Upon opening the box, you're first greeted by the KEYone, face-up. Underneath the phone is a flat box of documentation and a SIM tool. Putting this box aside we have access to the remaining accessories: A USB-A to USB-C cable, a quick charge 2.0 adapter (9V @ 1.67A), and a pair of earbuds and replacement tips in various sizes. The earbuds carry the BlackBerry insignia.
Contrary to what the top smartphone manufacturers are doing, the KEYone is quite a thick device. At 9.4mm, this guy won't be competing in the thin-ness race, but that's not what BlackBerry is all about. The BlackBerry name is (and has been) all about providing the best tool to organize and manage even the busiest of bees. We'll come back to the thickness of the device, there's a lot to cover, so let's start with the front.
The phone's appearance is both striking and bold, even before picking it up. The Blackberry is not a dark and mysterious slab of glass, rather it's an orchestra of keys, sensors, buttons and materials that play a visual symphony. Unlike many other smartphones, the BlackBerry KEYone is instantly recognizable as a "BlackBerry".
A speaker grille centers over the top bezel of the phone, straddling between a front-facing 8MP camera, and a setup of the usual proximity and light sensors. Just next to these is a pin-hole sized RGB-LED for notifications. Below the top bezel is a 4.5-inch LCD touchscreen display with a 3:2 aspect ratio. We'll save talk about that for the display section.
Following the display are the capacitive navigation keys, which are placed right above the BlackBerry's signature QWERTY keyboard. Much like the BlackBerry Priv, this keyboard is adorned with metal inserts between each row of keys, which is likely what senses the keyboard's touch gestures. Finally, embedded right into the spacebar is a fingerprint scanner - something that was missing from the Priv.
At the top, there's a 3.5mm headphone jack and opposite to it is a noise-cancelling microphone. Following the rounded edge on the right is the nanoSIM and microSD card tray, accessible with a SIM tool. Below that are the volume rocker and the Convenience Key; this can be programmed to open any app, or perform an action.
We wish the power and volume keys were a little bit firmer, as they are quite easy to press when lifting the phone off of a table by its edges.
The bottom edge of the phone is home to the USB-C port and on either side is one of two sound grilles. The one on the left is the in-call microphone and the other is a loudspeaker. In typical TCL/Alcatel fashion, the power key is on the left edge towards the top of the phone.
Turn the phone around, and the iconic BlackBerry logo is glaring back at you. Likewise, you should tap the logo onto tap-to-pay terminals as this is where its NFC antenna lives. At the top is a 12MP camera, protected by a metal ring. Adjacent to it is a dual-tone LED flash.
When holding the KEYone, rounded edges and soft corners feel inviting to your hand. These rounded edges remind us of those on the later-gen iPhones, except the KEYone's thickness falls somewhere between the iPhone 6S's (7.3mm) and the iPod Mini's (12.7mm) coming in at 9.4mm thick. This rounded edge is something that BlackBerry tried with the Priv, but the slide-up screen made it difficult to execute. We're glad to say that it really paid off on the KEYone.
Every material and piece of hardware is very well put-together with no gaps and minimal seams. This ensures you won't collect dirt or picket lint over time. The keyboard is the sole exception. We'll have to reserve judgement for it since only time will tell whether or not the keys will collect dust or degrade with long-term use.
We enjoy how the backside feels. For a phone that's expected to be used extensively, a grippy and pitted surface is much appreciated for those of us who tend to have sweaty palms (seriously, all the time). Given that the keyboard is usually a two-hand ordeal, this ensures maximum comfort. This also means it won't put fingerprints on display.
Chamfers only make an appearance in a couple of places: at the surface of the power, volume, and Convenience keys, at the flat top of the device, and around the camera ring. These are strictly aesthetic and offer attention to detail. The chamfer is often used to soften an edge so it fits better with another part or purely for ergonomics, as on the HTC 10 (#DatChamferDoe).
The overall design of the KEYone, down to its color scheme of black, silver, and chrome, fits very well in an office setting. In fact, it looks like it belongs on a desk and its owner is probably a really important person in the company. If you're caught with one of these at a meeting, you're very likely to get some looks or questions about it.