BlackBerry Cuts Features, Lowers KEY2 LE Handset Price to Lure Buyers

Based on the premium KEY2 phone which BlackBerry released in June, the $399 KEY2 LE includes a slower CPU, less memory and a polycarbonate frame.

BlackBerry Key2 LE Roll Out

BlackBerry has introduced its latest smartphone, the $399 KEY2 LE model that keeps some key features of its recent $649 KEY2 handset while cutting back in other areas to trim $250 off the earlier phone's price. 

The KEY2 LE, which will be produced and sold under an ongoing licensing agreement with China's TCL Communication, was announced at IFA Berlin 2018 on Aug. 30 for global distribution. 

The Android phone aims to attract buyers who still want the BlackBerry physical keyboard and enterprise security features, but are willing to trade some of the bells and whistles for a lower price tag. 

The handset will go on sale in September in the U.S., Germany, France, the U.K. and Canada starting at $399 for a version with 32GB of internal storage or for $449 for a model with 64GB of internal storage. 

Featuring a 4.5-inch LCD touch-screen display  with 1620 x 1080 resolution and 434 ppi, and a Corning Gorilla Glass cover, the handset uses a Qualcomm 636 processor and includes 4GB of memory. The specifications are downgrades from the standard KEY2 phone which was released in June with a more powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor, 6GB of memory and 64GB or 128GB of built-in storage. 

The KEY2 LE is an LTE phone that also features a backlit physical QWERTY keyboard, an integrated fingerprint sensor for security and a 3,000mAh battery that is expected to offer about 22.5 hours of use per charge. For expanded storage, the phone includes a microSD card slot that accepts storage cards up to 256GB. 

The main rear camera in the KEY2 LE features dual 13-megapixel and 5-megapixel lenses and 4K video capabilities, while the front camera is an 8-megapixel unit. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0 and Near-Field Communication connectivity are also featured in the device, which runs the Android 8.1 Oreo operating system.  

The handset, which is 5.91 inches long, 2.82 inches wide and 0.32 inches thick, weighs 5.5 ounces. The new polycarbonate frame makes the phone lighter compared to the aluminum frame used in the KEY2 model. 

The KEY2 LE also includes the enhanced security features that BlackBerry buyers expect, including the hardened operating system and the DTEK by BlackBerry application that constantly shows users the security status of their devices. Also carried over from the standard KEY2 is the improved DTEK Proactive Health check feature, which allows users to instantly get feedback on potential vulnerabilities and security optimizations on their phones. 

"The BlackBerry KEY2 LE brings a fresh new personality to TCL Communication's BlackBerry KEY2 portfolio that includes all the security features that make BlackBerry phones the world's most secure Android smartphones," Alex Thurber, the senior vice president and general manager of mobility products at BlackBerry, said in a statement. "The KEY2 LE keeps the iconic BlackBerry styling while offering an accessible entry point for our fans around the world to enjoy a modern BlackBerry smartphone.

IT analysts told eWEEK they think TCL Communication is making a smart move by offering a cheaper device with fewer features compared to the original KEY2 model.

"The existing BlackBerry KEY2 is underpowered and overpriced," said Avi Greengart, an analyst with GlobalData. "You really need to value the keyboard and user experience over specs, form factor and brand." 

The new KEY2 LE model does nearly all the same things as the KEY2 while saving buyers $250, said Greengart. "That's still above the budget category, but it doesn’t give up much to its more expensive sibling in productivity or privacy. It’s a unique offering, and hopefully it will find an audience." 

Rob Enderle, principal analyst of Enderle Group, told eWEEK the previous model, the KEY2, was a significant improvement compared to TCL’s first BlackBerry-licensed KEYone handsets, which had low storage capacity and inadequate performance. The higher price for the KEY2 turned off some buyers, though, he said. 

"The KEY2 LE appears to directly address that price problem by dropping performance and memory," but the downside is that the feature downgrades could result in performance issues like those with the KEYone, he said. 

"For those that really pound on their phone, I'd suggest the extra money for the full KEY2 is money well spent, but if you are on a tight budget, you should be able to live with the KEY2 LE reasonably well and it should outperform the KEYone," Enderle said.