As someone that tends to lean more towards the iOS camp nowadays, mainly due to convenience more than anything, I never really had the opportunity or motivation to really use an Android device for a prolonged amount of time due to the minor inconsistencies I come across whenever I tend to pick up a device running the Google-created operating system. The last time I used an Android device rigorously was back when the Honor 5X came to the somewhat budget limelight, and it didn’t really fill me with much confidence in terms of its software. I think that maybe because of how Honor tweaks their software, or if I just soured on Android in general at that point. Let’s see if the Blackberry KEYone made an impression where others have failed.
A couple of weeks ago, BlackBerry PR approached me to take a look at the somewhat recently released BlackBerry KEYone. This, for me, is an opportunity I couldn’t really pass up due to my love-hate relationship with Android. I was looking for an Android device to ‘wow’ me, in both form and function, but mainly function. The KEYone had some glowing reviews in a lot of its respective categories, one of those including the software, which I wanted my opinion changed on. After seeing the reviews, I gladly accepted the offer from BlackBerry to take a look to at their last-ditch effort to play with the golden boys of the industry.
Industrially Sound Hardware
Speaking of love-hate relationships: when the BlackBerry KEYone first came to fruition back in 2017, I wasn’t overly impressed with the overall look of the phone. It looked too much of a ‘business’ phone to me, which in this climate of smartphones and how they change, isn’t necessarily a good thing as it once was back in BlackBerry’s golden days. Nowadays you want a high-end performing smartphone that also has the added bonus of having business tools built into it.
After taking the time to actually use the KEYone as my main phone over the past 2 weeks, I can honestly say that this may be among one of the best functional-looking phones I have had the graces to lay hands on. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the best looking phone in the world, but it does a good job of looking and acting like a phone of action. This device has a Medusa effect wherein even if you take a glance at the phone out of the corner of your eye, you suddenly have a profuse motivation to just type something. Seeing those trademark BlackBerry keys making a re-appearance, and implementing it in such a way that gives you the reason to use it 90% of the time is a stroke of absolute genius from the US-based company. While on the topic of the keyboard, you get an overwhelming amount of satisfaction typing a whole sentence on it, and most of that satisfaction comes from the feedback the keys give when pushing them in; it’s almost like the equivalent of using a mechanical keyboard.
Another thing I have found particularly handy during my usage time with this device is the convenience key. As JerryRig once aptly stated in one of his durability tests: “It’s almost as if BlackBerry is undoing Samsung’s wrongs with the Bixby button”. What JerryRig means in this statement is the fact that Samsung implemented a singular button on the right-hand side of the Galaxy S8 which people assumed you could re-map to whatever you please; turns out it only launches Bixby and that’s about the crux of it. With BlackBerry’s version of this button, you can literally map any action you can think of, then add the kitchen sink: mute switch, launch the Camera, launch multiple applications. The possibilities are endless!
When the KEYone started doing the rounds on the big review sites, one thing was agreed upon by each rivalling website, and that’s the fact that the display setup on the KEYone is…ambitious, but strange. The KEYone has a 4.5-inch IPS display with a resolution of 1080 x 1620 (3:2 aspect ratio). A major factor and selling point of the KeyONE is the fact that it has a physical keyboard at your disposal at all times, but implementing a full-fledged OG BlackBerry-esque keyboard takes up quite a lot of real estate in your hands already, even without the display portion. So BlackBerry had to make an apparent big sacrifice when it came to the display, as having the usual standard 5″+ display would make the device feel somewhat like a Galaxy Note device without the pleasure of viewing your media with a massive screen. As unfortunate as that may be, BlackBerry settled with a 4.5-inch display with a 3:2 aspect ratio. When I first saw the setup BlackBerry went with, I wasn’t all too impressed with it. But after using it for a lengthy amount of time, I can honestly say you adjust to it just fine with no room for discomfort in the long run.
As you don’t have a virtual keyboard, you don’t have much of anything taking up the screen real estate and dampening your experience (it is worth noting you do have an option for a virtual keyboard). Playing games is absolutely fine with this less than standard sized display, and the keyboard doesn’t feel like it gets in the way.
In terms of how the display performs, I’d rank it in a similar league to what the LG G6 currently has. Not too vibrant in image production, excellent white balance, and can get quite bright even in the brightest of conditions.
One plus to the display arrangement on the KEYone is that you have an option to change the white balance and vibrancy settings to your choosing. So even if the display isn’t up to your personal preference, all you have to do is go into display settings and change it to how you’d like it.
I stated as such in the opening paragraph, but my main gripe with recent Android devices that I have used is that the software is severely lacking in most departments. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact point where it fails, but it feels like it isn’t quite there yet. Granted, this could be because of the phones I have used recently aren’t from manufacturers that have a proven track record for software (i.e. Honor), but I wanted my mind to be changed on Android as an overall operating system since my last prolonged tenure with the OS which was in the KitKit glory days.
Luckily, with the KEYone, it has a pretty much-unadulterated version of vanilla Android loaded on there, but with a few fancy BlackBerry extras on there to make the experience especially sweet. One thing that instantly stood out for me was how user-friendly the whole setup experience was; you never felt as if you were missing a step, or had to trawl around for certain functions – everything was there in one place with little opportunities to make errors. It reminded me of the initial iOS setup experience, where you wanted each and every customer, be it veterans of the Operating System, or someone completely new, to understand equally how to use the device effectively.
As soon as the setup is completed, you’re presented with the BlackBerry launcher, which is something you will never want to move away from if you want a 100% effective experience, using the KEYone to its full potential. You have everything you need right there on the home screen. Remember those sweet BlackBerry add-ons I was talking about earlier? Well, the launcher holds most of those sweet treats. For example: To not make the physical keyboard completely useless when navigating the home screen, the keys on the keyboard work as shortcuts, much like a macro on a computer keyboard. And with BlackBerry’s exceptional user experience at the forefront, setting up said shortcuts couldn’t be easier. All you have to do is pick a key you want to set a shortcut, select the app you want to open, and then it opens the aforementioned app instantly after pressing the selected key. So not only do you have the convenience key for app opening shortcuts across the whole operating system, you have the key shortcuts on the launcher as well.
In terms of an overall software experience, my previous opinions on Android in recent memory have completely diminished. Not only is this the smoothest version of Android I’ve had the pleasure of using, it feels like it has a purpose. The KEYone doesn’t just look functional and ready for business, it acts like it too. There are absolutely no slowdowns in any task you happen to throw at it, with little room to make any errors because the device just won’t allow it, or will rectify it for you without you even noticing.
I had never used a device before where I kind of didn’t want to go back to iOS because the usability and functionality of the KEYone just trample all over Apple’s experience by an almost near-landslide.
Benchmark Battery Life
As we all know in an ever-growing technology climate, opinions differ in many varying degrees and it’s hard to find two different people to agree on the same point. Just because I like the hardware setup on the BlackBerry KEYone doesn’t mean it’s factual, because to another person it may not to be their taste.
One point about this phone in particular that I know the masses will agree on is its battery. Simply put: it’s the best battery life you will ever get out of a modern Android smartphone, flagships included. With medium usage, you could easily squeeze out 2 days battery life before the device gives up the ghost, and what’s most impressive about that feat is that this is without enabling BlackBerry’s spectacular power saving options. If you did enable the power saving mode on your last 20-30% of battery, you’d get another half a day of use out of it with the same medium usage you were using for the rest of the day.
As an iPhone user, I’ve always been used to having semi-decent battery life on an average day without worrying about scrambling for a charger. With Android, or at least with my experiences with Android, I always felt like I needed to carry a power bank on me at all times because Play Services may end up staying awake in the background, draining precious percentages away from it. Ever since using the KEYone, the stigma of Android devices having inconsistent battery life, at least for me, pretty much diminished the first day I started using it. You could almost exactly pinpoint according to your usages at what time of day what battery your device would be at, much like what I do with my iPhone.
As a test, I heavily used the KEYone on my day off — I streamed YouTube, Netflix, All 4, Plex. Played a few intensive games, browsed Reddit etc. until the phone eventually died. It took 10-12 hours to completely drain the battery, taking into account breaks the in-between game or stream time. This, to me, solidifies this as the battery king of Android.
I promised myself this wouldn’t be a fully-comprehensive review of the KEYone, as my esteemed colleague Dom has already done that – so that’s the reason why I’m missing out the other less important points of the KEYone.
The BlackBerry KEYone for me is possibly the best Android device I have tried in a very long time. It’s not only a workhorse, it looks good while doing it. Exceptional display, wondrous typing experience, and one of the best Android iterations from an OEM I have bared witness to.
BlackBerry may have lost their way and was a little stubborn to move onto brighter pastures to keep their undisputed throne in the past, but they managed to claw back some of that glory in the KEYone in convincing fashion.
I would highly recommend this device to anyone in the market for an Android device with exceptional battery life and great functionality; you won’t be disappointed.