By Philip Michaels
If you're willing to sacrifice some of the features in the more premium Key2, the new BlackBerry Key2 LE gives you a phone with a physical keyboard for less than $400.
BERLIN — Recent BlackBerry phones have earned plaudits for the productivity boosting features built into the devices' physical keyboards. But at the same time, critics have also knocked last year's BlackBerry KeyOne and the more recent Key2 for their price tags.
Consider the BlackBerry Key2 LE a response to that. The new phone, introduced in Berlin at the IFA trade show, trades off on some of the $649 Key2's features in exchange for a lower $399 entry point.
Key2 LE Pricing and Availability (Updated Oct. 5)
Manufacturer TCL is gearing up to release 64GB models of the Key2 LE. Preorders for the $449 Slate variant are live on Amazon now, where they'll begin shipping Oct. 12. The $499 Champagne version cannot be preordered, but will hit shelves on Nov. 2. Both will be available through Best Buy in store and online as well, and support AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon networks.
As for the $399, 32GB model of the Key2 LE, details remain scant. We've reached out to TCL for clarification on availability for this particular configuration and will update this story with any news.
Keyboard and Design
The main tradeoff you'll make with the Key2 LE is with the phone's physical keyboard. TCL, which builds the BlackBerry phones and manages the brand, used a capacitive keyboard in its recent phones that could double as a trackpad for easier scrolling.
The Key2 LE's keyboard is strictly for typing, though this new phone retains both the on-keyboard fingerprint reader and the Key2's Speed Key. That means you'll be able to program in shortcuts for each key on the keyboard — one of the big productivity boosters for BlackBerry phones.
The keys on the LE aren't as big as they are on the Key2, though a BlackBerry spokesperson says they're 10 percent larger than the keys on the KeyOne. The difference in key size is probably noticeable only if you stack a Key2 and an LE side by side.
More noticeable is the Key2 LE's distinct look. While the Key2 is available in two pretty conventional shades — silver and black — the LE gives you a trio of bright color options. You can pick between the bluish-gray Slate, the gold Champagne or Turbo. That latter model, a bright pop of red, particular stands out among the staid look of today's smartphones.
TCL used different materials on the Key2 LE, opting for polycarbonate instead of the Key2's aluminum. That makes the Key2 LE noticeably lighter when you hold both phones in your hand. The Key2 LE also has a softer dimpling on its rear panel than the Key2, although I find both phones to be equally grippable. The color and design differences on the Key2 LE certainly make the latest BlackBerry a more playful phone than the business-in-front-business-in-back look of the Key2.
BlackBerry Key2 LE vs BlackBerry Key2: Specs Compared
|BlackBerry Key2 LE
||Android 8.1 Oreo||Android 8.1 Oreo|
|Screen Size (Resolution)
||4.5-inch LCD (1620 x 1080)||4.5-inch LCD (1620 x 1080)|
||Qualcomm Snapdragon 636||Qualcomm Snapdragon 660|
||Dual: 13 MP; 5 MP
||Dual: 12 MP (f/1.8); 12 MP Telephoto (f/2.6)|
||8 MP||8 MP|
A Snapdragon 636 processor powers the Key2 LE. That's a step down from the Snapdragon 660 in the Key2, but a faster processor than the 625 chipset inside last year's KeyOne. You'll have a choice of two models — the entry level Key2 LE with 4GB of memory and 32GB of storage or a 6GB/64GB version. We're still waiting to hear about pricing on that latter version, though a spokesperson told us that it's likely to be $50 or so more than the entry-level LE.
One last difference between the Key2 LE and the original can be found in the rear cameras. The new BlackBerry still has dual rear shooters, but the 12-megapixel telephoto lens on the Key2 is a goner on the LE. That means no optical zoom. Instead, a 13-megapixel camera on the Key2 LE is augmented by a 5-MP secondary lens, letting you add portrait effects to shots.
The Dtek security monitoring tool and BlackBerry Hub communications center are back on the Key2 LE, with a couple other software improvements debuting on this phone. The Key2 LE adds a dual-app feature where a long press of an app allows you to clone it. TCL is targeting this feature at people who maintain different social networking accounts for work and their personal life. Using the dual-app feature you could create separate Twitter accounts for work and for yourself, using the Locker feature on BlackBerry phones to make that work account only accessible with a fingerprint scan.
The other feature builds in tighter integration between Google services and the convenience key on the side of the Key2 LE. While a single press of the button launches Google Assistant, long-press of the convenience key enables a walkie-talkie mode where the digital assistant hears whatever you say as your press down on the button. A double-tap of the convenience key launches Google Lens.
Those are helpful additions, but for most people, the Key2 LE's killer feature will be its lower price tag. It may not usher in a return to the era when BlackBerry devices ruled the smartphone world, but it will give budget-minded shoppers more of an incentive to check out BlackBerry's ongoing revival.
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