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THE BLACKBERRY KEY2 PROVES THE WORLD NO LONGER NEEDS A PHYSICAL KEYBOARD

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It’s 2018. Do people still want a phone with a physical keyboard?

That’s the question TCL is trying to answer with its new BlackBerry Key2, a $650 smartphone with a 4.5-inch screen and an actual physical keyboard.

I spent about 10 days with the BlackBerry Key2 to test how it compares with other high-end smartphones on the market. I also wanted to see if, as a former BlackBerry user way back when, I still enjoyed using a physical keyboard.

Here’s what it was like.

First things first: The BlackBerry Key2 is a good-looking phone, and it certainly doesn’t look like anything else on the market.

First things first: The BlackBerry Key2 is a good-looking phone, and it certainly doesn't look like anything else on the market.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the look and feel of the BlackBerry Key2. It has a grippy, textured back that feels rugged and vaguely pleasant, and I enjoyed the squared-off edges, chrome details, and overall businesslike aesthetic. Plus, the phone gets great battery life — I typically got about a day and a half out of it before it needed charging.

TCL says the device is lighter and slimmer than its predecessor, the BlackBerry KeyOne, but it’s hard to tell. Compared with my aluminum iPhone 6S, the Key2 feels notably heavier.

The BlackBerry Key2 has a 4.5-inch LCD display, which is a hair smaller than the 4.7-inch display on the iPhone 6S. But it’s a physically larger phone, thanks to the keyboard at the bottom of the device. That said, I have relatively small hands, and I didn’t find the device to be too big for me — in fact, at about 6 inches long, it’s likely to be the perfect size for most people.

One other note on the display: While it’s sharp and incredibly vivid, it doesn’t get very bright. This wasn’t an issue most of the time, but I sometimes found myself squinting at the screen, even with the brightness turned all the way up.

A few other design choices stand out, for better or worse.

There were things that I liked about the design, and things that I really hated.

For instance, the BlackBerry Key2 does have a headphone jack, though it’s at the top of the device rather than the bottom like most people are used to.

And while the phone may have physical keys, it doesn’t have a physical home button. Instead, a digital home button is above the keyboard.

This is all well and good, but it’s going to be a major adjustment for most people. Since most smartphones have a physical or digital home button at the bottom, that’s where I automatically pressed when I was trying to hit the home button. But that’s where the keyboard’s space bar is, which does not double as a home button (though it does have a dual purpose — more on that in a minute).

Nine times out of 10, I would press the space bar first before remembering where the home button was. For me, it would probably take several weeks of using the phone to get out of that habit.

The keyboard’s space bar doubles as a fingerprint scanner, but it doesn’t do a great job.

The keyboard's space bar doubles as a fingerprint scanner, but it doesn't do a great job.Avery Hartmans/Business Insider

I was excited to try the fingerprint scanner on the BlackBerry Key2, because I loved how subtly it was built into the phone’s design. The scanner lives inside the space bar, meaning you should just be able to press it lightly to unlock your phone each time.

It’s a great idea in theory, but it isn’t very practical in real life.

The space bar is a long, narrow rectangle, and it’s not ideal for capturing fingerprints. About 80% of the time, it took me several tries to get my phone unlocked using the scanner. If you didn’t place your finger just right on the space bar, it refused to open your phone. This grew tiresome after a while, and I eventually resorted to using my passcode each time.

The BlackBerry Key2 has a solid rear camera, but it’s nothing fancy.

The BlackBerry Key2 has a solid rear camera, but it's nothing fancy.

I certainly wasn’t wowed by the rear camera on the BlackBerry Key2, but I was pleasantly surprised by the images it captured.

TCL added a dual 12-megapixel rear camera this year; the BlackBerry KeyOne relied on a single lens. In general, I found the photos to be quite sharp, and I was continually impressed by how the camera handled close-up shots. The rear camera wasn’t phenomenal, but to be perfectly honest, it was better than I expected from a BlackBerry.

The selfie camera, on the other hand, was one of the worst I’ve used on a smartphone in the past year. It has a fixed focus, and most of the time my selfies came out blurry. Even when the camera seemed to focus on my face, the images were rarely as sharp as they would be on an iPhone, a Google Pixel, or a Samsung Galaxy phone.

That said, I doubt the target audience for the BlackBerry Key2 consists of a lot of avid selfie-takers, so it isn’t likely to be an issue for most people.

One surprising thing about the entire camera system is that it’s unlike any other Android camera I’ve used lately. Most Android phones pack their cameras full of so many features, you feel as if you have a DSLR in the palm of your hand.

But the BlackBerry Key2 doesn’t have any of that — only a few filters, no advanced camera adjustments, and none of the weird face-smoothing features I’ve found on phones like the Samsung Galaxy S9. It’s the simplest smartphone camera I’ve used in years, and it was actually rather refreshing, since I rarely end up using those anyway.

Here’s a photo I shot using the BlackBerry Key2. It’s nice and sharp, and the colors are beautiful, but it did struggle a bit in bright sunlight — some of the leaves in the back are blown out.

Here's a photo I shot using the BlackBerry Key2. It's nice and sharp, and the colors are beautiful, but it <i>did</i> struggle a bit in bright sunlight — some of the leaves in the back are blown out.Avery Hartmans/Business Insider

The selfie camera consistently produced shots that looked like this: out of focus, bland, and unable to properly handle mixed lighting.

The selfie camera consistently produced shots that looked like this: out of focus, bland, and unable to properly handle mixed lighting.Avery Hartmans/Business Insider

Which brings us to the keyboard.

Which brings us to the keyboard.Avery Hartmans/Business Insider

Back in the mid-to-late aughts, I owned a BlackBerry Pearl and thought it was the best phone ever made. I adored the trackball, loved BBM-ing with my friends, and thought that getting rid of a physical keyboard would be the single dumbest move a smartphone company could make.

Oh, how times have changed.

My biggest takeaway after using the BlackBerry Key2 after about 10 days was that the physical keyboard is obsolete. My teenage self would be shocked to hear me say this, but an on-screen digital keyboard is simply a better invention. It’s significantly faster and more agile, not to mention the fact that it frees up about 2 inches on the front of the phone.

The physical keyboard isn’t totally stuck in the past. TCL built in the aforementioned fingerprint scanner on the space bar, and the entire keyboard is touch sensitive — when you swipe your finger over the keys to the left or right, it will work like a touchscreen.

My biggest frustrations with the keyboard were the slowness and the lack of flexibility.

My biggest frustrations with the keyboard were the slowness and the lack of flexibility.Avery Hartmans/Business Insider

I admit it’s been about nine years since I used a BlackBerry, so I expected to be rusty when I tried typing on a real keyboard again. But even after about 10 days of using the phone, things haven’t improved.

Typing on real keys took me about twice the amount of time it would have on digital keys. A one-paragraph email took me a little over five minutes to type on the BlackBerry Key2, something that would have taken less than a minute on a digital keyboard. Plus, the keys are tiny, and though I have relatively small fingers, I was constantly hitting the wrong button.

The other issue with a physical keyboard is that it’s fixed. These days, it’s easy to switch among letters, numbers, and symbols, or multiple keyboards on your phone. That’s not possible with real keys, so BlackBerry’s solution was to bring up an on-screen keyboard to help with symbols. This just created confusion, since it was hard to prioritize a physical keyboard when there was a perfectly good digital keyboard right there on the screen.

So while the physical keyboard is nice to have, I’m not sure I would end up using it most of the time. By the end of my time with the BlackBerry Key2, it started to feel more like a novelty item than a helpful feature.

Physical keyboard aside, the BlackBerry Key2 is made for speed and efficiency.

Physical keyboard aside, the BlackBerry Key2 is made for speed and efficiency.Avery Hartmans/Business Insider

The BlackBerry Key2 seems aimed at a crowd that doesn’t crave a lot of bells and whistles on smartphones. It’s efficient, easy to use, and comes with a version of Android 8.1 Oreo that, while not stock, was on the simpler side and easy to adjust to as an iPhone user.

The device has multiple shortcut keys intended to help you get to your most-used apps and services without spending a ton of time hunting through your app drawer. A new shortcut key on the keyboard can be programmed to open any app (along with the press of a corresponding letter on the keyboard), and I found myself using it more than I expected. There’s also a second shortcut key on the side of the device.

And since it’s a BlackBerry phone, there’s a lot of emphasis on privacy and security.

The Key2 comes with a few different ways to protect your device, like the DTEK app, which constantly monitors your phone’s security. There’s also a redactor app for hiding keywords or phrases in a document or email, an app that blacks out your entire screen except for the portion you’re viewing, a built-in password keeper, and the Locker app, which lets you hide sensitive photos or open an incognito browser.

So should you buy it?

So should you buy it?Avery Hartmans/Business Insider

Yes and no.

Yes, you should buy the BlackBerry Key2 if you’re someone who craves speed and efficiency and doesn’t spend a lot of time on their phone scrolling through social media or watching Netflix. If you’re someone who’s all business and cares about security and privacy, it’s the perfect phone for you. Plus, at $650, it’s a relative bargain.

But the BlackBerry Key2 doesn’t really feel like a mass-market device. It’s not a great phone for watching videos, thanks to the smaller screen. It’s hard to text on, and the camera isn’t exactly top of the line.

Still, I think there’s a niche group of people out there who would fall in love with the BlackBerry Key2. My barometer for the device was my dad, a longtime BlackBerry fan who reluctantly switched to iPhone a few years ago. When I showed him the Key2, he said, “I’d switch from my iPhone right now.”

 

 

 

 

Source: BUSINESS INSIDER

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Mobile Phones

THE APPLE WATCH STOLE THE SHOW FROM THIS YEAR’S NEW IPHONES

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The most exciting announcement from Apple’s annual iPhone event on Tuesday was not a set of three new smartphones, but a smartwatch. The Apple Watch Series 4 — with its rounded corners, larger display, and built-in EKG scanner — became undoubtedly the most sought-after gadget in the aftermath of Apple’s fall hardware refresh. While many people have bemoaned having to choose between the iPhone XS and XR, or are simply forgoing a mobile upgrade entirely, the Series 4 stood out for how simple of a purchase it is for those who’ve been sitting on the sidelines of the wearable market.

For those like me who’ve had an older Apple Watch Series 0 or 1, it’s a no-brainer, and it was what I was most excited about when I decided to stay up on Thursday night to claim a midnight order. The disparity is best illustrated by the fact that, after less than half a day of orders, every single tier of iPhone XS available right now has a September 28th to October 5th shipping window. Nearly every model of the Apple Watch Series 4, on the other hand, won’t ship until October 12th to October 19th.

There’s a number of reasons why the Apple Watch is outshining the iPhone these days. The first and most obvious is that the iPhone has become boring, trapped by the diminishing returns Apple can wring out of the device year after year. It would seem, 11 years after the introduction of the first iPhone, that Apple’s marquee product has simply lost a majority of its luster. There are only so many upgrades and standout features you can add to a mobile product before its incremental changes are overshadowed by how much it costs.

Simply take a look back at the last four years of iPhones. In 2014, Apple introduced the Plus version of the iPhone when it released the iPhone 6, which helped cement the trend of ever-larger displays that Samsung and other Asian manufacturers had first promoted. In 2015, the phone was paired with the Apple Watch for the first time, giving diehard fans a better reason to incorporate more Apple hardware and software into their lives. The year after, the company removed the headphone jack and released the AirPods, kicking off a debate about how and when to force consumers and the industry toward a wireless vision for the future. Last year, we got the iPhone X. With its signature notch, bezel-less display, and FaceID, it became an industry trendsetter and facilitated a more interesting debate about smartphone design than we’ve enjoyed in years.

This year, which is admittedly an S upgrade year and so understandably less exciting, it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of room for the iPhone to grow. That leads to the second most obvious reason why it’s become harder to care about the iPhone: price. As the iPhone has stagnated in terms of new features, Apple has increased the average cost of its flagship device by more than $300, from around $775 to $1,100.

The company figured out last year with the iPhone X that customers would be willing to pay not for meaningful new features, but for design and aesthetic improvements. So it began using higher-quality materials, like OLED displays and glass back plates, and increasing the available storage tiers. This year, you can get an iPhone XS Max with 512GB of storage for $1,449, making it the most expensive iPhone ever made, just like the X was before it.

working out supply chain and manufacturing kinks.) There is an argument to make that the XR is the more interesting, mass market-friendly, and potentially successful phone of the three, but we won’t know that until later this year.

As it stands today, Apple’s flagship phone is the least exciting device it’s put out in a long time, and it’s easy to see why it’s being outshined by the Apple Watch. What started as an underdog product arriving late to the wearable scene, the Apple Watch has since become not only the world’s best-selling wearable, but the world’s best-selling watch, period.

Apple has achieved that by consistently improving its hardware and software with each new annual iteration. Just like the early days of the iPhone, each new Apple Watch adds something exciting and legitimately impressive, from the water-resistance of the Series 2 to the cellular connectivity of the Series 3. Now, with the Series 4, Apple has added a built-in EKG scanner and the first hardware design overhaul the watch has had since its inception.

There will be a time when the Apple Watch, like the iPhone, becomes a stagnant product that simply becomes more exorbitant and expensive. Ironically, Apple’s very first Apple Watch contained a line of now-discontinued models as expensive as $17,000. So there’s quite a lot of room for the company to grow its smartwatch brand and expand it back into the luxury market. But until then, we can expect quite a few more years of novel innovations and design overhauls.

Perhaps Apple overcomes engineering and design hurdles to create a round-shaped Apple Watch. Maybe the company figures out how to extend the battery life by more than 24 hours. There’s myriad ways the Apple Watch can improve and reach a more mass-market audience. But one thing is for sure right now: with the Series 4 out in the wild, it’s probably a more invigorating time to be developing the next Apple Watch than the next iPhone, and customers seem to be responding visibly to that shift.

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Mobile Phones

APPLE’S AIRPOWER WIRELESS CHARGING MAT REPORTEDLY PLAGUED BY OVERHEATING ISSUES

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Overheating, communication, and interference issues are still plaguing the development of Apple’s AirPower wireless charging pad, according to a pair of reports citing multiple sources close to the matter. The issues contributed to the AirPower’s absence at last week’s iPhone announcement.

AirPower was first teased over a year ago at the same event that Apple used to announce the iPhone X, the company’s first handset to support wireless charging. AirPower was to be the firm’s debut wireless charger, capable of charging your AirPods (with compatible case), Apple Watch, and iPhone simultaneously. The consensus seems to be that Apple has bitten off much more than it can chew with the ambitious device.

Writing on Daring Fireball, John Gruber points the blame squarely at the AirPower mat’s multi-coil design, which is allegedly causing the device to overheat. These overheating rumors have been around since June, and it seems Apple is still struggling to find a solution.

Sonny Dickson corroborates these rumors and offers further details on the scale of the issues. As well as getting too hot to effectively charge the devices, the AirPower mat is also allegedly struggling to communicate with them, meaning it doesn’t know the charge levels of the devices that it’s filling with power.

Finally, attempting to charge multiple devices simultaneously has also lead to interference issues cropping up between them, according to Dickson.

Neither Gruber nor Dickson commit to saying whether the device has been delayed or cancelled entirely, but both agree that the situation isn’t great for Apple. “Well and truly fucked,” is how Gruber puts it, while “doomed to failure” is how Dickson describes the broad feeling at the company.

What’s certain is that with all mention of the ill-fated device now scrubbed from Apple’s website we probably shouldn’t expect AirPower to return any time soon (at least not in this form, Dickson suggests we might see the name re-applied to an all-new product at a later date).

AirPower has always been an ambitious piece of engineering. While normal wireless chargers contain just a single coil designed to charge a single device at a time, Apple’s first foray into the area reportedly contains between 16 and 24 overlapping coils of different sizes designed to charge multiple devices simultaneously. All of which adds up to a very ‘Apple’ device, wherein the company takes a pre-existing technology and gives it enough usability improvements to leapfrog the competition.

At least it would have been, had a working AirPower mat shipped on time.

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Hardwares

SAMSUNG’S POWERFUL GALAXY S10 WILL DEFEAT APPLE’S SHINY NEW IPHONES

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With modern production and design schedules, the geekerati already know what Apple is preparing for the iPhone XS launch. We also know what Samsung is cooking up for the Galaxy S10’s launch in early 2019. It’s clear that the Galaxy S10 has the specifications to beat the iPhone.

For me there are three key areas where the Galaxy S10 can not only compete against the iPhone, but comfortably come out on top.

The first is, curiously, reliability. Although Samsung has had one rather high-profile smartphone failure in recent memory (the tightly packed battery of the Note 7), it took visible action both immediately, during the investigations, and when reporting the fixes to the hardware. Compare that to Apple’s own battery problems, the reluctance to admit to the problem, and the painful way Tim Cook and his team was dragged towards an acceptable outcome for consumers.

Now consider that the portfolios of the iPhone 6, the iPhone 7, and the iPhone 8 have all exhibited major flaws stemming from the hardware design of the smartphones. While past performance is no guide to future stability, consumers are more adept at recognising patterns. The reliability of the Galaxy range in the mainstream media is streets ahead of the iPhone.

Second is the flexibility. While most users will take their smartphone out of the box and never think again about the specifications, those looking for the biggest and best are going to see the Galaxy S10 outpacing the iPhone XS. More on board storage, more memory, more processing power on tap, it’s all on Samsung’s side.

And if Apple does move to 512 GB of storage on its smartphones, Samsung has the advantage of the second move – which will allow it to match the on board storage and then leverage the microSD card for even more capacity.

Finally, Samsung has managed to maintain its lead in the camera stakes over man-years over Apple. There’s going to be an obvious comparison with the number of lens each phone in the respective portfolios will sport, but I’m expecting the South Korean expertise in the post-capture image processing, alongside the variable aperture lenses, to hand the visual victory to the Galaxy.

 

DJ Koh, President of Mobile Communications Business, Samsung Electronics, shows off two new Galaxy smartphones. (AP Photo/Manu Fernadez)

Much like politics, each camp has the diehards that will never move – lifelong affiliations to iOS or Android run as deep as Republican or Democratic affiliation – so the real fight is over the platform switchers who can navigate between the walled gardens of the two ecosystems. This is where details like image quality, hardware specifications, and reliability can contribute.

It’s also where perceptions can sway opinions. With Apple looking to label the latest iPhone handsets as incremental ’S’ updates the attraction of the iPhone XS family is going to be dulled compared to the ‘all-new’ tenth-anniversary Galaxy S10 marketing juggernaut.

Both handsets will make their supporters swoon, but the Galaxy S10 has the advantage in gathering the undecided middle ground.

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