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Sunday, May 28th, 2017

Wireless Mobility

BlackBerry returns with a surprisingly decent business phone: The KEYone

BlackBerry returns with a surprisingly decent business phone: The KEYone

Here are some words I never thought I'd be writing again: There's a new phone from BlackBerry that you might be interested in. This time, it's called the KEYone.

It's not that I'm biased against BlackBerry. I strapped the first one to my hip when it came out in the early 2000s, before smartphones were invented and the only other way to get your email when you were away from your computer was on a two-way pager. (Kids, gather 'round. Gramps is telling his stories again...)

BlackBerry's signature hard keyboard and secure messaging hub earned it a lot of devotees, particularly among the finance and government crowd. The devices were so ubiquitous in those segments, in fact, that the BlackBerry-toting Master of the Universe became something of an unpleasant cliché.

But the app-iverse of the iPhone and Android pretty much killed BlackBerry, which stood by its proprietary operating system and some handset choices that were eccentric at best. The last few years saw layoffs and lawsuits, with BlackBerry entering the autonomous car software business under the brand QNX and licensing its brand to a company called TCL. Serious telecom geeks will recognize TCL as the parent company of Alcatel -- another telecom brand that's gone through hard times during the last few years.

So now we have the BlackBerry KEYone, a new Android phone from a company that by all rights should be dead. But you know what? There's life in the old dog yet.

Don't get me wrong: If you're looking for a phone that will give you a thrill playing Temple Run or that will smoothly show a high-res Netflix feed, this isn't it. But if you live and die by email and messaging, if your phone is an umbilical extension of your desk, if you're one of those diehards still dependent on BlackBerry IT infrastructure, the KEYone is a pretty good phone with a lot to recommend it.

As BlackBerrys tend to be, the KEYone is physically distinctive, even notwithstanding the hard keyboard. It's a little less than 6 in. tall by about 2.75 in. and 0.4 in. thick -- a tiny bit wider and thicker than a Samsung Galaxy S8. Remember the awkwardly sized Passport or the tricky slide-screen Priv? This one's lots better.

While most current phones have four rounded corners, the KEYone's top is chopped off square, like a Marine with a crew cut. The sides, bottom and top quarter-inch of the phone are brushed aluminum. Other than that aluminum top, the front of the phone contains a 4.5-in. Gorilla Glass 4 screen and a black plastic keyboard, the four rows of which are separated by thin strips of metal. The back is covered in what looks and feels like black pebbled leather (with the BlackBerry logo prominent in silver). At 6.3 oz., it's got a nice feel and heft.

There's a headphone jack at the top edge; a SIM/microSD drawer, volume rocker button and assignable function button on the right edge; two speaker ports and a USB-C port on the bottom edge, and a power button on the left edge. There's a 12MP camera on the back and a 8MP selfie-cam in front.

Specs are distinctly mid-level. The KEYone uses a Snapdragon 625 chipset, and its 4.5-in. screen shows 1080 x 1620 pixels, which isn't quite HD quality. The phone comes with 32GB of storage and 3GB of RAM, which is on the upper end of typical, and runs Android 7.1.