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BlackBerry Key2 LE vs. BlackBerry Key2: Which productivity titan reigns supreme?

BlackBerry Key2 LE Hands On
Simon Hill/Digital Trends

Just months after TCL released the BlackBerry Key2, the smartphone manufacturer surprised us with a budget version of its handset. The Blackberry Key2 LE has many of the same features as its more expensive predecessor, yet comes in at $250 less.

If you have interest in the BlackBerry Key2, it may be worth considering the BlackBerry Key2 LE. Here’s how Blackberry’s latest budget handset compares to its current flagship.

Specs

BlackBerry Key2 LE BlackBerry Key2
Size 150.25 x 71.8 x 8.35 mm (5.92 x 2.83 x 0.33 inches) 151.4 x 71.8 x 8.5 mm (5.96 x 2.82 x 0.33 inches)
Weight 156 grams (5.50 ounces) 168 grams (5.92 ounces)
Screen size 4.5-inch IPS LCD 4.5-inch IPS LCD
Screen resolution 1,620 x 1,080 pixels (434 pixels per inch) 1,620 x 1,080 pixels (434 pixels per inch)
Operating system Android 8.1 Oreo Android 8.1 Oreo
Storage space 32GB, 64GB 64GB (U.S.), 128GB (International)
MicroSD card slot Yes Yes
Tap-to-pay services Google Pay Google Pay
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 Qualcomm Snapdragon 660
RAM 4GB 6GB
Camera Dual 13MP and 5MP rear, 8MP front Dual 12MP rear, 8MP front
Video 2,160p at 30 frames per second (fps) 2,160p at 30 frames per second (fps)
Bluetooth version Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.0
Ports 3.5mm headphone jack, USB-C 3.5mm headphone jack, USB-C
Fingerprint sensor Yes Yes
Water resistance No No
Battery 3,000mAh 3,500mAh
App marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Network support AT&T and T-Mobile AT&T and T-Mobile
Colors Gold, Gray, Red Black, Silver
Price $400 $650
Buy from BlackBerry BlackBerry, Amazon, Best Buy
Review score Hands-on review 4 out of 5

Performance, battery life, and charging

blackberry key2 both
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Sure the keyboard on the Blackberry Key2 and Key2 LE is nice, but how do the phones perform? The BlackBerry Key2 features a midrange Snapdragon Qualcomm 660 chip while the Key2 LE packs a slightly less powerful Qualcomm 636 processor. As for RAM, the Key2 has plenty, with 6GB on board, while the Key2 LE has 4GB. We think both these phones will perform well with everyday tasks, but the Key2 is a bit more powerful.

When it comes to battery life, there’s a slight difference between the Key2 and Key2 LE. On the Key2, you’ll find a 3,500mAh battery, while the Key2 LE packs a 3,000mAh battery. And while both phones feature quick charging, you won’t find wireless charging on either phone. Overall, both phones should have enough battery capacity to get you through a day of heavy use, though the Key2 has a definite edge.

The BlackBerry Key2 wins this round by a long shot. The Key2 features a better processor, more RAM, and a slightly larger battery to get you through the day.

Winner: BlackBerry Key2

Design and durability

Andy Boxall/Digitaltrends.com

For the most part, the design and build quality of the BlackBerry Key2 and Key2 LE are remarkably similar. Both phones have a 4.5 inch display and keyboard that dominate the front of the phone, along with an unremarkable back that features a dual camera module.

But if you look a little closer at the phones, you’ll see a slight difference. The BlackBerry Key2 frame is constructed of aluminum, while the Key2 LE has a less expensive polycarbonate frame. While the frame on the Key2 LE is lightweight and feels nice in the hand, we doubt it is as durable as the aluminum frame you’ll find on the Key2.

Although the BlackBerry Key2 and Key2 LE look nearly identical, the more expensive of the two has a slight edge. The aluminum frame alone makes the Key2 a more refined and durable option, although we also prefer its textured back.

Winner: BlackBerry Key2

Display

BlackBerry Key2 LE Hands On
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

For the most part, people who are considering the BlackBerry Key2 or Key2 LE probably aren’t overly obsessive about display quality. Since the keyboard is the main draw on these phones, the display comes in a bit smaller than most smartphones on the market.

Both the BlackBerry Key2 and Key2 LE have a 4.5 inch IPS display. Screen resolution on the phones is 1,620 x 1,080 pixels, which translates to a pixel-per-inch ratio of 434. The display is sharp on both of these phones and the color accuracy is excellent, but don’t expect the inky blacks and vibrant colors you’ll find on smartphones with OLED displays.

Since the displays are identical on the BlackBerry Key2 and Key2 LE, we’re calling this round a tie.

Winner: Tie

Camera

blackberry key2 camera pp
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

BlackBerry underwent a big camera upgrade for 2018. This year you’ll find dual cameras on both the BlackBerry Key2 and Key2 LE. While both phones are capable of getting some pretty good shots, there are a few differences between the two.

The BlackBerry Key2 has a 12 megapixel dual camera module with an f/1.8 aperture for the primary lens and an f/2.6 aperture for the secondary lens. The wide aperture on the primary lens means you should be able to get a decent photo in a variety of settings.

As for the Key2 LE, you’ll find a dual camera module with a 13 megapixel primary lens and a 5 megapixel secondary lens. The primary lens has an f/2.2 aperture, while the secondary lens comes in at f/2.4. Overall, the cameras on the Key2 LE should perform well in bright lighting, but don’t expect much in low-light conditions.

Although we haven’t had a chance to thoroughly test the cameras on the BlackBerry Key2 LE, we don’t believe they will compare with the Key2’s. This is one of the main compromises in the cheaper phone. For this round, we’re giving the crown to the BlackBerry Key2.

Winner: BlackBerry Key2

Software and updates

BlackBerry Key2 LE Hands On
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

When it comes to software, the BlackBerry Key2 and Key2 LE ship with Android 8.1 Oreo, along with BlackBerry Hub and DTEK, two suites of productivity and security apps. It’s not the most recent version of Android, but you can expect to see an Android 9.0 Pie update at some point in the future.

You’ll also find a number of new productivity features on the BlackBerry Key2 and Key2 LE. One significant update is to Locker, an app that allows you to securely store information on your phone. The Locker update now allows you to add apps to the secure storage area. Firefox Focus has also been added, allowing you to browse privately.

Overall, the software experience on the two phones is identical, so we’re calling this round a tie.

Winner: Tie

Keyboard

blackberry key2 both on box
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Let’s be honest, one of the main reason people consider buying BlackBerry smartphones is for the physical keyboard. Luckily, both the BlackBerry Key2 and Key2 LE have stunning keyboards.

At first glance, the keyboards on the Key2 and Key2 LE look identical. Both feature a roomy keyboard with the newly added Speed Key that allows you to quickly access apps. Though they look the same, there’s one key difference: The Key2 has a capacitive touch keyboard while the Key2 LE does not. With capacitive touch, the keyboard on the BlackBerry Key2 becomes an extension of the touchscreen, so you can easily use it to scroll through websites or swipe to select text. We think it’s a big miss for the Key2 LE.

For this round, the BlackBerry Key2 wins, because capacitive touch makes for a much more nimble keyboard than its low-cost competitor.

Winner: BlackBerry Key2

Price and availability

The Amazon starts at $650 for the least expensive model. The Key2 LE comes in at $400 for the entry-level option.

The BlackBerry Key2 is available now and works on AT&T and T-Mobile; support for Verizon and Sprint may be coming at some point in the future. The Key2 LE will go on sale in October and should be compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile’s networks.

Overall winner: BlackBerry Key2

Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends.com

The BlackBerry Key2 is the clear winner here. While it’s a little more expensive, the Key2 offers a beefier processor, more RAM, and a better camera and keyboard. The BlackBerry Key2 LE is an excellent alternative if you’re looking to save a little money, but there are a lot of compromises.

Steven Winkelman
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Steven writes about technology, social practice, and books. At Digital Trends, he focuses primarily on mobile and wearables…
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