TCL made rather big waves when they released the BlackBerry Key2 earlier this year. BlackBerry was back with a smartphone that not only offers a sizable screen but still offers the iconic BlackBerry keyboard all in a form factor that feels modern and made for the younger consumer. Now, a few months later, TCL is at it again with the BlackBerry Key2 LE, a similar phone with a few fewer features but a much more attractive price point. While TCL has made some cost-saving measures this time around, the core experience remains intact.
The BlackBerry Key2 had a premium feel throughout the design, offering all the bells and whistles we have grown to expect from modern BlackBerry. While I enjoyed the Key2, I also acknowledge for the specs and features it was a hard sell to some people. This is where the Key2 LE comes in. Costing around $499 CAD outright, the Key2 LE is a far more mainstream product. BlackBerry hit that sweet spot, offering a device that checks most of the boxes, while still making the price affordable to the lucrative younger demographic.
With this lower price tag comes a slew of new colours. The new colours (Atomic red, Champagne gold, and Slate black) make the phone a slightly more personal, fun experience. While BlackBerry is known for the business feel, it is good to see TCL mixing it up this time around, giving the Key2 LE a far more youthful feel overall.
The Key2 LE is also quite a bit lighter, opting for a polycarbonate frame as opposed to the metal form of its bigger brother.
The keyboard on the Key2 LE is also noticeably different than the Key2. While both devices offer fantastic BlackBerry typing experiences, the Key2 LE does sacrifice some of what made the Key2 so special. The keys are noticeably smaller, making for a slightly more cramped experience. Also, TCL has opted to take out the capacitive touch ability on the keyboard of the LE. So sadly, you can’t scroll around your devices by touching your fingers over the keyboard area.
Under the hood, the BlackBerry Key2 LE is slightly less capable when compared to its bigger brother. Boasting a Qualcomm 636 with 4GB of RAM compared to the Key2 with its Qualcomm 660 and 6GB RAM, you will have a bit less power to perform your day-to-day operations. In all honesty, this is a minor issue, while it will ultimately mean you can run a few less tabs in a browser and you may see some slight lag in intensive operations, there will be few differences in standard day-to-day use of the phone. The Key2 LE does also start at 32GB worth of storage compared to 64GB standard, although there is a 64GB variant should you wish to spend the extra cash.
The camera also faced a slight downgrade with the Key2 LE. The BlackBerry Key2 offered dual real 12 Megapixel cameras with f/1.8 on the primary and f/2.6 on the secondary camera. The Key2 LE pushes up the megapixels to 13 f/2.2 on the primary lens, and a 5 megapixel f/2.4 on the secondary camera. If you use your phone primarily for photos, this is where you will see the biggest hit. Photos are good in daylight, but in low light, there is a lot to be desired. The Key2 offers a noticeably better photography experience, it is really a question if this is worth the extra price of entry.
Beyond these changes, the BlackBerry Key2 LE offers an overall similar experience to the BlackBerry Key2. Both phones run Android 8.1 Oreo and have all the BlackBerry software you come to expect from the brand. It all comes down to the slight changes in the hardware. TCL has managed to capture most of what made the Key2 so exciting while cutting cost to make a more mainstream-friendly device.
When it comes down to it, the BlackBerry Key2 LE is a solid offering, and further pushes what is possible with the brand. It will not appeal to everyone, and there are some cuts made to hit the price point, but the overall feel of the Key2 LE is solid and makes for an enjoyable—if not a little limited—mid-range device. If you want a bit of colour with your keyboard and you are okay with those sacrifices, the BlackBerry Key2 LE is an excellent choice, especially if you are on a budget.