BlackBerry has finally officially unveiled “Athena”, now formally known as the BlackBerry KEY2. Not so subtly the successor to the BlackBerry KEYone, the KEY2 prolongs the life of the once thought extinct breed of QWERTY phones. But is an upgrade enough to keep the species from becoming a footnote in history? Here are seven things to know about the BlackBerry KEY2 to help you answer that and maybe even convince you to root for the former smartphone giant.
The usual BlackBerry hardware mix
BlackBerry has this odd practice of mixing high-end hardware components with mid-tier ones and the KEY2 is no different. For example, it has 6 GB of RAM and 64 or 128 GB of internal storage, numbers you’d often associate with high-end specs. But then BlackBerry slaps on a mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 660. That probably helps give the 3,500 mAh battery its advertised two days of life.
Don’t go looking for bezel-less or 18:9 ratio screens here. The BlackBerry KEY2 is old school. In fact, older than old school. the 4.5-inch 1620×1080 screen is going to look a bit on the short side, which is pretty much expected. You wouldn’t want an extra long phone anyway.
It has two cameras
The BlackBerry KEY2’s biggest change is its cameras. Yep, plural because there’s now two on its back, both 12 megapixels. One has a 79.3-degree FOV and f/1.8 aperture while the other only goes 50 degrees and has a teeny f/2.6 lens.
With dual cameras, BlackBerry is finally joining the bokeh trend, a.k.a. Portrait Mode. There’s also an Optical Superzoom that uses multi-fram capture to present the least noisy zoomed in image. Whether those features will pass DxOMark’s tests remains to be seen. For bonus points, it is one of the first few new smartphones to have Google Lens integrated into its camera app.
There’s a new key on the keyboard
The BlackBerry KEY2’s most subtle change is in its keyboard. Overall, the QWERTY keyboard retains the same feature set but improves on the design by making the key height bigger and the keys more spaced out for more comfortable typing. There’s still flick to type and it still functions as a trackpad. And, yes, the spacebar still hides the fingerprint scanner.
The new key on the block is the Speed Key. Press it and any one of the 52 other keys and you can launch an app, contact, or function of your choosing. Hopefully you’ll be able to remember which key does which.
It still has a Convenience Key
The Speed Key doesn’t replace the Convenience Key. More than just a way to quickly launch one action, it is a context-aware button that can offer different apps or actions depending on whether you’re at home, in a car, connected to a Bluetooth accessory, and more. This is what the Bixby button or any other non-essential hardware button should aspire to be.
Firefox Focus is pre-installed
BlackBerry has a dirty little secret. It’s set of preloaded apps would put Samsung to shame. Of course, it defends those in the name of enterprise security and BlackBerry fans don’t mind one bit. One pre-installed non-BlackBerry app, however, is Firefox Focus, the privacy-tuned minimalist version of Firefox. It promises to keep cookies and trackers out of your browsing experience, just the way BlackBerry likes it.
Firefox Focus, however, is available only in the Locker app, which can only be accessed by fingerprint or password. This is the place where you put your own secrets and BlackBerry will make sure they never get uploaded to the cloud, by accident or otherwise.
It’s back design is unique
The BlackBerry KEY2 breaks away from the current trend of glossy and slipper glass backs. BlackBerry knows its users have a more utilitarian relationship with their smartphones and design them to withstand grueling office work. The KEY2, in particular, sports the same soft touch back as its predecessor but now has a diamond pattern that will prevent it from slipping on surface or from your hands. Considering how uneven the KEYone felt when typing away on the keyboard, that extra grip will definitely help problem its life.
Pricing and availability
The BlackBerry KEY2 will be available globally this month and will cost $649. Slightly too high for a mid-range but low for a high-end. Considering its mixed features, definitely not a surprise. It will come in Black and Silver accents, though it doesn’t say which markets will get which.