Blackberry Key2 LE Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: TCL’s latest BlackBerry-branded Key2 LE is a toned-down version of its previous model - Key2 – with less powerful specs and polycarbonate back but at an affordable price.

The back has a textured rubber finish to give it a softer feel and better grip.

Key2 LE is identical to Key2 and it is very difficult to differentiate between the two models apart from the antennas.

With a few sacrifices when compared to Key2, the DNA of the Key2 LE is privacy, security and productivity apart from the physical QWERTY keyboard.

The 4.5-inch LCD device with a resolution of 1620 x 1080 pixels [3:2 aspect ratio display] and with a 433 pixels per inch density is powered by an octa-core 1.8 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor and coupled with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage capacity. The phone is light and weighs 156 grams.

The hybrid SIM tray supports either two nano SIM cards or a SIM card and a microSD card that supports up to 256GB. It is powered by the hardened Android Oreo. TCL said the device would get Android Pie update.

TCL has used the mid-range chipset rather than the fastest and latest 845 chipset as TCL claims the chip is tested and validated right from the root level.

The keys are 10 per cent smaller than Key2 and the capacitive keys function is not there. So there is no option to scroll the screen by using the keyboard as a trackpad and cannot be used to scroll pages and panels without touching the screen. When typing, the keyboard comes to life allowing swipe gestures for predictive words and more.

The 35-key keyboard is backlit and the Speed Key has been incorporated into this by replacing the one Shift key on the right of the keyboard.

The Speed Key is for people who prefer shortcuts from an application. For example, if you are surfing on a website and you want to copy a para and send it someone in WhatsApp, from the website you can press the Speed Key plus ‘W’ and it will take you to WhatsApp without exiting the Website. Users can create their own customisable shortcut keys for a long and short press. Users can create 52 shortcuts but what I found out is that it is difficult to remember what keys are for what.

The fingerprint sensor is embedded into the space bar of the keyboard and it is fast and accurate. The matt-finish keys are now less slippery and have a lot more grip. After getting used to typing on an on-screen keyboard, I found it tough to type on the physical keys but after using the device for review for two weeks, I am getting the fastness on the Key2 keyboard.

There is also the usual Convenience Key on the right side to adapt to the user’s circumstance. Profiles can be set up for home when connected to a WiFi, car when connected a Bluetooth. Users can create three different shortcuts when the button is pressed. The Convenience Key comes configured to Google Assistant out of the box.

Is 2018 the year for a physical keyboard?

It has to be seen how many would prefer to use a physical keyboard rather than the on-screen screen keyboard. At the same time, users can also type on the on-screen keyboard but the keyboard takes a bigger space and very little screen for viewing, which is not recommendable.

The user interface is clean with less preinstalled apps. BlackBerry has retained most of the apps on Key2 such as DTEK, BlackBerry Hub, BlackBerry Calendar, Contacts, Notes, Tasks, BBM, BlackBerry Device Search, BlackBerry Launcher, BlackBerry Password Keeper, BlackBerry Power Centre, Productivity Tab, BlackBerry Notable, BlackBerry Privacy shade, Battery Boost, Locker, FM Radio, Content transfer and File Manage apart from the Android apps.

Due to the less powerful Adreno 509 GPU, playing games on the small screen and with on-screen controls is uncomfortable while playing 3D-rich graphic games, the phone stutters.

Coming to the dual camera setup, the 13MP [f/2.2 aperture] and the 5MP [f/2.4 aperture] a secondary camera for the telephoto zoom are unimpressive after using Samsung Note 9 and Huawei Mate 20 Pro.

The Key 2 LE takes excellent photos in daylight conditions but struggles in low-light conditions with grainy images. Anyway, TCL has not designed this phone for photo enthusiasts as the focus is on security and for business professionals.

It can record 4K at 30 and 24 frames per second (fps), 1080p and 720p at 60, 30 and 24fps. The enhanced video stabilisation is only available at 1080p at 30fps. It records well in proper-light conditions and not in low light.

Another good feature is that users can take private shots by pressing the fingerprint sensor and it saves to the Locker.

It can also record slow motion at 720p, take panoramas and scan business cards. The slow-motion and panorama videos are of low quality with dull colours and low sharpness.

The 8MP fixed-focus camera and can record 1080p videos at 30 and 24fps while 720p at 60, 30 and 24 fps. The camera app is basic and does not have the enhanced features as in other phones. It also sports 19 filters to choose from.

The front camera does a decent job in daylight conditions but again struggles in low light. It has the option to beautify the face on both front and rear. It can record 1080p at 30fps and 24fps while 720p at 60, 30 and 24fps. It does not support video stabilisation on the front camera. The rear cameras support HDR but not the front.

Regarding connectivity, it has USB-Type C port, dual-band WiFi, WiFi Direct, hotspot, GPS, NFC, 3.5mm headphone jack and Bluetooth 5.0.

The new dual account feature lets you clone apps such as Instagram, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

TCL also integrated Google Lens to search online about the photos and get more information and Firefox Focus by Mozilla as a private browser when you don’t want your web browsing session to be tracked.

The 3,000mAh battery on Key2 LE is 500mAh lesser than the Key2 but the processor is more power efficient than the Snapdragon 660 found on Key 2.

It gives one full day for moderate users due to a smaller screen.

In addition, it has Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 technology and TCL has added a new Smart Battery Experience that will learn your charging habits and recommends when to charge your device. IT charges the device to 50 per cent in only 37 minutes. It is priced at Dh1,799.

Verdict

If smartphone photography is not your prime concern, then BlackBerry Key2 LE is a decent option for productivity and for die-hard BlackBerry fans. It is also affordable but I recommend the Key2 over Key2 LE. The Key2 has some more features but it is expensive.

Pros

*Affordable

*Comfortable to hold

*Decent battery

*Fast charging

*Speed Key

*Privacy and security features

*QWERTY keyboard

Cons

*Mediocre cameras

*Single speaker

*Small screen may be frustrating for some

*No capacitive keyboard option

*CPU and GPU not powerful

*Polycarbonate back