Even now, when touch-screen devices are considered the standard, there are solid arguments for having a traditional hardware keyboard. It’ll work with two thumbs and fans are sometimes known as ‘Crackberry’ addicts.
With BlackBerry being such an iconic brand for their QWERTY smartphone designs, it is no wonder the company still attracts a lot of attention – even in late 2018 – with their premium hardware paired with the Android OS experience.
Recently we covered the Key2 in a full review and we were impressed with the build quality and performance on offer. Trouble is, the price wasn’t the best for everyone and this left a gap in the market.
This is where the new KEY2 LE comes into play and offers the great keyboard experience that you’ve come to expect, but this time at a lower price. You still get everything you’d expect from an Android phone, including access to Google Play, apps, games and if you want to use a casino online. Sure, there’s a few compromises, but let’s see how much it changes things…
The LE comes in at 156g, which is lighter than the 168g that the Key2 weighed in at, and feels quite light in the hand.
Design and display
When it comes to the design of the KEY2 LE what you get is a BlackBerry through and through. Anyone looking from a far will notice this is a BlackBerry due to the design and that QWERTY keyboard.
Looking straight at the device you’ll first notice the large touch screen and unfortunately it still has the three capacitive touch buttons to navigate with. It perhaps would have been better if they’d built it into the touch screen instead and maybe give more space to the screen.
You then have the QWERTY BlackBerry keyboard below which is brilliant for typing on – but more about that later on in the review.
Looking up at the top of the display is the front facing camera which is 8 megapixels. It can also capture 1080p video quality and this is decent but not outstanding, as you would expect for a device at this price. It mainly shows up when lighting isn’t ideal.
The speaker used in voice calls is loud and clear.
Below that you have the large 4.5 inch display which was seen on the Key2. It has a resolution of 1080 by 1620 pixels which gives a PPI of 434. Not groundbreaking, but again more than decent enough for most people to enjoy. Video content does take a bit of getting used too with the 3:2 aspect ratio of the screen though.
Thankfully with the Key2 being out for a little while now, it is a bit easier to find a screen protector that fits. If you want to protecting your screen Amazon have lots of these available – from plastic to glass. However, do be careful with some of the glass ones as they stop you pressing the capacitive buttons.
The LE features Corning Gorilla Glass but they don’t state which version. During my time with the device I chose not to use a screen protector as the one you get pre-installed has the BlackBerry logo so I had to take it off.
Using the phone day-to-day putting it in and out of my pocket, I actually found it held up very well with no scratches or marks anywhere to be found.
The keyboard below is what makes BlackBerry a Blackberry. They are so well known around the world, and keyboards on phones are how BlackBerry really made their name.
You get the spongy feedback when pushing the individual buttons and they’re quite well spaced. You also have the fingerprint reader built into the spacebar. It doesn’t look any different from a normal key and is perfect position for unlocking your phone. There’s also the new speed key which was introduced for quick navigating between apps with a press – ideal for anyone who likes to multitask on the move.
One thing missing on this keyboard, which was on the original Key2, is being able to swipe your finger around the keyboard to navigate. It meant that you could select words on the quick type, or move the cursor backwards and forwards. This has been chopped in order to help reduce the price.
On the top of the phone is a microphone for capturing audio, either for noise cancellation when in a voice call, or for recording audio when in video recording mode.
You also thankfully have a 3.5 mm headphone jack which is something a lot of manufacturers are moving away from. The KEY2 LE has kept this.
On the bottom of the phone is a USB-C charging port which features quick charge. This means you can speedily charge your battery when you need to. Either side are speakers which are loud but also very clear at maximum sound quality.
The volume I was very impressed with. I would be more than happy playing music from this for extended periods, but I don’t think many people around me would. :)
Looking over at the left hand side you get the SIM card tray which is where you put your Nano SIM in. If you have one you can also add a microSD card to expand the available memory. The SIM tray is ejected in a normal fashion using a pin in the small hole to push it out, so if you have multiple SIM cards and one device you need to keep a pin on with you all times.
On the right hand are all the buttons. There’s the volume up and down button and a power button located just below it.
Just like the Key2, this has a ridged feel to it so, even if you’re not looking at the device you can feel which button is which.
Below this you have the Convenience Key, this can be programmed to a range of different applications or uses. Personally I set it to the Google Assistant as it made it much easier to load up with a quick tap. You can also press and hold the button and then speak to the phone to get your answers, but it’s up to you what you want to use this key for.
Move over to the back of the handset and you have once again a dual camera in the top corner. This arrangement is 13+5 megapixels and can also capture 4K video, but we’ll talk about that later on. There is also a dual LED flash and the world famous logo just below.
It feels great in the hand. That metal frame gives it rigidity, but the soft-touch plastic back and the plastic keys on the front make it more affordable to more people.
By using less premium materials and specs it does help lower the price, but it does not lower the experience. I really enjoyed using the Key2 LE, and for my use I would be more than happy to save a £200.
As mentioned before this device features two cameras on the back – the main one is a 13 megapixel f/2.2 camera and the additional 5 megapixel is an f/2.4 use for depth information. This will help to create bokeh photos if you like that sort of thing.
Picture quality was decent but will struggle to compete against phones which have more focus on their camera, such as the OnePlus range. This is because devices like the Blackberry mainly focus on the keyboard and the security experience instead of the camera. However, you still get 4K resolution video recording at 30 frames per second, and you also have the option for 1080p, which a lot of people will stick with as a saves power and storage space.
The front facing camera is used for video calling and selfies and comes in at 8 megapixels, again it’s decent without being groundbreaking. This was to be expected.
The selfie video recording is 1080P at 30 frames per second and is decent enough for the odd job here and there, but it’s not really ideal for anyone wanting to do blogging on the move as there are better options out there.
When you load up the camera you get options on the left-hand side for settings. These include HDR, aspect ratio, timer as well as toggling the flash on or off.
The right side features a wand icon which lets you load various filters. The camera icon allows you to switch between portrait photo, video, scanner and slow-mo. You then have the big camera shutter big button and the option to switch cameras just below.
Here are some sample photos taken straight from the device.
Performance and battery
Performance of the handset was actually very decent, and even though it features a Snapdragon 636 processor it still has 4GB of RAM to help power through.
The battery comes in at 3000mAh which is very good for a phone at this price, and with all the software optimisations you get performance and a long life battery. During my time with the LE I never had to worry about running out.
I used my Three UK SIM card during my whole review. I was often connected to 4G instead of WiFi and found that, as my daily driver, I was easily getting a day of use. This includes a bit of multimedia, lots of social media, calls, and text messages. When it comes to battery, BlackBerry really do a great job.
The processor and RAM included was more than adequate for a phone to multitask. Often people overlook this and look for the higher figures to justify the price.
However, as somebody who’s used a lot of handsets recently, I found that the Blackberry KEY2 LE was one of my favourites. Performance was never an issue at £349. I would be more than happy using this as my daily driver if the keyboard was a requirement.
Once again, no mention anywhere of an IP rating, so be careful if using this in a wet or dusty area. Whilst it may be able to stand up to a few drops here and there, you won’t be covered against any damage should have get worse.
The Blackberry KEY2 LE launches on Android 8.1 Oreo and should be upgraded to 9.0 Pie sometime in the future, however there has been no confirmed date when this will happen, so anyone looking for the latest version of Android will have to look elsewhere unfortunately.
As with the original Key2, BlackBerry have a key suite of apps and an experience they like to use. this goes from the Blackberry Launcher to the built-in DTEK security to keep your smartphone as secure as possible at all times.
Parts of the Blackberry Launcher allow you to place shortcuts on your home screen for key tasks, this I find particularly handy as – if you want to create a new alarm, add a new event, scan an item, load a new Chrome new tab, compose a BBM message, create a new document, create a new Gmail, or a wide range more items – these shortcuts can be added to your home screen to speed up your day-to-day tasks.
BlackBerry also include Firefox Focus in their pre-installed apps. This is a private browser that is very secure and handy for anyone who likes to browse content and not have to worry about being tracked. Chrome still seems to be the best option for many people, but some people do like using Firefox so this comes pre-installed should you want to use it.
There are other key security features also included, such as an App Locker which allows you to lock certain apps with a password.
Handy if you share your phone with other people or have kids who like to play games and you’re worried about your sensitive information being accessed or deleted.
The DTEK security is one of the most secure around and gives you tips on fully protecting and encrypting your smartphone. This is key for businesses and help keep information confidential so you can feel safe that this phone will be perfect for your needs
Also featured is the privacy shade which prevents people from seeing your screen by blocking everything else apart from a small area. This is handy if you’re looking at confidential information somewhere busy like on a train, or on the underground and don’t want anyone else to see what you are accessing either for personal reasons for business. I didn’t use this feature personally, but can see why a lot of business-people might need to use it, especially with a lot of companies emailing confidential and private information.
Lots of the Blackberry software experience can be appreciated on other smartphones by just downloading the Blackberry launcher from the Play Store. The LE however has the additional security features that you only get on a BlackBerry and this is why they’re still widely considered one of the best manufacturers for business.
Having used a few Blackberry devices recently, I pretty much knew what I was expecting from the KEY2 LE.
Most people really into their specs will go for the higher version at the more expensive price. The LE does a great job at fitting in at the mid-range, or those people who just want to bang around text on a keyboard and not have to pay a premium to do it.
At a price of £349, the Blackberry KEY2 LE is not in the Premium price range but does still pack a punch when it comes to reliability, which is key for many people still.
Either way, the good news is if you want a premium handset with more powerful specifications you have the option of more expensive Key2, or -if you just want a really good keyboard on a device that last for ages – then the KEY2 LE is a cheaper alternative choice.