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BlackBerry KEYone review: One for the fans

By Luke Tan - 28 Jan 2018
Launch SRP: S$858

Software and Benchmark Performance


Like the Priv and DTEK Androids before it, the KEYone runs a very lightly-skinned build of Android. Haters of bloatware, rejoice!

That's the good news; the bad is that it's a previous version: Android 7.1.1 Nougat. Given Android's fragmentation problem, this should be no surprise, but those of you miffed because it came at such a price point can take heart: the KEYone is said to be in line for an upgrade to Android 8.0 Oreo.

There are a couple of BlackBerry apps installed in the system, but as bloatware goes, the KEYone continues in a refreshing tradition of providing only apps like BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) that it considers core to the BlackBerry experience. One of these is the BlackBerry Hub. Swiping a thin tab from a designated side of the screen brings up a window with tabs for events, messages, tasks and calendar entries. The Hub looks clean and neat, and entries are presented in an easy-to-read format, with well-sized fonts. One disadvantage of the Hub, unlike widgets on the desktop, is that you can't view all of your calendar entries for the month at once for cross-reference - which is something that is frequently required in a business environment.

While the Hub is a good idea for businesspeople, we can't help thinking that smartphone notifications, in general, have evolved to such a high degree of convenience that the additional drain on battery and RAM resources might well outweigh the Hub's advantages for most.

Apart from a few other BlackBerry apps of no particular interest, such as Help and Content Transfer, you get BlackBerry's DTEK security app, which detects when your device's security has been (or is being) compromised. The other one worth a quick mention is BlackBerry's new Notable app for note-taking.

You can doodle with your finger, and you can do that either on a blank canvas or on screenshots (Notable can be set to launch whenever a screenshot is taken), but you can't save notes in any other compatible file format, such as PDF. Lots of note-taking apps exist, and not a few with pen or finger input, so Notable simply does what image editing does in the Gallery or Album apps of some other Android phones. 

In day-to-day use, between a bit of jerky scrolling and perceptible touch lag or delay here and there, the KEYone's user experience was just a little unsatisfying. It was not nasty, but it felt a little too much at odds with its premium build and business-device feel. Somehow, we think a Snapdragon 821 or 835 processor would have been a more appropriate fit for this device. And this brings us to the benchmarks...


Benchmark Performance

The BlackBerry KEYone packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor mated to 4GB of RAM, a combination that might initially appear unsuited to a device of this price, since it also featured in phones like the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4, which cost a good deal less:

  BlackBerry KEYone ASUS ZenFone Zoom S Moto Z Play Oppo R9s Xiaomi Redmi Note 4
  BlackBerry KEYone ASUS ZenFone Zoom S Moto Z Play Oppo R9s Xiaomi Redmi Note 4
Launch SRP
  • From S$858
  • From S$678
  • From S$699
  • From S$679
  • From S$259
Operating system
  • Android 7.1.1 Nougat with BlackBerry Hub and DTEK security software
  • Android 6.0 with ASUS ZenUI 3.0
  • Android 6.0 OS (Marshmallow)
  • ColorOS 3 based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • MIUI 8.2 based on Android 6.0.1
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 625
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 octa-core, 2.0GHz
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 625
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 625
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 octa-core 2.0GHz
Built-in Memory
  • 4GB
  • 4GB RAM
  • 3GB RAM
  • 4GB RAM
  • 3GB RAM
  • 4.5-inch / 1,620 x 1,080 pixels (~433ppi) / IPS LCD
  • 5.5-inch / 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (~401 ppi) / AMOLED
  • 5.5-inch / 1,920 x 1,080 pixels / Super AMOLED
  • 5.5-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels resolution) AMOLED
  • 5.5-inch / IPS / 1,920 x 1,080 pixels
  • Rear: 12-megapixel, f/2.0
  • Front: 8-megapixel
  • Rear (main): 12-megapixel, f/1.7, TriTech+ AutoFocus, 4-axis OIS
  • Rear (secondary): 12-megapixel, f/2.6
  • Front: 13-megapixel, f/2.0
  • Rear: 16-megapixel, f/2.0 aperture
  • Front: 5-megapixel, f/2.2 aperture
  • 16MP f/1.7 rear camera with dual PDAF, optical image stabilization, and Dual Tone LED flash
  • 16MP f/2.0 front-facing camera with Beautify 4.0
  • Rear: 13-megapixel BSI CMOS camera with ultra-fast 0.1s PDAF technology
  • Front: 5-megapixel camera with f/2.0 aperture
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi Direct, LTE 4G Cat6 (up to 300mbps)
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2, USB 2.0 Type-C, Wi-Fi Direct
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/g/b/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0 LE + EDR, USB-C, 3.5mm audio
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
  • Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS, AGPS, GLONASS, BeiDou positioning, micro-USB 2.0
Storage Type
  • 64GB storage (expandable via microSD)
  • 64GB storage (expandable via microSD, up to 256GB)
  • 32GB internal storage
  • 2TB MicroSD
  • 64GB internal storage
  • Expandable storage via microSD (up to 256GB)
  • 32GB internal storage space
  • microSD support up to 128GB
  • 3,505 mAh
  • 5,000 mAh
  • Reverse charging (1A)
  • 3,510mAh
  • 3,010mAh with VOOC Flash Charge
  • 4,100mAh
  • 149.1 x 72.4 x 9.4 mm
  • 154.3 x 77 x 7.99 mm
  • 156.4 x 76.4 x 6.99mm
  • 153.0 x 74.3 x 6.58 mm
  • 151 x 76 x 8.4mm
  • 180g
  • 170g
  • 165g
  • 147g
  • 165g

SunSpider JavaScript

SunSpider JavaScript measures the web browsing performance of a device through a JavaScript processing test. It not only takes into consideration the underlying hardware performance, but also assesses how optimized a particular platform is at delivering a high-speed web browsing experience.

The KEYone proved a little slow at SunSpider, but there did not seem to be any hiccups in actual browsing performance. Pages opened in a reasonably zippy manner and slowdowns while scrolling were as expected for this class of device.



Quadrant evaluates a device's CPU, memory, I/O, and 3D graphics performance.

The KEYone lagged the pack slightly at Quadrant, which suggests some optimization work is needed on BlackBerry's part.


3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

3DMark’s Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark mixes a graphics and a physics test, the first of which measures the GPU’s ability to process lots of vertices, while the second does the same thing with lots of pixels and post-processing effects. Finally, the physics test evaluates the CPU's ability to process physics simulations without taxing the GPU. 

Again, among other Snapdragon 625 devices, the KEYone held its own.

Certainly, the BlackBerry KEYone turned in a reassuring result for day-to-day use, whether it was switching between apps, starting up the camera, or scrolling through web pages. However, there were times we did feel a Snapdragon 821 or 835 would have added more glitz to a business-oriented device like the KEYone. As you can see from the comparison, we've mostly compared the KEYone to older mid-range devices and not not newer ones from the same price range. Had we done that, the KEYone would pale even further.

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  • Design 7.5
  • Features 7
  • User-Friendliness 7
  • Performance 7
  • Value 6.5
The Good
Good battery life
Sleek design with good material choices
Expandable storage
Relatively bloat-free implementation of Android
The Bad
Love-it-or-hate-it hardware keyboard
Slippery handling, despite rubberised back cover
Processor may be a turn-off at this price point
Unexceptional camera
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