BlackBerry Key2 Hands-On: The Keyboard Gets Even Better

Editors' Note: This article was originally posted June 7. We've updated it now that TCL has announced a sales date for the BlackBerry Key2.

A little over a year has passed since we first laid eyes on the KeyOne, which was one of the best BlackBerrys in years. It offered a big battery, solid performance, secure software and, of course, a satisfying and innovative physical keyboard.

Now BlackBerry Mobile (a brand operated by TCL) is readying a successor, appropriately named the Key2, which will be available later this summer for $649. Rather than reinventing its proposition for business users, BlackBerry Mobile has refined the formula and addressed areas where the KeyOne needed a little extra polish.

BlackBerry Key2 Highlights

  • Keyboard has bigger keys with matte finish, and there's a new shortcut key.
  • Snapdragon 660 processor isn't the fastest, but you get a robust 6GB of RAM.
  • Dual cameras deliver optical zoom and portrait mode, and promise better low-light shots.
  • On sale this summer — $649 price is $100 more than original KeyOne.

Pricing and Availability

The $649 BlackBerry Key2 is available for pre-order starting June 29 at Amazon and BestBuy.com. It goes on sale July 13 through those two online retailers and at select Best Buy Stores. You'll be able to order the Key2 in either silver or black.

Design: More streamlined

It starts with the design. BlackBerry stripped away the KeyOne's gaudy metallic accents, frets between the key rows and overly rounded edges for a sharper, more minimalist vibe that really lets the 7000-series aluminum frame stand on its own. The Key2 will retail in silver and black, and while the fresh, simplified shape does the device a lot of favors, I expect the sleek and stealthy darker colorway to be a hit with the BlackBerry faithful.

The Key2 is a hair thinner and taller than the KeyOne, but smaller bezels have allowed BlackBerry to push up the 4.5-inch LCD display and make the keyboard a little roomier. It's still a tiny panel by today's standards, but the squatter aspect ratio mitigates the claustrophobia, and BlackBerry users are probably fine with the trade-off in favor of the physical keyboard.

BlackBerry Key2 Specs

Price$649
OSAndroid 8.1 Oreo
Screen Size (Resolution)4.5-inch LCD (1620 x 1080)
CPUQualcomm Snapdragon 660
RAM6GB
Storage64GB/128GB
microSD SlotYes
Rear CameraDual: 12 MP (f/1.8); 12 MP (f/2.6)
Front Camera8 MP
Battery Size3,500 mAh
Water ResistanceNo
Size5.96 x 2.82 x 0.33 inches

Keyboard: Bigger keys, better feel

The same keyboard features KeyOne users enjoyed, like the trackpad functionality and fingerprint sensor in the spacebar, return for the Key2.

The difference in the keyboards comes down to the finish. BlackBerry used the Key2's extra space to make the keys bigger, and the company opted for a matte texture instead of the jewel-like glossy plastic of the KeyOne.

The keyboard on the BlackBerry Key2, right, sports a very different design from the KeyOne's, left.

The keyboard on the BlackBerry Key2, right, sports a very different design from the KeyOne's, left.

The keys also have a noticeable bevel to them, so you can discern the boundaries more easily, and there's clickier feedback when you press them, too. Initial impressions are of a more comfortable typing experience, though I can't say for certain until I put the keyboard through its paces for the full review.

Performance: Whole lotta RAM

All the improvements haven't been saved for the exterior, either. The Key2 runs Qualcomm's Snapdragon 660 processor, which on its own should offer a modest boost  in performance over the 625 in the KeyOne.

But the biggest upgrade appears to have been reserved for memory. The Key2 has a whopping 6GB of RAM, which easily outranks many Snapdragon 845-powered phones, like Samsung's Galaxy S9 and the Sony Xperia XZ2.

It's really unusual to see so much RAM mated to a midrange processor, but considering the crowd BlackBerry is courting here — power users who run multiwindow apps, sift through PDFs and constantly switch tasks — the extra RAM does sound as it though it would prove more beneficial than the 845's speedier clock cycles alone.

Dual cameras: Better in low light

The Key2 also happens to be BlackBerry's first dual camera phone, and with it comes additions like Portrait Mode, optical zoom and built-in Google Lens support. The system combines two 12-megapixel sensors: one with an f/1.8 aperture, as well as a secondary f/2.6 lens. BlackBerry is touting improved low-light performance as well as better electronic-image stabilization this time around.

Although TCL manufactures BlackBerry phones now, BlackBerry in Canada still develops the customized Android software used on its phones. That includes apps like DTEK, which constantly monitor security and encourage users to be proactive about denying permissions to rogue apps, as well as Locker to restrict files and apps behind authentication.

Critics have argued that DTEK is simply window dressing — that it merely promotes awareness about security, but actually does very little to make BlackBerry's newest phones any safer than their Android counterparts from rival companies. However, BlackBerry's phones have proved nigh impossible to root, and the Key2 is subject to the same two years of regular security patches and commitment to instant hot fixes as the KeyOne and Motion before it.

Software: Shortcuts galore

The Key2 launches with Android 8.1 Oreo on board, and BlackBerry says owners can expect one guaranteed update to Android P. Customizations to the stock Android experience are mostly light, though BlackBerry has added a new shortcut key to the right of the spacebar that can be held and combined with one of the other 52 keys to trigger shortcuts from any screen. Interestingly, BlackBerry also tells us this is the first new key on one of the company's smartphones in a decade.

Outlook: Positive, but pricey

You won't have to wait long to get your hands on a Key2 — the device goes on sale next month for $649, GSM unlocked. That's a bit steep, considering the KeyOne launched for $100 less. BlackBerry's latest is priced the same as the iPhone 8 and many other premium Android handsets, despite lacking a flagship-level processor.

Some customers will surely be put off by the price hike, but then again, the Key2 is the only option for physical keyboard devotees. And, fortunately, it looks to be a really compelling one. Stay tuned for a full review in the coming weeks.

Photo Credit: Adam Ismail/Tom's Guide