This is not how Android is meant to work. I know this because when everyone took up the crackberry habit, I was going through the growing pains of Android Eclair (2.0), Froyo (2.2) and Gingerbread (2.3). Those were dark times of ridiculously expensive data and having to visit the device manufacturer offices for a software update. My then girlfriend, now wife, lived in a different city and we used the now-defunct Mxit. I had every reason to get a Curve or Bold, but I didn’t. I saw the future and it didn’t have a physical keyboard taking up precious real estate.
Here’s the thing: the iPhone wouldn’t exist if there was never BlackBerry. The whole idea of one company designing a range of phones as well as the operating system was perfected by BlackBerry. As was the proprietary instant messaging platform exclusively for device users, the proprietary mobile internet browser and on-device security features which extend all the way into the OS. The iPhone is just a more cool BlackBerry, if you think about it.
The iPhone only truly hit its straps with the launch of the App Store in 2008, which was a response to the BIS service that allowed BB device users access to Java enterprise applications since 2003. BB hit back with the BlackBerry App World in 2009, Europe, the Middle East and Africa being the key markets for this platform. BB’s App World was the most lucrative per app until the fateful day in late 2010 when a server in Slough fell over, bringing Blackberry to its knees.
KEYone is BlackBerry’s eventual answer to that incident, and it’s unapologetically BlackBerry. Gone are the touch-focused stylings of the DTEK50 and the Priv. Android runs the show on the OS side (full access to Google Play, not the weird Amazon workaround the company tried on BB10), new BB license holders TCL cast off the ill-fated BlackBerry 10 in 2015. But back is the hardware keyboard that doubles as a trackpad and the BlackBerry Hub for catching all of your notifications. It’s even running a more current version of Android Nougat than the LG G6 and Samsung Galaxy S8.
And I hate it.
I was never a BlackBerry owner in its heyday so have no muscle memory for pressing on physical QWERTY keys. This phone at best slows down everything I use a smartphone for and has, in the four days I’ve had with it so far, brought my life to a grinding halt. I have anxiety just using it out of fear for what aspect of my mobile life it will derail next.
But honestly, that’s not a judgement on the quality of the device or the BlackBerry solution that it represents. I simply don’t have a problem that needs this specific intervention. I rely sometimes too heavily on voice assistants and cloud services to keep my schedule organised. I want my smartphone to be smart enough to serve me the information I want when I need it, I don’t want the burden of remembering which key is shortcut to which action. I also place a premium on one-handed use, only accepting the cumbersomeness of unwieldy devices if it adds something meaningful – like the camera on the Huawei P10 Plus or iPhone 7 Plus.
That said, the KEYone has the best camera ever on a BlackBerry device. You may have even heard that it shares a camera sensor with the much-lauded Google Pixel. That’s true and the results can be spectacular. It doesn’t have the Pixel’s software, though.
I personally trust Samsung’s Knox over BB’s security enhancements because I’ve studied those white papers a lot more closely, but I also rely on Google to bake security and privacy features into the operating system. With the tradeoff on my personal data being soaked up into the Google algorithm being a more personalised experience in the company’s services.
As a smartphone user I’ve matured alongside the rise of Android and iOS and those platforms are designed for touchscreen interfaces. It goes against everything a know about mobile computing to have to choose between the accuracy of a physical keyboard or the convenience of touching the functions I want as well as typing in the same screen without sacrificing too much space.
Legacy BlackBerry users will adore this device and its confidence-inspiring tactility. I don’t believe it will win over anyone who has truly moved with the times, though. If you’re interested you can pre-order one now through CelluCity, or pick one up on 8 August.