Review: BlackBerry KeyOne makes no apologies for itself, and doesn’t need to

The KeyOne is a phone for those who, unlike me, unashamedly love their old BlackBerrys.

The KeyOne is a phone for those who unashamedly love their old BlackBerrys. Pau Barrena / Bloomberg
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A new BlackBerry in 2017 is an event that defies all common sense. Once the darling of investment bankers, Beyoncé, Barack Obama and BBM-crazy teenagers, most of the world has well and truly moved on.

That the new BlackBerry KeyOne’s main selling point is a physical keyboard is even more baffling; having to tap out a message with two thumbs is akin to going to a shop to buy a CD while most of us have moved on to streaming or digital downloads.

It’s not just the keyboard; as smartphones get smoother and larger, the KeyOne’s contrary spirit is quite something. Rather than the massive jaw-dropping display of the Samsung Galaxy S8, the KeyOne’s 4.5-inch Full HD screen is tiny by comparison, with solid if unexceptional visuals.

And rather than the polished lines of the iPhone 7; this is an unapologetically bulky smartphone with a solid, professional feel that isn’t concerned with the preening pretensions of this year’s super models.

But I have to admit: awkwardly tapping out an email on the KeyOne inspired a reaction from a smartphone I hadn’t had in years: joy. It reminded me of that momentous day 10 years ago when my long-suffering manager finally caved, and gave me my BlackBerry Curve, the first smartphone that I and many others called our own, and of the amazing world it unlocked for me and millions of others.

BlackBerry’s glory days are now long gone. My Curve was soon replaced by my first iPhone, and like pretty much everyone else, I never looked back. But walk around any public space in the UAE and you’ll see that BlackBerry lives on, and is beloved by a small but dedicated band of followers.

The KeyOne is a phone for those who, unlike me, unashamedly love their old BlackBerrys. Its unapologetically retro keyboard is unlikely to win back the majority of users that have grown used to a touchscreen. But for those that still love physically typing out that email of WhatsApp message, and are hooked on those old familiar BlackBerry tones, it’s an old-fashioned delight.

Q&A: John Everington reveals more about the BlackBerry KeyOne

Wait a minute. I thought that BlackBerry had stopped making smartphones?

It has; the BlackBerry KeyOne isn’t a BlackBerry phone, it’s a TCL phone.

Please explain.

BlackBerry stopped making phones in September. In December, however, the company signed an agreement with TCL of China for use of the BlackBerry brand. So the BlackBerry KeyOne is actually a TCL phone, rather than a BlackBerry.

I’m confused. It looks like a BlackBerry, sounds like a BlackBerry, and it has that lovely physical keyboard that reminds me of my old BlackBerry Curve

And that, at the end of the day, is what’s important. It doesn’t really matter if TCL made it; it still gives you that BlackBerry experience.

Is it the same keyboard as my BlackBerry Curve?

No. There are some significant improvements, like the ability to use the keyboard as trackpad, like on the BlackBerry Priv. Most impressive, however, is the ability to assign shortcuts to virtually all of the keys, available via a long press. F will bring up Facebook, I will bring up Instagram, H will bring up the help function and so on. Very simple, but very useful.

Is all other BlackBerry functionality there as well?

Sure is. BBM is present and correct, as is BlackBerry Hub, the BlackBerry intelligent keyboard, as well as the Dtek security suite that ensures you get timely Android security patches.

And how about the colours? Does it come in ...

It comes in black. Just black. If you want rose gold, buy an iPhone.

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