Revealed at Mobile World Congress in February, the BlackBerry KEYone has today gone on sale in London, with wider distribution in the UK, Europe and the US to follow.
It’s a slick, aluminum-framed handset with a 4.5in HD screen, fingerprint sensor buried in the physical keyboard’s space bar and the biggest battery yet in a BlackBerry. But will it be enough to put the company back in play?
Like Nokia with its new-old 3310 handset, BlackBerry is a brand which scores big in terms of cosy nostalgia. Many of us remember our first BlackBerry handset with its basic display, below-average web surfing and odd shape. Its phenomenally speedy push-email delivery and superbly usable physical QWERTY made up for all its shortcomings & more.
But the world of mobile changed & BlackBerry didn’t keep up. So business customers who loved the brilliant security but not the phone’s design, persuaded their IT directors to let them have a cool-looking iPhone.
Teenagers who loved the free BlackBerry Messenger app & had learnt – get this – how to touch-text without looking, the BlackBerry under their desks during lessons, grew up to prefer Android phones with access to games & free, platform agnostic WhatsApp.
Which left BlackBerry out in the cold, they just couldn’t keep up.
Most of all, though, it was the absence of apps that sunk BlackBerry, just as the same issue caused problems for Microsoft’s Windows Phone.
More recently, BlackBerry flirted with Android, skinning the Google operating system with DTEK, a security overlay which analysed what apps were doing and alerted you accordingly (A flashlight app? Wants to use location settings? Really?).
Today’s launch is the fullest expression of the Android BlackBerry system, promising the latest OS (Nougat 7.1) and a display which, executives pointed out at the launch, offers more usable space than most touchscreen phones once their touch keyboards block part of the screen. This phone is built by TCL Communications, a Chinese multi-national company.
We will be reviewing the phone in detail soon but first impressions are strong. Gareth Hurn, Global Head of Device Portfolio, said the new phone is built to be unlike any other, to suit “professional consumers looking for something different. It keeps them safe and secure and helps them get the maximum of their day.” Hurn says this phone will appeal to those “who were seduced by another product with a bigger screen or more applications – but those differences are over.” He described it as the world’s most secure Android phone.
The battery, he says, will last for 26 hours in mixed use and can regain a 50 per cent charge in 30 minutes.
Key among the innovations, and a clear signifier of the KEYone name is the fact that the keyboard works like a touchpad as well. If one of the three words suggested as you type turns out to be one you want, just flick upwards underneath the word to see it appear onscreen. Swipe left and right on the space bar to scroll forward or back between web pages. And you can custom-set each of the 26 keys to perform a function, two each, actually. A short press on W can launch WhatsApp, a long press invoke the Weather app. Or assign a contact or your home address in Google Maps and so on.
The BlackBerry execs were certainly bullish, espousing that “Tens of millions of customers are going to come back because they have different priorities.”
Time will tell, but it certainly looks more promising than some of its more recent attempts.