As a person who works on my phone during my commutes to write news and stories, I have always batted around the idea of picking up a BlackBerry with a keyboard. The BlackBerry name is synonymous with devices that offer a fully functional physical keyboard with the display, something that is very unique in this era of touchscreen-everything. But for multiple reasons, it has never worked out.

Slowly but surely, however, the company is finally starting to meet those requests. Does anyone else want a fully functional up-to-date Android device, with a keyboard, and a device that is nice to hold? If so, then the Key2 LE may catch your eye.

So to start, I did have some hands-on time with the KEYone last year. It was a sizeable device, but it didn’t fit quite right in my hands. BlackBerry then released its new flagship, the Key2, in June 2018, and in the process refined it from many angles, both with regard to design and internals. Most recently, BlackBerry this month announced the Key2 LE, a cheaper variant of its Key2 that is even thinner and lighter (see the details in the table below). Meanwhile its keyboard has a slight indented angle to the center, allowing users familiar with the layout to find their position easily.

The highlight of the Key2 LE is certainly its design, in particular the Atomic Red color version and its red frets across the keyboard. Rather than being a single piece of chassis, the frets look separate and really bring the look together. BlackBerry is known for its business-focused devices and security, so while most business users will be going after the ‘Slate’ color, most of the press at IFA this year were fixated on the Champagne and Atomic Red designs.

In terms of software, the device a full-fledged Android phone, with the Play Store and BlackBerry-specific applications such as BBM. Even though my thoughts go back to the BB executive whom once said ‘we have the Google’, for anyone that had qualms about using Android on BlackBerry, the integration appears to be solid. The Key2 LE will ship with Oreo 8.1 as its base, with Pie 9.0 coming at a later date.

What users from non-BB devices might not get used to is the screen size. Having a physical keyboard eats up some of that real-estate, and the BlackBerry KEY-series phones only have a 4.5-inch display as a result.  The with that said, the 1080x1620 resolution hides an extremely respectable pixel density of 432 pixels per inch, similar to most flagships, and that resolution is actually a 3:2 aspect ratio (or 2:3 because the vertical is longer). By equipping all three KEY phones - the KEYone, the Key2, and the Key2 LE - with essentilly the same LCD, BlackBerry ensures that they all provide a similar user experience and eliminates any need to customize its BBM software for particular KEY models.

The new Key2 and Key2 LE smartphones are based the Snapdragon 660 and 636 SoCs (respectively), featuring four high-performance Kryo Gold cores and four low-power Kryo Silver cores. This provides considerably higher performance than their predecessor, the KEYone, which was powered by the Snapdragon 625 SoC and its eight low-power Cortex-A53 cores. The more expensive Key2 comes with 6 GB of LPDDR4 and 64 or 128 GB of storage, whereas the Key2 LE is equipped with 4 GB of DRAM (already better than the default KEYone) as well as 32 or 64 GB of NAND. A microSD card slot is present, and dual SIM models will be available.


Key2 and Key2 LE

Other features on the Key2 LE device include a fingerprint sensor in the spacebar, 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi, a 3000 mAh battery with Quick Charge 3.0, a 3.5mm audio jack, and a USB Type-C port. For cameras, the rear of the phone has a dual camera setup combining a 13MP f/2.2 wide-angle camera with a 5MP f/2.4 telephoto camera for zoomed shots, while the front-facing camera is an 8MP fixed focus unit. BlackBerry states that the rear cameras can record up to 4K30 with HDR. By contrast, the flagship Key2 has a larger battery and better cameras (see the table below for details).

One of the additional things I stated when handling the device was that it felt light when I first picked it up. It did feel really light, but I’m honestly not sure if that’s because I was expecting it to be heavy with a keyboard – compared to some of my other phones, it is basically the same – but it was lighter than I expected.

BlackBerry promotes the Key2 LE as its thinnest smartphone to date, and will be available from September. The 32GB version is set to retail for $400.

*Apologies for bad photos. Taken in a dimly lit demo area at an after-show gathering at a restaurant

** The official styling is KEY2 LE. Our style guide calls for Key2 LE. Personally I think it looks better.

BlackBerry KEYone, KEY2, & KEY2 LE
  KEY2 KEY2 LE KEYone
SoC Qualcomm
Snapdragon 660
4 × Kryo Gold at 2.2 GHz
4 × Kryo Silver at 1.8 GHz
Qualcomm
Snapdragon 636
4 × Kryo Gold at 1.8 GHz
4 × Kryo Silver at 1.6 GHz
Qualcomm
Snapdragon 625

8 × Cortex-A53 at 2 GHz
Adreno 512 Adreno 509 Adreno 506
RAM 6 GB LPDDR4 4 GB LPDDR4  3 GB LPDDR3
Storage 64 - 128 GB
microSD
32 - 64 GB
microSD
32 GB (eMMC)
microSD
Display 4.5-inch 1620x1080 (434 ppi) with Gorilla Glass 3 4.5-inch 1620x1080 (434 ppi) with Gorilla Glass 4
Network 2G: GSM/EDGE
3G: WCDMA (DB-DCHSDPA, DC-HSUPA),
TD-SCDMA, EV-DO, CDMA1x
4G: depends on the version
LTE Down: 600 Mb/s
Up: 150 Mb/s
Down: 300 Mb/s
Up: 150 Mb/s
Audio Stereo speakers
3.5-mm TRRS audio jack
Rear Camera Sensor 1: 12 MP, f/1.8, 1/2.3", 1.28µm
dual pixel PDAF

Sensor 2: 12 MP, f/2.6, 1.0µm, PDAF

Dual LED flash
Sensor 1: 13 MP, f/2.2, 1/3.1", 1.12µm
PDAF

Sensor 2: 5 MP, f/2.4, 1.12µm, depth sensor

Dual LED flash
12 MP, f/2.0, 1/2.3", 1.55µm

Dual LED flash
Front Camera 8 MP, f/2.0, 1.12µm 8 MP 8 MP, f/2.2, 1.12µm
Battery 3500 mAh
QC 3.0
3000 mAh
QC 3.0
3505 mAh
QC 3.0
OS Android 8.0, upgradeable to 9.0 Android 7.1
Wireless I/O 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC
Wired I/O USB 3.0 Type-C USB 2.0 Type-C USB 3.0 Type-C
Sensors Fingerprint, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, proximity, ambient light
Navigation A-GPS, GPS, GLONASS, BDS2
SIM Size NanoSIM, Dual SIM
Dimensions Height: 151.4 mm | 5.96"
Width: 71.8 mm | 2.83"
Thickness: 8.5 mm | 0.33"
Height: 150.3 mm | 5.92"
Width: 71.8 mm | 2.83"
Thickness: 8.4 mm | 0.33"
Height: 149.1 mm | 5.87"
Width: 72.4 mm | 2.85"
Thickness: 9.4 mm | 0.37"
Weight 168 grams | 5.93 oz 156 grams | 5.5 oz 180 grams | 6.35 oz
Colors Black
Silver
Black
Champagne
Atomic Red
Black/Metallic
Bronze
Black Edition
Launch Price from €649/$649 from €399/$400 from $549/€599/£499

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  • V900 - Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - link

    I don’t know for sure, but considering Blackberrys traditional market and formerly strong position in the US, I can’t imagine they’d make a phone that’d leave CDMA users out in the cold. Reply
  • PeachNCream - Monday, September 17, 2018 - link

    A 4.5 inch screen and a 3000 mAh battery might result in relatively good endurance. My current phone as a 4.5 inch screen and I find it to be the right size for my needs. I had a couple Blackberries, one through my employer and later one as a personal phone. The keyboards were fantastic at the time, but I feel like it'd result in unnecessary device bloat now. Blackberry needs to be different in order to stand out from the crowd, but I'm not sure a physical keyboard is really the right answer these days. Reply
  • Makaveli - Monday, September 17, 2018 - link

    It will have good endurance not might.

    My KeyOne gets me 2 days of battery life off one charge I would expect similar on the Key 2 LE even with slightly smaller battery.

    And Keyone is also upgradeable to Android 8.1 Oreo as i'm running it should update the table.

    I disagree PeachNCream they need to keep making Keyboard phones while offering full touch which they do.
    Reply
  • PeachNCream - Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - link

    My phone only sees really heavy use when I go on the occasional gaming binge (a maybe once every 2-3 month event) or when I'm away from home and I get one of those sudden surges of creative inspiration. When the latter happens, I end up spending hours behind the phone screen working on a novel. Older model Blackberries like the 8820 and 9900 were pretty good for lengthy writing, but I wore out the keys on both of them pretty quickly by writing thousands of pages on them. On screen keyboards, now that I've grown accustomed to using them (no, I don't use swype and auto correct and prediction are disabled - just the stock keyboard app without any distractions) are more durable because of their lack of physical components. I find it nice to be able to use the space the keyboard occupies to display other content when I'm not writing so rather than having a device physically equal to a 6 inch phone, but only get a 4.5 inch screen, I can just have a smaller overall phone. I dislike traveling with a laptop or adding the bulk of a bluetooth keyboard so writing on my cell is my best option.

    So mainly, it's the demands of my writing that have pushed me to favor on screen keyboards. I feel they're the best compromise if you need to enter millions of words on a phone, but want the smallest possible device to do the job.
    Reply
  • V900 - Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - link

    So a physical keyboard is “bloat” and sooo last decade, in other words?

    Ok... So tell me, what do you use when you’re on a laptop or computer and want to write something? Do you sit and tap a slate of glass?

    No, you use a keyboard... Like most people do if they want to use an iPad comfortably for writing for more than five minutes.

    I think it’s frankly bizarre that you consider a keyboard on a phone to be outdated bloat, when you use the very same thing on other devices, probably multiple times a week.
    Reply
  • PeachNCream - Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - link

    Use whatever makes you happy. I'm perfectly fine with your opinion as it was formed around a solution that you're most comfortable with using. Reply
  • Tams80 - Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - link

    Yeah, because going with yet another slab is going to make them stand out from all the other slabs on the market. A market where at these price ranges quite a few companies are losing money on each device sold.

    There's not much out there to make a smartphone distinct that will also sell well (very niche ones have more options; see the Bullitt Group's offerings). Physical keyboards are one the niches that is quite large.

    Oh, and there is a keyboardless Blackberry out there, the Leap, if that's what you want. It's distinctly mediocre.
    Reply
  • PeachNCream - Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - link

    Phones are a bit like sharks. They evolved to suit the tasks they need to perform. Until the tasks change to make physical keyboards once again an advantage, deviations from the current compromise of on screen data entry are unlikely to be more than niche mutations from the mediocre majority.

    Also, what companies are losing money on each device sold? Phone manufacturers would cease operations if businesses ran at a loss.
    Reply
  • Fastfrenchman - Monday, September 17, 2018 - link

    Will wi fi calling work on T mobile like the key 1 ? Reply
  • V900 - Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - link

    Hold on a second...

    Since the better equipped version is the Key2, isn’t the naming scheme the exact OPPOSITE of what it should be? Shouldn’t this be the Key2, and the one that has better cameras and bigger battery be the Key2 LE?

    Aside from the name, this looks to be a solid phone for everyone who likes a physical keyboard.

    Just looking at that keyboard in fact, kinda makes me tired of tapping glass when writing, and makes me want to try it.

    The fingerprint reader in the spacebar is a brilliant idea, and since Apple is still on their silly trip with Face ID, this looks like a possible next device.

    The only drawback is of course (sigh...) Android. And that’s a biggie!
    Reply

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