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It's called the BlackBerry Key2, but it's such a leap over last year's KeyOne, it might as well be called the BlackBerry squared.

BlackBerry Mobile's latest keyboard phone builds on 2017's BlackBerry KeyOne Android handset by improving everything -- and I do mean everything -- about the handset's hardware and design. 

If you're looking for a phone with an old-school physical QWERTY keyboard, this is probably going to be your only new choice for 2018. Whether it's a good choice is something else entirely, which we'll know a lot more about after we get our final sample for review. As it stands now, I've got fairly reasonable hopes that the Key2 will give keyboard fans, or people with strong bouts of BlackBerry nostalgia, a fuller smartphone experience than last year's KeyOne.

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I'm talking about the size and shape of the keys -- stiff, small things you could barely type with on the KeyOne -- to a dual 12-megapixel camera setup that has a portrait mode, a faster processor and double the memory and storage.

The Key2 also doubles down on a unique, clever feature that turns the keys into shortcut app launcher buttons when you press them. Just like last year's KeyOne, you can program 52 shortcuts that open an app or task when you give it either a short or long press (26 letters of the alphabet, times two).

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The BlackBerry Key2, right, looks more refined than the KeyOne, left.

Josh Miller/CNET

But now, the apps open faster, with the help of a button and from anywhere you are on the phone. Before, you used to have to be on the home screen to open them.

Compared to the KeyOne, the Key2 is hands-down the better looker. The back still has that grippy surface somewhere between plastic and rubber, but it loses the cheap-looking aluminum frame and accents.

BlackBerry Key2 keyboard buttons are better  

Everything has been painted with a more modern brush, from the speaker grille at the top to the phone's straighter corners and sides. Those side buttons look and feel better, too, with the power/lock button moving from the left spine to the right and picking up a ridged texture that makes it easy to find by feel. The BlackBerry Key2 is, in a word, tidier.

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Of course the biggest change of all comes to the keyboard buttons, which BlackBerry Mobile says are 20 percent larger than on last year's KeyOne. I didn't have a lot of time to type, but they're already a step up in terms of grippiness (they lose last year's gloss) and separation, which means they're easier to distinguish from one another as you type. You still won't find any key ridges like on the fantastic BlackBerry Bold of yesteryear, and the "O" still looks like it toppled over on its side.

BlackBerry Mobile also keeps the little extra features I loved seeing in the KeyOne, like a sensitive keyboard you can swipe over to scroll the 4.5-inch screen, a fingerprint reader built into the keyboard's space bar and a convenience key you can program to open your favorite apps. The phone also keeps the productivity hub, a tab reminiscent of Samsung phones that you pull open to look at your calendar, contacts and messages.

There's a headphone jack, too, but the keyboard makes it impossible for the Key2 to be fully submersible. You'll have to settle for splash-proof instead.


The BlackBerry Key2's keyboard buttons are 20 percent larger than the KeyOne's.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The BlackBerry Key2 comes with BlackBerry's DTek security software on board. The phone will sell sometime in June for $649 and £579. The US price converts to roughly AU$847.

BlackBerry Key2 specs

  • 4.5-inch LCD screen with 1,680x1,080-pixel resolution
  • Dual 12-megapixel rear cameras
  • 8-megapixel camera with 1080p video recording
  • Android Oreo 8.1
  • 2.2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor
  • 64GB or 128GB storage
  • Up to 256GB external storage
  • 6GB of RAM
  • 3,500mAh battery
  • Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0
  • Fingerprint sensor in the space bar
  • Headphone jack
  • USB Type-C port