Review

Blackberry KEYone – the most-surprising smartphone of 2017

By Alex Wood 11 September 2017
Summary

Party like it's 2009.

When I got my hands on the new Blackberry KeyONE, I’d already written it off before opening the box.

Who would buy a Blackberry? Or heaven forbid…a phone with an actual keyboard in 2017? Blackberry was a brand that belonged in the history books as far as I was concerned.

But after spending time with the KeyONE I have to admit – I was wrong.

At first, I thought I had a bad case of tech nostalgia. I’d already gone bananas for the ‘new’ Nokia 3310, so why wouldn’t a device that makes you party like it’s 2009 again be just as good an idea?

But trust me – this is one of the smartest smartphones I’ve seen this year.

The one big difference

This 2017 edition runs Android, not the bloated, dated crapware that plagued more recent Berries. It’s something that Blackberry’s old parent, RIM, the world’s most unfortunately-named company, should have embraced a long time ago.

This means you can use the hundreds of millions of apps available on Google Play while still enjoying all the comforts of a Blackberry.

So why should you really care about this phone?

The keyboard. It is bloody brilliant.

“But touchscreen keyboards are better” I hear you scream.

Here’s the thing, you can show me all the scientific studies in the world saying touchscreens are faster and more accurate, but to a 31-year old barely-millennial email addict like me, real keys feel GOOD. So good.

And now I’ve got my hands back on one, I don’t want to go back again.

Like a cup of Yorkshire tea, the KeyONE’s keyboard is reassuringly familiar. Everything’s exactly where you remember it.

Every key rewards you with a satisfying crunch that sends a message to your nostalgic subconscious that says “Sorry for typos, sent on my Blackberry”.

Business class apps

And if you’re a business user, you’ll also find all the familiar Blackberry apps and the ‘best security software’ on the market. And there’s also Blackberry Messenger, which was famously used in the 2011 riots in London.

It’s also built like a tank. After dropping my review unit down the back of a radiator, I spent weeks prodding it with metal rulers, coat hangers and a shoehorn in desperate attempts to fish it back out again. After a three week ordeal of being poked and prodded by whilst wedged against a wall, the Blackberry emerged unscathed without a single scratch. What other phone could do that?

Side note: If you drop your phone behind a radiator, I discovered a trick for getting it out. Wrap strong sticky tape around a thin piece of wood, push it against the phone and simply lift your dusty device out.

Should you buy one?

If you use only use one phone for both work and play, this is not the device for you.

The KEYone won’t be a mass-market bestseller, it’s the ultimate company phone, for busy people who need to be online 24/7 and probably carry an iPhone for everything outside of work. And its built-in keyboard appeal will be lost on anyone who didn’t own a Berry a decade ago.

Back in 2009, when I got my hands on my first one I naively thought it was my ticket to being a grown up. Back then a Blackberry said ‘you’d made it’, or at best ‘I’m busy and important’.

In 2017, with almost every phone looking like a near-identical slab of black glass, this Blackberry, with its chunky silver shell and distinctive keyboard, says ‘professional’ and even ‘not afraid to be different’.

The Blackberry KEYone isn’t for everyone – but that’s the point. If you care about getting the most of your workday, this is the best phone smart money can buy. Just don’t drop yours behind a radiator.

The Blackberry KEYone is available from £499 sim-free, and free on most contracts.