back to article BlackBerry's comeback: El Reg gets its claws on the QWERTY KEYone

Fans of the classic BlackBerry-style smartphone can finally get their hands on a worthy keyboard-equipped mobe running Android – and it has the BlackBerry badge. BlackBerry phones got their biggest push in four years last night, as Chinese tech giant TCL relaunched the brand in Barcelona with a new 4.5" Android QWERTY it calls …

  1. P. Lee

    Sadly, I predict failure

    What happens when you want to use the phone and its keyboard in landscape mode?

    The physical keyboard was a great idea against a Nokia 3310i. Sadly, these days, there is mustard which remains uncut. A different USP is required.

    1. RNixon

      Re: Sadly, I predict failure

      The same thing when you want to use an HTC Desire Z and its keyboard in portrait mode, I'd expect.

      (I have a Priv. I simply don't use the keyboard as a keyboard in landscape mode. You COULD, but it's awkward as hell. You use it as a trackpad when the phone is in landscape. But frankly, the only time I type in landscape at all is when a game forces landscape and you have to enter a username or something. Even my SSH client I run portrait, 80 columns by 62 rows.)

      I'm still bummed there's no BB10 version of the Priv. I vastly prefer BB10 to Android, and I can even deal with BB10's lack of apps, but I wanted a bigger screen than than my Q10, and the Passport was just a bit TOO weird.

      1. m0rt

        @Rnixon Re: Sadly, I predict failure

        "and the Passport was just a bit TOO weird." <- did you try one? So far, the best phone I have ever had.

        Sadly, I needed certain apps.

        1. fruitoftheloon

          @m0rt:Re: @Rnixon Sadly, I predict failure


          I love my Passport, the only android app I wanted on it is todoist, which isn't available from app stores etc, so I copied the file (I think it was an .apk, can't remem at the mo) directly across from my Samsung NotePro tablet to the Passport, lo and behold, on opening todoist, it insists that it must have google [something] services present to run - which clearly isn't present, then it runs just fine anyway...

          I look forward to hopefully getting my mitts on one of the new androidy-blackberries when my currrent contract conks out in Q3 this year.



        2. RNixon

          Re: @Rnixon Sadly, I predict failure

          Nope, I was never able to find a demo model anywhere, and it was expensive enough I wasn't going to take a shot on it. It was the three-row keyboard that had me hesitating more than the wide shape.

    2. Oh Homer


      That's one damned fugly phone. And that keyboard! It's like a relic from the 90s, but without any of the kitch nostalgia of retro computing.

      Time to move on, folks. In fact it was time about a decade ago.

  2. J. R. Hartley

    The last chance saloon

    I was about to say I hope Blackberry make a comeback, but the company is dead from the neck down. Is the plan just to license the name out to the highest bidder?

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: The last chance saloon

      It's not been helped by the lack of imagination in the market place. There's a lot of things that they've done that are technically excellent. Trouble is all the market can see is that Samsung, Google and Apple must be the best, and doesn't care a jot for anything else that has got good ideas.

      A good example of how the status quo is so entrenched is that no-one these days even stops to wonder why it is that Android app permissions are not changeable by the handset owner. Well, apparently on BlackBerry's take of Android you can change the permissions, yet no-one really cares.

      Apple achieved a similar trick with battery life. Back before the iPhone battery lives of 7 days were completely normal. Apple comes along with a phone that won't last a day, and sells millions of them based purely on the shininess of the product. And now that everyone considers it perfectly normal to have to charge up during the day, or at least once a day, there's now no longer a market justification for manufacturing phones that last longer than that.

      Unfortunately this means that we'll end up with the lowest common denominator; Android phones that go without updates (Samsung and everybody else), Google phones that are feature poor and hideously expensive (the new Google phone is hugely overpriced for what you actually get), and expensive iPhones that are now just so annoyingly nothing other than fragile design vanity projects for Apple instead of being stylish yet workman-like devices that Apple laptops used to be [Apple's laptops are now pretty useless too].

      The same happened with Betamax and VHS; Betamax was better, VHS won.

      So, dead from the neck down? Perhaps they are, for believing that adding technical superiority is worth the bother any more. It's a draw to perhaps 1% of the market at best; you know, the 1% that once upon a time used to be the only people who'd by anything other than a feature phone in the old days.

      The same effect causes the market for decent food to be depressed. What was the name of that Stallone film where the only restaurant in the whole world was a Tacobell, them having won the global franchise wars? We're heading that way...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up

        New internet law needed...

        As we have Godwin's Law fhat pertains to Hitler, I hereby propose Word Merchant's law that states:

        "As discussion of a new product grows more heated and less relevant to the actual product, the probability of a contributor basing their argument erroneously on a comparison of VHS and Betamax, and how the wrong format won, approaches 1."

        1. Eddy Ito

          Re: New internet law needed...

          Well, word_merchant, you've got a fundamental problem. That problem is that while the Nazis will be long remembered in a very few decades people will say "VHS? Beta-what?"

          First it ignores the fact that the "wrong" format didn't win. VHS won for a very simple reason. It's a lot like evolution, it's not a battle of the best fit in the sense of strongest but the one that best fits the role. The role was recording as much as possible at a watchable resolution. Betamax gave at most 5 hours and VHS gave 8 to 12. It wasn't a contest. Sure Betamax may have been technically better but for all practical purposes VHS gave folks more of what they wanted and what they wanted was to not have to worry about changing the tape in the middle of the Super Bowl having gone to work an hour before kickoff. Yeah, delayed start wasn't an initial feature and there was no accounting for overtime "back in the day" and even for the folks who had such features, the clock always flashed <blink>12:00</blink> because "it was too complicated" to set the clock once they lost the remote, more than likely to one too many glasses of wine which let the magic smoke out but I digress.

          No, the law you're looking for one where better will always lose out to more. Go to any restaurant in America and notice the portion is about twice what you'd normally eat. It doesn't matter what it tastes like, it's all about more not better. It's a 20/80 rule, 20% more will trump 80% better.

          1. bazza Silver badge

            Re: New internet law needed...

            @Eddy Ito,

            Marvellous post. To add to it, it's also worth pointing out that Betamax remained a viable thing for those who wanted it long after VHS "won". They've only just stopped making the tapes.

            The phone market is seems to be more about ensuring that there is no choice. What we need is open hardware standards, something that has given choice in the PC market. Android is just about viable as an open OS, despite Google's gouging of the market with their proprietary Play Services binary blob. If Google take Android proprietary (they're developing their own kernel it seems) then the phone market is doomed. Google, Apple, or go hang.

            Google may be about to cock it up; they're already being probed in Europe for anticompetitive practices in their control of the Android market. They could cop a big fine from that and be forced to give Play Services away for free, without let or hindrance. But if they take Android proprietary and shut out everyone else, even the myopic competition authorities in the USA can't fail to spot the problem with that. Bell got broken up, IBM nearly so. It's getting closer to time to do this same with Google.

          2. jake Silver badge

            Re: New internet law needed...

            "Go to any restaurant in America and notice the portion is about twice what you'd normally eat."

            Absolutely incorrect. It's probably not exactly what I'd call "food", but the portions aren't that big in the vast majority of eateries on this side of the pond.

          3. TeeCee Gold badge

            Re: New internet law needed...

            Simpler than that even.

            Betamax was owned by Sony and anyone wanting to make a compatible player or tape had to pay a license fee per unit to Sony.

            VHS was owned by JVC and offered on a free use basis.

            By the time Sony woke up, smelled the coffee and cancelled their rakeoff, it was too late. World + Dog was already churning out VHS stuff en masse.

            Note also that while Beta was better in picture terms, VHS murdered it in sound. Technically it's a one-all draw.

            1. JimboSmith Silver badge

              Re: New internet law needed...

              Don't forget Pr0n, VHS had that and Betamax to the best of my knowledge didn't. Something to do with Sony being a bit Mary Whitehouse about it wasn't it.

            2. c3me
              Big Brother

              Re: New internet law needed...

              So the analysis is Betamax vs. VHS: perceived qualities + Sony licence fee < perceived qualities + no JVC licence fee. And that looks like the same problem BB Android device has vs. all other Android devices vs. iPhones. Can't hit the right price point for the consumer. And that, if I remember correctly, was also an issue in Betamax vs. VHS.

        2. bazza Silver badge

          Re: New internet law needed...

          And there's probably a saying about people who name laws of commentary after themselves...

          The rule about technical mediocrity winning has severe consequences for tech companies. There's hints that 4k TV won't sell because most of the market place cannot see the point of it. 3D is dead (though it's doubtful it was 'better'). HD TV sells well because that's all there is these days, but most of what people watch is SD upscaled, or terribly over compressed streamed video from the Internet.

          Decent HiFi sound systems are a thing of the past too really, just a few small manufacturers hanging on in there. Who needs HiFi when what is being listened to is compressed, and anyway isn't the kind of noise where the lack of clarity is apparent.

          But there is still at least the choice out there for the those who want it.

          Why the Phone Market is Different

          What seems to be different about the phone market is that there is zero acceptance at all for the niche manufacturer who wants to serve that part of the market which does care about something being better. Everyone is so fixated on being the next Apple or Samsung. No one seems to chase the part of the market where there's people who'd pay extra for something better. So we've ended up with Apple and Samsung which between them produce so much "Meh", and everyone else who try and produce very similar things but succeed in produce slightly crummier handsets (hence the phrase landfill Android). The only reason we don't use the phrase landfill iPhone is because they cost so much and are too thin to brim the refuse dump, but really the quality has been poor for some time now.

          At least BlackBerry are trying to be something better than just another Android manufacturer. They're lightning fast with Android updates, something that no other non-Google Android manufacturer bothers with. They're often beating Google too. They're prepared to stick in a large battery. They're prepared to add software that is truly useful on top - Hub is by far the best mail / everything aggregater out there. A keyboard that's also a track pad and finger print reader is a great idea; so much better than stabbing away at a touchscreen trying to position a cursor.

          All these things add up to something better at its core, not just something that has an expensive case.

          If BlackBerry fail there'd be no choice left. And if rumours of Google's intention to make Android proprietary come true there would then be no choice at all.

          1. eclairz

            Re: New internet law needed...

            The reason the phone market has zero acceptance, is due to risk management. Since all companies are publicly owned they rely on funds from shareholders. If they take too many risks then shareholders will leave as many are risk adverse. The markets have created echo chambers where companies are seen to be better if you slowly trudge along, than risk going for first but ending up last. Generally all these companies are at fault for putting the same phone in front of the public.

            Capitalist societies tend to duopolies for this reason, but the reason Hi-Fi companies still exist is because these companies are being run by families and partnerships and not by public shareholders who are willing to develop quality goods for discerning buyers, however when they sell them they have to sell it at a premium as they won't sell at the same quantities in order for them to re-invest for the next big research into the next project. Many people today though don't like paying over the odds because they love following the market leader because it's a safe choice which allows them to charge less than their competitors or similar to their competitors since they can win on revenue.

            So as phone development becomes cheaper I presume there will be smaller companies ready to hold the flag for building new phones with more interesting features other than a touch screen. My main worry is that someone will buy all the patents and people will need to wait for those patents to run out before these companies can start to make these new phones. So we might need to wait another decade or two before these new companies are able to start building the next generation of phones from niche companies. I know my mum would love a high quality flip phone as she just wants a simple phone which won't create a hundred miscalls from her pocket, there are a few people selling them but not at the same quality.

      2. alexmcm

        Re: The last chance saloon

        "Apple comes along with a phone that won't last a day, and sells millions of them based purely on the shininess of the product. And now that everyone considers it perfectly normal to have to charge up during the day"

        Still remember sitting in my Boss's office after he'd got an original iPhone and he had it plugged in charging *during the day*. I mean wtf, I'm thinking I charge my phone random evenings every few days when I feel like it.

        It'll never take off I thought, imagine having to constantly worry about whether your phone is charged. Ha Ha...oh....

      3. James 51

        Re: The last chance saloon

        I need to charge my S6 three times a day at the weekend. Surfing the web kills the battery worse than watching video. Just glad I was able to get a battery case.

  3. Your alien overlord - fear me

    " thinks the battery endurance is the phone's best feature" - oh dear.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Anything particularly wrong in thinking that a large battery is notable feature? Over in Apple land there's people who really, really want a fatter phone with longer battery life.

      There's a lot to like here I reckon - long battery life, Nougat (anyone else apart from Google got Nougat running?), regular OS updates (name any other Android manufacturer who does that, apart from Google, though even they don't always beat BlackBerry on that front), good camera, Blackberry Hub, sensible control over app permissions.

      For me the only off-putting thing is that it has a physical keyboard - I've long since gotten used to BlackBerry's excellent touch screen keyboard.

      1. Geoff Campbell

        Notable =/= Best

        The quote said the battery life was the phone's best feature.

        Long battery life is notable in the current market, sure, but when it's the best thing you can say about a phone, I'd say that is damning with faint praise, personally.


  4. quxinot Silver badge

    Nope. Sorry.

    I do like the idea of a true keyboard. But I've had a phone that RIM was behind previously. Lovely ideas in theory. In practice?

    Yeah. Not having another.

  5. Deltics

    Photo's seem at odds with the observations

    Either the camera was being particularly unkind or those close ups don't actually give the impression of the build quality alluded to in the commentary/review/article.

    Quite the opposite in fact. It's looked like a plastic toy/knock off. Or is it just me ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Photo's seem at odds with the observations

      Not just you, I thought the same thing. Either the lighting was terrible or it looks like something that should be in the $100 bargain bin.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Photo's seem at odds with the observations

      The top reminds me of a Leica M Series. I have to say, they were expensive and didn't sell very well either. Having the best 21mm wideangle lens for 35mm film in the world didn't overcome the price ticket shock.

  6. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    Well, just as long as you'll get proper support.

  7. wolfetone Silver badge

    This isn't a BlackBerry though.

    1. XenonXZ

      No it isn't, it's just another Android phone.

      There is no choice in the market anymore.

      They would probably have better luck with new BBOS10 devices, if facebook and whatsapp hadnt of dropped support anyway...

      BBOS10 is / awesome.

      I liked Blackberry phones because they were different and I didn't want yet another Android piece of crap / isheepphone

      The phone market is sh*t now and its sad.

  8. Jah

    Nokia Communicator?

    As we seem to want to hark back to the golden age of mobiles, why can't we have an Android powered Communicator or better still a Psion 5?

    1. Down not across Silver badge

      Re: Nokia Communicator?

      Personally I'd want EPOC (ie. Symbian) based communicator (if Nokia decided to go there after 3110) or at least with just Linux without the Android crud on top. Or a choice, which brings us to your second wish. You may be able to get modern version of Psion 5.

  9. Clive Galway

    Would give my left nut for a landscape slider

    The HTC Touch series were the absolute pinnacle of design IMHO.

    But no, everyone is obsessed with how thin a phone is these days, so sod all chance of that :(

    If you are gonna do a QWERTY as well, may as well have a dedicated number row.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Quality FAIL

    Sorry, but that keyboard looks cheap and nasty. There's no way I'd blow ~£500 on one.

    (I'll still with my DTEK-50 thanks, which BB have been pushing recently for well under £300)

  11. Simulacra75

    Blackberry keyboard on Android

    If anyone would like to experience the Blackberry "soft" keyboard on Android, check out Blackberry keyboard by cobalt. Have it running on my Samsung S7 and it's a joy to use, especially the predictive "swipe up" feature. YMMV

    1. wolfetone Silver badge

      Re: Blackberry keyboard on Android

      My BlackBerry Z10 was showing it's age, and budgets dictated I bought a cheaper replacement. Ended up with the Wileyfox Spark X (great phone for £150!). The problem is I have struggled with the keyboard.

      But you! YOU BEAUTIFUL HUMAN BEING YOU! Thank you for recommending this. I can finally type properly like I used to on my Z10.

      If I could give you a kiss I would. But have a pint instead.

      1. Simulacra75

        Re: Blackberry keyboard on Android

        Erm, don't drink and Mrs. Sim might object to the kissing! Enjoy the keyboard. Only way to type once you get used to it.

    2. bengoey49

      Re: Blackberry keyboard on Android

      I can't find Blackberry keyboard on Playstore. Where did you get it from and how ? I have used Z10 and Passport and missed the excellent Blackberry keyboard on Android phone ( the original Wileyfox swift ) , the swipe up feature and the fact that I can use two languages (English and Indonesian) without having to change from one language to another constantly are very good.

      Thank you for the information.

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