It is but it isn’t.
A BlackBerry, that is. At Mobile World Congress in Spain Saturday, China’s TCL launched the KEYone, a new device that is the first result of BlackBerry’s decision to get out of the smartphone business and license third party partners to make BlackBerry branded products.
The Canadian company, meanwhile, says it has other priorities.
“BlackBerry is now focused on software innovation – aka “putting the smart in the phone” (and the computer, cars, the Internet of Things, and all other endpoints) – and we’re excited to see TCL bring to market a high-quality BlackBerry device that customers expect our brand to deliver,” said Blackberry Senior Vice-President and General Manager of the Mobility Solutions Division Alex Thurber on BlackBerry’s blog yesterday.
Like the past few devices BlackBerry built on its own, the KEYone uses the Android operating system, has a physical keyboard, and has security features that are touted as best of breed. But at least one tech writer says these decisions were way too little and way too late. Reviewing the device for The Indian Express, Nandagopal Rajan said the whole thing suffers from a distinct lack of excitement.
“Now, to offer a keyboard, albeit better and smarter — yes, making the most of the Android 7.1 OS — on a 2017 smartphone might not be a great business idea if you are thinking in terms of volume,” he said. “If BlackBerry had been quicker to the draw, offered an Android smartphone with BlackBerry’s keyboard and security earlier on, it might have been better off right now. The delay has meant everyone and my mother can now use a touchscreen well, for whatever they want to do on a smartphone screen. That is an opportunity lost, and not really an opportunity that is hanging in the air.
Rajan doesn’t think the KEYone is set up for success.
“Yes, BlackBerry is playing to its fans, but how many will switch from an existing phone to buy a new smartphone that is not even manufactured by BlackBerry,” he writes. “At $549, BlackBerry must sure hope there are enough people who think the keyboard and security are really big issues for them when it comes to a smartphone.”
To be fair other reviews have been more generous to the KEYone. The Next Web called the device “a gorgeous and affordable productivity-focused smartphone,” and The Verge says it is “the first modern BlackBerry you might actually want”. Writer Sam Byford, in reviewing the phone, concentrated on what he felt were some of its positives.
“Combined with the fairly narrow screen, the keyboard makes the KeyOne feel really good to use one-handed,” he said. “I personally doubt I would ever be anywhere near as fast typing on this keyboard as I am with a touchscreen, but I can’t deny that it feels a thousand times better. It’s also surprisingly useful when multitasking — you can run two apps on the screen at once and enter information without having to obscure one of them with a software keyboard.”
Below: Blackberry KeyOne – Hands On at MWC 2017