PROD­UCT OF THE MONTH Black­Berry KEYone

There’s much here for Black­Berry ad­dicts to like, but lit­tle to sway any­one who was never ad­dicted to a phys­i­cal key­board in the first place

PC Pro - - News - TIM DAN­TON

Don’t worry, you haven’t ac­ci­den­tally fallen into an early 2000s time­warp: this is in­deed a new Black­Berry phone, com­plete with key­board. There are other echoes from the past as well, with the prom­ise of ul­tra-tight se­cu­rity and a sin­gle app to han­dle all your mes­sag­ing needs, whether that’s re­spond­ing to some­one on Face­book, re­ply­ing to a text or chan­nelling your fury into a 1,000-word email. Whether even hard­ened Black­Berry ad­dicts will be happy to swal­low the price is an­other mat­ter.

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In a world of bland, looka­like phones, the Black­Berry KEYone of­fers some­thing dif­fer­ent. With a 35-key Qw­erty key­board and sev­eral se­cu­rity fea­tures ly­ing be­neath the sur­face, it plays to both of Black­Berry’s tra­di­tional strengths.

A cou­ple of things have changed. For one, this ma­chine isn’t ac­tu­ally made by Black­Berry but by TCL Com­mu­ni­ca­tions – Black­Berry pulled out of the de­vice-mak­ing game last year, in­stead li­cens­ing its name to man­u­fac­tur­ers. The second is that the KEYone uses An­droid 7.1, rather than a pro­pri­etary OS.

The se­cu­rity keys

Nat­u­rally, this isn’t raw An­droid but a heav­ily mod­i­fied ver­sion. For once, though, that isn’t a bad thing. Black­Berry still makes the soft­ware and it knows what its cus­tomers want: wa­ter-tight se­cu­rity com­bined with sim­ple, easy mes­sag­ing.

And, if you’re will­ing to work the Black­Berry way, it suc­ceeds. The Black­Berry Hub cen­tralises all the

ways peo­ple can com­mu­ni­cate with you, sweep­ing Twit­ter no­ti­fi­ca­tions, work email, home email, text mes­sages and pretty much any­thing else you can think of into one area. It does mean you need to si­lence all the stand­alone apps, or you get an­noy­ing du­pli­cates, but it works.

Like­wise, the Cal­en­dar app sucks in all the feeds from, say, Out­look and Google Cal­en­dar into one view.

Then there’s se­cu­rity. DTEK by Black­Berry is an app that will give you an in­stant in­di­ca­tion of how se­cure your phone is, and backs that up with use­ful tips on how to make your phone more se­cure still.

There are other fa­mil­iar Black­Berry fea­tures: a ver­i­fied boot checks for any un­so­licited changes to the OS, with hard­ware tam­per­ing also mon­i­tored, while Black­Berry prom­ises a speedy roll­out of any An­droid se­cu­rity up­dates. Data en­cryp­tion is on by de­fault, too.

That key­board

Back in the day, a phys­i­cal Qw­erty key­board was so much faster than the pre­dic­tive-text al­ter­na­tive. Now, with Swype-like tech­nol­ogy built into ev­ery soft key­board, that ad­van­tage isn’t so clear. Even af­ter us­ing the key­board for two weeks, I felt I was typ­ing slower with the KEYone than I was with an An­droid key­board.

So I put this to the test. I timed my­self writ­ing ten sen­tences on my Nexus and then on the KEYone. The re­sult was clear: it took 4mins 10secs on the Nexus and 5mins 2secs on the KEYone. Clearly, this isn’t a sci­en­tific test, but it does em­pha­sise the ad­vances made by soft key­boards over the past decade.

And note this was de­spite us­ing all the nice ad­van­tages of the KEYone. For in­stance, af­ter typ­ing “to” the words “to­mor­row”, “to­day” and “too” ap­pear above the short­cut keys: swip­ing up on the key­board towards the one you want selects it. This func­tion works par­tic­u­larly well for longer words.

What slows you down are things such as num­bers and cap­i­tals. For num­bers, you must press the “alt” key and then, say, “w” for “1”. Like­wise, un­less you’re start­ing a new sen­tence or it’s ob­vi­ously a proper noun, you must re­mem­ber to press the shift key first. I also think TCL has missed a trick by not mak­ing the En­ter key big­ger; as things stand, you must search it out to make sure you hit it and not the backspace key.

One nice touch, and some­thing no-one else can im­i­tate, is the abil­ity to add short­cuts to keys. I as­signed “z” to Scrab­ble, which meant press­ing it for over a second launched the one true word game. ( Words with

Friends? Pah.) There’s also a “con­ve­nience key” sit­ting be­low the vol­ume con­trols on the right-hand side, which again you can set to be a short­cut key or set a spe­cific func­tion in par­tic­u­lar apps (such as take a photo). I’m not a fan, sim­ply be­cause it’s easy to press by ac­ci­dent – I would rather this was the power but­ton, which in­stead sits on the left-hand side.

An­other po­ten­tial time­saver is that you can swipe the key­board up and down while brows­ing, which does start to feel quite nat­u­ral in use. Us­ing the fin­ger­print reader built into the space­bar also be­comes second na­ture af­ter a while. It’s a highly ef­fec­tive fin­ger­print reader too, prov­ing to be both quick and re­li­able.

Screen sav­ing

The in­evitable side ef­fect of adding a key­board to a stan­dard-sized phone is that it steals space from the screen. In this case, you get a 4.5in IPS dis­play with the usual 1,080 pix­els across but only 1,620 pix­els from top to bot­tom.

It does feel squashed when you’re used to a taller screen, which can be an­noy­ing; be­cause you can only read so many words on the screen at any one time, read­ing a web ar­ti­cle in­volves more scrolling than with a “nor­mal” phone.

The other down­side is when watch­ing videos. Ro­tate to land­scape po­si­tion and the im­age is squat­ter than nor­mal, with black bars ap­pear­ing at the top and bot­tom. Again, when you’re used to view­ing videos on a full 5.5in screen, this feels like a step back­wards.

In terms of fig­ures, the KEYone’s screen holds up well. We mea­sured bright­ness at 497cd/m2, and even on a sunny day the screen is easy to read out­side. What’s more, it cov­ers 96.5% of the sRGB colour gamut, and with 1,080 x 1,620 pix­els packed into that 4.5in di­ag­o­nal, its pixel den­sity works out at a high 433ppi. This is a sharp, bright, colour-ac­cu­rate screen. My only reser­va­tion is that its view­ing an­gles drop off no­tably com­pared to ri­val top-end phones, mean­ing you have to keep the screen fac­ing straight towards you.

The au­dio is also com­pro­mised be­cause of a sin­gle down­ward fir­ing speaker at the bot­tom of the phone. It’s loud, so if you’re us­ing the KEYone for au­dio con­fer­enc­ing you should be happy, but other phones do this bet­ter. At least there’s a 3.5mm jack for head­phones, and it’s sen­si­bly placed at the top of the phone.

Phys­i­cal de­sign

Yet an­other “blast from the past” is the de­sign. We’re all so used to ul­tra-sleek de­signs that the 9.4mm depth of the KEYone, along with a cu­ri­ous mix of rounded cor­ners at the bot­tom but square edges at the top, makes it feel retro. This feel­ing is only en­hanced by the faux black leather on the phone’s rear. Tastes will dif­fer, but I grew to like this: it feels com­fort­able in the hand.

Per­son­ally, I didn’t mind the ex­tra weight and girth ei­ther. It’s now rare for a phone to be ap­proach­ing 10mm thick, but in re­turn you’re get­ting a 3,505mAh bat­tery (the stan­dard is now around 3,000mAh), which proved more than enough to get me through a full day’s use. An­other big plus is sup­port for Quick Charge via the USB-C con­nec­tor and bun­dled charger: you

“Now, with Swype-like tech­nol­ogy built into ev­ery soft key­board, a Qw­erty key­board’s ad­van­tage isn’t so clear”

can jump from 0% to 50% in 36 min­utes, ac­cord­ing to Black­Berry’s of­fi­cial mea­sure­ments.

All this is good news, but the KEYone didn’t ex­cel in our video run­down tests (Wi-Fi off, screen set to 170cd/m2). It lasted for 12hrs 23mins, which is fine but un­ex­cep­tional com­pared to the lat­est phones.

The same can be said for this phone’s speed. In gen­eral, An­droid 7.1 speeds along, and it’s rare that you’re left wait­ing for some­thing to load. Again I used my Nexus 6P as a bench­mark and found that it kept pace.

Ar­guably, that’s not enough. If you’re buy­ing a premium phone, you ex­pect premium per­for­mance, but here you’re get­ting a mid-range chip at best. The Snap­dragon 625 pro­ces­sor in­side the KEYone has eight cores run­ning at 2GHz, but com­pared to the cheaper OnePlus 3T this is a gen­er­a­tion be­hind – as the graphs for Geek­bench 4 and GFXBench show. My one caveat is that Black­berry ap­pears to have blocked trans­mis­sion of re­sults to Geek­bench, so those fig­ures are best es­ti­mates based on sim­i­larly specced phones.

Cam­era ac­tion

TCL has lav­ished a lit­tle more money on the cam­era, a 12-megapixel unit with phase-de­tect aut­o­fo­cus, a f/2.0 aper­ture and a dual-LED flash. Out­side, in good light, it de­liv­ers shots of a sim­i­lar qual­ity to the classlead­ing Google Pixel and Pixel XL (per­haps not a sur­prise, as it uses the same Sony IMX38 sen­sor as found in the Pixel).

In­doors in low light, how­ever, it’s a dif­fer­ent story. Although colours are well pre­served, de­tails take on a soft, smeary ap­pear­ance and any­thing mov­ing will likely end up hor­ri­bly blurred. De­tails in darker ar­eas are also lost in a sea of shadow. Not great, and if you try to brighten things up with the ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion con­trol, you’ll find the re­sult is even more blur. This is a de­vice that’s badly miss­ing op­ti­cal im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion, or OIS.

This is re­flected in its video per­for­mance as well: you’ll need a tri­pod to keep things sta­ble, which is a shame when it can record video in 4K at 30fps. Nat­u­rally, this eats into the 32GB of stor­age, which is why it makes sense to take ad­van­tage of the mi­croSD slot. This sup­ports cards up to 2TB in size and is hot-swap­pable.

Should you BUYone?

The “should I buy one?” ques­tion is far eas­ier to an­swer with the KEYone than with most phones: if you’re limp­ing on with an old Black­Berry, or still han­ker for phys­i­cal key­boards, then this is a great up­grade. As a 2017 up­date of a clas­sic de­sign, it works well in al­most ev­ery way.

The built-in se­cu­rity tools – es­pe­cially if you in­vest the ex­tra in mo­bile de­vice man­age­ment soft­ware – should also make this an at­trac­tive choice for busi­nesses that han­dle sen­si­tive data.

But I can’t avoid the ob­vi­ous crit­i­cisms. For £499, it should have a faster pro­ces­sor. The phys­i­cal key­board is well im­ple­mented, but will it re­ally make you faster at re­spond­ing to mes­sages? Es­pe­cially when you’re sac­ri­fic­ing screen space and adding girth to squeeze it in.

I like the KEYone – and I sus­pect that Black­Berry devo­tees will grow to love it. But the vast ma­jor­ity of phone buy­ers would be bet­ter off sav­ing around £100 and choos­ing the OnePlus 3T in­stead: it outscores the KEYone for value, bat­tery life, per­for­mance and – prob­a­bly, iron­i­cally – speed of typ­ing. SPEC­I­FI­CA­TIONS Octa-core 2GHz Qual­comm Snap­dragon 625 pro­ces­sor 3GB RAM Adreno 506 graph­ics 4.5in IPS screen, 1,080 x 1,620 res­o­lu­tion 32GB stor­age mi­croSD slot (up to 256GB) 12MP/8MP rear/front cam­era 802.11ac Wi-Fi Blue­tooth 4.2 NFC USB-C con­nec­tor 3,505mAh bat­tery

An­droid 7.1 72.4 x 9.4 x 149mm (WDH) 180 1yr war­ranty

52

ABOVE The KEYone in­cludes the same 12-megapixel sen­sor as in the Google Pixel BE­LOW The KEYone’s retro looks are only en­hanced by the faux leather back 53

54 ABOVE LEFT At nigh-on a cen­time­tre thick, this phone feels bulky com­pared to its sleek ri­vals ABOVE The key­board is – on the whole – nicely de­signed, with a fin­ger­print reader built into the space­bar

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