Review: BlackBerry Mobile KEYone
Monday, May 29, 2017 at 10:09AM
Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla in Android, BlackBerry KEYone, Breaking news, Buyers Guide, Canada, May 31, Rogers

By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

It’s mid-2017 and there’s a BlackBerry smartphone that’s turning heads and making waves. The Android powered KEYone brings BlackBerrys bag of tricks to a new form factor, and possibly, a new generation of users.

With sterling build and materials, legendary security and encryption, as well as a surprisingly capable 12-megapixel camera, this is a messaging tool that merits notice.

Like many, I approached the news of the KEYOne with great skepticism. BlackBerry, after all, no longer makes smartphones. They’ve licensed the brand and intellectual property to other companies and TCL's track record with the uninspiring DTEK smartphones cast doubt they could offer anything compelling. Earlier models from this licensee, after all, were rebadged Alcatel smartphones. BlackBerry handsets seemed to be all but lost.

Yet, here I am in the middle of Wal-Mart writing this feature story on the BlackBerry KEYone, easily the best QWERTY Keyboard enabled BlackBerry device I’ve used, and certainly the most useful Android smartphone in terms of what it has allowed me to get done. Instead of mentally composing this review, I am actually writing my first draft, on Microsoft Word, with the BlackBerry KEYone, and I will continue writing and editing this story on my MacBook.

Aside from having a physical QWERTY keyboard, the BlackBerry KEYone's fingerprint reader is esconced in the 'Space' key, which even has two lights to notify you when it is time to swipe. The keyboard also serves as a capacitive touchpad, allowing you to scroll without needing to touch the display and there's predictive functionality where the keyboard guesses the next word. Swipe up on the keyboard under the chosen word, and it flies into the input box.

Mercury Rising

Based off the BlackBerry Mercury concept. The KEYone brings the convenience of a 4.5-inch Android device running the latest OS within a secure and elegantly merges it with the messaging and productivity advantage that BlackBerry has built its reputation on. 

All the familiar elements of what made BlackBerry smartphones great are here. A standout and multi-functional QWERTY keyboard, rock solid build quality and materials, messaging focused applications, and enterprise-grade security thanks to the DTEK application.

The KEYone is designed for business users. The design is quite unusual since it is a tall handset with the bottom dedicated to the keyboard, which also doubles as a capacitive trackpad. If you’ve seen the Porsche Design BlackBerry smartphones of the past, the KEYone fits the mold of these premium and sturdy devices perfectly.

Coming from an iPhone SE, I quickly appreciated the increase in screen real-estate, plus the increase in battery life (easily two days on a full-charge, plus Quick Charge 3 capability via USB Type C, that adds hours in mere minutes).

Android Avenger

Running Android 7.0, the KEYone runs the latest Android apps without missing a beat. There’s a pretty solid Qualcomm 625 processor (Octa-Core 2.0 GHz, 64-bit Adreno 506, 650MHz GPU), an ample 3 GB of RAM and 32GB of storage which is expandable to 2 Terabytes via a microSD card. I popped in a 128 GB microSD card and was very happy with the amount of storage for apps, music and other content.

After a week of use, I can say I really liked using the BlackBerry KEYone. Reverting to a QWERTY keyboard input option felt like second nature, and the feel as well as the design of the KEYone is preferable to the PRIV or even the Passport.

I’ve grown accustomed to running all my messaging from the BlackBerry HUB and having to use various apps for mail, social and messaging on my other devices, feels archaic and disorganized. Knowing that my data and information is protected thanks to the DTEK foundation is an added plus that’s never been matched by any other Android OEM.

For the apps I use the most, email, Instagram, Google search, Spotify, Waze, Viber, Facebook Messenger, 60DB, Pocket Casts, Google Home, Google Wifi and others, Android Nougat running on the KEYone is nothing short of exceptional.

A study in Industrial Design

I really like the feel of the KEYone in my hands. It feels balanced and precision-built. The rubber backplate, with its subtle dimpled texture, makes holding this device feel secure. This handset looks good and you want to touch it. Once you touch it, you’re rewarded by the high quality of design and balance.

One thing I realized that I missed from BlackBerry devices was the feeling that they were rock solid and didn’t need to be babied or encased in a protective case. The 4.5-inch display is also covered in scratch-resistant glass. 

There are some nuanced touches that make this device so endearing. The sleek chamfered buttons feel solid and luxurious, the LED indicator (never knew how much I missed having one of those) pulses the colour of the latest app icon as the notifications come in.

I use Viber to keep in touch with family and I know a message has come in because of a purple notification light. If it is Facebook Messenger, the light will be blue, and so on. The KEYone also has an FM radio, sounds like a small feature, but one that does come in handy, especially if you’re travelling and need to keep informed and entertained.

Call quality is great, even on the speakerphone function. Battery life is outstanding, the 3505 mAh battery delivers up to two days use and thanks to USB Type-C and Quick Charge capability, you can get up to 50% battery life in 36 minutes, which makes this a great smartphone to travel with.

My only quibble is that the KEYone doesn’t offer a Dual SIM option, this really helps international travellers stay connected and expand their options for calling, messaging and data.

A Killer Camera

BlackBerry devices have never excelled in the camera department. While they can take a good picture, the quality and speed always left much to be desired. As a reviewer, it was easy to dismiss this by saying that it was a business or enterprise-focused device and not a consumer-focused toy.

This is no longer the case with the KEYone. The camera, which has identical specs to the killer camera on the Google Pixel, is simply one of the best in the market right now. The 12-megapixel Sony IMX378 sensor is outstanding and the camera software does a decent job of ensuring you get delightful results.

The BlackBerry KEYone does not have the Pixel’s outstanding A.I. and image stabilization, nor does it offer a fast frame-to-frame performance, but if you take time to frame and light a subject, it will not disappoint. Below is a sample of a tree on a summer day compared to a photo shot on the HTC 10, which was deemed as one of the best cameras just a year ago.

Photos taken by the BlackBerry KEYone (left) can compare head to head with photos taken by leading smartphone cameras like the HTC 10 (right)

The results do speak for themselves, and it is nice to have a productivity-focused smartphone that can also be relied on as a main stills and video camera if necessary.


BlackBerry is back with the Android-powered KEYone handset made by licensee TCL Communications. The KEYone features a premium design, a useful and multifunctional QWERTY keyboard, a bright 4.5-inch display, outstanding battery life, an impressive 12-megapixel camera and DTEK security and encryption to boot.

TCL Communications has managed to resurrect many of the features and design touches that have BlackBerry devices legendary messaging smartphones. The ability to run millions of Android applications natively makes this one of the most versatile and productive devices in the market right now. While some may see the BlackBerry Mobile KEYone as a nostalgia play catering to BlackBerry loyalists, this is a smartphone that will impress even new users looking for a solid, serious, and no-nonsense device that’s designed for business. ­­­­

Aside from being different from every other iPhone or Android device in the market right now, the BlackBerry KEYone defies trends by offering a physical keyboard, a range of physical buttons (some of which are user-programmable) and an abundance of security and productivity features no one else can offer.


-        Outstanding build and industrial design

-        Useful and empowering QWERTY keyboard

-        Modern features with USB Type-C, fast charging, impressive camera

-        Runs Android Nougat


-        No Dual SIM option

-        Lacks water resistance or wireless charging


Rating: 4.5 out of 5 


Article originally appeared on Reviews, News and Opinion with a Canadian Perspective (
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