BlackBerry returns with the KEYone

Alex Kidman 26 February 2017 NEWS


At MWC 2017, BlackBerry has made its play for 2017 relevance with the KEYone smartphone, complete with that famous physical keyboard.

If you’re a mobile user with a few miles under your belt, you probably remember when BlackBerry was the phone to own. Users referred to them as “Crackberries” thanks to the unique (for its time) persistent email facility that would enable users to get their mail very quickly over what were then only 2G networks. Yes, it was a different time, and BlackBerry also had the advantage of the best physical keyboard in the business as a sales tactic to rely on.

It’s fair to say that BlackBerry parent Research In Motion was entirely blindsided by the arrival of smartphones such as the iPhone and Google’s Android phones. A decade later and no Australian carrier offers a BlackBerry phone on contract, leaving them with a small but devoted core following rapidly running out of actual phones to buy.

BlackBerry itself (having renamed from RIM some years back) has officially exited the hardware business to focus on enterprise software, but along the way it has opened up the hardware licensing, with Chinese giant TCL (who also own the Alcatel phone brand) picking up the rights to produce BlackBerry devices.

At Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona, TCL and BlackBerry have officially unveiled the phone that was codenamed “Mercury” but will now be known as the BlackBerry KEYone. While TCL was responsible for the manufacturing of the device, BlackBerry had significant input into its design.

The BlackBerry KEYone will be a 4.5-inch 1620x1080 Android 7.1 phone, although the presence of the keyboard gives it a profile more fitting of a larger display device. The keyboard is capacitive, allowing for gestures that can work as an extension of the existing touchscreen. With biometric security in mind, the spacebar acts as a fingerprint reader. The keyboard can also quickly launch applications from a single key press on a designated letter, again with the BlackBerry focus on productivity in mind.

Charging and data connectivity is via USB C, which is fast becoming the standard for new phones. Support for Qualcomm's Quick Charge 3.0 is baked into the device.

Underneath the display, BlackBerry/TCL have opted for a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor, which gives it a more mid-range productivity focus than the faster Snapdragon 821 or 935 equivalents that you might find on a more premium device.

Android 7.1 is the operating system of choice, overlaid with BlackBerry’s own security software. That includes multi-tasking, with representatives claiming that it has more usable screen space than a comparably-sized smartphone with its screen keyboard in view. The claim with the Blackberry KEYone is that it will have Google's monthly security updates delivered swiftly to the device, in keeping with that whole business focus for the phone.

The focus for the KEYone is most definitely still in more business-centric markets, with TCL’s other primary phone brand, Alcatel set to announce new phones here in Barcelona on Monday. We’d expect those to more strongly target average consumers, and specifically the budget to mid-range space that Alcatel is particularly strong in locally.

Alcatel representatives indicated to that we should expect to see the KEYone in Australia in the May/June timeframe at an estimated outright price of $799, with carrier availability to be advised. Given the estimated European price of 599 euro, that's actually very competitive after conversion and GST addition.

BlackBerry KEYone Specifications

Blackberry KEYone
Display 4.5in
Resolution 1080x1620
ppi 434ppi
Software Android 7.1
Storage 32GB
Battery 3505mAh
Front Camera 8MP
Rear Camera 12MP
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 625
Size 14.9x7.2x0.93cm
Weight TBC

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