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BlackBerry Key2: Breakthrough Or Flop?

Remember BlackBerry? During earlier days of smartphones, this fruity fellow used to be a competitor for iOS and Android phones alike, before slowly fading out of relevance. Many blamed its downfall on the outdated nature of its top feature: Physical keyboards on smartphones were going out of style, but Blackberry refused to adapt. Although it touted its product as the superior device for those who wanted to put work over play, other devices proved the flexibility of the touchscreen as a surface for both work and fun.

Now, in an age where smartphones are folding in half and adding more and more screen space, Blackberry emerges from the dust with… another keyboard? But after so many years, there’s got to be something new here. Has BlackBerry’s latest iteration on the keyboard-phone managed to break through the negative aspects of having half your screen space dedicated to typing, or will the Key2 fail to bring the BlackBerry brand back into the spotlight?

First, let’s see what’s supposed to stand out about this device. According to Blackberry’s Official Page about the Key2, the device touts a 12 megapixel camera and a fairly impressive 25+ hour battery life as some of its key features. The keyboard itself has also received a few upgrades, with a fingerprint scanner on the spacebar and a new command button, that, when pressed in conjunction with any other button, allows for “smart commands” that will help learned users navigate the phone’s interface more easily. Users can now drag fingers over the keyboard to scroll, or flick upwards off keys rather than pressing to type without needing to apply as much force.

Although these features are quite new for the BlackBerry, they’re not very new for a 2018 smartphone. Every touch-feature added to the keyboard just moves it closer to having a touch keyboard anyway, which leaves us questioning the decision to keep the physical buttons. But, hey, one can never know until they try it. And luckily enough, quite a few already have.

The phone has been out just long enough for the first wave of users reviews to start pouring in. Although these are first impressions with very little time owning the device, they’re still a good way to gauge how this product stacks up to its competition. And from the looks of things, first impressions are… mixed, at best.

A review by Verge writer Stefan Etienne is subtitled “nostalgia isn’t always good“, which sets the tone for the rest of the review.

While Etienne recognizes that the BlackBerry line is, and has always been, a line meant for business-oriented folk looking to “bang out emails,” he also notes that modern smartphones are supposed to be more than just business devices.

“Now smartphones are more than business tools designed around texts and email,” says Etienne. “They’re supposed to be computers for our pockets. And computers are used for a lot more than just work.”

Etienne continues to complain about the device’s unbalanced frame, the gimmicky inaccuracy of the flick-typing, and the frustration of having to deal with such a small screen.

“These features seem a bit gimmicky in everyday use; it’s nothing like swiping to type on a virtual keyboard,” Etienne notes.

Still, he praises the device for its low $650 price point, and says the tactile keyboard feels appropriately kinetic and clicky. But in his opinion, the device isn’t anything to swoon over.

Avery Hartmans from Business Insider has an even less glamorous take on the new device, in his review titled, “TheBlackBerry Key2 proves the world no longer needs a physical keyboard”.  Ouch.

Unlike Etienne, Hartmans found a lot of enjoyment over the device’s rugged shape and textures. He complements the squared off edges and ribbed design, noting the device’s ability to stand out from the smartphone crowd – at least from a visual standpoint.

But according to Hartmans, the compliments end right there. The phone has a few design choices that aren’t bad per say, but confusing for modern smartphone users. For example, the home button is not on the keyboard but on the start of the touchscreen, so it’s about halfway up the surface of the phone. This doesn’t sound like much, but Hartmans recalls trying multiple times to press the spacebar to return to the home screen before remembering its actual location.

Speaking of the spacebar, its long, narrow shape isn’t too great for capturing fingerprints, according to Hartman:

“About 80% of the time, it took me several tries to get my phone unlocked using the scanner. If you didn’t place your finger just right on the space bar, it refused to open your phone. This grew tiresome after a while, and I eventually resorted to using my passcode each time.”

Now, on to the keyboard, which Hartmans does not view with even a speck of positivity. She lamented they keyboard’s lack of flexibility, citing the ability for digital boards to switch quickly between letters, numbers and symbols as a large improvement with which the Blackberry simply could not compete. It has next to no ability to compensate for an individual trying to type one-handed or on the move, and Hartmans agrees with Etienne on the inaccuracies caused by the new flick typing features.

In her ending notes, Hartmans went back over the whole device, noting that while it certainly wasn’t for her, it did have a niche group of users who will certainly adore the return of a physical keyboard. She clarifies again that the BlackBerry line is still one for those who wish to use their phone solely for business and work tasks, and advises buyers to look elsewhere for the more universal “pocket computer” type experience that modern smartphones have become.

Featured Image Via Flickr / raheel MEMON

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