On-screen keyboards and massive screens are nice. But there is something to be said for a physical keyboard.
While options are fewer these days, manufacturers are starting to realize that for people who love to text, email, or even write with their phones, a QWERTY keyboard is a big deal.
In this roundup, we'll look at popular options which combine the power of a modern smartphone with the typing prowess of the phones of yesteryear.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for 2020.
Best Premium Keyboard Phone
Pros: Tactile physical keyboard, all-day battery, premium design, microSD support, great security options
Cons: Cost, so-so camera, odd resolution, dim display
BlackBerry has a history of making great keyboards. Most reviewers feel the Key2 continues this legacy, with CrackBerry saying, "The KEY2 keyboard, in my opinion, is among one of the best BlackBerry keyboards ever built on a BlackBerry smartphone."
If you're looking to fire off emails quickly or read content online the 4.5-inch screen running at 1080p with a 3:2 screen ratio offers an excellent experience. However, some reviewers found the squarish ratio awkward for video playback and gaming.
The phone won't win any benchmarks for gaming in 2019 with its 2.2Ghz octa-core processor but the 6GB of RAM helps to make productivity and multitasking smooth and snappy.
The camera also won't win awards but is capable of taking decent shots with good lighting. However, autofocus is disabled by default, so if you're looking to snap quick pictures, you'll probably want to turn it on.
Other notable features include microSD support, up to two days of battery life on a single charge, USB Type-C charging, and BlackBerry's additional security options.
If you're looking for a texting or productivity powerhouse, the BlackBerry Key2 brings the best of BlackBerry's QWERTY keyboards into a modern format and adds the flexibility of the full Android experience.
Best Premium Keyboard Phone Runner Up
Pros: Great keyboard, solid display, all-day battery life, excellent security,
Cons: Subpar camera, occasional sluggishness
Offering a large portion of the experience of the pricier Key2, this "lite" model makes a few compromises to shave a serious portion off the price of the phone.
Reviewers loved the keyboard as expected for a BlackBerry. However, they also felt the compromises were well planned. The plastic frame still felt sturdy, the different display panel still offered plenty of clarity with a 1080p resolution and a 3:2 screen ratio designed to help make reading and writing emails and articles easier.
With only 4GB of RAM, multitasking isn't quite as smooth and the 1.8Ghz octa-core Snapdragon 636 keeps things moving but reviewers questioned how well the phone would age as requirements continue to increase for newer apps.
Finally, the camera won't win any awards. But it's plenty capable of the occasional snapshot or document scan.
With a range of smart compromises, the Key2 LE offers a compelling argument for keeping physical keyboards on mobile devices. However, if you can afford the standard Key2, it will likely age better.
Best Budget Keyboard Phone
Pros: Great keyboard, sharp display, all-day battery life, ample storage
Cons: Mediocre camera, so-so performance, out of date Android version
As the predecessor of the Key2, the KeyOne received great reviews upon its release. Its age is showing a bit in the specs, but it's still a very capable phone and one of the most affordable keyboard phones on the market.
The 2Ghz octa-core Snapdragon 635 processor handles productivity and social media apps easily but falls a bit short for a compelling gaming experience. With 3GB of RAM, multitasking is possible but not exactly snappy according to reviews.
The BlackBerry KEYOne is certainly scaled back compared to many of 2019's newest releases, but at the same time, it's a fraction of the price. If you're looking for an affordable option to access a full QWERTY keyboard on a smartphone it is an excellent choice.
4. F(x)tec Pro1
Best Slider Keyboard Phone
Pros: Excellent keyboard, respectable performance, OLED display, optimized Android for landscape use, support for other operating systems, dual SIM, performance, good battery life
Cons: Slightly heavy, thick design
If you prefer your keyboard in a slider configuration, options were very slim until recently. The F(x)tec Pro1 features a design that might remind you of the Sidekick of yesteryear.
When the keyboard is out, the screen sits at a 155-degree angle. Many reviewers noted this was great for watching videos without needing an extra kickstand or case. Better still, the 1080p OLED received high marks for colour, contrast and brightness as well.
The phone uses a Snapdragon 835 processor. While not the newest option available, that puts it above the performance of the other picks in this roundup. If you're looking to play games or really dive into multitasking, this phone should offer great performance.
Reviews on the camera are hard to find. However, with a dual-lens design, it should offer an experience on par -- if not better than -- the rest of the phones on this roundup as well.
Reviewers expect to see the phone updated to Android 10. However, expect this to take some time as F(x)tec has optimized the interface for use in landscape mode.
If you're looking for a powerful modern smartphone with a retro slider keyboard, the F(x)tec Pro1 appears to be in a class of its own. The only concern is that the phone is the manufacturer's first release. However, it ships with a mostly up-to-date version of Android and respectable specs. So even if updates are slow, the phone should age gracefully.
Get It From: F(x)tec
Learn More: Full Review
1. Why Choose a QWERTY Keyboard Phone?
There isn't a straightforward answer here. It's mostly up to what you prefer.
Physical keyboards provide a different kind of feedback when using your phone and some people simply prefer them to software screens with no texture or limited haptic feedback.
However, there is one more advantage -- screen real estate.
Without a software keyboard popping up all the time, you can enjoy your apps across your full screen, even when typing messages or entering text.
In the case of phones like the BlackBerries and F(x)Tec Pro1, they also offer a ton of shortcuts and customizations that allow you quickly launch apps or activate features using keyboard shortcuts.
2. Aren't BlackBerries Outdated?
BlackBerry was a hugely successful and innovative company before the age of smartphones. Unfortunately, smartphones gave just about every phone the same capabilities as a BlackBerry and they didn't fare well in the transition.
However, today's BlackBerry releases have adopted Android and added extra features on top. This makes them as capable as any other Android phone and has come a long way toward making the brand relevant again.
They're still productivity-focused. So you won't find a BlackBerry topping the gaming phone charts or camera phone charts anytime soon. But with their expanded security settings, physical keyboards, and 3:2 screen ratios, they offer an interesting alternative to more entertainment-focused devices.
- Best Premium Keyboard Phone: BlackBerry KEY2
- Best Premium Keyboard Phone Runner Up: BlackBerry KEY2 LE
- Best Budget Keyboard Phone: BlackBerry KEYOne
- Best Slider Keyboard Phone: F(x)tec Pro1
Still Not Sure?
Physical keyboards aren't for everyone. But for those that prefer them, they're an excellent way to make texting, emailing, or composing long pieces of text on your phone faster and more accurate.
While options are certainly more limited, there are a few manufacturers keeping this popular feature relevant as mobile devices continue to evolve.
You can also use our phone comparison tool to easily compare any phones you've been considering without having to juggle multiple tabs or dig through endless marketing speak.
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