Though we’re still a day away from Mobile World Congress, Chinese hardware maker TCL Communication has today kicked things off with the release of the latest BlackBerry-branded smartphone – ‘KEYone’ (or as you might know it by its codename — Mercury). It is the newest addition to the Canadian behemoth’s growing lineup of Android smartphones.
At this point of time, we’d like to clarify that BlackBerry has already made its exit from the hardware ecosystem last year. Due to the gradual decline in its smartphone business, the company decided to focus all of the resources on building out its enterprise software division. The manufacturing processes have now been licensed to multiple OEMs, namely China’s TCL and Optiemus from India.
Now, looking at the specifications, the BlackBerry KEYone sports a 4.5-inch FullHD IPS LCD display with a resolution of 1620 x 1080 pixels. It has an aspect ratio of 3:2, which may sound a bit unusual but is completely fine considering the room needed for the physical keyboard — which we’ll talk about in a moment.
The BlackBerry KEYone is powered by an octa-core Snapdragon 625 chipset, clocked at 2.0 GHz and coupled with a 64-bit Adreno 605 GPU. It includes 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of onboard storage, which is expandable up to 2 TB using a microSD card. It also packs in a 3,505 mAh battery which supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 Technology and enables you to gain 50 percent charge in just about 36 minutes. They are calling it Boost.
As for camera department, the KEYone sports a 12 MP Sony IMX378 sensor on the rear along with PDAF (phase detection autofocus) and dual-tone LED flash. The device also brings along an 8MP front camera with support for image and video stabilization. The LCD screen also works as a light-up flash to provide us with well-illuminated selfies.
All this is packed inside a sleek anodized aluminum body, which also includes a soft-grip textured back. The KEYone measure 5.8″ x 2.8″ x 0.37″ and weighs about 6.3 ounces. In addition to the usual power and volume keys, the device also includes a “BlackBerry Convenience Key” that will either allow you to open the camera or mute a call.
Further, this device isn’t similar to the Alcatel rip-off which debuted as DTEK60 earlier last year. Instead, the KEYone holds more similarity to their very first Android smartphone, the Priv. TCL is reviving the trademark BlackBerry physical keyboard with today’s launch – but it won’t slide in and out of the device.
The backlit keyboard, which is reminiscent to original BlackBerry devices, is now attached directly underneath the touch display. The keyboard might hold an utter resemblance to original BlackBerry keyboards but, take caution, it is not an ordinary 4-row physical keyboard. It includes features more advanced than those we’ve already seen on the BlackBerry Priv.
Firstly, TCL has followed the current trend and embedded a fingerprint sensor in the spacebar (or the interval key) of the KEYone. The keyboard might have clicky sound-making keys but they respond to touch gestures, so you can use them as a touchpad as well. This is similar to what we’ve already seen on the Priv but will come in handy as you can now assign up to 52 customizable shortcuts (for eg — you can press on W to check the weather or F for Facebook). You also have access to flick typing, a little something that also we’ve seen on the Priv.
On the connectivity front, it includes 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC and a USB Type-C port. It is powered by the latest flavor of Android 7.1 Nougat, with BlackBerry’s security-focused alterations. The phone still includes the activity area — BlackBerry Hub that enables you to access and respond to emails, text messages and social updates all from one place. It also lays emphasis on security as well as privacy with the addition of the DTEK app, which enables you to take control over your app permissions and settings.
The BlackBerry KEYone is an apt name considering the fact that the company’s future plans are riding on the success of this device. The smartphone will be available across the globe as early as April and will retail for $549 in the U.S and 559 euros in Europe.
There’s one other widely popular brand which is following the said strategy this time around – Nokia. The Finnish technology giant has also signed a licensing deal with its counterpart HMD Global, who will show off their latest smartphones at MWC tomorrow. So, keep your eyes peeled for more updates on that front.