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Hands-on with the BlackBerry Key2: The good and bad so far

Using a physical keyboard again is going to be harder than I remembered.

Sarah Tew/CNET

UPDATE: Read the full BlackBerry Key2 review.

In my mind's eye, I'm a savvy career phone reviewer who can fluidly pick up and use any phone without breaking stride. In reality, the BlackBerry Key2 is kicking my ass.

It's the only new choice in 2018 for a fan of physical keyboards (you could also buy last year's BlackBerry KeyOne), but the Key2's QWERTY buttons aren't as easy to get used to when switching from a virtual keyboard as I had remembered. When muscle memory kicks in, I'm swiping things that can't be swiped, and mixing up which buttons I press to get numbers, capital letters and to launch one of 52 keyboard shortcuts the Key2 will allow.

There's a lot going on with the BlackBerry Key2, which updates the KeyOne in almost every major spec and a lot of the design attributes, too: You've got iconic keyboard buttons, two 12-megapixel cameras on the back, a Snapdragon 660 processor, the works.

But I'm still early on in my review process, and in many ways I'm still shaking off the cobwebs that have accumulated since last year's phone. There's still time for my thumbs to regain their button-mashing swiftness. And I still have many more shortcuts and buttons to customize and commit to memory.

I'll have a full rated review for you shortly, but until then, here are my initial thoughts on using the BlackBerry Key2.

BlackBerry Key2 pros and cons

  • The BlackBerry Key2 will present a steep learning curve for people who currently use all-touch phones
  • The design looks a lot better than the KeyOne across the board
  • The Key2's 4.5-inch screen feels small after time spent with large-screen devices
  • Keyboard buttons feel larger and more tactile than on the KeyOne
  • Portrait mode shots look usable so far, but lack a slider control that some phones have
  • You can't take portrait selfies, which is a shame
  • I like being able to drag my thumb across the keyboard to scroll horizontally, but vertical scrolling stops and starts
  • There's no way I'm remembering 52 keyboard shortcuts (but you might)
  • Seeing both physical and virtual keyboards at once is jarring, and takes up precious screen space
  • Benchmarking test results were much lower than the most premium phones, but this isn't a device for gamers so I'm not sure how much that matters
  • I'd like to be able to double press the space bar to go Home

Ready for your keyboard close-up?

Sarah Tew/CNET

BlackBerry Key2 unboxing: Here's what you get

  • BlackBerry Key2 phone in black or silver
  • SIM card ejector tool
  • Charging brick
  • USB-C to USB-A charging cable
  • In-ear wired headset with BlackBerry logo

BlackBerry Key2 specs comparison

Here's how the Key2's internals stack up against other phones.

BlackBerry Key2 specs vs. Xperia XZ2 Compact, OnePlus 6 and LG G7 ThinQ

Blackberry Key2 Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact OnePlus 6 LG G7 ThinQ
Display size, resolution 4.5-inch LCD; 1,680x1,080 pixels 5-inch; 1,080x2,160 pixels 6.28-inch OLED; 2,280x1,080 pixels 6.1-inch IPS LCD; 3,120 x 1,440 pixels
Pixel density 434ppi 483ppi 402ppi 563ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.96x2.82x0.33 inches 5.31x2.56x0.48 inches 6.13x2.97x0.31 inches 6x2.8x0.31 inches
Dimensions (Millimeters) 151.4x71.8x8.5 mm 135x65x12.1 mm 155.7x75.4x7.75 mm 153.2x71.9x7.9 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.3 oz; 151g 5.93 oz; 168g 6.2 oz; 177g 5.7 oz; 162g
Mobile software Android 8.1 Oreo Android 8.0 Oreo Android 8.1 Oreo Android 8.0 Oreo
Camera Dual 12-megapixel 19 megapixels 16-megapixel standard, 20-megapixel telephoto Dual 16-megapixel (71 degree, f/1.6 and 107 degree, f/1.9)
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel 5-megapixel 16-megapixel 8-megapixel (f/1.9)
Video capture 1080p 4K 4K 4K
Processor 2.2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 2.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 2.8GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
Storage 64GB, 128GB 64GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB 64GB
Expandable storage Up to 256GB external storage up to 400GB None Up to 2TB
Battery 3,500 mAh 2,870 mAh 3,300 mAh 3,000 mAh
Fingerprint sensor In the space bar key Back of phone Back Back
Headphone jack Yes No Yes Yes
Special features Keypad with 52 possible shortcut keys, DTek security Super slow-motion video (960fps), IP68 water resistant Portrait mode, notifications toggle, dual SIM, Dash Charging Water resistant (IP68), wireless charging, DTS:X 3D Surround, Quad DAC
Price off-contract (USD) $649 (64GB) $650 $529 (64GB), $579 (128GB), $629 (256GB) AT&T: N/A, Sprint: $792, T-Mobile: $750, Verizon: $750, US Cellular: $750
Price (GBP) £484 (64GB) £529 £469 (64GB), £519 (128GB), £569 (256GB) £560-£590 converted
Price (AUD) AU$847 (64GB) AU$830 AU$702 (64GB), AU$769 (128GB), AU$835 (256GB) AU$980-AU$1,030, converted