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BlackBerry Key2 LE shows that color can be fun after all

It's like a teenager experimenting with hair dye for the first time or Dorothy arriving in Oz.

blackberry-key-2-two-le-13

What happens when you take the black out of BlackBerry? You get the Key2 LE.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It's been only two months since BlackBerry Mobile unveiled the Key2, but the veteran phone brand arrived on Thursday at IFA, Europe's largest tech show, with a new device to add to its lineup.

The Key2 LE is a lighter, brighter -- and cheaper -- version of BlackBerry's flagship device that sees the phone maker shake off its rather staid and sensible reputation and embrace color. The Key2 LE comes in bog-standard blue-gray slate, a sophisticated golden champagne hue and a bold and eye-catching shade of red.

It's a new angle for BlackBerry Mobile, which is sticking with its physical keyboard strategy, but making it cheaper and more accessible to appeal to a wider range of people. When the Key2 LE becomes available in the US, UK, Canada and other countries towards the end of September, it will start at $399 or £349 for the 32GB variant, and $449 or £399 for the 64GB model.

Now playing: Watch this: BlackBerry embraces color with the Key2 LE
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A number of compromises have been made to keep the price of the LE low compared to the Key2, especially around the internal components, as well as battery size and camera sensors. Screen size and resolution are the same, but the materials used to make the chassis have been downgraded from metals to polycarbonate.

The gesture functionality that allowed you to use the Key2's keypad as a trackpad is gone, but the speed key is still present. This can be programmed to provide a shortcut to your own choice of app, but out of the box it's set up to open a suite of Google apps. You can hold the button down to access voice control or double tap it to open Google Lens.

Software upgrades for the Key2

The Key2 LE debuts a couple of appealing new software features that will also roll out to the Key2. The first of these is more advanced power management. The Key2 currently uses your daily charging habits to nudge you to charge your phone, but the Key2 LE takes this a step further, looking for quieter spots in your calendar to recommend that you put your phone on charge.

The second feature allows you to download clones of some specific apps, allowing you to have two versions of Instagram, WhatsApp, WeChat and Facebook Messenger on your phone. This is ideal if you're managing company accounts and want to sandbox them away from your personal accounts. 

For added security, you can also keep apps in BlackBerry Mobile's software "locker," which means you must scan your fingerprint to access them. BlackBerry Mobile is working on bringing more apps into its cloning program and does all the work itself -- no developer support is required.

BlackBerry Key2 LE specs

  • 4.5-inch screen with 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution
  • 13- and 5-megapixel dual rear cameras
  • 8-megapixel forward-facing camera
  • Snapdragon 636 processor
  • 4GB RAM
  • 3,000-mAh battery
  • 32GB or 64GB internal storage
  • DTEK security software
  • microSD card slot
  • Quick Charge support
  • Slate, champagne and red colors

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