A week before CES, I finally pulled the trigger and swapped my SIM card from my sputtering iPhone 6S to a new BlackBerry Key2. The decision to switch to the BlackBerry, like many the best decisions I’ve made in my life, was driven by a combination of whim, nostalgia, and spite. Given that we’re upon the 20th anniversary of the very first BlackBerry device, I thought I should explain myself.
My iPhone 6S had been on its last legs for months, and the logical next step was to stay in the iOS ecosystem and upgrade to a colourful iPhone XR or even to splurge on the iPhone XS. I’ve been an iPhone user since the first iteration in 2007, so you’d think with this history, I’d be a diehard iPhone loyalist.
Yet, where the thought of iPhone upgrades used to bring me so much joy, I couldn’t muster any for the new lineup. I thought I would feel the excitement, but I just didn’t really feel anything. I dreaded another batch of expensive proprietary dongles that the cat would inevitably eat or bat underneath the bed. Plus the idea of training myself to use a phone without the standards I’ve come to love like a home button, a damn headphone jack was quite unappetising
A Samsung Galaxy or a Google Pixel didn’t appeal to me either. Huawei’s vaporwave-looking handset almost fit the bill, but somehow didn’t feel like the right phone to find its way to the bottom of my purse. None of those devices inspired the slightest positive sensation in me. Everything felt the same: sleek touchscreen rectangles boasting cameras with many megapixels.
The last time I could remember feeling excited about phones was over a decade ago right before the iPhone arrived. Remember the variety? There was the Sidekick, the Motorola Razr, the LG Chocolate, and the ubiquitous Blackberry, which I never owned at the time, but envied greatly.
And so I decided maybe I should turn my eyes to a device I’d never had before, and fell from grace before I could own one. Obama had a BlackBerry. Kim Kardashian had a Blackberry (until 2016!). I would have a BlackBerry. I would return to the phone of late-aughts busy people because the busy people phones of 2018 have failed me.
So I bought a BlackBerry Key2, a 2018 phone with QWERTY keyboard. I realise it is BlackBerry only in name alone. It’s manufactured by TCL under licence. But if BlackBerry were to release a device today, I imagine it would look something like this weird combo of old and new design.
I know what you’re thinking. Why have you done this? The specs are garbage!
Specs are only part of the story of any product: most people’s purchasing decisions are at least partially emotional, whether they admit to it or are even conscious of it. To a particular person, something feels right to you about owning a Ford instead of a Chevy, an Audi instead of a BMW, or a Tesla instead of, well, anything else.
In that context, owning a BlackBerry in 2018 feels like rolling up to the parking lot in a Delorean—it signifies some sort of intent, however mystifying. You made a choice.
I went out and got a phone that my coworkers ridiculed me for. One that took away my blue bubble. And I’ve loved it. I love this stupid thing.
I love its keyboard. Most phones that still have some sort of physical keypad or keyboard are cheapy garbage. It’s nice to have a phone with a keyboard that still looks sleek and expensive. It feels good to type again on a device that doesn’t remind anyone of Nana’s Emergency Phone That Lives In Her Car.
Where the BlackBerry really shines is productivity: When I was hastily switching between my three most essential apps (Slack for communication, Sheets for scheduling, and Notes for, well, notes), the Speed key made toggling a breeze.
The customisation of the keyboard is so lovely. Most phone usage is opening the same couple of apps in a loop, so being able to hit Y for YouTube, S for Signal, F for Facebook, H for Hulu feels as natural as autocomplete. It’s a detail that feels small, but for me, it’s a pragmatic and thoughtful choice. Kim Kardashian has been wrong about a lot of things— belted dresses, spray tan, Ray J, Kanye — but she wasn’t wrong about BlackBerry being the phone of busy people who need to get shit done.
I love its battery life. During CES, staff writer Victoria Song and I spent 12 hours at the Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas, both starting at 8 a.m. with fully charged phones. Our usage was basically identical. Her iPhone 6S sputtered to 9 per cent by 6 p.m. My Blackberry at 6 p.m.? 85 per cent. Suck it, Apple. For the very first time, I went a full day at a trade show without needing any external phone batteries.
Compared with other new phones, the battery might not be that impressive: our benchmarks saw phones by OnePlus, Samsung, and Huawei leading the pack, while the Key2 sits firmly in the middle at around 11.5 hours. But those phones typically run $US800 ($1,116)-$US1000 ($1,395) at launch, much pricier than the $US650 ($907) Key2.
There are a few drawbacks, of course. As noted in our review, the Key2 camera suuuuucks. It’s the worst phone camera I’ve used since the iPhone 4. But its shots were perfectly adequate for conveying concepts. My camera roll is filled with quick shots of receipts and footpath trash that caught my eye.
And yes, I miss iMessage.
One thing I should note about owning a BlackBerry is that if you get one, you’ll end up fielding people’s questions about it. I don’t mind being approached by curious strangers on the subway asking me what kind of phone I’m carrying. As much as smartphones have supposedly made people more isolated and less likely to talk to one another, this one has become, oddly, a conversation piece.