I've been using both the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge intermittently over the past year or so. My experience with these devices has been pretty good, and has been even better with Nougat. They both have great specs, performance, and visually appealing designs (although I do have my qualms about the glass back and edged display). My experience has been satisfying enough that I have no intentions of upgrading to the Galaxy S8, bezel or no bezel. In fact, I had no intentions of upgrading this year at all – that is, until I started taking a more in-depth look at the recently unveiled BlackBerry KEYOne.
Once codenamed "Mercury" but recently given the official name of KEYOne, this new BlackBerry device (manufactured by TCL, who now licenses the BlackBerry brand) brings back the traditional candybar form factor - sort of like an elongated BlackBerry Passport. Although BlackBerry may not be in charge of manufacturing, the company still has a heavy hand on the software side of things, meaning that security is still a big part of this device.
The specs of the KEYOne, at a glance, may seem underwhelming with a 4.5-inch display, Snapdragon 625 processor, and 3GB of RAM. If you were hoping for something closer to flagship tier, the KEYOne might be disappointing. However, for casual business users, which appears to be the audience this device is tailored to, the specs make sense. The 4.5-inch display is appropriate given that the physical keyboard is permanently exposed, unlike the BlackBerry PRIV’s keyboard which can slide out of view when not in use. The Snapdragon 625 processor may not be the most powerful, but it’s no slouch and even excels in an important area that both business and everyday users can appreciate: battery life (which will be especially useful in combination with the device’s large 3,505 mAh battery). The 3GB of RAM does seem like a questionable spec that could have used a boost, but not necessarily a deal-breaker considering the other appealing aspects of the KEYOne.
The most attractive feature is likely to be its physical keyboard, an all but dead feature that only the BlackBerry brand continues to champion. This physical keyboard is similar to the ones found on the BlackBerry PRIV and Passport, which means it can function as more than just a keyboard. You can swipe across it to scroll, assign shortcuts to keys, and the space bar doubles as a fingerprint sensor.
Alongside the appeal of a physical keyboard, the KEYOne also aims to please users who value using their phone one-handed – a task that proves difficult for some given how large most smartphones are these days. Designed for comfort, the KEYOne is narrower than both the PRIV and the Passport, and uses rounded corners on the bottom of the device (which contrast with the sharp corners on the top, but a good choice for comfort).
Another appealing aspect of the KEYOne, at least on paper, are its cameras. The BlackBerry brand isn’t typically associated with great cameras, but the KEYOne features the same camera sensor that’s in the Google Pixel, which was one of the best smartphone cameras in 2016. That isn’t to say that the KEYOne will necessarily take photos on caliber with the Pixel as software has a lot to do with the quality as well, but it is nice to see a BlackBerry device that puts more effort into the camera. The front also has a nice 8-megapixel camera for selfies.
The KEYOne seems like a well-rounded device that will appease a number of people: people who still yearn for a good physical keyboard; people who have trouble holding larger smartphones in one hand; and people who value long battery life. For those reasons, I think the KEYOne’s somewhat expensive price is justified.
At ~$549, the KEYOne will allegedly be priced lower than most flagships due to its specs, but priced higher than more powerful budget options due to its unique form factor. If anything, I think the trouble with the KEYOne (in the U.S.) will be its limited availability across all carriers. As a GSM unlocked device, the best bet is that AT&T and T-Mobile will sell the device through their fronts, but Verizon and Sprint are out at this point.
As a casual user, I find myself intrigued by the KEYOne. Long battery life is an important feature for me, and I can’t tell you how many times I have dropped my Galaxy S7 Edge while attempting to use it with one hand. While I do question my ability to re-adjust to a physical keyboard, it seems like a trivial aspect I could overlook for the other benefits of the device. As an added benefit, I happen to think that the KEYOne looks pretty slick. I didn't think I would willingly purchase a BlackBerry in 2017, but that just might be the case this year.
Readers, what are your thoughts on the KEYOne? Do you think it's too expensive for what you get? Let us know in the comments below!