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BlackBerry Keyone review: The return of the keyboard warrior

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £499
inc VAT

The BlackBerry Keyone is here, and it isn't half bad – but do you really need that keyboard?


  • Physical keyboard
  • MicroSD card slot


  • Low power core components
  • Small 4.5in screen size
  • Not great value

BlackBerry Keyone review: Performance

When it comes to performance, however, the Keyone certainly isn’t competitive with other phones around the £500 mark. It runs a 2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor instead of one of an 821, 825 or 835, has 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage as standard.

The phone feels reasonably responsive in everyday use but it isn’t super slick. Scrolling through web pages and menus occasionally felt stuttery, launching into various parts of BlackBerry’s custom Android Launcher software, particularly the keyboard shortcuts, frequently took a second or two to activate. It isn’t a disaster, but at this price, I’d expect out-of-box perfection, not slightly ponderous performance.

I was unable to get the Keyone to run Geekbench 4 without crashing, but to give you an idea of the sort of speed to expect, I’ve substitued in scores from the Huawei Nova, which has the same CPU and RAM setup. It did run the GFXBench test, though, and this demonstrates unequivocally that performance is sub-par for the price. Effectively, the BlackBerry Keyone is delivering budget-class smartphone performance, which for this sort of cash is somewhat disappointing.

The flipside of this low performance should be greater efficiency, especially when coupled with a reasonably large 3,505mAh battery. Anecdotally, that appears to be the case. After using it for a week, I’ve seen slightly better-than-average battery life in normal use. It lasts longer than my Pixel XL with the same general usage and comfortably gets me from a bleary-eyed 6am to 11pm in the evening without needing a top-up.

In the video battery test, things don’t look quite so good. Playing back a video on loop with flight mode engaged and the scree set to a brightness of 170cd/m2, Keyone lasted 12hrs 24mins; that’s not bad but it’s also slightly below average. The cheaper OnePlus 3T lasted 13hrs 22mins in this test, and the Pixel XL 15hrs 55mins.  

BlackBerry Keyone review: Software

As for software, the BlackBerry KeyOne has Android 7.1 Nougat onboard, which is as you’d expect of a smartphone launched in 2017. This is not stock Android, however, and it’s Android launcher software is a little more interesting than most.

The good news is that BlackBerry has resisted the urge to fiddle with the look of the OS, and unlike some (Huawei, I’m looking at you), it has left the fundamental building blocks intact. That means you get the stock Android pull-down notification and app drawer, and the homescreen works in a familiar way and looks largely the same.

BlackBerry has added notification badges to homescreen app icons, though, and contextual popup menus, the presence of which is indicated via a series of dots below icons where it’s available. This, in my view, adds needless clutter and unwanted complication; I could do without it. There’s also, rather pointlessly, a redesigned look for the recent apps menu with a tessellated tile-based view of recent apps. It’s different to look at but no more or less functional.

Slightly more useful is the addition of the BlackBerry Hub to the Keyone’s Android launcher. Again, I’m not totally convinced of the need for yet another way of accessing messages on Android, but Hub does have some handy features. In particular, those using it as a work phone may appreciate its ability to gather Slack, SMS, Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter messages all in one place.

It doesn’t integrate your Gmail account by default but you can add that ability if you want to view your email alongside everything else. It can even help you manage your calendar, offering a quick view of your daily agenda with a quick swipe down from the top of the screen. You’ll still need to use Android’s Calendar app to set up new appointments, though.

Then there’s BlackBerry’s DTEK app, which gives you an overview of the various security aspects of your phone, for example whether you have encryption enabled, or developer options switched on. This is all useful stuff, but it’s only an overview, no more no less; tapping any of the alerts simply whisks you off to the relevant part of the phone’s settings so you can remedy the situation directly.

BlackBerry Keyone review: Camera

Finally, to the camera, which in the past has been BlackBerry handsets’ Achilles heel. Here, things look promising on paper. You get a 12-megapixel camera on the rear (based on a Sony-manufactured sensor) with phase-detect autofocus, a bright aperture of f/2.0 and a dual-LED flash.

Results from the rear snapper are pretty good. In our outdoor tests with both HDR enabled and disabled, the Keyone’s camera captured crisp details, reasonably accurate colours and performance was quite snappy. I compared the shots with some I took at the same time with the Google Pixel XL and there wasn’t a huge amount of difference between them. The Pixel XL delivered a mite more detail, colours were even more accurate and exposures slightly better balanced – the BlackBerry showed a tendency to darken shadows somewhat – but there wasn’t a huge difference in overall quality.

As ever, though, it’s in low light that the Keyone’s camera falls short. Although it preserves colours well, anything scenes captured indoors without the flash look soft, and moving subjects have a tendency to be horribly blurred. The Keyone’s tendency to darken shadows comes to the fore here, too, to the extent that you lose details in darker areas of your scene.

Attempt to brighten your photos using the exposure compensation control, though, and you’ll likely experience even more blur. This is likely a result of a lack of optical image stabilisation (OIS).

BlackBerry Keyone review: Verdict

BlackBerry’s decline as a brand has been sad to see over the past few years, but it’s good to see it’s not bowing out without a fight. If you still hanker after a phone with a keyboard, the BlackBerry KeyOne is a phone you might actually want to consider, despite the relatively high price of £499.

Before you go all nostalgic on me, though, ask yourself this: do you really, really need a physical keyboard? Do you really have trouble entering text with your current on-screen keyboard? And do you really want a chunky phone in your pocket with none of the big-screen payback that comes with a phone like the Huawei P10 Plus, the Mate 9 or the Google Pixel XL?

My guess is that, if you really think about it and weigh-up the options, you’ll almost certainly come to the conclusion that this isn’t the smartphone for you, and you’d be better off buying any number of its rivals at around this price.

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