Canadian smartphone brand BlackBerry, licensed to India-based Optiemus Infracom, refreshed its full-QWERTY keyboard-based Key-series line-up with the launch of the Key2 earlier this year. Soon after, the company unveiled a trimmed-down variant of the smartphone at the IFA electronics show in Berlin, Germany. Named the BlackBerry Key2 LE, the phone has a similar design but uses a different breed of processor. The latter is paired with less RAM and storage options, has a different dual-camera module on the back, and a battery with a lower capacity. These changes have helped BlackBerry bring the phone’s costs by Rs 13,000 to Rs 29,990.
Does the BlackBerry Key2 LE, with its trimmed-down specifications, stand true to the company’s claim of a worthy lower-priced sibling to the premium Key2? Let’s find out:
Design and display
Continuing with the lightweight design of the Key2, the LE looks like an identical twin from all angles. The phone’s back has a soft texture, which makes holding the device and using the QWERTY keyboard easy. The newer phone trades off the predecessor’s [read BlackBerry Key2 review here] rectangular aluminium chassis for a polycarbonate frame, which does not look that premium but does not even diminish the overall appeal. The chassis houses volume the rocker keys, power key and a customisable speed key on the right, while the left has an ejectable dualSIM slot. On the top, the phone has a 3.5mm audio output jack and the secondary microphone, and the bottom is covered with a USB type-C charging-cum-data transfer port surrounded by three-hole grilles on either side with a speaker and a primary microphone.
The phone’s front, with an unorthodox touchscreen and keyboard design, catches attention. The 4.5-inch full HD screen of the 3:2 aspect ratio covers two-thirds of the front area, and keyboard occupies the rest of the space. However, the keyboard keys in the Key2 LE are relatively small. Therefore, they look a little crammed. Overall, there are subtle design differences between the BlackBerry Key2 and Key2 LE — but none visible unless seen from close or compared side-by-side.
The BlackBerry Key2 LE is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 system-on-chip, paired with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of internal storage — expandable to up to 256 GB using a microSD card. The dualSIM smartphone boots the Android Oreo 8.1 operating system out of the box, custom-tuned by BlackBerry. The customised OS features the BlackBerry Hub, a unified messaging inbox, which combines all emails, texts and messages from social media accounts at one place. It also allows managing multiple email accounts without switching between apps, with support for Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Exchange accounts, etc. As for security, the Key2 LE comes with the BlackBerry DTEK app that enables users to check and manage app permissions.
Specifications and features aside, the BlackBerry Key2 LE’s real-life performance remains solid. The phone is not meant for multimedia or gaming purposes. Not that the phone cannot play full HD video files or shows any weaknesses with graphic-intensive game titles. But the limited screen estate of an unconventional aspect ratio does not make it ideal for these use cases.
The phone offers almost vanilla Android experience, so it feels free of clutter and operates swiftly. The phone shows no lags or stutters anywhere and responds well to touch and keyboard inputs. Writing long articles, uploading attachments and sharing multimedia content also show no problems for the BlackBerry Key2 LE, and the phone works optimally in all situations.
This is another area where the phone gets a new hardware. Like the Key2, the LE edition also has a dual-camera module on the back. However, instead of an improved 12-megapixel primary lens mated with a 12MP telephoto lens for 2x zoom capabilities, the LE edition gets a regular 13MP shooter paired with a 5MP depth-sensing lens. On the front, the phone sports an 8MP selfie camera with an f/2.0 aperture.
Cameras have never been a strong area for BlackBerry. Although the Key2 has a capable dual-camera module, its performance was just satisfactory. The Key2 LE, on the other hand, is a step down and the performance is sub-par. The camera interface continues to offer several modes, but the overall output in most of the modes remains inferior to other phones in the sub-Rs 30,000 price range.
BlackBerry also traded off the Key2’s 3,500 mAh battery for a 3,000 mAh one in the LE edition to bring down the price. As a result, the device’s overall on-battery time has reduced, too. However, due to a small screen, a power-efficient processor and an optimised operating system, the battery keeps the show going for almost a day. The device also supports the Qualcomm quick-charge technology, which takes almost two hours to charge the battery from zero to 100 per cent.
The BlackBerry Key2 LE is an affordable version of the company’s full-fledged Key2 smartphone. Though the Key2 is much more capable than the LE edition in terms of specifications, this phone continues to handle tasks optimally, without showing any weaknesses. The phone shows the processor’s limitation when tested with processor-intensive tasks, such as playing graphic-intensive titles. However, the BlackBerry devices with physical QWERTY keyboard are inclined more towards security and productivity features than multimedia and gaming, and the Key2 LE performs well in both these areas.