MWC: BlackBerry KEYone Is Solid Mid-Range Smartphone Priced Too High

Subject: Mobile | March 1, 2017 - 02:26 PM |
Tagged: Snapdragon 625, opinion, MWC, keyone, enterprise, Cortex A53, blackberry, Android 7.1, Android

February is quite the busy month with GDC, MWC, and a flurry of technology announcements coming out all around the same time! One of the more surprising announcements from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona came from BlackBerry in the form of a new mid-range smartphone it is calling the KEYone. The KEYone is an Android 7.1 smartphone actually built by TCL with an aluminum frame, "soft touch" plastic back, curved edges, and (in traditional CrackBerry fashion) a full physical QWERTY keyboard!

View Full Size

The black and silver candy bar style KEYone (previously known as "Mercury") measures 5.78" x 2.85" x 0.37" and weighs 0.39 pounds. The left, right, and bottom edges are rounded and the top edge is flat. There are two bottom firing stereo speakers surrounding a USB Type-C port (Type-C 1.0 with USB OTG), a headphone jack up top, and volume, power, and convenience key buttons on the right side. The front of the device, which BlackBerry has designed to be comfortable using one handed, features a 4.5" 1620 x 1080 LCD touchscreen (434 PPI) protected by Gorilla Glass 4, a front facing camera with LED flash, and a large physical keyboard with straight rows of keys that have a traditional BlackBerry feel. The keyboard, in addition to having physical buttons, supports touch gestures such as swiping, and the spacebar has a fingerprint reader that early hands on reports indicate works rather well for quickly unlocking the phone. Further, every physical key can be programmed as a hot key to open any application with a long press (B for browser, E for email, ect).

View Full Size

On the camera front, BlackBerry is using the same sensor found in the Google Pixel which is a Sony IMX378. There is a 12MP f/2.0 rear camera with dual LED flash and phase detect auto focus on the back as well as a front facing 8MP camera. Both cameras can record 1080p30 video as well as support HDR and software features like face detection. Android Central reports that the camera software is rather good (it even has a pro mode) and the camera is snappy at taking photos.

Internally, BlackBerry has opted to go with squarely mid-range hardware which is disappointing but not the end of the world. Specifically, the KEYone is powered by a Snapdragon 625 (MSM8953) with eight ARM Cortex A53 cores clocked at 2GHz and an Adreno 506 GPU paired with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. Wireless support includes dual band 802.11ac, FM, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, NFC, and GSM/HSPA/LTE cellular radios. The smartphone uses a 3,505 mAh battery that is not user removable but at least supports Quick Charge 3.0 which can reportedly charge the battery to 50% in 36 minutes. Storage can be expanded via MicroSD cards. The smartphone is running Android 7.1.1 with some BlackBerry UI tweaks but is otherwise fairly stock. Under the hood however BlackBerry has hardened the OS and includes its DTEK security sftware along with promising monthly updates.

Not bad right? Looking at the specifications and reading/watching the various hands-on reports coming out it is really looking like BlackBerry (finally) has a decent piece of hardware for enterprise customers, niche markets (lawyers, healthcare, ect), and customers craving a physical keyboard in a modern phone. At first glance the BlackBerry KEYone hits all the key marks to a competitive Android smartphone... except for its $549 price tag. The KEYone is expected to launch in April.

View Full Size

No scroll ball? Blasphemy! (hehe)

Unfortunately, that $549 price is not a typo, and is what kills it even for a CrackBerry addict like myself. After some reflection and discussion with our intrepid smartphone guru Sebastian, I feel as though BlackBerry would have a competitive smartphone on its hands at $399, but at $549 even business IT departments are going to balk much less consumers (especially as many businesses embrace the BYOD culture or have grown accustomed to pricing out and giving everyone whatever basic Android or iPhone they can fit into the budget).

While similarly specced Snapdragon 625 smartphones are going for around $300, (e.g. Asus ZenPhone 3 at $265.98), there is some precedent for higher priced MSM8953-based smartphones such as the $449 Moto Z Play. There is some inherent cost in integrating a physical keyboard and BlackBerry has also hardened the Android 7.1.1 OS which I can see them charging a premium for and that business customers (or anyone that does a lot of writing on the go) that values security can appreciate. It seems like BlackBerry (and hardware partner TCL) has finally learned how to compete on the hardware design front in this modern Android-dominated market, and now they must learn how to compete on price especially as more and more Americans are buying unlocked and off-contract smartphones! I think the KEYone is a refreshing bit of hardware to come out of BlackBerry (I was not a fan of the Priv design) and I would like to see it do well and give the major players (Apple, Samsung, LG, Asus, Huawei, ect) some healthy competition with the twist of its focus on better security but in order for that to happen I think the BlackBerry KEYone needs to be a bit cheaper.

What are your thoughts on the KEYone and the return of the physical keyboard? Am I onto something or simply off my Moto Rokr on this?

Source: BlackBerry

March 1, 2017 | 02:32 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Love the physical keys... might have to get it.

March 1, 2017 | 09:03 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Physical keyboards are great, and it's nice to see a 4-row instead of a 3-row like the Passport (although 5-row would be nice on a slider or clamshell).

The only thing that stopped me from getting a Priv was that it was not rootable, and I don't expect this phone to be any different. I don't like the idea of not controlling the hardware that I paid for, but I may just have to bite the bullet because all-touch interfaces are even worse, and it doesn't look like anyone other than Blackberry is interested in making keyboard phones.

March 1, 2017 | 09:29 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

Yeah, I would guess it is not going to be rootable, or at least not at all easily heh.

Indeed, I think Samsung had some kind of accessory keyboard thing for one of its Galaxy phones but that doesn't really count...

March 1, 2017 | 11:17 PM - Posted by Odizzido (not verified)

I remember liking the physical keyboard my mom had back in the day. Nice to see it return.

I also like having a removable battery though, if for nothing other than being able to "reset" the phone when it crashes.

March 1, 2017 | 11:44 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

Yeah the non removable battery does suck even LG is moving to this with the G6 iirc :/. Over the summer i had to buy a replacement battery for my G3 as it died and would no longer hold a charge anymore (it got worse over time until eventually the battery couldnt keep the phone on even when plugged into the wall charger heh).

If the battery was not user replaceable that $30 oem battery would have cost me $130 probably! (of course this happens a month after the phone manufacturer warranty expired heh.)

 

Edit: agh typos! See why I miss physical keyboards ;)

March 2, 2017 | 08:56 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Looks more a quality phone to me. Nice to see, to bad the S8 is coming out soon or I'd seriously c consider it.