Review: BlackBerry Key2 LE – how does it compare to the more expensive Key2?
The physical keyboard isn’t dead yet
When BlackBerry brought back the physical keyboard on its devices, I was super happy. Don’t get me wrong, I love touchscreens but I’m a keyboard geek. I loved the BlackBerry Key2 when we reviewed that last year, but one thing jumped out. The price. At $650 unlocked for essentially a mid-range device, the only thing it had going for it was that sweet capacitative keyboard.
BlackBerry must have been listening, following up with the less-expensive Key2 LE. I can only assume that LE stands for Less Expensive, cause it’s almost two notes lower in price. So how did BlackBerry trim the fat? Is the Key2 LE still as capable as the more expensive version?
So how is the Key2 LE different to the more expensive Key2?
There’s both a simple answer and a longer one for this question. The simple one is: not much in practice. It’s still the same form factor, it’s got a slightly-tweaked keyboard (for the better) and it still has all the same BlackBerry Enterprise-focused apps and tools. The performance isn’t much different either, and if you don’t have a Key2 on hand to compare the two, the LE feels very similar to use.
The longer is a bit more complex. With the Key2 LE, there are minor changes that could sway your decision. I’ve noticed better WiFi signal strength on the Key2 LE, possibly pointing at a redesign of the antenna. The speaker on the Key2 LE is louder, although the sound quality is similar. Haptic feedback is better on the more expensive Key2, and so is the battery life (but only barely, both devices sip power).
The screen is slightly different on the Key2 LE as well, probably with a different panel due to cost considerations. It’s not bad though, just a little colder color temperature. The rubber on the back of the Key2 LE is much grippier in the hand. Couple that with the different weight balance, and the Key 2 LE is easier to hold in normal use.
Specs-wise, the differences are marginal. The lower-powered chipset in the Key2 LE doesn’t make that much difference, it’s only really noticeable when opening the BlackBerry Hub app, and again, without the Key2 to compare it to you’d probably not notice the slight lag difference. The nifty capacitative keyboard scroll is gone and that’s not the only keyboard change. The keys feel slightly tighter to press, which is definitely different from the more mushy feel of the more expensive version.
The change of the camera modules to a 13 megapixel and 5-megapixel combo instead of two 12 megapixel ones likely shaved some money off the sticker price. It didn’t do much to the image quality, which is still fairly good – as long as you’ve got lots of light. Both phones struggle with low-light picture taking so if that’s a consideration for you, look elsewhere. Both are fine for things like Dropbox scan-to-pdf or the usual other business tasks.
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 vs 636
- RAM: 6GB vs 4GB
- Keyboard: Key2 LE does not support the ability to scroll on the keyboard, keys feel tighter to press
- Frame: Aluminum vs polycarbonate
- Cameras: Dual rear 12-megapixel cameras vs 13 and 5-megapixel variants on the Key2 LE
- Battery: Key2 has 500 mAh higher capacity
- Colors: Key2 limited to black and silver, Key2 LE comes in Black, Champagne, and that beautiful Red
- Weight: Key2 LE is 8 grams lighter
Daily use and apps
Before I pile into this, I’d just like to pause to pour one out for BlackBerry Messenger. The enterprise version might live on, but the dozens of us that still used the consumer version mourn for its passing.
The Key2 LE is on the Android Enterprise Recommended device list. That means it comes with a host of enterprise-focused tools and apps, that most consumers could live without. Dual-account support is one of those, which lets you clone apps to keep personal and professional accounts separate. It’s great if you need it, but most users don’t.
There’s a reason that non-BlackBerry users will pay a subscription fee for that last app. The one-stop-shop for your inboxes, social accounts and calendar is just a joy to use. Plus it’s got an Android Wear app, just in case you have an Android smartwatch.
Performance isn’t much to write home about, but that’s not the point. Productivity is, with the Key2 LE being a productivity powerhouse. The lower RAM amount doesn’t affect multitasking that much, and the keyboard makes dealing with emails so much easier.
So should I buy one?
At around the $400 mark, the BlackBerry Key2 LE is a tough sell – unless you need that keyboard. That might have been different a month or so ago, but with the Pixel 3a taking names in the midrange bracket, any other mobile phone has turned into an also-ran. If you’re still deep in the BlackBerry ecosystem, maybe the Key2 LE is a good upgrade from any prior BlackBerry, but only just.
I’m still going to score it higher than the Key2, but only just. The cost-saving far outweighs what you lose in specifications.
A sample unit was provided for the purpose of this review.
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