KeyOne - Uh, Yeah
The Market Ticker - Commentary on The Capital Markets
2017-06-19 07:00 by Karl Denninger
in Product Reviews , 459 references Ignore this thread
KeyOne - Uh, Yeah
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No, I didn't buy one.  Yet.

But one of the "regulars" around the Ticker sent me his to review.

If you want the 30-second review it's this, assuming you're looking for a new phone: Buy it and get a case for it.

Now on to the details.... for comparison I am using my DTEK60, which I've had since launch -- and like a lot, six+ months into owning it.

The first thing that jumps out is the multi-color LED on the front.  Boy, do I miss that from my Priv on the DTEK60.

The next thing that jumps out at you is size and mass -- it's basically the same size and mass as the DTEK60.  A bit thicker and heavier, but almost exactly the same physical size.  It feels good in the hand and has a somewhat-grippy back, but more on that in a few minutes.  Note: The DTEK60 is slimmer.  With a case, it's roughly the same as the K1.  So if you add a case, the K1 will be thicker than the DTEK60.

I set it up initially without a SIM in it, but as soon as I stuck my T-Mobile SIM in the device it found it and immediately connected -- including for VoLTE and WiFi calling.  No muss, no fuss, no screwing around.

In-hand I had one immediate complaint -- it's very easy to accidentally hit the convenience key.  Fortunately I don't find it very useful, so I don't have it set to anything. IMHO they should have put the SIM tray where the convenience key is, moved the volume rocker up and the convenience key right under it.  Other than that, no complaints with physical button locations and similar.  The build quality is excellent -- no complaints there at all.

The fingerprint scanner is insane.  It's fast, it's accurate and it's right where your thumb falls.  Grab the phone "as you would to use it" and it unlocks. Nice.  Of course fingerprints are nowhere near as secure as a password or even a picture password (which the phone also supports), but they're faster and more-convenient.  You choose.

When it showed up the battery was at 90%.  I intentionally did not plug it in -- not for setup, not for anything else -- to see how long it would go.  The next morning it was at 22%, and I was not kind to the battery, using it as I "usually do" plus doing all the setup and download things that come with a new phone.  There's no way I would have gotten away with that on any other device I've ever owned.  The second day, with extremely heavy use including some video streaming and a short (less than one hour) charge session left me with 77% (!) at 5:00 PM (8 hours of "off-charge" time and ~2 hours of SOT), for some points of comparison.  I then ran a race, with (bluetooth) music, played as usual with it (including pictures) afterwards, used it the rest of the evening and went to bed without plugging it in.  The next morning it was at 55%!  I ran all day with it, came home around 3:30 PM and it was at 26%.

Yeah, it's that insane when it comes to battery life.

There's been some garfing about signal strength on the 'net, so I went to some trouble to check that out.  Here's the deal folks, in short: buy a case.

The phone has a metal exterior and direct contact in the "wrong way" with certain parts of it (including the bottom bezels, which is how you have to hold it to talk on it!) does impact signal strength.  Grab the phone with a paper bag wrapped around it (so there's no electrical contact with your fingers) and the problem instantly disappears.

Remember the iPhone4?  Yep.  Get a case. You probably want one anyway both for screen and main camera cover glass protection.  I recommend the Incipio DualPro.  No, I don't have one, but I bet that completely resolves the signal complaints, if you have them.  Driving around I saw no problems with signal in my carphone holder, but I can easily force the phone off LTE in my house or in a bar I frequent (and onto HSPA+) with nothing more than hand placement.  I'd love to scream about this but the fact is that metal case phones are subject to this sort of problem -- all of them -- because your hand materially changes the resonant frequency of the metal and can thus cause the antenna to be "detuned."

Incidentally when it comes to damage risk remember this device is not water resistant.  Don't get it wet.  And don't let it fall on the screen or camera cover; both risks every phone has and no, neither is a warranty issue.  With the screen going basically right to the side rails if you drop it and it falls so the screen gets hit the odds of it breaking are very high -- almost exactly as is true for every other device on the market today.  Thus, get a case is not just an RF thing, it's a "don't break your $500 phone" thing.

Since I never run a phone "naked" anyway I don't care.  You might, but IMHO if you do you're a fool.  Just buy a case and be done with it.

To put objective context on this I put both my DTEK60 and the KeyOne in the exact same location on my desk and used the same SIM card sequentially.  Then I turned on the app LTE Discovery, which shows you signal in dBM.  Here it is; see if you can tell which is which -- both are on the same tower and band, with readings taken a couple of minutes apart. (there's a giveaway if you know what to look for -- oh well ;-)) (Note the TAC: 33363 in both cases -- same tower)

For what its worth the signal in my house sucks and always has.  We don't have Band 12 here due to problems with Eglin AFB (they've got stuff in the same frequency area so T-Mobile can't turn it up) and I'm right along a shoreline where of course they don't care much for signal power.  Step outside and it's better, go up the road and I have full bars.  In the house?  Meh.  Our LTE around here is on a mix of Band 2 and 4 (PCS and AWS bands) which are notorious for having building penetration problems, especially if the building is made out of brick or (materially worse) any sort of metal cladding.

How about driving around and just using it in daily life?  It gets better reception than my DTEK60.  In particular there's a location near the local air-force base that is a true torture-test for phones, with every device I've ever owned having trouble. The DTEK60 can hold a call and data signal there, but it's not great.  The KeyOne consistently outperforms it by 4-5db in that immediate area -- in a car clip, in the same location, on the same road.

So yes, you do need a case on this thing, if for no other reason than it prevents you from changing the antenna resonance and hurting your RF.  Will you be grossly unhappy without one?  Maybe, maybe not -- but with a case from my experience it will be fine.

The vibrator motor isn't real strong; about the same as every newer phone I've had.  The days of the Z30 and Passport are over, but it's comparable to the Priv or DTEK60.  I miss my "rock your world" vibrator motors, but to get that you need bigger, and, well, that takes up space that is occupied by other things.  Like the battery.  Oh well, tradeoffs are what they are and I'll take this one and not bitch.

How about the camera?  It has much better low-light performance than the DTEK60.  In other respects its similar, but if you're unhappy with the imaging on this thing IMHO you need something better than a phone camera -- which I usually do have with me if I think shooting pictures is part of whatever I intend. The KeyOne is able to shoot passable pictures in near darkness; yes, they will be (maybe very) grainy, but it can shoot in light you can barely see in.  It focuses quickly and accurately and in any sort of rational lighting the shots are fantastic.

This is easily the nicest camera on a BlackBerry simply on the available light performance.  Think Priv + excellent low-light, limited by sensor noise rather than inability to get an exposure.  You won't be unhappy.

The internal speaker is ok; it's on the bottom right.  Volume-wise it's approximately the same as my DTEK60.  It will not win awards but it is serviceable for its intended purpose; speakerphone calls and sounding alerts (e.g. incoming calls, texts, etc.) BTW unlike the DTEK60 it has no "overdrive" problems on calls (which can, and does, lead to "broken up" speech on the DTEK60 -- absent on the K1.  Thank you TCL.)

Call quality on the handset itself is good; no muffling or audibility problems worthy of note, and it connects without trouble to my car Bluetooth.

The charge rate on a QC3.0 charger is jaw-dropping; easily the fastest I've encountered.  Gc says it's able to pull and stash right near 3,000ma out of the cord for the "bulk" phase of the charge, and it doesn't get materially warm doing so either; battery temp never goes over 100F.  Basically to go from almost-dead to ~65% (at which point the power draw and thus heating start to cut back) is a roughly half-hour exercise.  The DTEK60 is good at picking up charge but the KeyOne is better by a decent margin, and since it sips power to start with the winner on this is clear.

On standby GC's battery status shows single digit milliamp drain figures on WiFi and numbers in the mid 20ma range on LTE.  That's dramatically less than the DTEK or Priv series phones which typically idle in the ~20-30ma range on WiFi and ~40-50ma on LTE.  Some of this may be due to Nougat, and thus over time filter into other handsets, but it's a dramatic difference and thus worthy of note.  I suspect most of it is due to the low-power SOC (chipset) in there.  Whatever is responsible it makes a hell of a difference.

Between the battery life (nutty good; if you can kill it in a day of actual use you're way more aggressive than I've ever been, and I'm aggressive with my use) and insanely-fast charging this is the first smartphone I've ever had that can be charged "ad-hoc", without carrying a portable power bank, without risk of a flat battery at a bad time.  In other words rather than charging it "nightly" while you sleep, or "whenever I'm near a cord" as is necessary for most phones so long as you are in your car (or at your desk, etc) for ~20-30 minutes every day or so plugging it in on an ad-hoc basis is more than good enough since it burns power very slowly but picks it up at a crazy-fast rate.  This translates into using far less than a full cycle on the battery in a given day and that should translate into much better battery life before a decrease in usable capacity on the battery requires replacement.  Oh, and you can replace it reasonably-easily, if you saw my previous article on this point.

Performance?  Up the middle.  Can I make it "stutter" or be less-than-smooth?  Yep.  There were a few times I hit something on the screen and nothing appeared to happen.  A second or three later, it does.  This is part of the lower-power processor but also the missing gb of RAM against my DTEK60 - 3Gb instead of 4.  Is the trade-off for the battery life worth it? I think so.  It streams media just fine; I watched Youtube videos, some MLB baseball and a few other things and never had an issue with any of them.  But if the question is "can you get ahead of it", the answer is definitely yes, you can.

I like the screen; it's IPS, and that contributes (mightily!) to the lower power consumption.  OLED has a material edge in saturation (although not color accuracy) but the more of it is lit the more power it draws, and what's worse every pixel lit contributes heat to the phone too. IPS screens are backlit with an array of LEDs and the power drain (and heating) is controlled by the brightness, which sounds like the same thing but it's not -- it's a constant and most of the time this means the IPS screen wins large on the power burn budget.  Thus, if you care about power consumption, that's what you use, and you sacrifice the modest (but real) increase in deep blacks.  There were no problems viewing it outdoors either -- it beat my DTEK60 in that regard, which simply runs out of illumination (being OLED) in bright outdoor conditions.

How about the keyboard itself?  It's not the Passport.  I wish it was, but it simply isn't; it's smaller. It is materially better than the Priv.  I love the scrolling and the fingerprint scanner is great.  BlackBerry included the "sym" key (thank you!) which pops up the virtual keyboard with symbols in most places, and when it pops up it can be quickly switched to on-screen letters if you wish, but of course then it takes up part of the screen.  I adapted back to the physical keyboard quite quickly, but I'm torn -- it really is much faster and more accurate most of the time than a virtual keyboard, but is it enough to make the sale standing alone?  For some people absolutely yes, but for me, I'm not sure.  I do like it -- don't get me wrong -- but it's not the "must buy for this feature" trigger that some people have.

What I can tell you from using it now for a bit is that I could actually write Tickers on this phone.  More to the point, if I have to use a remote shell into something, I can.  That's a big deal; it's VERY hard to do this accurately on a VKB because the screen consumption issue becomes very real and nasty very fast, along with the risk of a false press which, in some circumstances, is catastrophic.  I literally tore my hair out in the backcountry, on a trail, a couple of months ago when I needed to do some maintenance work on a box, on an emergency basis, right here, right now.  The KeyOne would have made that same event a non-issue.  If you have any use case where something like an accidentally-pressed "return" key is an instant disaster -- and that is always a risk with a VKB -- then the KeyOne is the only phone now on the market that you should consider owning.  Period.

Oh, and the shortcuts... oh my.  Want to run a completely blank home screen?  You can.  Or one full of widgets.  The keyboard makes shortcut callups of any app or function you want trivial.  I loved this on the Passport and it's back, in spades.  The Priv had it but it was useless as you had to flip up the keyboard first.  Not here.  Short and long press, two functions.  Damn, I missed that and it's great to have it.  (e.g. press the "e" key, get EMAIL.  Press "B", get BBM.  Etc.)

There are two versions of note if you're in the United States.  One is compatible with Verizon, the other not.  The one compatible with Verizon is allegedly missing one of AT&T's bands (17), but Band 17 is actually Band 12 minus the lowest frequency subset, and 12 is in there.  What this means is that theoretically the Verizon-compatible phone should be fully compatible with T-Mobile and AT&T as well.  You do give up some outside-US bands on the Verizon-compatible device you'd otherwise have, so if you travel outside the US check the bands in the device carefully to see which unit is "more compatible" with where you travel.  Likewise, if you're on AT&T you might have trouble with their extended-range (low frequency) LTE on the Verizon device -- or you might not.  The unit I have is the GSM (not-Verizon) one, so I can't verify whether there's a potential compatibility issue with the Verizon-capable unit, but if not the ability to "hop" between all three primary US carriers is definitely worth consideration.

So will I buy one, now that I have to send this one back to its owner?


I want to know first if the Verizon-compatible one is fully operational on T-Mobile -- including VoLTE and WiFi calling.  I assume yes, but you know what they say about assuming, right?  So I want someone to play guinea pig, or I want to buy it somewhere I can try it and, if it doesn't come up immediately for both, say "no" and not pay.  That's one of my big things here, because I believe network mobility is important and thus being able to to buy a true "any carrier" phone has real value to me.  There aren't many in the marketplace (a couple of Motorola models) today but if the CDMA-capable KeyOne is one of those devices it's an instant and monstrous selling point.

Second, I don't need a new phone right now.  Do the KeyOne's advantages make it worthwhile to buy one given that my DTEK60 is perfectly serviceable?  IMHO, not really.  The one really big deal is the battery life - there's nothing on the market that gets anywhere close in my experience.  Next up is the keyboard and camera improvements.  They're all real but are they $550 worth of improvement over a very nice device I like now?  IMHO, no.  

On the other hand if/when the DTEK60 takes a crap, or if I decide I want Verizon compatibility, then the picture changes quite materially.  Then I'm "naturally" in the market and it's very, very hard to make the argument against the KeyOne having the build quality, battery life, performance in the real world (not the "fanboi" spec games, but real world performance) and a package that is worthy of the asking price.  The only real shortcoming I can find with the device is the lack of water resistance, but that would be quite the accomplishment on a device with a PKB -- and the so-called "water resistance" isn't a guarantee anyway.  I've yet to see any manufacturer back their claims of IP-whatever water resistance with their warranty -- in other words, if you drown it they eat it.  Let me know when that happens and I'll consider such claims to be "real"; until then such marketing claims are twaddle, especially if they entice you to be less-than-careful with your phone when it comes to water exposure!

In short: Highly recommended - but get a case for it.  You want one anyway.  Both Best Buy and Spamazon have them but I am very interested in whether the Verizon-capable unit, when it ships, will also work (fully) on T-Mobile.

Update: I now have a report from a user on Crackberry who has stuck a T-Mobile SIM in the "Verizon" model and it is fully functional -- in fact, that's how he's using it as his primary device.  So yeah, that looks to be the one to buy if you're interested -- it's the "-3" suffix model.

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