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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.

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Image: BlackBerry Mobile

BlackBerry Mobile -- the division of TCL Communication that manufactures and markets BlackBerry-branded smartphones -- has followed last year's KEYone with a new model named, to no-one's great surprise, the KEY2. The 'iconic' QWERTY keyboard gets a revamp, there are dual cameras at the back for the first time, while privacy and security features -- traditionally a key selling point for BlackBerry devices -- are enhanced.

"We're really following a design philosophy that places a premium on productivity and convenience -- that shapes the decisions we make," said Gareth Hurn, global head of device portfolio for BlackBerry Mobile, at a pre-briefing in London last week. "We know, in the end, a BlackBerry isn't for everyone. But it is for someone who's confident enough to know what they want from their smartphone, and confident enough to be different," he added.

Watch the BlackBerry KEY2 launch event (New York)

The KEY2's aluminium chassis is about a millimetre thinner than its predecessor (8.5mm vs 9.4mm) and the device is 12g lighter (168g vs 180g). Control keys are all on the right side -- volume rocker, textured power button and convenience key; combined with a new soft-touch diamond-pattern back and a Gorilla Glass-protected 4.5-inch touch-screen, the KEY2 looks as modern as any smartphone with a keyboard can. As well as traditional black, the new BlackBerry handset is available in silver.

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The BlackBerry KEY2 is available in silver as well as black.

Image: BlackBerry Mobile
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The KEY2 will warn you when it thinks a battery recharge is due, based on your usage pattern.

Image: BlackBerry Mobile

The KEY2 runs Android 8.1 Oreo on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 660 chipset, with 6GB of RAM and 64GB or 128GB of internal storage. Unlike an increasing number of smartphones these days, the KEY2 offers storage expansion via MicroSD card -- and also, incidentally, has a 3.5mm audio jack. Elsewhere on the audio front, microphone placement has been optimised, with active noise cancelling for better call quality, and HD audio support for enhanced speakerphone playback.

Battery life was a plus point for the KEYone, and the KEY2 also packs a 3,500mAh battery with Qualcomm QuickCharge 3.0 support. "For the most demanding day you can imagine, you would never need to recharge this handset," said Gareth Hurn. "In fact, for most people, this will move into a second day," he added. Be that as it may, BlackBerry Mobile is also introducing a Smart Battery Experience that learns from your usage pattern and notifies you when it thinks you'll need a recharge to get through your upcoming schedule.

The KEY2 is the first BlackBerry smartphone with dual rear cameras -- 12MP sensors with f/1.8 (wide angle) and f/2.6 (telephoto) lenses. There are improvements to auto white balance, auto focus and image stabilisation, plus support for the now-obligatory portrait mode. The new Optical Superzoom feature translates to support for 2x optical and 4x digital zoom. The front camera is an 8MP unit, as on the KEYone.

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The KEY2's redesigned keyboard has taller, better-spaced keys and a new Speed Key (bottom row, right) for invoking shortcuts within apps.

Image: BlackBerry Mobile

The physical keyboard is the defining feature of BlackBerry phones for most people, and the KEY2 has received a number of improvements, including 20 percent more key height, a more comfortable matte finish and enhanced fret design for better key spacing. The main innovation here is the new Speed Key, which lets you invoke customisable shortcuts from within any app, rather than having to return to the home screen -- a significant time-saver, according to BlackBerry Mobile. As before, the keypad works as a trackpad, supports flick typing with predictive text, and embeds a fingerprint reader in the spacebar.

Security and privacy -- another differentiator for BlackBerry handsets -- gets a boost with a new Proactive Health Check feature in the DTEK app, which lets you scan the handset and get instant reports on vulnerabilities and security optimisations. The fingerprint- or password-protected Locker feature has been improved with private folders for documents and photos that won't be uploaded to the cloud, and a private browser -- Firefox Focus -- added.

The BlackBerry KEY2 will begin shipping worldwide in June, with prices starting at $649 in the US, £579 in the UK, €649 in Europe, and $829 in Canada. Look out for a full review on ZDNet shortly.

Specification comparison: BlackBerry KEYone versus KEY2


BlackBerry KEYoneBlackBerry KEY2
Dimensions149.3mm x 72.5mm x 9.4 mm151.4mm x 71.8mm x 8.5mm
Weight180g168g
Display4.5-inch IPS LCD, 1620 x 1080, 3:2 aspect ratio, 433ppi4.5-inch IPS LCD, 1620 x 1080, 3:2 aspect ratio, 433ppi
Keyboardtouch-enabled 35 key backlit QWERTY keyboard with

integrated fingerprint sensor

touch-enabled 35 key backlit QWERTY keyboard with integrated fingerprint sensor
Operating systemAndroid 7.1 (Nougat)Android 8.1 (Oreo)
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 625Qualcomm Snapdragon 660
GPUAdreno 506Adreno 512
RAM3GB/4GB6GB
Internal storage32GB/64GB64GB/128GB
MicroSD cardyesyes
Rear camera(s)12MP f/2.012MP f/1.8 + 12MP f/2.6
Front camera8MP8MP
SensorsGPS/A-GPS, fingerprint (spacebar), accelerometer, magnetometer, gyroscope, proximity, ambient lightGPS/A-GPS, fingerprint (spacebar), accelerometer, magnetometer, gyroscope, proximity, ambient light
Connectivity
- wireless
GSM, HSPA, LTE, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2 LE, NFC, FM radioGSM, HSPA, LTE, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.0 LE, NFC, FM radio
Connectivity
- wired
USB-C, 3.5mm audioUSB-C, 3.5mm audio
Battery3,505mAh with QuickCharge 3.03,500mAh with QuickCharge 3.0
Price (USD)$549$649

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