If you look at the spec sheet of the BlackBerry KEY2, you may think it’s a mid-range device. And that is because it runs on the Snapdragon 660 processor. Qualcomm has altered most consumers thinking so that a smartphone has to have a Snapdragon 800-series processor to really be a high-end or premium smartphone. But that’s not the case. “Premium” refers to the entire smartphone package as a whole, not a processor, or a camera, or the software experience, but the entire smartphone experience. That makes the BlackBerry KEY2 a premium device from TCL and BlackBerry Mobile.
The BlackBerry KEY2 isn’t a flashy phone, but it does have a nice and solid build. It sports an aluminum body, with a rubberized back which makes it easier to hold in the hand, and less likely to slip out of your hand and onto the ground. It actually feels better in the hand than a lot of glass smartphones out there like the Samsung Galaxy S9 or the LG G7 ThinQ, not to mention it is much easier to hold onto since it’s not glass. It’s a bit of a unique build in 2018, seeing as every other smartphone out there is using a glass-and-metal sandwich build. TCL and BlackBerry Mobile have also made the KEY2 rather rugged, where it can actually take a drop or two better than something from HTC, LG or Samsung with a glass back that’s going to be pretty fragile – and if it hits the ground, there’s a pretty good chance that the phone will be shattered, but that’s not the case with the KEY2. The KEY2 also has a “Convenience” key on the side of the phone, which can be used for anything, whether that’s opening up Google Assistant, the camera or something else. This is going to be cheesy but, it’s actually really “convenient” and much better than having a button dedicated to either Bixby or the Google Assistant and not being able to switch it to something else.
Then there’s the software on the KEY2. It’s much the same as on the KEYone from last year, but with a few improvements. On the surface, the software here doesn’t look much different from stock Android, which many may feel is “boring” and well – that’s their opinion. But what BlackBerry has done with this device is similar to what Motorola has done in the past. Taking stock Android from AOSP and adding on a bunch of features that its customers want, without changing things just because they can. BlackBerry has also added a bunch of security features, including an app called DTEK and another one called Locker. DTEK allows the user to see how secure their smartphone is, and what the user can do to make it more secure – whether that’s adding a fingerprint, removing some app permissions, etc. Now with Locker, users are able to lock up pictures, videos, apps, games and so much more. So that prying eyes don’t see them. That’s not unique to BlackBerry’s KEY2 though, as Samsung has something similar, but it is much more robust. Part of the allure of being a “secure” smartphone is getting regular updates, which BlackBerry has already done well with, sending out security updates sometimes before Google even announces them. So while the software here may not be as customized as the Samsung Experience or LG’s own software, it does have some great features that give the device a much more “premium” experience.
BlackBerry brought back the physical keyboard on the KEYone last year and made it even better on the KEY2 in 2018. It now has a matte finish, and not only looks premium but also gives you a premium experience. Not only are you able to type quickly using a physical keyboard, but you can also set up a slew of different shortcuts using the physical keyboard here, which makes it easier to navigate through the operating system and opening different apps. It’s a feature that many people, especially former-BlackBerry users, love, and it’s good to see it back. It does build on the premise that the BlackBerry KEY2 is indeed a premium device.
Despite TCL using a Snapdragon 660 inside the BlackBerry KEY2, this is still a premium device. The processor itself does not designate a phone as a “premium” device or a “mid-range” one but the entire package does. The reason why TCL likely went with the Snapdragon 660 over something like the Snapdragon 845 is simply because the Snapdragon 660 is better on battery life without impacting performance, in addition to being slightly more affordable. And that is one of the key features that makes a BlackBerry smartphone stand out from the crowd – its incredible battery life. The Snapdragon 660 is no slouch, it powers a number of great devices out there and can definitely keep up with other “premium” offerings that money can currently buy. The rest of the BlackBerry KEY2 spec sheet shows that it is a premium device (except perhaps its full HD display), including 6GB of RAM and 64GB or 128GB of storage.
BlackBerry has done something different with its smartphones since it started its partnership with TCL and formed “BlackBerry Mobile.” And that is creating a smartphone that doesn’t look the same as the rest of the market. That makes the KEY2 a breath of fresh air in a market full of metal-and-glass smartphones equipped with unseemly display notches. TCL and BlackBerry Mobile have a smartphone here that has a physical keyboard – the only such product released in 2018 – it has an aluminum body with a rubberized back, and offers near-stock Android experience. That is definitely different from the HTC U12 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S9, and the LG G7 ThinQ, all of which are high-end smartphones from 2018 with the Snapdragon 845, but the KEY2 got more attention than most of these, and why is that? Because it is different. And there are many users out there that still want a smartphone with a physical keyboard, which is what BlackBerry is offering here. So yes, the BlackBerry KEY2 is indeed a premium device even though it starts at “only” $599.