China's TCL Takes a Shot at Selling a BlackBerry Branded Smartphone

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China's TCL Takes a Shot at Selling a BlackBerry Branded Smartphone

Chinese mobile device maker TCL is trying to do something BlackBerry hasn’t done in a decade, make money selling a BlackBerry branded smartphone. TCL is preparing to introduce the BlackBerry KeyOne, a smartphone it announced at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last February. The KeyOne has the typical BlackBerry design with a physical keyboard, 4.5-inch screen and it comes with several familiar BlackBerry apps. The BlackBerry is atypical in one important respect, it runs Android rather than the venerable BlackBerry OS. It also has what TCL is calling a “smart keyboard” for users that prefer touch screen functionality. The KeyOne, in other words, is a BlackBerry hybrid. Whether TCL can succeed in selling the KeyOne to long-time BlackBerry owners or new customers remains to be seen.

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Understanding the BlackBerry-TCL Relationship

The BlackBerry KeyOne is not actually a BlackBerry-manufactured handset. BlackBerry has left the smartphone-making business in favor of software and services. However, the company granted a license to TCL to use the BlackBerry branding on its smartphones. TCL has the right to sell smartphones under the BlackBerry name worldwide. The BlackBerry company collects a licensing fee.

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It looks Like a Typical BlackBerry Handset

At least so far, TCL seems committed to following BlackBerry’s design lead. The company’s KeyOne comes with the familiar BlackBerry design, complete with a square screen located  above a physical keyboard. TCL tried to keep the device small, but it’s a bit bulkier than the latest generation of smartphones, like the Samsung Galaxy S8, due in no small part to the physical keyboard.

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It has a Fairly Large Touch-Screen

Although most BlackBerry screens have been rather small compared to the touch-screens built into Apple and Samsung handsets, the KeyOne’s display measures a respectable 4.5 inches. It’s also a touch-screen, allowing users to interact with the device using their fingers. Its 3:2 aspect ratio is very small compared with most other high-end handsets, which have a 16:9 aspect ratio, and its resolution is just 1,620 by 1,080.

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It Runs Android Nougat

Those hoping to find a BlackBerry operating system in the KeyOne will be out of luck. The handset runs Google’s Android 7.1 Nougat operating system. Users will be able to access Google’s services with the device, as well as all the apps in the Google Play marketplace.

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Some Notes on the Battery

The BlackBerry KeyOne comes with a 3,505mAh battery. Thanks to that large power pack, the handset can last all day on a single charge, according to TCL, which didn’t share exact battery life details. The device also comes with USB-C and a fast-charge feature that boosts battery life to a 50 percent charge in just 36 minutes.

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Mobile CPU Is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625

Unfortunately, the BlackBerry KeyOne isn’t even close to being the most powerful Android handset on the market. The device will ship with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor with a 2GHz clock speed, which is substantially less powerful than the top-of-the-line Snapdragon 835 in the Galaxy S8. However, the KeyOne does support 3GB of RAM, which should help its application performance.

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It Includes Familiar BlackBerry Apps, Security

Although it’s running on Android, the KeyOne will support all of the familiar BlackBerry utilities users might expect. Users will find BlackBerry Hub and support for BBM for messaging. TCL is also relying on BlackBerry technology for security and will ship the handset with the company’s DTEK security monitoring app.

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TCL Is Generous With Storage on the KeyOne

Many other Android handsets limit external storage to around 256GB on a microSD card. Not the BlackBerry KeyOne: To appeal to enterprise users, the KeyOne supports up to 2TB of storage on a microSD card. Add that to the handset’s 32GB of onboard storage, and it’s easily one of the most file-friendly handsets on the market.

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'Smart Keyboard' Combines Physical Keys, Touch Inputs

The BlackBerry KeyOne comes with what TCL describes as “smart keyboard.” In addition to regular typing, each key can be programmed to act as a shortcut for faster access to apps. Also, users can “flick” on keys to add them to text output, and the keyboard fully supports touch navigation, allowing users to employ gestures to scroll through email and webpages.

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KeyOne Will Be Available in Most Global Markets

The BlackBerry KeyOne is available for preorder. It will be available in most markets over the coming weeks. When it lands in the United States, the device will cost $549. It will be unlocked, so users can use it on any carrier’s network without trouble. 

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