The story of the BlackBerry smartphone has become a technology-tuned fable over the years. The once hugely popular manufacturer had a monopoly on portable communications, peaking in 2013, with 85 million subscribers worldwide. But as iOS and Android picked up pace, the Canadian company’s popularity dwindled, with subscribers falling to 23 million in 2016. Today, BlackBerry (alongside parent-company TLC Communications) has resurrected the ‘Berry from consumer tech’s dusty back porch with the launch of the BlackBerry KEY2 smartphone, which is being pitched as a defiantly different market disrupter: a device for people craving a change; bored by the homogenisation of smartphone design. Whether it will tempt the scrolling thumbs of a new generation of picky phone aficionados, or succeed in attracting the old guard, remains to be seen.

From a design perspective, changes from the previous KEYone model (launched in 2017) are subtle. It was crucial to the in-house designers that the KEY2 remain distinctly ‘BlackBerry’, and it is unmistakably so. There have been a few sensitive transitions worth noting, however. Firstly, its slimmer, lighter, and generally better looking; edges have been squared, corners sharpened. Plus, an ergonomic textured back panel reduces the need for a clunky case, as it keeps the device tightly in your palm.

BlackBerry KEY2 smartphone back panel

The nostalgic, physical keyboard BlackBerry is known for (with that twizzle button in the middle) was a feature left behind by tech titans Apple and Samsung, in favour of touch-type screens. But it sees a return in the KEY2, with a few tweaks to satisfy today’s user. The tracker ball has rolled off, in favour of an innovative swipe system, that turns the keyboard into an extension of the screen. Simply run your finger along the keys, and you’re scrolling as if on iPhone glass.

It looks, and feels, retro, which is not a bad thing, considering the trend for new school tech being successfully (and popularly) designed into familiar, old school shells. And there’s something undeniably satisfying about pushing a button. When typing on the physical keyboard, it forces users to be more thoughtful and deliberate – after whizzing your thumbs of the slick, iPhone or Samsung glass, it feels pleasingly typewriter-like. What’s more, every small detail has been refined, including the fret spacing, more noticeable print colour, and more dynamic backlighting for enhacned user control.

BlackBerry KEY2 smartphone, silver front view

In terms of specifications, the 12-megapixel, dual-rear camera is a marked improvement of previous BlackBerry offerings. A bag of in-built, app-like features includes Portrait Mode, Optical Superzoom, and Google Lens (meaning you can snap a picture of a book cover, for example, and Google will help find it for you online). There’s also a document scanner, important as it recalls BlackBerry’s longstanding emphasis on being a ‘work phone’; a device primarily for business use. With photo-taking and Instagram becoming an essential part of many people’s day-to-day lives (not to mention jobs), the design team made the camera another creative, functional tool for streamlining day-to-day working.​​​​​​

Security has never been more important for Blackberry, and the KEY2 promises to be equally as successful in this regard as previous models. ‘BlackBerry phones are the world’s most secure Android smartphones. We design them for security from the inside out,’ explains Alex Thurber, of Mobility Solutions at BlackBerry. ‘BlackBerry has been iterating and perfecting our approach to mobile security for decades.’ With features like private folders for documents and photos so they don’t get uploaded to the cloud and Firefox Focus, by Mozilla, a private browser for when you don’t want your web browsing session tracked, the Blackberry security sysem is all about personal privacy control. A pre-loaded privacy application called Locker (which has been updated from existing models) can only be accessed with your fingerprint or password, helping store and protect sensitive user data, apps and content.

It’s a brave offering from BlackBerry, which even through difficult climates, has decided to stick to its design principles and ethos. The hope is that the KEY2 will be different enough from existing smartphones to gain a new (if non-mainstream) core customer base, and re-connect with now dissilusionsed Blackberry customers; while maintaining all the positive developments Blackberry phones have made over their 19 year history, to maintain the phone’s loyal fanbase.