The KEYone, the latest in the BlackBerry Ltd/TCL collaboration, is a phone that returns to the Canadian brand's iconic roots, for better or for worse. With Nougat and a strong focus on security, the KEYone is aimed at enterprise users and long-time fanatics.
Overall, the spec sheet for this phone is nothing chart-topping. The SoC is over a year old at this point and the screen has been downgraded from the year-and-a-half-old Priv's, but using the KEYone was mostly a pleasant experience until after about a week with it. That was when I started experiencing rather noticeable slowdown and other problems.
So what does a proverbial return to form for BlackBerry mean in the ever massive Android space? Well, there's not really a simple answer. But let's get going — we've got a lot to cover. You don't want to be here all day, do you?
|Display||4.5" IPS LCD 1620 x 1080; 434 ppi|
|Software||Android 7.1.1 Nougat; BlackBerry Security|
|Storage||32GB, expandable via microSD|
|Cameras||12MP IMX378 (1.55μm) rear, 8MP front|
|Battery||3,505mAh; Quick Charge 3.0|
|Misc||USB Type-C 3.1, fingerprint sensor, 3.5mm jack, physical keyboard, NFC|
|Connectivity||802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band; Bluetooth 4.2; LTE bands 1/2/3/4/5/7/12/13/20/25/26/28/29/30|
|Measurements||149.3 x 72.5 x 9.4 mm; 180 g|
|Software||The "stock" take on Android with BlackBerry's apps is great. It feels like what Motorola does: functionality added on top of Google's vision. It has the latest security patch and Android 7.1.1.|
|Battery life||My time with phones from the likes of Huawei and Xiaomi has somewhat desensitized me to stellar battery life, but the KEYone is definitely above average.|
|Screen||The color accuracy, brightness, and viewing angles are spectacular. The screen crisp and more than adequate, despite its odd size and aspect ratio.|
|Fingerprint sensor||I am not sure from where the fingerprint sensor was sourced, but it's almost on Huawei's level for speed and accuracy. Seriously, my success rate has been almost perfect.|
|Build quality||The KEYone is one hell of a solid device. The aluminium frame combined with the soft-touch back make the phone feel extremely durable.|
|Ergonomics/weight||The KEYone is chunky and is a bit difficult to hold. Typing with one hand on the physical keyboard is also a pain. And even though it's only 180 grams, the KEYone feels very dense and heavy. Using it single-handed is not a pleasant experience for long periods.|
|Speaker||I know this should go without saying, but the speaker quality on this phone is pretty terrible.|
|Performance||Major lag, homescreen redraws, and RAM management issues led to a phone that, after about a week of use, became almost unusable.|
Design & build quality
To give you some perspective on the KEYone and its design, the marketing materials say that the phone is "Distinctly different. Distinctly BlackBerry." That last part, and to an extent the first, is quite true. BlackBerry (well, it's really TCL, but you know what I mean) has opted for what you might call the quintessential look that defined the heyday of Research In Motion. And while that seems like a negative at first glance, the KEYone's design exhibits some modernization in its overall execution.
This phone garnered more looks, comments, and questions in my time with it than any other I've used — I'd say that it comes close to the amount of attention I received when smartwatches were still young. The physical keyboard is what drew people's eyes. The whole front face would throw anyone for a loop, especially when we're starting to see such high screen-to-body ratios these days. Not a single person that I've come across thinks that this is a pretty device... and I agree with them. The KEYone is not beautiful, elegant, slim, or anything else like that; it is aimed at a niche that, in theory, cares little for those things in a pocket computer.
From the back, the phone looks fairly unassuming and normal. The soft-touch finish feels like it was ripped off of the good ol' OG Nexus 7. My fingertips glide across the band-aid texture, but when push comes to shove, my hand grips it solidly. Coupled with an aluminium frame, the KEYone feels sturdy, durable... and like a brick. To put this kindly, it is one hell of a chunky phone — I actually had 2010-2011 phone era flashbacks when I removed it from the box. At 180 grams (6.35 ounces for you Imperial folks), the KEYone gets quite heavy in the hand after prolonged usage. See, I have this odd tendency to support phones with my little finger while I'm using them; BlackBerry has made me decide to try to break that habit.
I know that I mentioned it briefly, but let's talk seriously about the KEYone's keyboard. When smartphones were starting to trend toward on-screen keyboards, I was not happy. I liked the tactile response of my Droid and Droid 2, and haptic feedback was just not as satisfying. I had also not learned to type without looking on my G1 or HTC Hero, a problem I did not have with any of my Droids or BlackBerries. I eventually got over myself and became a solid fan of SwiftKey and the navbar that Google brought to Android with Ice Cream Sandwich.
Now that I'm all done reminiscing, let's get back to the topic at hand. The KEYone's backlit keyboard is really good, if not a little weird after spending the last several years with a software variant. If I were a keyboard nerd like Ryan, I'd describe the travel distance, tactile feel, and the like — I just like my gaming mice and PC hardware. While the keys are much too small for my taste, I found that I actually had very few errors in general usage. Each one is easily pressed and responds with a solid click. The layout is obviously QWERTY (duh), so it's pretty easy to get to the point where you're typing fairly quickly. So far, the only things that have taken me some time to adjust to are the symbol layout and the placement of the left shift key versus ALT. Most of my errors have been activating the alternative mode instead of capitalizing the next letter.
If you're into it, there are 52 programmable keyboard shortcuts that can open apps or contacts. For instance, you could assign a long press of 'c' to open Chrome, 'f' to start up Facebook, and so on. There's one catch, though: it's limited to the BlackBerry Launcher. In any other, long-pressing a letter will bring up a phone search for shortcuts and apps that are associated with that key. One of the other interesting features is the flick gesture, which inserts the first SwiftKey-like prediction when you, well, flick your thumb up the board.
My biggest gripe about the keyboard is the fact that I have to see it every time that I am using the phone. Whereas the Priv has the sliding mechanism to mask its keyboard when you aren't using it, the KEYone's stares you in the face. This reduces the screen size to 4.5" and a 3:2 aspect ratio. I understand that this design choice was made in the spirit of the BlackBerries of old, but I can't say that I am a fan. And if you don't like the physical keyboard or just don't want to use it all of the time, you can use the software version. However, unlike the Priv, this is not the best option. A full-screen keyboard on this smaller display is not the most pleasant of experiences.
The fingerprint sensor is fantastic. Embedded in the space bar, it's lightning quick and very accurate. Only Huawei's sensors have proven so reliable for me, which should tell you something.
The front of the phone has the screen, the capacitive navigation buttons, the keyboard, and the front camera (and earpiece/sensors) along the upper aluminium bezel. The back has the rather large camera module (there's still a hump, by the way, despite this thing being a brick) and BlackBerry logo. On the top of the frame, you will find the 3.5mm headphone jack. The left side only has the power button, while the bottom houses the speaker grilles and the USB Type-C 3.1 port. Finally, the right side is home to the SIM tray, volume rocker (which feels cheap and hollow) and what BlackBerry calls the "Convenience Key." Both it and the power button feel only slightly more solid than the volume rocker and I'd honestly rather see one of them be textured or differentiated in some way from the other. Just because they're on opposite sides of the phone does not mean I didn't mix them up from time to time.
The Convenience Key is a tertiary button that is customizable and can be mapped to almost any action you want. It can open a certain app, activate one of many shortcuts, or perform a few system functions like power off. At this moment, I have it mapped to Google Now since Assistant is tied to a long press of the home button. Let's just say that I've opened Now a lot more than I usually do. It's cool to see BlackBerry trying to cater in some form to power users by adding in this key. At least this isn't chained to a useless virtual assistant.
Overall, the KEYone is well-built, but it is a polarizing device in its design and construction. Some people will love it, while I think that most won't. It doesn't have the sneaky, incognito aspect that the Priv did, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Whether you like the look of the phone or not is entirely up to you — I'm just not the biggest fan of it.
When discussing the KEYone's display, most will inevitably focus on the aspect ratio, i.e. its general shape. BlackBerry went with something decidedly more square than what most of us are used to. Despite this, the 1620x1080 IPS panel is crisp, clear, and quite bright. I am rather fond of the color reproduction, and I found this to be one of the more accurate panels that I've used. There's even an sRGB mode. The viewing angles are superb and the screen is just a joy to look at. It also gets very bright for outdoor use.
The display is not the KEYone's strongest aspect, but nor is it the weakest. The resolution is more than adequate especially given the total screen size. There really isn't that much more to say on the matter: great screen, awesome colors, but it won't blow you away.
With a 3,505mAh battery, you'd expect the KEYone to last a long time. I mean, that's one of the features that BlackBerry is hoping encourages people to buy this phone. The good news is that it is certainly above average. After using Huawei and Xiaomi devices for the last few months, I have gotten used to a phone that can easily get me through a day, so I am glad that this one continues the trend.
During my testing, I had the screen at 100% brightness with plenty of texting, emailing, messaging, and several attempts to watch YouTube videos and play games. Not only did I get over five hours of screen-on-time, but the idle drain on the battery was practically negligible.
The largest battery to ever come in a BlackBerry phone and the screen resolution help to contribute to the claim that you can get 26 hours of "mixed use," but if you run low, Qualcomm's Quick Charge 3.0 is supported. When you plug the phone in, you are presented with two options: Charge Only and Boost Mode. The latter is touted as "giving you the most efficient charge possible, even if you only have a few minutes."
Good on BlackBerry for making another phone with good battery life. It's pretty damn stellar.
When I think of a BlackBerry, I don't always picture a phone with the best sound quality and output. Sure, it might get the job done, but you know what I mean. In all fairness, the KEYone is not meant to be your media player — rather, it's not supposed to be the one on your desk that pleases your ears the most.
It gets the job done, that's about all I can say. The sound that pushes out of the headphone jack is tolerable and works just fine for the gym or other activities where you won't be lugging around high fidelity cans. The external speaker is subpar, even considering that this is a smartphone. For music or notifications, there is plenty of distortion and crackling at 80%+ volume. The cacophony at that level is awful, so I've left the KEYone in vibrate-only most of the time. At least the phone has a good vibration motor.
Call quality & connectivity
When I first received the KEYone and inserted my SIM card, I was sorely unimpressed. Mobile data would not work due to a problem with the APN settings and the phone presented me with an annoying notification telling me that there was a problem. After some digging and chatting with "people in the know," I found out that this was a known issue with this pre-production build of the software and it was being addressed in preparation for the final release.
After manually setting up the APN for my MVNO carrier, my wireless connectivity has been passable. Call quality reached my expectations — Bluetooth and WiFi have also been reliable. I have had my LG Watch Urbane (Android Wear 2.0), Moto 360, and Samsung Gear S3 connected to it during my entire usage. None have had any issues staying connected, nor did I have trouble with any of the Bluetooth headsets I tried.
Reception, however, was another matter entirely. The phone constantly dropped calls or failed to make them at all. I also frequently lost data connection or experienced slower speeds than what I am used to on my carrier. The KEYone also experienced cell signal holes that have never been there — I went through a hole near my house every day, but all of my other devices were just fine in the same area (same SIM, etc). It was extremely frustrating.
I'll admit: I went into all of this not expecting much from the camera. Come on, it's a BlackBerry. But seriously, the KEYone's is legitimately good. It performs well in low-light environments with post-processing that is kind to photos. I'm certainly glad to see BlackBerry carry on where the Priv's camera left off.
With all of that being said, it cannot quite hold its own next to the Pixel, GS8/GS7, or even the P10. The KEYone can put out good-quality pictures that are crisp in detail, but with some aggressive smoothing in post-processing. Those of you who pay attention will notice that the KEYone packs the same sensor as the Pixel, the IMX378. While that certainly can lend itself to good photos, it's not the be-all, end-all.
My opinion is that this is one of those phones where it's more difficult to take a bad picture. This camera is like a jack-of-all-trades — you'll get great outdoor, indoor, and nighttime photos. Will they have that so-called "Wow!" factor? Well, that depends on you.
Moving around to the front, BlackBerry opted for an 8MP fixed focus, 84° wide angle shooter. LCD flash is also included. Supposedly, this is best suited for those video conferences where you're not in a position to get somewhere with better lighting. This is the official blurb on the matter: "For times when you have to take a video conference on the go, the device includes an 8MP front camera with fixed focus, LCD flash, and 84-degree wide angle lens." Just own up to the fact that you put in an LCD flash for selfies; there's nothing wrong with that.
Wrapping all of this up, let's go over the camera UI. It's basic, but in a good way. In Auto, you are presented with the upper bar that has the settings for flash, timer, aspect ratio, and HDR, as well as the general options. Along the bottom is the gallery preview, front/rear camera switcher, shutter button, mode selection, and visual effects.
In the options, you have the control mode, where you choose between auto and manual. Then there's the JPEG fine or standard compression choices, face detection, and video resolution stuff. The KEYone can go all the way up to 4K30fps, but you lose "enhanced video stabilization" above 1080p30, which is kind of a bummer.
Contrast this camera app UI with something from Huawei and you'll see why I am a huge fan. There aren't as many options, but what's there is useful and mostly necessary. Good job, BlackBerry.
When the Priv launched a year and a half ago, the general consensus seemed to be that the software was good. Much like Motorola and OnePlus, BlackBerry has gone with a "stock+" take on Android, i.e. where Google's vision is kept intact, but useful features are added on top to better the user experience. The KEYone follows the same logic, though with Nougat 7.1.1 running underneath this time around.
The BlackBerry brand is built on security, reliability, and stability. When the company shifted over to Android from the corpse that was BB OS, it brought with it some of the hallmarks upon which it had built its reputation. There was a commitment to updating to the latest monthly security patches, the DTEK security suite, and even some hardware modifications that all helped to ensure users had the safest and most secure take on Android. Now we're here with the KEYone and that focus is still on-point.
On the surface, the software looks like stock Android, but there's a bunch running under the hood, from the apps to the settings and options. I'll go through both of those elements in their own sub-sections to follow. I think you'll be as surprised as I was in regard to the level of depth and detail with each addition made. Not all of it is useful, in my opinion, but it's there.
This is one of the pillars for BlackBerry's plan to draw potential customers. My time with BlackBerry's phones was so long ago that I hardly remember what BB OS was like (and I never even used v10). Even if I did, I can tell you right now that I was not a hardcore user, so the KEYone gave me my first experience with a lot of the apps that BlackBerry loyalists swear by.
The Hub app is where it's at, at least in terms of sheer power user capability. This functions as a place where you can see all of your messages, emails, texts, and other related notifications. It pulls from Gmail, your default SMS app, IM services, and various social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. Due to the volume of incoming emails and the email-fu that I am forced to do each day, I ignore Gmail in Hub. It was just too difficult since it still doesn't support the tabbed inbox or filters/labels as well as I'd like.
You can also set up custom views for Hub, where you select what accounts will show up — this is how I was able to successfully "ignore" Gmail. For enterprise users, this could be the way you separate your work and personal data. While this is all great, I frankly got bored when trying to make Hub work to my advantage. It can take a lot of work, time, and effort to get it the way you want it. I have no doubt that some people will do this, because there is much power to be had in the app, but it is not for everyone.
Nipping at the heels of Hub in terms of marketing importance, we have DTEK. Though it's still being hyped just like it was when the Priv launched, it remains a mostly useless, feel-good example of the placebo effect. You're presented with red Xs, yellow exclamation points, and green check-marks that denote your level of security in various areas. It's a centralized location to show the average user the basics of Android security, which isn't a bad thing. I suppose I am shrugging it off because I know what I'm doing when it comes to this stuff and my perfectionist/completionist nature hates not seeing green check marks. Since I am not going to change my usage habits, then I might as well not look at annoying yellow exclamation points.
For those of you who are wondering what my DTEK status is, I am sitting firmly at "Fair." As annoying as that is, at least I am using a BlackBerry device (because that's one of the security checks). I can sleep a bit better tonight knowing that. If you hit green on all criteria, then your needle will be in the "Excellent" range on the gauge. Good for you.
DTEK is actually worth a damn when it comes to showing what apps are accessing certain permissions and notifying you when they do. Or you can have it inform you when a specific application is requesting certain permissions. For example, I can tell DTEK to let me know when something accesses my calendar or to notify me when Action Launcher alone tries to read it. There are certain people who will love this — I am not one of them.
BBM is here, for some reason. It's still the same old app and I really don't feel like going over it. Basically, if you use BBM then you know what it is. If you don't, you're not missing much. There's still no SMS functionality; Android Messages is your default out of the box.
The Calendar app is cool, I guess. It still has the "Meeting Mode," which automatically silences your phone when you're in a meeting according to your calendar. There are also options for creating events in different time zones from the system one and whether or not the app informs you if events conflict. It's a neat take, but I wouldn't call it special.
Finally, there are various note-taking, task, password management, and photo markup apps. None are particularly worth paying attention to and I am sure there are better offerings from either Google or other third-party developers. I don't want to waste too much time with them.
Settings & general UI
Apps are great and all, but what about overall user interface? Like I said, the software is "stock+" Android. It looks, feels, and functions much like Nougat would on a Nexus or Pixel, but there are additional options to play with. Most of them lie in the display settings menu, so I'll address some of them.
- There's the color balance slider (for cool or warm, or somewhere in between)
- How you want the Recents menu to look — you have the choice of Rolodex, which is the normal way, Tiles, and Masonry
- A green bar along the edge of the screen that shows the battery level remaining while charging (it's neat and I've seen it before in custom ROMs)
- An option to double tap to wake/sleep the phone
There's one final piece that I want to address in more detail. It's called the Productivity Tab and it exists as a small white bar on the far right edge of the screen (its position and thickness can be adjusted). If you've used Action Launcher and the Quickpage feature, then that's basically how this works. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, the Productivity Tab pulls out from the side of the screen and has five sections. The first is a calendar widget showing you what you have going on that day or the next. After that is a Hub shortcut to show you any unread messages. Sections 3 and 4 are a todo and contacts list, respectively. Finally, there's a settings sub-menu for the Tab, where you adjust position, transparency, height, thickness, etc. I like the Productivity Tab for little more than the calendar widget, which is exactly what I use the Quickpage for in my default Action Launcher setup.
The other addition you'll see in the system settings is for the Convenience Key, which I mentioned all the way back up closer to the top of this review. It's the thing under the volume rocker that looks/feels exactly like the power button. Oh, yeah, you can map it to open whatever app or shortcut you want. I find it mostly useless. but some may find it to their liking. The sub-menu itself is pretty straightforward: it shows you what the key does, what action is currently assigned to it, the option to clear said action, and a short list of what you can map to it. Here's what's available to choose:
- "Open app" will bring up a list of everything you have installed
- "Speed dial" allows you to set a contact to the key (don't do this)
- "Send message" allows you to open either an email or a text to send to a specific contact
- "All shortcuts" brings up a long list of all the shortcuts that BlackBerry thinks you could ever use/need
Once you make your choice, that's what the Convenience Key will do until you select something else. It only works when the screen is on and unlocked, so keep that in mind.
There's a gestures section, but it only has the toggle for the double-tap power button for camera shortcut. Not sure why this is off on its own, but whatever. The sound settings still has the "Notify during calls" and "Flip to mute" options — I disabled the former because who needs that. The security area is actually almost stock, except for the picture password. By the way, skip that, too. Developer options has the sRGB mode toggle I mentioned earlier (which always turns itself off when I back out of the menu), but it's missing the OEM unlock entry. Because this is BlackBerry, so no unlocking or rooting for you. Everything else is all the same as a Nexus or Pixel.
BlackBerry Launcher, the default out of the box, is pretty basic. You have the option for those keyboard shortcuts and little else of note. After I toyed around with it for a bit, I moved on to Action Launcher. The notification shade and Quick Settings are also just like stock with the same animations and everything.
If you're super paranoid about people peering over your shoulder to look at the stuff on your screen, BlackBerry provides you with the Privacy Shade (via the Play Store). This prevents others from physically seeing private and sensitive content by blocking out everything except for a tiny viewing area. How big this little window is depends on what size you want, but even with Privacy Shade active, you can still interact with your screen. It's neat, I suppose. You can adjust the shape and background transparency via the little menu that appears when the Shade is active.
The Snapdragon 625 powering all of this is not too bad of a chip. Though decidedly midrange and a year old at this point, it carried the KEYone along better than I would have thought initially. However, after about a week, the lags, stutters, and hiccups started to settle in, with the most noticeable being exiting the camera app, constant homescreen redraws, and apps not remaining in memory very well.
The camera thing was especially bad when I used the power button shortcut to launch the camera from a locked state; exiting after this caused the phone to hang for almost thirty seconds. Following that, there'd be another forty-five seconds of unresponsiveness, even from the fingerprint sensor or power button. Suffice to say, it was quite annoying and dismaying. I am not sure whether this is a bug in the pre-production software or not; regardless, it was irritating and made using that shortcut more than useless.
As time went on, the sheer sluggishness of the phone became quite apparent. Animations would lag, the whole OS would hang when launching apps at random intervals, and my homescreen redrew every time I went back home (I used BlackBerry, Action, and Nova Launcher — all with the same result). I also experienced some seriously aggressive RAM management/problems. As an example, I opened a new app for the first time and needed to sign in. I knew my password, but needed my 2FA code. Switching over to Authy, I grabbed the code and double-tapped the recents button to switch back to the original app... only to find that it needed to reload, requiring my credentials again. After all of that, the 2FA code had expired. Rinse and repeat; I just used Authy on my PC to get signed in after a near instance of rage quitting. That's just a singular example, but things like that happened often.
The Adreno 506 GPU is pretty capable, though. The only problem is that there is no reason to game on this phone — not only is the screen quite small for such an activity, but the keyboard and overall design of the phone's face make gaming uncomfortable. The GPU is just wasted potential, I'd say.
These issues could be related to this pre-production hardware and software, but there was a point at which the KEYone became unusable. These problems persisted through reboots. Performance for the first several days was quite good, but it deteriorated very rapidly. Surprisingly so, actually, which made the disappointment I felt seem worse. I should note that I will be retesting everything with a production model when the phone is released to see if these issues persist.
As we near the end of this
journey review, I'm left with a few questions. The one I will ask and hopefully answer in this penultimate section is this: Is the KEYone worth it? Besides the horribly stylized name and physical keyboard, what is the value proposition of this phone? It will retail for $549 USD, which puts it at the high end of the midrange spectrum. That's still a hefty sum for a year-old SoC and some very fast performance degradation, even though both of those come with a decent screen, good camera, and awesome overall software experience.
Even with all of the security stuff and the keyboard, I am not entirely convinced that $549 is a good price. $349 is probably the most that I would pay for this phone, especially when you consider that a Pixel is $100 more than the asking price ($650) or that a OnePlus 3T starts at $440. Both phones come with better internals, a similar overall UI/UX, and better cameras. What makes the MSRP even more painful is the subpar performance (note: again, this could be related to the pre-production hardware/software), something that I cannot in good conscience ignore or fail to mention in this regard. You will be much happier with what OnePlus, Google, and even Samsung have to offer you.
BlackBerry is likely going to aim this at the enterprise, which may not care about the price tag as much as us normal consumers. Those users, however, do want a phone that's going to work well no matter what they're doing.
The long and short of it is that if you're considering this phone as one of your options, then I'd say go with the OnePlus 3T as the best value for your money; if your budget is a little more flexible, then go with a Pixel or Galaxy S8. If you're really interested in one of these, just wait until they go on sale.
So who is the KEYone for, exactly? According to BlackBerry, it's meant for: "people who use their phones more for communication rather than media consumption, people who are tired of having the same one as everyone else, people who are professionals and rely on their phone to get things done, and people who are looking for something durable that will last through a busy day."
If you want my opinion (and you did just read this whole thing, so why wouldn't you), I would say that the KEYone is for the BlackBerry power user of yore. I never was one, but I do know a few who still talk about their old phones. This phone is for them. Minus the DTEK50 and DTEK60, the KEYone is BlackBerry's (and TCL's) latest real attempt at the Android side of things since the Priv. From my time with it, the KEYone failed at providing a good user experience, even though it is a little eccentric and anachronistic in a cute way.
BlackBerry returned to its roots with this phone, its aim fixed squarely on the fans of old. Personally, I happen to prefer the glass slabs that we have nowadays and I think that the KEYone is a relic of a long bygone age. I eventually adjusted to the form factor and physical keyboard, but even after reaching that point, I still did not enjoy typing (versus my current neutral feeling on the matter with the software versions). Simply put, I do not like the KEYone. I do, however, appreciate a solid, well-built device even if it is a brick. But good construction is only a single criterion when evaluating a device for recommendation and I don't think that the average consumer or even an Android nerd would enjoy using this phone. It's kind of ugly, bulky, dense, and one of the main draws, the keyboard, is a novelty at best.
This is definitely a niche product and I usually frown on that because it's so limiting — honestly, that's probably just the business student in me talking. BlackBerry/TCL clearly have a target market for the KEYone that they believe is slavering for it (I am certainly not in it). That being said, narrowing down to a specific demographic does not excuse a poor user experience. I've said it plenty of times in this review, but I'll say it again: I know that the model I have is pre-production hardware and software. Bugs, janks, and other oddities are to be expected. There was supposed to be an update for the review units, but I have not received it as of this writing.
I like what the KEYone is trying to be and do. It's a quirky little thing that was actually fun to use sometimes just because it's so different. The "stock+" Android is also quite refreshing and helped to subdue some of my frustrations early on. But being unique with great software cannot carry a phone through the trials that this phone presented. And no, the irony of this is not lost on me — I usually get the phones with outstanding hardware and bogus software. The Snapdragon 625 is a decent chip in its own right; on paper, I should have never had the problems I did.
Odds are, either you have already decided that you want one of these or your company's IT department will purchase them in bulk. In both of those cases, I wish you the best and hope that you have the best experience that this phone has to offer. Perhaps the issues I've had will be fixed with production hardware or a few software updates down the line, or maybe it's all been down to bad luck in the silicon lottery (#jordansluck). But I just have a feeling that the KEYone will go down as one of those Android phones that has a cult following, but is ultimately worth more in a few years as an antique than as a daily driver today.
Alternate title: Dat keyboard tho.