TCL, which now owns the rights to manufacture phones and slap BlackBerry branding on them, have now unveiled KeyOne, which previously carried the Mercury moniker when it was showcased at CES this past January.
We know what you're thinking: BlackBerry phones? At this day and age? Of course — BlackBerry phones haven't been around lately, or they haven't been as ubiquitous as they once were, back in a bygone era when the term "smartphone" was just beginning to gestate.
Over the years, BlackBerry's once tall industry footprint waned, and even with its latecomer decision to adopt Android, drop the keyboard, and fit more into the cookie mold of current smartphone credentials, handsets from Apple, Samsung, and even Huawei, tower the promise of BlackBerry's.
KeyOne Brings Back A Beloved BlackBerry Feature, But Is It Enough?
The KeyOne trawls along Android, like the BlackBerry DTEK phones, but it resurrects a staple BlackBerry signature: the physical QWERTY keyboard. TCL unveiled KeyOne at a press conference in Barcelona on Saturday during the Mobile World Congress, an annual tech bonanza focused on handsets, although not exclusively. TCL wants KeyOne to land on the market April, initially through direct sales, followed by carrier or partner sales.
While TCL has been pretty excellent at taking a relatively unknown brand and bet it against other budget smartphones, it's going to be harder for the company to completely revitalize the BlackBerry brand. A Gartner report doesn't help the prognosis: BlackBerry phones, at least the pre-Android ones, now share 0 percent of the overall smartphone market. It did actually ship 200,000 units, so it's not exactly "zero," but the number was low enough to equate to a rounding error.
Can TCL Reinstate BlackBerry In The Competitive Smartphone Arena?
This is a starkly different picture than eight years ago, as noted by CNET, where one out of every five smartphones sold was a BlackBerry. This is a tall order to achieve now, considering Apple and Samsung nearly control two-fifths of the global smartphone market, but if there's anything TCL needs to achieve, it's at least this. But can it?
BlackBerry KeyOne Specs
Its decisions point no. First off, the KeyOne is pricey. At $549, it's only a hundred dollars cheaper than an iPhone. The Priv, a previous BlackBerry handset, was priced $699, a problematically steep price even BlackBerry itself acknowledged when it reported poor sales.
Unlike Alcatel's smartphone lineup, however, the KeyOne features premium specs:
There's a 4.5-inch display with a 1,620 x 1,080 resolution, a Corning Gorilla Glass 4 screen, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 chip, 3 GB of RAM, 32 GB of internal storage, a Sony-supplied 12-megapixel rear shooter, and an 8-megapixel front shooter. Its keyboard is touch-sensitive, too, allowing users to assign shortcuts via gestures and swipe across keys for navigation.
Just for comparison, there are budget smartphones with Qualcomm snapdragon 625 for or lower than $200. Take that however you will.
Additionally, TCL boasts that the KeyOne is the most secure Android handset in the world. Alex Thurber, BlackBerry's senior VP, promised security updates for the handset per month.
Is The BlackBerry KeyOne Worth It?
But all things considered — including BlackBerry being a well-known brand — it's hard to imagine that recognition alone will spell sales. The keyboard might at least be unique enough to win back consumers, but such notions are pure guesswork for now.
It's a Herculean task, and it's also nearing impossibility, given how fast-paced and frazzled smartphone competition has become. As Ars Technica noted, the KeyOne is a midrange device with a premium price, saying that it's hard to procure enthusiasm for the KeyOne's asking price, which it argues isn't parallel to the handset's feature set.
What do you think? Is BlackBerry inching toward a comeback? Feel free to sound off in the comments section below!