BlackBerry Key2: A good smartphone that could be great

After a month with the BlackBerry Key2, there are a couple of things I really like about it, and a couple of things that need to go.
Written by Jason Cipriani, Contributing Writer

Video: BlackBerry Key2 hands-on

The BlackBerry Key2 recently began shipping to customers in the US. As a successor to last year's KEYone, the Key2 boasts a refined design that looks stunning in person. Truly, photos don't do this design justice.

Must read: New and upcoming phones: Galaxy Note 9 and others we're expecting in 2018

Naturally, the Key2 has a physical keyboard, for better or worse, and leverages BlackBerry's Android improvements for enhanced security. It runs Android 8.1 Oreo.

Sandra Vogel has already done the honors of providing an in-depth review, and Matthew Miller followed that up with a list of seven reasons the Key2 is a good fit for business users.

As for me, well, I've used the Key2 for about a month now. There's a lot to like here, especially for business users. There are, however, a couple of things that disappoint me.

What's with the display?

The Key2 has a 4.5-inch 1620x1080 IPS LCD display with 434ppi. That's the same display used in last year's KEYone, and it shows. The display's brightness is far too low to use this phone in direct sunlight and lacks the same crispness and clarity of other flagship smartphones. For a device that's priced at $650, I expected a lot more from the screen.

Read also: Best Android Phones for 2018 - CNET

Battery life

BlackBerry devices have traditionally had excellent battery life, and the Key2 is no different. I traveled with the Key2 as my main device, and at no time did I have to worry about the battery running out of juice before the end of the day.

Ditch the buttons...

(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

There are three capacitive buttons at the bottom of the screen, just above the keyboard. They're not always visible, lighting up only when you're using the phone. The navigation buttons are the same three buttons nearly every Android device has, except most device makers now use on-screen buttons, instead of having a dedicated section just below the screen for them.

Read also: 10 cheap phones we love - CNET

TCL, BlackBerry, whoever can pull the right strings within a design meeting, get rid of those keys and use the added space for a larger display. Capacitive navigation buttons are a thing of the past, kind of like a smartphone with a keyboard.

... But not the keyboard

Alright, so maybe a smartphone with a keyboard is not truly a thing of the past, but I think we can all agree it's close.

Several times over the past few weeks, I've sat down and committed to dealing with my emails, work messages on Slack, and a group conversation thread on Facebook Messenger -- all while using the Key2 and its keyboard. At first, the experience was frustrating and often drove me to the brink of giving up.

Read also: Business users, beware: WhatsApp drops support - TechRepublic

Typing on glass is far more forgiving, without precise borders of where each key starts and stops. Autocorrect software, even with its long list of failures, is really good at guessing what you are typing.

Switching back to typing on a true keyboard requires more thought, and slowing down just enough to find the right key. Granted, the Key2's keyboard has an autocorrect functionality but for whatever reason, I still feel like typing on the Key2 requires precision.

Here's the thing -- the clicking clack of the keyboard is not only nostalgic, but it's addictive. It's the universal sound of conversations taking place and work getting done. It's a sound I hear every day, all day while sitting at my desk.

What I'm trying to say, I think, is that using the Key2 revealed that I'm slightly bitter that glass screens killed the physical keyboard on smartphones. If only for that reassuring sound of work getting done.

The perfect phone: 13 features I've dreamed of

Previous and related coverage:

BlackBerry Mobile launches KEY2 with dual cameras and improved keyboard

The KEY2 is slimmer and lighter than its predecessor, and keeps the flag flying for keyboard-equipped smartphones with a range of enhancements.

The 10 best smartphones of 2018

A couple more phones have been launched since MWC and further use of others encouraged us to update the list of top smartphones.

BlackBerry debuts Jarvis software scanning platform at NAIAS

Jarvis functions as static binary code scanning software that detects vulnerabilities in automotive systems.

Editorial standards