The KeyOne, and a reviewer who can’t think beyond himself

I don’t mind carrying an iPhone 6S for work. It’s a good phone. I have maybe a dozen apps, all of which could be websites just as easily, except maybe Swype. Given that I’m not using it as a daily driver, I’m pretty happy with what it does and how it does it…but when I caught wind of the Blackberry KeyOne, I wasted no time pestering my boss about it.

It’s not a phone for everybody, nor is it intended to be. It is, however, intended to serve a niche. That fact eludes David Pierce, the individual who wrote the phone review for Wired Magazine. Go ahead, give it a read. The rest of the review will make less sense if you don’t, but not as little sense as his 4/10 score.

You know what a BlackBerry says about you now? …It says you probably still have an AOL email address, carefully curate your MySpace Top 8…It says, above all else, that you bought the wrong phone.

David starts his review by indicating that people who desire the Blackberry are caught in the past, but provides no basis for this claim aside from alluding to Blackberry’s fall from corporate dominance. It’s an ad hominem attack that indirectly contradicts his next paragraph, indicating that TCL, the real manufacturer and licensee of the Blackberry name and software, makes excellent products. Am I left to assume that a “TCL KeyOne” would have avoided the ‘stuck in 2006’ tone?

The only problem is that physical keyboards are a bad idea. They’re not more efficient, no matter what your nostalgic brain tells you. Touchscreen keyboards are faster, more versatile, more usable.

David might be at least somewhat accurate here, but it also sounds like he’s never dealt with some of the frustration. They’re faster, until you’re entering a password. They’re more versatile, until you’re in a Remote Desktop session that’s expecting a regular keyboard. They’re more usable, until you’re in a remote SSH session cycling through the different sets of symbols. Are these common things? Of course not…but the KeyOne isn’t targeting the Swiftkey crowd.

They can do swipe-typing, change size and shape to your liking, and switch languages at will. They go away when you don’t need them.

Swipe-typing is great, but it’s only needed to keep typing on a virtual keyboard somewhere on par with a physical keyboard. David does make a valid point that the keyboard can be removed from the screen when non-typing tasks are happening, and I do need to give credit for that. I will similarly concur that users requiring multiple languages are indeed better served with on-screen keyboards.

David calls the KeyOne’s 4.5″ diagonal screen “small”, but my iPhone 6S has 3.5 diagonal inches of viewable space with the keyboard present. Moreover, it wasn’t until the iPhone 5 that Apple had a phone with a screen north of 4.5″ diagonal. iPhones sold by the millions with smaller amounts of viewable screen size (and an on-screen keyboard taking up nearly half that when typing), so it definitely seems to be a double standard. 

There is a clear confusion between ‘available features’ and ‘necessary features’. The fact that the KeyOne wasn’t customized to best meet David’s workflow isn’t a shortcoming of the phone. He writes:

You can map each key to a shortcut…but I miss being able to just start typing and launch straight into search. You can swipe up and down to scroll through webpages or apps…But you can also do that, you know, on a screen.

I am certain the shortcut keys can be disabled, or a key could be mapped to open Google, or David could perform one whole tap on a bookmark saved to his home screen; a tap is required on any phone to cause the keyboard to come up anyway. Swiping on the keyboard for scrolling sounds incredible. Not only is your hand not blocking content as you’re scrolling (a huge feature in itself), but I’ve lost count of how many times a “scroll” swipe has been confused with a “touch”, and ended up tapping a link erroneously. Just because it’s possible to do on a screen doesn’t mean that the use of a keyboard can’t improve the process.

Most of the phone’s security work happens in the background, only alerting you if something goes wrong.

How is this a passing comment and not seen as a massive improvement? How many Android users get multiple prompts every time they install an app? Lookout, the ‘security’ software that ships on many Android phones by default, provides more nags and notifications and annoyances than actual positive function. If a phone can be kept secure with virtually no false positives so that alerts can be assumed to be legitimate and worth addressing, that is an incredible improvement for many users coming from the Android ecosystem.

Really, everything about the Keyone other than the keyboard is good enough—and sometimes even great.

David gave a 4/10 rating for a device that, according to this statement, has one drawback?

My point is that you do not want a phone with a hardware keyboard.

A phone with a hardware keyboard is not going to take the world by storm. TCL knows that, Blackberry knows that, Google knows that, and the carriers know that. What the Blackberry does deliver, though, is a phone that serves the needs of those who have always felt Autocorrect was a compromise. A virtual keyboard may be a bit faster if Swype or Swiftkey is frequently accurate, but “out”, “or”, and “our” will always problems. Autocorrect is great for common phrases, but terrible for command line use. Sure, MS-DOS isn’t used by most people today, but I use it more days than not in my line of work.

The most ironic part of David’s rant is the fact that he probably didn’t type this on a virtual keyboard. In all likelihood, it was typed on a desktop or a laptop, with a physical keyboard. I have no proof of this, but even if he did, he would have had more screen space to revise the article while typing if he had used the KeyOne over an iPhone.

Now, if David really wanted to dissuade those of us who believe that a renaissance of Blackberry is a good thing, he could have pointed to the fact that a whole lot of the book 50 Shades of Grey was written on a Blackberry.

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