Tech Review: Blackberry back in a big way with the KEYone

If you could bring back one thing from your classic workhorse Blackberry, I think it's safe to say that most people would want to bring back that iconic keyboard!  Forget the outdated OS, tiny screen or the massive size by today's standards.  Take that keyboard and slap it onto a modern day Android touchscreen phone and it could be a match made in heaven!  That's exactly what Blackberry did with the new Blackberry KEYone and it's a thing of beauty!  The question is; is it too late?

Hardware

My first impression when I picked up the new KEYone was WOW!  Blackberry hasn't been on it's game for years but this is easily the slickest Blackberry phone my hands have touched in years.  Frankly, I wish they came out with this years ago.  I would have bought it in a second.  It has some heft to it and it's not as thin as the newest iPhone or Galaxy but I don't think that's necessariy a bad thing.  This thing feels tough!

On the front you'll find a nice 4.5" touchscreen.  Underneath, that classic Blackberry keyboard.  It may look the same but this is a Blackberry keyboard elevated!  The space bar is now a fingerprint sensor that unlocks the phone.  The keys themselves are also touch sensitive.  Slide your finger up over the keys and the screen scrolls up and down, slide left and right and you can navigate across menu screens.  It's almost the perfect replacement for the iconic Blackberry rollerball.  Remember that thing?  I LOVE the swipe ability on the keyboard.  Not only does it work really well but it makes sense.  Your finger doesn't cover the screen when you're reading a webpage or scrolling through menus.

There's a solid 12 Megapixel camera on the back, 8 Megapixel camera on the front.  A standard headphone jack on top (these days, it's important to mention this) and USB-C on the bottom for charging and transferring files/photos.  You have your typical power button and volume rocker but Blackberry also included an extra "convenience key."  This can be programmed to launch an app, dial a contact, text a friend or various other shortcuts.  It's a nice touch!  It's something I wish I had on other Android phones.  Personally I set it to Chrome because that's the app I use the most on my phone.

The back of the KEYone has a nice rubber finish to it.  It makes perfect sense for a phone that is clearly designed to be a tough solid device.  It feels great when you hold it.  It's a great contrast to the rounded sides of the KEYone.  I'm impressed how good this phone feels when holding it.  Blackberry did a great job here.

Software

It's Android.  Almost vanilla direct from Google aside from a few Blackberry add-ons.  I love that they let Android do it's thing without jacking it up like other handset makers do.  They also added a clever sidebar that you can slide out from the right side of the screen to quickly check your calendar, emails, text messages or access your most common contacts.  It's subtle but super useful.  Best part is, they let you turn it off with a quick tap in the settings.

We are at about a 2 on a 1-10 bloatware scale with the Blackberry KEYone.  I love it!  Down with the bloatware!!!

Let's talk about the keyboard

Back to the keyboard.  It's iconic, it's classic and we all LOVED it so much in 2005.  It begs the question, does it still translate in 2017?  Maybe for some but it won't for many.  If you still need they qwerty keyboard this is the best Android option.  No question, it is.  For most of us though, we have moved on.  I was a QWERTY holdout back in the day.  Now, I like my on-screen keyboard.  The screens have gotten bigger, the interface has improved and text prediction is better than ever before.  When using the KEYone I honestly felt cramped.  When I put it next to my Galaxy S7 I realized that the on-screen keyboard on my S7 is actually bigger than the KEYone.  I'm not dismissing the Blackberry keyboard, it's as awesome as it ever was, I'm just not sure it's going to be a good choice for everyone any longer.

Conclusion

If you want a QWERTY keyboard on a smartphone in 2017, this is it.  It's a great phone with a great keyboard.  Blackberry finally built the phone that I wish they would have built 2 or 3 years ago.  I'm not convinced that we need a QWERTY anymore with touchscreen tech being so much better but if you want one, this is the one to buy.

The Blackberry KEYone goes on sale May 31st for $549 unlocked directly from Blackberry.  You can use an unlocked phone with your favorite carrier.

**UPDATE JULY 14, 2017**

Sprint is now selling the Blackberry KEYone for 18 monthly payments of $22.