BlackBerry Key2 LE review

The business phone with a party price

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No BlackBerry Pie for you

  • Android 8.1 Oreo with BlackBerry overlay
  • Monthly security updates
  • BlackBerry security features

No surprises here: the BlackBerry Key2 LE does not yet offer the latest edition of Android. It runs 8.1 Oreo with a BlackBerry topping, which includes its well-regarded suite of security apps and features.

For instance, the BlackBerry DTEK security app scans the phone and tells you of any security vulnerabilities it finds. There's also a secure section called 'Locker' for keeping apps, photos and files locked away, requiring a password or fingerprint to access. We tried to screenshot this to show you, but it wouldn't let us, because security.

The phone also comes with Firefox Focus, a more privacy-focused version of the standard Mozilla browser that helps avoid web tracking and auto-deletes your session when you close it.

BlackBerry has committed to monthly Android security updates on the Key2 LE, so even if it doesn’t get Android 9 Pie any time soon, at least it should be relatively secure.

The rest of the interface is standard Oreo with a bit of BlackBerry style, by which we mean menus are a dull grey and widgets have been elevated to a tab on the app drawer.

The third tab, 'Shortcuts', not only gives a quick route to all kinds of actions, but also leads to the keyboard shortcuts feature. This is really cool: you can assign a function to each and every letter on the physical keyboard, both for long and short press.

If you're planning to use this as your main phone for a long time, you could potentially have it set up in a way that’s completely custom and intuitive to you.

As for typing on the keyboard, we found it pretty tricky, especially at first. BlackBerry says the Key2 LE’s keys are 10% bigger than on the BlackBerry KeyOne, but even with small hands they feel teeny-tiny.

After a few days' use, you do get used to typing on the keyboard, but it never feels faster than using an on-screen one. At one point we found ourselves wondering if the space wouldn’t have been better used for large, old-school T9 keys like the ones non-smart phones have, because we reckon we’d spend less time deleting mistakes that way.

On some BlackBerry phones, you can swipe on the keyboard to scroll up and down, but that’s been left out of this budget handset. It's a shame, because it's both fun and useful, which is something not many handset innovations manage to be.

All that said, the market for this phone is clearly people who love the BlackBerry keyboard but don't want to pay flagship prices, so they'll probably be more than happy tapping away on those tiny keys.

Performance and media

  • Keyboard takes up potential screen space
  • 4.5-inch screen still manages to feel immersive
  • Snapdragon 636 chipset, 4GB of RAM

The BlackBerry Key2 LE is clearly not designed as an entertainment device, but all phones have to be able to multitask, and this will do you fine for streaming, reading and less demanding games.

The BlackBerry Key2 LE runs on a Snapdragon 636 chipset, a solid mid-range one with four 1.8GHz cores and four 1.6GHz ones. The phone also has 4GB of RAM and 32GB or 64GB of storage, plus a microSD slot that takes up to a 256GB card that can be hot-swapped.

We benchmarked the Key2 LE on Geekbench 4, and an average of three CPU tests came out with a multi-core score of 4923. At peak performance, the standard BlackBerry Key2 averaged 5572. 

Meanwhile, the Honor 10 managed 6570, so that might be the phone to go for if you’re more interested in hardware performance and gaming chops.

The screen size of the BlackBerry Key2 LE is obviously diminished by the keyboard, so if a big screen for movies and media is important to you, this probably isn't the handset you want.

That said, while we expected the 4.5-inch display to feel small while watching Netflix and reading digital books, it didn’t. It’s still plenty immersive, and reminded us that it wasn’t so long ago that we were perfectly happy with smaller screens.

Gaming feels a bit weird on this phone at first, because there’s a big pointless keyboard taking up space on the handset. But like the useless third leg on the Nintendo 64 controller, you soon forget it’s there.

While games like Asphalt Nitro work well on the Key2 LE's hardware and look good on the screen, it's obviously not a device for hardcore gamers. Everyone else will find it plenty good enough.

As for music, this won't be winning any audio awards, but as we noted earlier in the review, the speaker can pump out fairly solid sound.