Blackberry KEY2 Is The Security Conscious Smartphone For Android Fans

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Last year I found myself saying something I didn’t think I’d be saying in 2017, “this Blackberry is awesome.” Blackberry’s KEYone was likely a reintroduction to the once revered brand, now running on the Android platform but with the beloved keyboard users wax nostalgic about. A year later, the brand is back with their successor to the KEYone, the KEY2. I was able to highly recommend their first effort, let’s see if the KEY2 is as awesome a device.

If you were to hold both in your hand, the first thing you’d notice about the KEY2 is that is noticeably more svelt than its predecessor. This year’s Blackberry is taller, but thinner and lighter as a result of aluminum included in the build. That actually allows it to feel just as durable and robust as the previous iteration while feeling good in hand and in pocket. The phone is taller which gives you more spacing on the keyboard this year and that’s never a bad thing. More on the keyboard later. The bottom of the phone gives you stereo speakers, on the right you have your volume up/down keys, knurled power button and convenience key. The top of the phone is where you’ll find the headphone jack and a microphone. The left side of the phone is where you’ll find the SIM tray which also houses a micro SD tray.

The back of the KEY2 is where you’ll find that dual lens camera and flash. Like I said with the first gen device, it isn’t a bad camera at all. For most people and particularly the users this phone is probably going to attract, the camera will be more than sufficient. In all fairness, the photos I’ve taken came out looking great! Colors were well saturated in good light and even in low light I don’t have any complaints. The front facing camera has been called mediocre but in low light conditions, I’ve found it to be more than satisfactory. I’ve included some images from both cameras in the gallery above so you can make your own decision on the quality of the photos. In low light you can see that the pic with the dogs in it has some grain, but for a front facing camera the photo is actually quite good. Detail in the dog’s fur is good and I’m definitely not hating on the contrast properties of the image.

Let’s get to what anyone is really asking about when it comes to the Blackberry, that keyboard. First up is the fingerprint scanner. Embedded in the space bar, I’ve found it to be accurate and unlock the device quite quickly. I rarely had any misses for the first two weeks of use. After that, this weird glitch came up where it just stopped working occasionally. After a device restart it went back to functioning normally.

A new addition to this year’s keyboard is the shortcut key, the Speed Key, to the right of the [sym] key. You can use the key, plus any of the keys on the keyboard as shortcuts to launch apps,speed dial, and other functions on the device. For example, you could map the letter “I” to the shortcut key so that when you hit the key and that letter, it will launch Instagram. Additionally you can use the Speed Key to access deeper functions like opening a specific email inbox, access to Google docs, ore creating a new calendar event. This means spending less time moving your hands off of the keyboard. And to that end, the developers have created a keyboard which is touch sensitive and when double-tapped acts as a trackpad. This feature allows you to navigate the cursor around text boxes and the screen without having to touch the screen. I’ve come to enjoy it more than Android’s method for moving around text boxes, and almost as much as iOS’ version with the magnifying glass. Should you want to touch the screen though, you can tap the [sym] key and an on-screen keyboard pops up. I’d use this one as little as possible because when it comes up you do lose quite a bit of screen real estate. All-in-all the keyboard on the Blackberry KEY2 is a highly usable, highly functional experience if that’s what you’re after. Even if you aren’t, one of the pluses to using the a hardware keyboard is the lack of autocorrect, or to put it another way, increased accuracy. Initially you will be typing slower as you acclimate (or for those of us older folk, re-acclimate) to the use of hardware keys but your speed will increase and so does that lack of embarrassing autocorrects.

The keys this year are different from those on the KeyOne but in a good way. Their matte finish and shape make gliding over them quick and easy. It’ll feel odd at first, but you should get used to it pretty quick and be typing away at speed in no time.

The software on the Key2 isn’t super bloated and generally adds more function to the device than it hinders. The Key2 runs runs an altered version of Android 8.1 Oreo which adds features which make it “unrootable,” gives you some very smart secured folder access, and gives you an informative but nagging DTEK nanny which keeps track of your device’s security. Given Android’s public perception that it’s app store may suffer from security vulnerabilities from time to time, DTEKs permission updates will probably be comforting for most business users. You’ll get notifications on the device which will tell you which apps have recently accessed private data, and have the opportunity to act on the information. Specifically, these notifications show you all of the permissions apps have requested and how often. Then if you feel uncomfortable with, say, your calculator app requesting GPS info (why would it need that?) you can cut off access.

Since security is the order of the day on the Key2, it’s good to see an app which makes altering screenshots, easy. The new Redactor app makes removing personal info in those “receipts” you’ve been collecting, a lot less clunky than some photo editing apps. Want to clip a Facebook conversation, or text message exchange without compromising the identity of the people you’re having the exchange with? Redactor. Then, if you want to save those receipts somewhere away from prying eyes, you can keep them in the Key2’s secure folder app until you’re ready to produce said receipts. Bonus, you can also take photos and save them directly to the secure folder by using the fingerprint sensor in the camera app, which will also prevent those photos from automatically being uploaded to the cloud should you have Google Photos turned on.

As a result of its security-centric focus, I think it’s worth recommending the Key2 for those who are security conscious, and businesspersons. It definitely gives Samsung’s KNOX and secure folders a run for their money, which means it’s up to you to decide which features are going to be most important to you. If I was going to carry a separate phone for work/business and personal use, the Key2 would be among just a couple phones I’d choose for business use.


Disclosure: TCL provided me with a demo unit for the purpose of this review.