BlackBerry Key2 review

All business in the front and back, less of a multimedia party anywhere in between

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You can’t teach an old BlackBerry new tricks. At least that’s what we thought when we tried out the Key 2’s dual-lens rear camera’s portrait mode, the background blurring effect that’s popular in almost every new smartphone. It’s the worst implementation of it we’ve seen yet.

Let’s start with something good. The BlackBerry Key2’s 12MP camera takes fine photos in daylight and its 2x optical zoom is handy. Everything is better than the KeyOne, and the 8MP front-facing camera does the same.

It’s not going to land on our best camera phones list, where the Samsung Galaxy S9, iPhone X and Google Pixel 2 reside. But it’s more than acceptable for everyday snapshots in addition to video conferencing.

The problem here is when it tries to use software to add bokeh (the background blur effect). The blur was all over the place, at times like the phone was trying to censor part of my (or my subject’s) face. Long hair strands are always an issue, even for the best smartphone blurring effects. But even short hairstyles confused this camera's portrait mode. For a starring attraction, portrait mode is disappointing.

It does record 4K video and have a fun slow-motion video mode. These work well enough. Our biggest issue is that the Key2 camera app is simple, yet somehow unintuitive. We’re spoiled by Samsung (the best) and LG (second best) when it comes to properly laying out modes and camera controls.

You’re going to be fine using the BlackBerry Key2 camera in other modes. But if you buy this phone thinking it has a keyboard and all of the latest photo effects, you’re going to be sorely mistaken (and end up with a photo album full of janky pictures).

Battery life

The BlackBerry Key2 has a 3,500mAh battery, meaning it skims 5mah off the top of the KeyOne’s 3,505mAh battery capacity. Trust us, you’ll hardly ever notice.

It has all-day battery life, extending anywhere from 25 hours to 35 hours in our daily tests. It’s a solid performer for smartphone-using workaholics like us. We also got the same results as last year's KeyOne in our lab tests when running a 90-minute HD video at full brightness. It went from 100% to 89%, losing a respectable 11%, and mirroring the KeyOne’s results.

It’s pulling off solid battery life numbers because of its underpowered Snapdragon 660 chipset and the fact that it burns fewer pixels than other smartphones, ones with all-screen Quad HD displays. So.... there’s a positive little trade-off to cutting off everyone’s Instagram photos.

We also found that it’s fast to charge, filling up to 0% from a dead battery after less than two hours. Boost Mode is the key here. It suspends performance in order to gain charging speed. It’s like turning on airplane mode without actually cutting you off from the world.

There’s no always-on screen display here, but BlackBerry’s perimeter-lining charging percentage indicator returns, lining the sides of the screen with a green bar as the battery replenishment progresses. It’s a small but subtle gimmick we can get behind.

Matt Swider