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

    (Wanted to edit my first comment, but since that is an option, I wrote another more concise post.)

    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
  • phoenix_rizzen - Wednesday, September 19, 2018 - link

    LE probably stands for Lite Edition, not Limited Edition, in this case. So the naming is correct, if slightly non-intuitive. Reply
  • V900 - Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - link

    Am I the only one here who really likes this design, and think it’s wonderfully fresh and original after slate, after slate, after slate, year in and year out.

    Phones in 2018 have gotten boooooring, as far as the design goes anyways.

    They all look the same, all chasing the same autistic vision of a phone being a slab of glass.

    They all use the same materials, the height of originality is copying the iPhone, and even Apple’s designs have gotten kinda meh.

    And suddenly here’s the Key2 LE, looking like a timetraveller from 2016 (in the best sense of the word) reminding us, that there was a time when phones weren’t indistinguishable from each other.

    Cool!
    Reply
  • imaheadcase - Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - link

    Phones from here on out will be boring, because you can't advance a device further than its function. No one complains about a PC monitor because no one is looking at the sides or back when using it.

    This device is just for a small niche group of people, its not something that normal everyday people will get. Even if you don't play games or movies on phone, this device still is not worth getting for the off chance you might decide to. The only people who will use it are straight up business people who can't use a device other than it for security or for company use.
    Reply
  • imaheadcase - Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - link

    To clarify its even worse for phones considering no matter how fancy it looks, %99 of users just slap a case over the top anyways. Reply
  • Tams80 - Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - link

    Which is a load of malarkey. There are quite a few possible designs out there, and no real pinnacle. If there is a pinnacle, a glass slate is not it. It is not the best in terms of durability. It's not the most ergonomic. It's not the most versatile. Reply
  • imaheadcase - Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - link

    To be honest a phone could come out with perfect specs and everything else..but with a plastic durable box people will buy it. Reply
  • V900 - Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - link

    What a load of claptrap and nonsense.

    Why would it only be for a “small niche group of people” and exactly what is it that would prevent anyone from playing a game or watching a movie on it?

    Looking at the specs; it would do a bang up job at both!

    Depending on the game, it might even do better than many all screen phones, since there are physical buttons which most gamers prefer.

    A physical keyboard isn’t some obscure feature that only business users need.

    There are millions of people, who both watch movies and play games, who prefer a real, physical keyboard over a virtual one. Some are business users, and some just need it for messages and urls.
    Reply
  • 'nar - Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - link

    I was a BB fanboy for years, until the switch to Android. BB was secure, stable, efficient, and organized. Android does more, but it is a mess. The biggest advantage of the physical keyboard is typing accuracy. Most people can type faster with swype and word prediction, but some words are constantly mis-predicted, frequently changing after you've moved on which causes frustration with repeating mistakes while texting in real time.

    The most convenient feature was missing on Android, the proper convenience key. Sure there is one, but all it does is launch some app. It cannot pause playback. This makes listening to my podcast very cumbersome. Add to that the fact that Android devices cannot tell when you remove them from the holster. So whereas I used to just reach down and press that convenience key to pause my podcast when I needed to talk to someone, now I need to pick up my phone, wake it up, open the player app, then press pause.

    Lastly, if you are really concerned about security, then you shouldn't be using Android as that is developed by Google, which earns their money by selling your data to marketers.

    The physical keyboard is what people see, but real BB enthusiasts know that it was much more than that. Unfortunately, it became niche. More people wanted to watch video and play Angry Birds. Most prefer a phone they can play on to one that is better for work. I cannot blame BB for this. Convenience is the antithesis of security, but most people choose convenience over security. That's just what the market bears out.
    Reply
  • rocky12345 - Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - link

    I have always preferred a hardware keyboard since I dislike the feel of having to use the soft keys from the screen. It is something I have had to get used to and for the most part am mostly fine with it now. I would like to try one of these to see if going back to a hardware keyboard is worth the smaller screen you get from a device like this. Reply

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