BlackBerry has done what BlackBerry does — launch a flagship phone with modest specs, a physical keyboard, and utterly stunning battery life. That’s right — the BlackBerry Key2 (rumored as the “BlackBerry KeyTwo”) has been revealed and all the other flagships must be wondering what this strange creature is doing in their backyard. While the original KeyOne played up the nostalgia factor to bring back BlackBerry fans, the Key2 is trying to capture the attention of people used to touchscreen keyboards on phones like the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus.
With your pocket space as the prize, how do these three flagships compare when put head-to-head? Let’s find out.
If you’re buying a flagship in 2018, you expect to find the hyper-powerful Snapdragon 845, or at the very least last year’s Snapdragon 835. BlackBerry bucks that trend with the Snapdragon 660, and while it holds up well in our tests with good, smooth performance, you’re not going to get the same sort of power the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus can deliver. Other specs are a bit more up to standard though, with the Key2 bringing 6GB of RAM to the table — matched only by the 6GB in the Galaxy S9 Plus.
The Key2 runs away with the battery tests though, and we expect the 3,500mAh battery to provide two-day battery life, much like the BlackBerry KeyOne. The S9 Plus comes with the same-sized battery, but due to extra power draw on the processor and display, it just about manages a single day. You’ll also find QuickCharge 3.0 in the Key2, which beats out the QuickCharge 2.0 in the Galaxy S9 range. The S9 phones do come with wireless charging though.
While the Snapdragon 845 will offer you top-notch performance, the Snapdragon 660 will be sufficient for most people. We think people will like the Key2’s two-day battery life, so we’re making this a tie. The win will be based on what you prefer.
Design and durability
The Key2 has learned some lessons from the KeyOne, and that has resulted in a better looking phone. The bezels have shrunk, the keyboard’s bigger, and the general design has been smoothed out and made more elegant. But is it more elegant than the sweeping curves of the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus? It’s a tough call to make, but the pure sleekness of the S9 range just pips the Key2 in our books.
Look at each phone’s durability and the needle swings slightly back toward the Key2. It might not be able to implement water-resistance due to the keyboard, but the aluminum frame and rubberized back means the Key2 should be fairly resistant to damage — or at least more than the all-glass S9 and S9 Plus. That said, both S9s come with IP68 water-resistance, and they also use Gorilla Glass 5, which is stronger than the Key2’s Gorilla Glass 3.
It’s a tough to call to make, and despite being fully covered by glass, the S9 and S9 Plus beat out the Key2 in beauty and water-resistance.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9/Galaxy S9 Plus
Like its predecessor, the BlackBerry Key2 comes with a 4.5-inch IPS LCD that sits above the keyboard. It’s running an odd 1,620 x 1,080 resolution due to the oddly shaped screen, but it’s sharp and bright, and shouldn’t let you down. However, it can’t compare to the deep inky blacks and vibrant colors that you’ll find on the AMOLED displays of the S9 and S9 Plus. With a smaller 5.8-inch display, the Galaxy S9’s screen is slightly sharper than the S9 Plus’ 6.2-inch display when both run the same 2,960 x 1,440 resolution, but we don’t think most will be able to tell the difference. It’s a tie between the two S9 phones.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9/Galaxy S9 Plus
It seems that 12-megapixels is the right amount of pixels — these phones have five 12-megapixel lenses between the three of them. The Key2 comes with the first dual-lens camera suite in BlackBerry’s long history. It consists of two 12-megapixel lenses, with an f/1.8 aperture on the main lens and an f/2.6 on the other. This should give it good performance in a variety of circumstances, but we’ll have to wait until we’ve finished testing to say that for definite. We were surprised with the camera capability on the KeyOne, and we expect to be happily surprised again with the Key2.
The Key2 will likely struggle to beat the cameras on the S9 and S9 Plus though. The S9 range uses a mechanically-changing aperture to make the most of the available light, and it’s led to the S9 having one of the best low-light cameras around. Of the two, the S9 Plus’ second lens helps boost that performance even higher. We’re confident the Key2 will struggle to beat that performance.
All three phones will record in 4K (though the S9 range does it at 60 frames per second), and the S9 range’s super slow motion video puts the nail in the coffin. The S9 Plus wins out here.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
All three of these phones are packed with special features — but aimed in different ways. The S9 range is primarily an entertainment device, with support for the Gear VR and the Bixby personal assistant. There’s also the DeX Pad and Dex Station, which help turn the phone into a productivity machine (though it requires some extra investment).
The Key2, on the other hand, is clearly an enterprise-focused device, and BlackBerry’s focus on security really cements that. There’s the Locker and the Privacy Shade, which keep apps and data away from prying eyes, and the DTEK app keeps an eye on what’s accessing your systems, and allows you shut down unauthorized access. On top of that, there’s all of BlackBerry’s extra apps that long-time fans will be more than familiar with, such as BBM and BlackBerry Hub. Of course, the keyboard is just as much a feature as everything else. You can add up to 52 shortcuts to different apps through the keyboard, and the new Speed Key lets you switch between apps without having to ever go to the home screen.
These phones have loads of additional features on top of standard Android — but they’re just so different that we don’t feel we can judge. Base this on your own priorities between entertainment, security, and enterprise.
Software and updates
You’ll find the latest version of Android on all three of these phones, and since they’re 2018 flagships, you can expect them all to get Android P, and an eventual upgrade to Android Q. The Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus run Samsung’s Android skin, and while it definitely has its own style, it’s still clearly an Android-based product. BlackBerry’s software is mostly stock Android, just with the addition of a few additional widgets and a whole lot of BlackBerry apps.
In terms of update speed, we have to give this one to the Samsung phones. While the last generation of Galaxy phones have fully seen Oreo updates this year, BlackBerry is still kicking its heels on the update, with neither the KeyOne or Motion having received a promised Oreo update. The KeyOne is getting the update soon, though. It’s still disappointing, and we hope the Key2 gets faster updates.
That being said, BlackBerry does a great job at delivering monthly security updates.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9/Galaxy S9 Plus
The Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus are both currently available, and have support from most major carriers and can be bought from a large amount of retailers. The Galaxy S9 starts at $720 for the 64GB model, while the S9 Plus sees a bit of a price hike with the cost starting at $840.
The BlackBerry Key2 will be available in the U.S. in June, with prices starting from $650. There’s no word on which carriers will be supporting it yet, but we reckon Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile are likely candidates.
Overall winner: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
Pound-for-pound and across our chosen categories, the Samsung S9 Plus shines as the stronger overall smartphone for most people. The Galaxy S9 comes a close second with a smaller footprint, but the extra power and camera smarts on the S9 Plus really push it to the win.
But you’ll know if you want the BlackBerry Key2, and the beauty and better cameras on the S9 range isn’t going to convince you otherwise. If you’re one of those people, be happy in the fact that the BlackBerry Key2 is a strong contender that’s worthy of your time and your pocket space, and plenty powerful enough to handle everything you throw at it.