is just enough, which is something the Priv wasn't able to say.

Where the Priv would slow down when you started to do several things on at once, the KEYone will keep on truckin'. Don't assume the KEYone is infallible and will run as well as a Google Pixel because it doesn't. BlackBerry didn't put the very latest and fastest processor or memory modules in the KEYone so you'll still hit a wall if you try to hit one with all the BlackBerry services and any other app you can think of running. But that wall is far beyond the capabilities of the Priv.

While the KEYone would not be my first choice for playing 3D games or using any other really processor-intensive application, you won't have the problems watching HD video or web browsing that many Priv owners complained of. Temper your expectations, or just buy a Galaxy S8 if that's what you like to do with your phone.

The keyboards

Chances are this is why you're here. If you're using a Priv in 2017, you're doing so because of the keyboard. The good news is that you'll like the KEYone's a lot more.

The keyboard on the Priv was flat. A textured corner on each key was all that let your thumb find them and the only reference was a raised dot on the D key. The only thing that made the Priv keyboard great was that it was the only Android phone to have one. It took a long time to get used to it and become thumb-typing proficient.

The BlackBerry keyboard of legend still hasn't returned with the KEYone, but it's close. And for this keyboard lover, it's almost better.

You won't find a better physical keyboard on a phone in 2017 if that's what you're looking for.

The Keyboard is made of flat keys with a slick coating, but each key is raised out of the body and has a distinctive beveled edge. Even the hardest thumb can find them, and because they are nice and flat the gesture and swipe typing on the keys is great. It's clear that the Priv keyboard was studied so someone knew what mistakes not to make.

If you want a phone with the best physical keyboard possible, you can stop reading and order a KEYone.

Much of what can be said about the keyboard can be said about the small details. The KEYone has better buttons (no more three-button silliness like we saw on the Priv) a better screen and a better camera. Even the rubberized back is better on the KEYone and feels like rubber instead of a pool liner. Add better speakers and a USB-C port (complete with Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0) and this becomes an easy choice. Mostly.

The Priv does hold its own in the call quality department.

There is one thing the Priv does better, and it may matter to you. The Priv has better reception than the KEYone in every test I've tried. The Priv is better on T-Mobile and AT&T, as well as MVNO carriers that use either network. In the same place at the same time, noticeably better. Where I live, work and play the KEYone is acceptable when it comes to connection strength and not the worst phone I have here. But it doesn't see the downright awesome signal strength you might have noticed from your Priv. If you need a phone that works well as a phone (the difference in data speeds was negligible at best) and you live on the fringe of coverage, you may have issues you didn't have with your Priv.

That aside, and for most users with good coverage I don't see it being a show-stopping issue, the KEYone beats the Priv in every possible way when it comes to the hardware.

Software and experience

The KEYone ships with Android 7.1.1 while the Priv runs Android Marshmallow (6.0) with no confirmation that it will receive an update to Nougat. For the most part, this means less for BlackBerry's phones than it does for some other brands because all models are updated monthly with the latest security patches, and unlike phones direct from Google, the software experience doesn't depend directly on the version number.

Android on the KEYone is very much like Android on the Priv. BlackBerry has both phones full of their own apps and services so application updates for things like BlackBerry Launcher mean the user-facing differences are hard to find. They are there, and from a security perspective one can say that the KEYone is superior, but most users won't find any big differences when it comes to the software.

The Priv and the KEYone run different versions of Android, but most people would never know it.

But you will find those differences when using the software. And we don't mean the small extras like better battery statistics that are a result of having Android 7; we mean that the BlackBerry suite of apps is a lot more usable on the newer, faster hardware.

BlackBerry Hub is a good example here. It looks the same on both phones and offers the same features, but the strain on the processor could make the Priv stop for seconds at a time. You won't find that with the KEYone. While you can tell the difference between running the Hub and not running the Hub, it's not a deal breaker. And since BlackBerry loves to update its software, chances are things will get better as time goes by and the "microstutters" may disappear altogether. A lot of Priv owners accepted the tradeoffs that using the Hub and the rest of the BlackBerry apps brought with the Priv, and the good news is that all of them are far less obvious with the KEYone.

Users who forgo the BlackBerry apps may not notice any software stutters with the KEYone, depending on what other apps they might be using. The same could not be said for the Priv.

Besides the improvement in responsiveness new processors and faster memory bring, the improved keyboard makes using BlackBerry's apps more enjoyable. Tapping a key shortcut to launch an app or entering a text shortcut so you don't have to type your address is a better experience when it happens almost instantly. BlackBerry has baked the keyboard into the entire experience, and improvements mean all the software benefits.

Photographers will love the improved camera in the KEYone. There are phones you can buy that take better pictures, but the jump in quality from the Priv is instantly noticeable. Photos that were marginal with the Priv's 18MP camera can be great using the KEYone's 12MP camera. And if you take your time and work at it, you can take some stunning photos with the KEYone.

Battery life on the KEYone has been better than anyone expected.

Possibly the biggest improvement that comes with the KEYone is the battery life. The Priv was acceptable at best when it originally launched and did not age well. We're not sure if the software was at fault or the hardware (likely a combination of both) but, regardless, the battery life on the KEYone is much, much better. And that's not just me talking, either. A quick with everyone here at Mobile Nations with a KEYone about every possible thing we didn't like (that's how reviews get made, we look for the bad things, too) and nobody had anything bad to say about the battery life.

With light use — phone calls, messaging, a little social media and looking at pictures of a new baby — the KEYone is almost a two-day phone. That's with all the things happening and not managing the battery at all. A cautious user who will mind how the battery gets used might stretch that out even further. As expected, you can kill the battery if you try, and I recommend you find your favorite Brick Breaker clone and do so every now and then.

Bottom line

Sometimes it's hard to decide if you should ditch a phone you've already paid for and buy a replacement. This isn't one of those times. Not even close.

If you have a Priv, or had one and liked Android with a keyboard, the KEYone is for you. We can't think of any reason not to upgrade if you're considering it and think you'll like what you see.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Jerry Hildenbrand

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.

15 Comments
  • Looks good Blackberry, make some commercials now.
  • As long as you don't need to change the language it's good lol. Waiting for the NoKeyOne myself.
  • 👆👍
  • Every review I saw about this device is full of praises. I guess BlackBerry finally got it right this time. Always a fan of BlackBerry's hardware. I have no problem with thin, minimal and elegant design that most company tends to do on their phones but I still really prefer a bold and rugged look for a phone.
  • I'm not surprised that there was no contest. Good job BB.
  • Excited!
  • Not saying the KEYone isn't a good device...I'm sure it's grand, but the beauty of the Priv is that I can have either a virtual or a physical keyboard. I moved from a Passport to a Priv a few months ago when many places put the Priv on sale with the pending release of the KEYone. I got an unlocked version of the Priv for $289 which after having used the phone now for several months is an absolute steal. Many of the Priv's shortcomings that were reported early on have improved. The BlackBerry apps like the Hub+ Suite continue to get better and, the hope is, that they will improve even more in the future as they're updated. And quite honestly, even though I love BlackBerry physical keyboards, the Passport's was unbelievably good, I find myself using the Priv's virtual keyboard well over 95% of the time. I only use the keyboard on the Priv as a trackpad to scroll with from time to time. I hope the KEYone sells like hotcakes for BlackBerry Mobile's sake, but the Priv is just not that bad. I've seen unlocked versions of the Priv being sold, brand new, for as low as $269 and if you compare that with the KEYone's entry price of $549...that's a very big difference. There is one thing that I experienced on every BlackBerry physical keyboard phone I've ever had, and I've had many over the last ten years. And what I'm referring to is...over time...a key or keys begin to fail. It's expected really. It's not a knock on BlackBerry or BlackBerry Mobile's craftsmanship or build quality, it's just the reality of having a phone with a physical keyboard. It's going to happen a year or two into the useful life of the device. Then you're stuck either grinning and bearing with having to back space that extra character or you're in the market to get your phone's physical keyboard repaired or replaced. Just check the forums on CrackBerry and you'll see what I'm talking about. Either way, it's no fun. This is exactly why I chose to pull the trigger on a Priv rather than wait for the release of the KEYone. If and when the physical starts to act up...I've got a fully functional virtual keyboard. Now that I've officially jumped the fence from BB10 to Android, I'm definitely not going back because BB10 has a severely limited remaining shelf life. And if you're into the whole BlackBerry security thing, BlackBerry is going to continue to secure the Android OS in their own way. So, I'll remain loyal to BlackBerry and continue to buy their devices. As for this comparison, well...the KEYone may be a smoother Android experience, but $300 smoother? People will have to decide that for themselves. I hope the KEYone is a hit and it brings BlackBerry Mobile on to the scene as a long-term player. Best of luck to all who purchase the KEYone. It's a sharp looking phone for sure.
  • THE 625 is so underrated - been using it in my G5 plus - that thang FLIES - I'd be hard pressed to see performance hangups - gone are the days off wasted alleged top tier devices
  • 625 is a great NEAR flagship SoC. However there are a few missing components that make it noticably inferior, down to the modem. The alleged top tier devices are in fact superior in many quickly realized ways when comparing. I would recommend purchasing a flagship killer device over a midrange premium device such as the Moto G5PLUS plus 64gb/4gb ROM. I made the mistake of selling my Axon 7 when I was able to get the 64 GB G5plus for $150 on accomidation. The axon which is superior to the galaxy S7Edge in many respects is only $400 ($100) more than the G5plus with 4GB of ram. There are no features on the new flagship killers that are less than above average. The Moto G5plus 64GB model is a fantastic device, but there are better full feature flagship phones out there that are only an extra $100 or less, sometimes even the same price when on sale. I've noticed with my G5plus frequent stuttering when switching apps or pulling up the keyboard to type. And games really show the difference with a MASSIVE difference in GPU's. There is no androidpay, USB C or quickcharge 3.0. The IPS LCD screen is substantially worse when comparing side by side to a quadhd superamoled. The design, while a major improvement, is still somewhat uninspired especially comparing it to the honor 8 or the DreamWorks designed axon 7 (they design BMW's). My G5plus camera is laggy, autofocus is terrible and the sensors are obviously a grade below. No software tweaks will help fix this. No ois for even 1080P video recording is a near deal breaker. And compared to the pixel gyroscope stabilization proves the MASSIVE quality gap between flagship and midrange. And with the cat7 modem my LTE speeds are slower and my phone signal in general is often much weaker or non existent at times when my pixel XL has full service. It's true that Moto g phones are the best budget midrange phones behind Honor x. But it's worth the extra money to get a true Flagship killer such as the Axon 7 (especially if you need CDMA coverage from your carrier Verizon/sprint), or if you want a massive AMOLED quad HD screen coupled with TWO DAC's, and the best stereo audio avaliable. The honor 8 is also amazing and often the same price as the G5plus. So in summation, G5plus is very good and all, but axon 7, honor 8, one plus 3t are all top of the line flagships without missing or lacking features and issues found in the 600 series snapdragon midrange phones. I'd check those out if you want a taste of true Flagship experience.
  • All of those products you mentioned have spyware, bloat, and crappy skins... I had the Honor 5x and it's in a box, hate the OS lag lag omg lag. ZTE Blade V8 wasn't bad but concerns on apps and recent spyware etc. Plus I wanted a slightly different design/color.... quite frankly I'm not 100% sold on the G5 buts it's near stock which is what I wanted
  • I miss the feel of a "solid" phone. My favorite in most recent times being the V10.
  • Great review guys. Could you please compare performance of the KEYone to the DTEK60?
  • Getting my keyone delivered today so I'll be doing just that.
  • I have the Priv and use the PKB a lot. But my fave device was the Classic and I love the candy bar form. My Priv is pretty awesome tho, solid and with heavy usage for work (I am a recruiter) I still have about 60 percent of battery life left. I will check the K1 when it is out and will probably get it. But I have nothing but love for my Priv. And I don't have a screen protector and yet it has held itself well. Even with drops.
  • What's the launcher you used for the demo? Looks sleek.