SmartHouse - - CONTENTS - Writ­ten by Fer­gus Hal­l­i­day

These days, it’s rare to see a fresh new en­trant launch them­selves into the smart­phone mar­ket. It’s rarer still to find one that sets its sights on the high­erend of things rather than start­ing some­where more hum­ble. Of course, the KEYOne isn’t quite a new brand. Rather, it’s the first foray from a re­ju­ve­nated BlackBerry – now man­u­fac­tur­ing and de­sign­ing phones through third party TCL.

The KEY One at­tempts to mold to­gether ev­ery­thing that worked about BlackBerry in its prime with all the power and ver­sa­til­ity of­fered by the mod­ern An­droid ex­pe­ri­ence. Af­ter spend­ing a few weeks with the hand­set, we'd say it mostly hits the mark – even though that rec­om­men­da­tion does come with some im­por­tant caveats. In short: it's more-or-less what many ex­pect a new BlackBerry to be. It's solid and pow­er­ful but prob­a­bly un­likely to be the right fit for ev­ery­one.

As pre­vi­ously men­tioned, the KEYOne is in­tended to blend to­gether clas­sic BlackBerry with mod­ern An­droid – and this idea is never more clearly re­al­ized than through the phone's de­sign. A cam­era and speak­phone book­end one end of the KEYOne's alu­minum frame, with an old-school key­board fill­ing out the other. It's got a heft and so­lid­ity that makes other smart­phones feel flimsy and frag­ile by com­par­i­son. This “pro­fes­sional” feel is fur­ther (and phys­i­cally) em­bold­ened by the tex­tured grip on the back­side of the de­vice.

The de­vices' IPS LCD dis­play it­self is only 4.5-inches. How­ever, it's coated in Go­rilla Glass 4 and boasts 24-bit color depth. Over­all, I found this as­pect of the de­vice sur­pris­ingly ro­bust but no­tably short of what other brands have packed into their flag­ships. There's even a cus­tom­iz­a­ble trig­ger but­ton on the right side of the de­vice which can be con­fig­ured to rapidly ac­cess any app of choice.

Like­wise, the key­board it­self is also a lit­tle bit of a mixed bag. The ex­pe­ri­ence is not quite on-par with a fully-blown key­board but it does change up the equa­tion in some sig­nif­i­cant ways. Ob­vi­ously your mileage might vary but I found the keys slightly too small for my hands, which of­ten re­sulted in ty­pos (par­tic­u­larly when punc­tu­a­tion and/or a rapid use of the ALT key was in­volved). That said, the key­board does in­cor­po­rate its own touch and fin­ger­print sen­sor – which proved them­selves re­ally use­ful ad­di­tions. You could log in within sec­onds by plac­ing your thumb on the space­bar and flickand-scroll through ar­ti­cles, web­sites and apps by mov­ing your fin­ger up or down the key­board.

These de­sign el­e­ments of­ten co­a­lesce well to­gether with the soft­ware side of things. The KEYOne runs on An­droid 7.1 and, with a Qual­comm Snap­dragon 625 Octa-Core, that proves it­self more than enough grunt to de­liver a solid ver­sion of that ex­pe­ri­ence. Like the hand­set's aes­thet­ics, it comes ac­com­pa­nied with a suite of clas­sic BlackBerry fea­tures and func­tions – from the no­ti­fi­ca­tion-ag­gre­gat­ing BlackBerry Hub to the com­pany's own cal­en­dar and mes­sen­ger apps. Es­sen­tially, ev­ery­thing old is new again. The last piece of the soft­ware puzzle comes in the form of the pre-loaded DTEK app, which prom­ises to add an un­prece­dented level of se­cu­rity to your phone ex­pe­ri­ence.

The KEYOne fea­tures a 3505mAh bat­tery and a USB-C port for charg­ing. TCL have talked up the KEYOne's as close to 26 hours of mixed-use. In our time with it, we found it of­ten de­liv­ered closer to only 20 hours. Still, that's pretty con­sid­er­able. More oft-than-not, the KEYOne was able to go the dis­tance dur­ing a work day.

These strengths do a price, how­ever. The KEYOne's cam­era is sup­ported by some great soft­ware but at the end of the day, it doesn't re­ally com­pete on im­age qual­ity. On this front, it can't re­ally com­pete with sim­i­larly priced de­vices from Huawei, Oppo or HTC. The KEYOne's rear shooter packs a 12-megapixel Sony IMX378 sen­sor. All told, the re­sults didn't re­ally blow us away.

The front-fac­ing ac­tu­ally fared a lit­tle bet­ter, of­fer­ing up 8-megapixel qual­ity images with fixed-fo­cus and an 84-de­gree field of view. Over­all, the pho­tog­ra­phy side of things stands out as an area where fu­ture it­er­a­tions of this de­vice could im­prove on things. How­ever, at the same time, it's worth not­ing that a high-end cam­era isn't nec­es­sar­ily go­ing to be as im­por­tant for the kind of cus­tomers that TCL and Blackberry are try­ing to court with the KEYOne.

The value of KEYOne feels like it's ul­ti­mately go­ing to de­pend on what you're look­ing for. It's not go­ing to be the be-all-end-all smart­phone for ev­ery­one. How­ever, for the right-kind of user look­ing for a smart­phone as pro­fes­sional as they are, it's a solid new ad­di­tion to the high-end of the mar­ket well worth con­sid­er­ing. It feels like an en­ter­prise-level de­vice, packed with ev­ery­thing you'd ex­pect that en­tails.

The BlackBerry KEYone will be avail­able for pre­order start­ing mid-June from JB HiFi at an RRP of $899.

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