Top 8 things to love about the BlackBerry KEYone

keyone (Image credit: Android Central)

Listen, I know you're tired of hearing this over and over again, but there's a reason so many people are excited about BlackBerry Mobile's new phone, the KEYone. Yes, the keyboard is obviously the main selling feature, but it's just part of what makes the phone so interesting. And after years of mediocre BlackBerry hardware, I'm truly excited about the future of the brand, even if it is under the supervision of another company entirely.

Here's why.

The software is as clean as it gets

OnePlus and BlackBerry are the two companies developing Android software that mainly gets out of its own way and just lets Google's vision for the operating system shine through. Better yet, the changes they do decide to make are thoughtful and congruent with their phones' particular advantages.

The KEYone's excellent Nougat software wouldn't have been possible without the excellent work BlackBerry did with the Priv and the DTEK series, and BlackBerry proper — the Canadian company — is still in charge of building and maintaining the software for the KEYone. That's good news for a bunch of reasons, especially when you think about the other parts of the software experience that the company contributes.

The included apps are actually great

BlackBerry Hub. Calendar. Contacts. Tasks. Boring apps done well (opens in new tab). The truth is that BlackBerry needed to build out its own suite of productivity apps because it wanted compatibility and continuity with many of its existing backend services, and while these are very much Android apps, they'll be familiar to anyone who's used a BlackBerry device in the past.

I've said it many times before: BlackBerry is one of the few companies that puts care into the Android software it builds, and even though you may no longer use BBM, you'll find yourself happy to spend some time in the company's other apps.

The launcher is thoughtful

Icon packs and swipe-up widgets may be taken directly from one of our favorite third-party launchers, but I have to give BlackBerry credit where it's due: it's appealing to its core enthusiast user base over here. Not only that, but the launcher is extremely smooth, and it's actually available through the Play Store, making it, like Hub, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks and others, upgradeable over time. And BlackBerry has improved the launcher since its inception.

The BlackBerry Launcher also supports one of the most BlackBerry things of all: the classic red star symbol on an icon to indicate when there's a waiting notification. It's a subtle change and one that Google is implementing more cohesively in Android O, but BlackBerry's version is robust and works really well.

The camera is better than I expected

I didn't really think the KEYone would, for its price, have a flagship-level camera, but that's exactly what you get. While it lacks the HDR+ mode of the Google Pixel, it shares the same Sony sensor, and it performs extremely well in almost every lighting condition. For a phone with a keyboard, you may think the camera would play second fiddle in importance, but even if you get the KEYone for its most notable feature, the excellent camera is a wonderful bonus.

The keyboard really is amazing

I had an opportunity to type on a large number of older BlackBerry devices for a TV segment recently and found the KEYone's hardware keyboard to stand up pretty well. It's not quite as perfectly sized and shaped as the Bold 9900 or the Classic, but it's close, and easily the best on Android.

In fact, I thought I wouldn't even want to type on a hardware keyboard again, but after a few days of using the KEYone as my primary device, touch typing became, once again, second nature.

More than that, though, the keyboard is smart, and even if you're not really into the idea of typing on a physical keyboard, its other features, like flick typing for autocorrect and home screen shortcuts accessed by holding down one of the keys to launch an app or a shortcut. The whole system works really well, especially when you combine it with the flexible launcher. I didn't think I'd use the shortcuts on a daily basis, but here we are months later and I have all of my favorites memorized and ready to go.

Battery life is ridiculous

This has come up again and again with this phone: the KEYone lasts seemingly forever. It's not just get-you-through-the-day battery life either; it's "I don't have to think about my battery", which is pretty astounding on a device that you use all day, every day.

Part of that is owed to the Snapdragon 625 in the phone, but other areas, like the seemingly well-optimized software (the stability and performance of which has improved immensely through a series of software updates) and the relatively low-resolution LCD screen, contribute to the lengthy uptime. And yes, the Snapdragon 625 may not be the most powerful chip on the market, but it has proven, at least on the devices on which I've used it — the KEYone, the Moto Z Play, the Huawei Nova Plus — to be more than capable of running your life.

It's built like a tank

Yes, Zach from JerryRigEverything was able to dislodge the display from the casing pretty easily, but from what I've seen, that issue doesn't affect the overall durability of this metal-clad workhorse. I've dropped this thing many times, by accident and on purpose, and it's come through the abuse relatively unscathed. More than that, the soft-touch rubberized back has worn extremely well compared to many of the metal- or glass-backed phones I've used in recent memory, and I think BlackBerry Mobile made the right decision bucking the trend in this case. The phone may be a bit thick, but thanks to its relative narrowness, it's still quite usable in one hand.

It's just... different

Here's, I think, one of the more divisive parts of the KEYone: it's just different from anything else you'll use in the smartphone space right now. If you're tired of the same ol' rectangle, moving to a more unconventional design will get you noticed — for better or worse — when you're using this thing. And based on how difficult it is to find a KEYone right now, on either Amazon or Best Buy, where the company sells the phone unlocked for $549.99 USD, I'd say that the "distinctly different" tagline is working.

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Daniel Bader

Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

  • I love my KEYᴼᴺᴱ! I know some people on the CrackBerry forums have had various issues but mine has been working very well in the month I've had it.
  • Really dig the look and build of this phone. Not sure I could move from a Nexus 6 to the BB KEYone without missing the large screen. I get that the KEYone is more of a workhorse and not so much for media consumption.
  • "The camera is better than I expected." Lol. I really love the removable screen feature.
  • Do you have a keyone? Some units have had issues. Not nearly as many as the forums would make you believe.
  • Without sales numbers and percentages of errors we can't know for sure. Great device but if the screen comes off I don't want to deal with the 3-4 week carrier garbage time and unlocked in Canada is nonexistent.
  • Don't try and bend it in half and the screen should stay in.
  • I am using mine now for about 1 month and a half ,and no issues what's so ever unlike the Note 7 I had last year geez what a fiasco that was never again long live TCL / BlackBerry yahoooo
  • That I decided not to get it and went to the LG V20 a beast and a work horse with a removable battery
  • Plus the LG V20 the battery life last all day into the night
  • i loved my V20 when I had it, but for me the battery life was abysmal, I had to replace batteries at least once a day if not twice
  • One thing I have been disappointed about with my KEYone is the reception is crap! Places where I would get full bar with my Pixel I get one or two bars, sometimes none. Very frustrating and makes me heavily rely on WiFi.
    And it wasn't a specific device. I am now on my third one and the reception has all been the same.
    Other then that, great phone and I really don't want to give it up!
  • Have had mine for close to a month. It's fine. Was disappointed with the battery. Sure, it's good, but in my experience it has been blown out of proportion. Typing on the physical keyboard seems slower than virtual keyboard (maybe by a lot?), but accuracy on the physical keyboard is far superior for me. When I typo, I know I've typo'd because I can physically feel my finger mash the wrong key. If your phone has been sleeping a for a while, then simply using your finger on the spacebar to wake and unlock your phone doesn't work, even if you press the button. Having buttons take up almost the complete side of the device makes some car cradles awkward, because the buttons are getting pressed while in the cradle. Having the home button be above your main input (the physical keyboard) feels weird. We've been taught over the years that the home button is at the bottom, since the very first iPhone. It really feels like the space bar should also be an alternative home button too. For context, my previous phones before this... Galaxy S7, Nexus 5x, Nexus 6, Nexus 5, Note 3.
  • this is disappointing to hear, but glad to read it. I have the S8+ and have been eyeballing the KEYone but seems like i should hold off until v2
  • I have had mine for over one month had have had zero issues - in fact, I would highly recommend it. It is quick, the shortcuts are awesome and that battery....just looking at it now and it has been off the charger for 2 days and 7 hours and I still have 18% battery which will easily last me until tonight. I use my phone and have never had anything last me past 1 full day.
  • I too haven't run into many (if any) bugs (except the Blackberry widget that slides productivity stuff in from the side of the screen, never works for me). I'd say it is a very stable device for how new it is. I really wish I could echo your comments on the battery. If I go to sleep with 15% battery left, I am happy. 2 days seems so utterly impossible in my experience. I am unable to find any renegade apps running battery-wild when I look at battery usage. I just don't understand how my results could be so incredibly different? I am using Verizon in Downtown Orlando. The only thing I can think of is maybe because I have a Fitbit that is overzealously pinging the bluetooth on the phone?
  • Hmm.... really, really odd to see a comment like this in regards to KEYone battery life (as in I think this is the first comment I've ever seen to this affect and I've been tracking KEYone feedback closely). Almost tempted to fly down to Orlando and put one on Verizon. I also use Fitibit... don't think that would be causing an issue. Any other apps you're using out of the normal?
  • I was disappointed with mine because after almost 4 weeks of use, the left corner of the screen started to lift. Quality control is obviously a concern here. I always take good care of all my gadgets...and this is the first time that I have ever had the screen of a new device start to come off on its own.
  • There was a well publicised adhesive issue with the fearly batches. Get a warranty or simply just put some adhesive under the display. Screen replacibility is important and as bad as the adhesive issue is: it's also nice to know it should be easy to replace dislpays.
  • Loving my keyone. Can't stand all touch devices. I've been using BlackBerry shortcuts, qwerty navigation and speed dial since before iphone and android devices were bought into existence.
    Since then BlackBerry has added speed texting, speed emailing and up to 52 programmable shortcuts that allow users to skip 2-4 steps within apps after only a single touch. Did you mention this in the article. Sorry, couldn't concentrate until the end. Shortcuts should have been front and centre because it's what makes the keyone at least twice as fast as any other android device on the market (when it comes to performing a users most common tasks).
    The device is a great hybrid.
  • I got my Keyone directly from my Carrier so its been perfect no screen lift problems. I can get 2 days of battery on the phone which I love, and the keyboard shortcuts are fantastic. Reception in Toronto is just as good as my Z30. The only thing is I wish they shipped it with a QC 3.0 charger and not a QC 2.0 one which means I will have to go to amazon to pick one up it should come stock in the box! I also agree the Camera is great. Other than changing the animation speed the phone is stock still using the Blackberry launcher. I'm that guy that never has issues with his devices so I'm not expecting any problems here I take very good care of my stuff. Which is easy to do when you don't have children nobody touches my gadgets!
  • Love my KEYone. I had it since the US launch and it would be really hard to get me back on a glass slab phone. Plus the battery life is astounding. The best part is you don't have to factor your battery life into using the device. Something I was doing with my Galaxy S7. And it is so distinctive. Love it. Hope they don't mess up v2.
  • I've had mine for 2 weeks now, and I absolutely love it. The battery life is insane. I feel like it's a phone that is specifically designed for what I need a smartphone to do, and it does it extremely well. I can pound on it and not worry about finding a charger or plug. I'm loving the keyboard, back to typing almost as fast as my old 9900.
    I realize it's not a device for everyone, but it's pretty darn awesome. Everyone I've shown it to has been impressed and immediately used their phone or computer to look it up online.
  • As I type this using my KEYone, all I can say is that I love it! I still have my Pixel XL and I carry my K1 as my daily driver. I have the VZW CDMA model and the only apps I'm having trouble using is Google Voice and Android Pay; with the latter I have the Huawei Watch 2, so I use AP on it. GV has been replaced with YouMail for now. Oh, still waiting for an update (sitting on April's right now). Nonetheless, I still love this device!
  • I've made the switch to the KEYone from a PRIV a few days after the initial release in Canada and have been loving it. If you aren't looking for a physical keyboard, it isn't the phone for you. But, it brings back all the joy of my Bold, but with more apps, better camera and a really fast boot.
  • Had mine for 2 months now
    I have to agree that the battery seems to last forever
    although i am worry about the screen issue but i am not yet encounter it yet.
  • I would love to own a Key One. Maybe the one marked II or III ? I presently have a Blackberry Bold 9900 and love it, but it has seen better days. Dianna
  • I think i have found the phone I would love in my future I have been looking desperately for for physical qwerty board phone I so miss it with a little saving and patience i should own one in August your review gave me complete confidence in buying this phone Thank you for your testing!!!!