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19th of July 2018

Gadgets



This Killer Feature Is Why You Should Buy a BlackBerry Key2

BlackBerry Key2 810

Who's listening in on you? With the BlackBerry Key2, you'll know. The new phone's most obvious feature is its keyboard, but I think the Key2 speaks uniquely to this moment when we're all suspicious of Facebook, Google, and our phone makers in terms of who they're handing data out to and why.

Privacy-focused phones have been around for years, but the topic has only really broken out into the mainstream in the past six months. We've seen scandals about Facebook sharing data with research firm Cambridge Analytica and phone makers, about possible spying going on in Washington, D.C., and a worldwide web convulsion around GDPR, Europe's big new privacy law.

Apple hammered the privacy issue at WWDC, pointing out how its Safari browser is going to prevent sites (like ours) from tracking you around the web to serve you advertising. BlackBerry's Key2 is perfectly positioned to become the only Android phone for people who want to keep their data safe, thanks to three "key" features.

First, the phone alerts you when apps try to use "suspicious" permissions in the background—and you can set what those suspicious permissions are. If something lurking around in your system tries to use your microphone, for example, you'll see a pop-up. That's reassuring.

BlackBerry Key2 Privacy

Hopefully, by launch, BlackBerry will learn how to spell 'microphone.'

Second, the phone has the best "secure locker" implementation in the business. Samsung's phones also have password-protected, secure folders. But BlackBerry lets you shoot photographs directly into the secure locker, bypassing automatic cloud uploads, and it comes with Firefox Focus installed into the locker, for privacy-safe browsing. That's a step ahead of the defaults on other Android phones.

Finally, the whole thing is hardened. Now, this actually infuriates Android geeks who want to get the latest features, because it dramatically slows down BlackBerry's implementation of major new Android versions like the upcoming Android P. (It doesn't slow down security updates, which arrive monthly.) But look at this slide, which, for consumers, is all about protecting you against outside hacking:

BlackBerry Security Slide

BlackBerry phones are made by TCL in China, and the OS is Android from California, but all of the security software is made, verified, and signed by BlackBerry in Canada. I think there are pretty good arguments to be made for calling in the Canadians to double-check both Chinese and American products right now.

Can BlackBerry Make Security Pay?

As I said before, previous security-focused Android phones haven't sold. Blackphone is no longer available in the US. Sikur didn't take off. The BlackBerry Priv and KeyOne didn't sell many units. But timing matters as much as anything else, and privacy is in the news now in ways that it wasn't previously.

Apple definitely pitches its iPhones with a bit of a privacy focus, but it's hard to tell whether that actually moves any devices in the context of the very broadly differentiated iOS platform. I know that here on PCMag, we see a lot of readers who are as suspicious of Apple as they are of any other trillion-dollar tech giant, whether or not that's warranted.

The big question is whether BlackBerry has the marketing competence to capitalize on this. The company hasn't announced any US carrier partners or a big advertising push. Americans generally won't buy expensive phones that don't have carrier-sponsored monthly payment plans.

GlobalData Analyst Avi Greengart, at the Key2 launch, suggested that the company needs social media influencers: YouTube and Instagram celebrities who are concerned about being hacked and about data security, and who promote the BlackBerry as the phone they feel safe on. They need people like Aurora Snow, for instance.

You can take photos directly into the secure fingerprint-controlled locker on the Key2, avoiding cloud services, making this the best phone for your nudes. pic.twitter.com/FLjZY6Ms4D

— saschasegan (@saschasegan) June 7, 2018

BlackBerry has said they only want 3-5 percent of the global phone market. There has got to be 3 percent of people out there who want to feel a little safer. Doesn't there?

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