Hands on: BlackBerry Key2 LE review

A QWERTY keyboard at a lower price point

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Our Early Verdict

They Key2 LE makes a physical keyboard-toting smartphone more accessible with a lower price tag.

For

  • Comfortable to hold
  • Decent amount of power
  • Makes QWERTY more affordable

Against

  • Keyboard a little cramped
  • Rear cameras pretty average

The BlackBerry Key2 LE has been launched at IFA 2018 in Berlin, Germany and offers a more affordable QWERTY keyboard experience that the firm hopes will not only be attractive to businesses, but also tempt consumers back to the physical 'board.

BlackBerry Mobile has used the flagship BlackBerry Key2 as the foundations for the Key2 LE and has made a few adjustments allowing it to lower the price.

The firm told TechRadar that its customers have been asking for a more affordable device, which is one of the main driving forces for its arrival. But how does it stack up? We've been hands on to find out.

BlackBerry Key2 LE release date and price

The BlackBerry Key2 LE will be available in two configurations, with the 32GB of storage model priced at  $399 (£349). However, if you fancy some extra space the 64GB BlackBerry Key2 LE price is $449 (£399).

Considering the Key2 starts at $649 (£579), the Key2 LE represents a healthy price reduction which makes it more accessible to new customers.

As for the BlackBerry Key2 LE release date, the handset is expect to go on sale in markets including the UK at the end of September/early October, with the US, Canada, Middle East, Germany and France also in line to be among the first to get the handset on sale.

Design

The BlackBerry Key2 LE takes obvious design cues from its more expensive sibling with the same general look and size, but things have been refined.

The Key2 LE is more rounded, less premium looking and wrapped in a polycarbonate frame which runs around the circumference of the handset.

That said, it doesn't look cheap either, but pick it up and you'll be surprised by just how lightweight the handset it. Couple this with the more rounded edges and the Key2 LE is very comfortable to hold, and it feels more balanced in the hand.

While it may not boast the metal frame of its flagship brethren, the BlackBerry Key2 LE still feels solid and well made.

BlackBerry Key2 LE hands on gallery

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The rear of the handset is coated in a textured rubber finish, which is softer and offers more grip than the similar finish on the Key2.

On the base of the phone a USB-C port sits alongside a speaker and microphone, while three buttons adorn the right side of the Key2 LE. The central power/lock switch has a textured finished making it easy to find, and it sits below a volume rocker.

Below the power key is BlackBerry's convenience key which comes pre-programmed to launch Google Assistant, but you can remap it to launch any app of your choosing.

Audio phones will be pleased to learn that the BlackBerry Key2 LE boasts a 3.5mm headphone jack on its top edge, with a SIM tray on the left. Depending on where you live, the Key2 LE will either support single or dual SIM.

The Blackberry Key2 LE will be available in three colors: Slate (a dark grey finish on the frame, keys and soft touch rear), Champagne (a champagne frame with a dark blue keys and soft touch rear) and Atomic (a red frame with the same dark blue soft accents).

Display

The BlackBerry Key2 LE has exactly the same screen as the Key2, which is great to learn considering the price difference between the two.

That means you get a 4.5-inch, full HD display with the rather odd 4:3 aspect ratio, as the physical keyboard prevents a traditional size screen being placed on the handset.

When it comes to gaming or video playback the aspect ratio doesn't do you any favors, as content is much smaller than we're used to see on our smartphones, but these aren't the sort of tasks the Key2 LE has been made for.

It's bright, clear and colorful, and works great for emails, web browsing and social media.

Keyboard

The keyboard on the BlackBerry Key2 LE is a step back from the one you get on the Key2.

The keys are a little smaller, and the whole board is more cramped, which makes typing a little trickier and less accurate. However, as we tapped out a long message on the Key2 LE we found its auto-predict and auto-correct engine worked pretty well when it came to righting our typos.

It's not perfect though, and we still had a number of mistakes in our text. Physical keyboards do take a little while to get used to if you've been using touchscreens for a while, so accuracy will improve over time, but it's not the best keyboard on a BlackBerry.

A feature that's been dropped from the Key2 to the Key2 LE is the capacitive keyboard which allows you to perform scroll and swipe actions over the keys to manipulate the interface on screen.

It's not a great loss, and one we can accept considering some features needed to go to achieve a lower price point. Something that has been kept for the BlackBerry Key2 LE though is the fingerprint scanner built in to the spacebar - giving you biometric security.

Camera, power and battery

You'll find a dual camera setup on the rear of the BlackBerry Key2 LE, with a 13MP main sensor lining up above a 5MP depth sensing snapper. Meanwhile, on the front you get an 8MP selfie snapper.

We had a quick play with the camera on the new Key2 LE and in good light outdoors the photos were pretty good, but moving indoors and it struggled with more challenging lighting conditions.

Under the hood the BlackBery Key2 LE is powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 636 chipset (which is also found in the HTC U12 Life) and 4GB of RAM. 

This keeps the relative stock Android 8.1 Oreo interface running smoothly and the Key2 LE should't have too much trouble with heavy lifting tasks.

BlackBerry Mobile has confirmed that the Key2 LE will get an update to Android 9 Pie, but currently there's no time frame for when the update will land.

The usual BlackBerry security features have also been added to the Android interface including DTEK and Lockr, and it's also introduced a new app clone feature that allows you to duplicate key messaging and social apps.

This allows you to keep personal and work accounts in separate apps, reducing the risk of your posting an embarrassing message on a corporate account.

You get a 3,000mAh battery inside the handset, which BlackBerry Mobile claims will last you a full day on a single charge. It quotes 22 hours of mixed use, but we'll find out how it gets on when we put it through our in-depth review process.

The BlackBerry Key2 LE supports Quick Charge 3.0, replenishing 50% of the battery in just 36 minutes. It can also learn your charging habits over time, so if you regularly charge your phone at the same time each day, the Key2 LE can notify you if it thinks it won't make it to that time.

Early Verdict

The BlackBerry Key2 LE is exactly the sort of smartphone the QWERTY keyboard world wanted, offering up the popular (in its niche) form factor at a more accessible price.

It's interesting that BlackBerry Mobile is slowly seeing itself as more of a consumer proposition, and while its core focus is still very much enterprise the Key2 LE is another step towards getting the famous brand back in the hands of everyday users.

  • IFA 2018 is Europe's biggest tech show. The TechRadar team is in Berlin to bring you all the breaking news and hands-on first impressions of new phones, watches and other tech as they're announced.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.