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BlackBerry KEYOne first impressions: For the BlackBerry loyalists, may be

So, does the BlackBerry KEYOne have enough to survive the competition? We spent some time with the smartphone. Here are our detailed first impressions.

tech Updated: Aug 03, 2017 15:03 IST
Kul Bhushan
The BlackBerry KEYOne brings a combination of touchscreen and physical QWERTY keyboard.
The BlackBerry KEYOne brings a combination of touchscreen and physical QWERTY keyboard.(Kul Bhushan/HT Photo)

For a very long period of time, I resisted the idea of moving to a smartphone, but I had to switch anyway. And, my first smartphone was the BlackBerry 9220, which was the first BlackBerry smartphone to feature FM radio. Even though it was 2012, the FM radio was pretty much a standard feature in smartphones then. If I was late to join the smartphone frenzy, BlackBerry perhaps was even slower in adapting to the changing market dynamics, be it the growing love for Android, affordable phones, or touch screens.

From QWERTY physical keyboards to BBM instant messenger, BlackBerry is now nothing more than nostalgia. But BlackBerry has been making smartphones, of course, not at the scale it was years ago. While the brand BlackBerry lives on (thanks to TCL), the latest smartphone from its stable, KEYOne, was launched in India this week.

Priced at Rs 39,990, the BlackBerry KEYOne brings a combination of touchscreen and physical QWERTY keyboard – a formula the company has tried and tested before. Obviously, with that price tag, comparisons will be drawn with other Android powerhouses such as OnePlus 5 and Honor 8 Pro, and even Samsung Galaxy S8.

So, does the KEYOne have enough to survive the competition? Can it win the BlackBerry loyalists back?

I briefly used the latest BlackBerry smartphone and here are my first impressions.

At the very first glance, the BlackBerry KEYOne looks nothing like the contemporary smartphones. A combination of touchscreen and physical keyboard, of course, turns everyone’s heads. Perhaps, the form factor is quite relatable to a typical Blackberry phone. If you ask me, the smartphone does feel unique, for obvious reasons, but it’s a bit thick and feels quite heavy. At 9.4 mm, it is thicker than the OnePlus 5 (7.25mm) and Apple iPhone 7 Plus (7.3mm) phones. At 180 grams, it’s not winning the race for the lightest phone either.

The smartphone does feel unique, for obvious reasons, but it’s a bit thick and feels quite heavy. (Kul Bhushan/HT Photo)

The front is dominated by the display and physical keyboard at the bottom. The right edge houses the volume rocker and a ‘convenience key’ that is essentially a shortcut button to access frequently-used applications. The left edge houses the power/lock/unlock button. While the base has the USB Type-C port, the top houses the 3.5mm audio port. The back panel has textured faux leather panel, which is supposed to offer a better grip. The camera setup is located on the left top corner.

Overall, I’d have liked the BlackBerry KEYOne a bit more had the smartphone been slimmer and lighter. And yes, I did try typing on the physical keyboard. The experience, however, was quite not the same I had anticipated. While the keyboard feels a little crammed, I admit switching back to a physical one wasn’t fluid. It took hitting backspace multiple times before getting one sentence right. Perhaps, our fingers have become accustomed to touchscreens. Imagine yourself typing a long text using a T9 keypad. It’s funny, we could do ninja typing on those keypads back in the day. Millennials, look up the SMS lingo.

It has a combination of touchscreen and physical keyboard. (Kul Bhushan/HT Photo)

That being said, BlackBerry should be commended for integrating ‘smart’ features into the keyboard. For an example, the spacebar has a fingerprint scanner embedded. Then, you can use keys as shortcuts to launch a few applications. For an example, I could set long press M to launch the Google Maps app. Pretty cool, isn’t it? The keys are backlit so you can type on the phone in the dark as well.

The BlackBerry KEYOne has a 4.7-inch display with 1620 x 1080 pixels resolution with 3:2 aspect ratio. During my brief usage, the display was bright while colours were sharp and detailed. The smartphone runs Android 7.1.1 Nougat with a few subtle tweaks. As you would expect from BlackBerry, the smartphone comes preloaded with a slew of BlackBerry apps such as BlackBerry Hub, BBM, and DTEK. While the UI is pretty much close to stock Android, tweaks such as a much more dynamic recent menu are quite useful in my opinion.

The KEYOne could be one of the best BlackBerry smartphones so far. (Kul Bhushan/HT Photo)

The smartphone comes with a 12-megapixel rear camera with PDAF, auto-focus, and 4K video support at 30fps. The camera comes with a slew of preloaded filters and also has a Pro mode for more custom photography. Even though I used it briefly, the camera was quite zippy. Though I would like to reserve my verdict on the camera performance until I have thoroughly reviewed the smartphone. Selfies taken from the 8-megapixel front facing camera were quite satisfactory.

The BlackBerry KEYOne is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor coupled with 4GB of RAM. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 625 is a pretty decent chipset and can easily handle the day-to-day tasks. It is believed to battery efficient as well. Though the rival OnePlus 5 runs Qualcomm’s top-end Snapdragon 835 processor. Wait for our detailed review for more on the performance aspect.

Conclusion

The BlackBerry KEYOne has been a mixed experience. Of course, there’s the nostalgia factor and I loved it. The smartphone looks to be a nice blend of decent hardware and software as well. Perhaps, the KEYOne could be one of the best BlackBerry smartphones so far. But that being said, I am no longer tempted towards a physical qwerty keyboard phone. And as for the price, it’s a bit expensive if you take a look at the competing smartphones such as the Honor 8 Pro and OnePlus 5. But, if you are a BlackBerry loyalist, the KEYOne seems like a promising smartphone.

The BlackBerry KEYOne goes on sale from August 8 via Amazon India.

Stay tuned for our detailed review.