back to article The BlackBerry in your junk drawer is now a collectors' item: TCL says no more new keyboard-clad phones

The humble BlackBerry (by TCL™) is dead. At least in its current incarnation. TCL Communication – which inked a licensing deal with the BlackBerry brand in December 2016 – today announced it would cease developing new keyboard-clad phones, effectively marking the end of an era in smartphone design. "As of August 31, 2020, TCL …

  1. TheRealRoland

    Better yet - beginning of the mope era.

    Am disappointed no new physical keyboard phones have been released past the Key2 / Key2LE :-(

    I'll be moping until one returns, and very reluctantly will be using some other phone :-(

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

      There have - the Fxtec Pro 1, and the Unihertz Titan

      1. TheRealRoland

        Nice. I did read a review on the FXtec that says i can use shortcuts on the physical keys. Yes, please, more of that.

        Has anyone read about that having that capability on the Unihertz Titan? I do like that format better than the landscape slider (reminds me of an old AT&T phone i used to have, can't remember the name)

        Also, would you be able to run the Blackberry apps on that machine, to make it behave more like the Passport or the KeyOne/Key2 ?

        And then then killer question... would Verizon allow this phone on their network.

        1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

          You can install the Blackberry apps on non Blackberry phones, but they're not free and can be run in ad supported or purchased mode.

          For some reason the keyboard app isn't available on my Fxtec Pro 1, though.

          1. seven of five

            The (very excellent) keyboard can be obtained via an 3rd party package from the crackberry forums. Sorry, won´t link to that.

            1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

              Excellent. Will experiment. Also, I do have the Priv still so I could extract it from that..

    3. Ian Entwistle

      Typing this on my cosmo communicator on its lovely keyboard...

      Look a little harder, they are out there..

      1. SWCD

        Too big, too big!

        Fxtec Pro 1.. Unihertz Titan..

        Cosmo Communicator..

        1 and 3 - far too big, folding/flipping things, too much work to pull out and just fire off a quick message on.. Necessary as well (I'd imagine) to use two hands.

        2 - the Titan - have one here after supporting it on Kickstarter. Man, it's HUGE, and the thing weighs a ton. Worst thing about it is the keyboard layout; Shift above the keyboard, making it difficult to press at the same time as a key underneath it.

        The BlackBerry keyboard was perfect.. The form factor the same as the majority of other phones :-(

        I'm stunned they didn't take off again to be honest. Everyone who ever asked about mine got same "Well, I get sick of making mistakes on touch-screens, pressing DELETE DELETE DELETE" etc.. They'd knowingly nod acknowledging it as a problem. Then they go buy another touch screen :-\

      2. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

        The issue with the communicator is that it isn't a phone. A keyboard phone should be able to be operated one handed for convenience, and then two handed with a keyboard.

        I'm not saying it isn't a decent device, but it's aimed at another market.

  2. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge
    Meh

    That's a shame

    I cannot type on a touch screen, the only way for me to write something on a smartphone is with an actual keyboard. I recently bought Key2 and hope it will serve me for two years or more, but eventually it will have to be replaced. Hope someone buys the IP rights to produce such phones elsewhere.

    1. darlingimp

      Re: That's a shame

      If you like the phone, you should be able to make it last for another 10. I am still using my Samsung Galaxy S2, almost 10 years. Stock up on some batteries. Buy another for parts and/or spare clone when #1 goes down.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: That's a shame

        Is there a market for a slim Bluetooth keyboard about the size of a smartphone that comes with or will fit into a folding case? Does something like that exist yet? Should I be emailing the patent office about now?

        1. billdehaan

          Re: That's a shame

          There's already quite a wide selection of these already.

          The average prices is about C$40; they've been around for years.

        2. Phil W

          Re: That's a shame

          There is a first part keyboard cover for the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge, i did have one for a while, but it's not fantastic. Better than using the touchscreen for those that can't handle that, but not as good as the keyboard on the Priv, or KeyOne and KeyTwo

  3. Matthew 25
    Unhappy

    Boo Hoo :.(

    This makes me very sad. All I really want is a replacement for my Q10 but a bit quicker and supported by apps. Just got a Nokia 7.2. Its a great phone but I miss the keyboard and it doesn't fit in my pocket.

    Hopefully, when TCL's contract is up Blackberry will re-enter the market with a real iPhone killer.....but I'm not holding my breath.

    1. Fred Goldstein

      Re: Boo Hoo :.(

      There have been some rumors on Crackberry that Blackberry may reenter the hardware business. Which presumably means hiring a contract manufacturer. That would be nice. I use a KeyONE and it's very good, but Verizon stopped supporting it a year ago, so there have been no firmware updates, not even security fixes. KeyTwo doesn't have CDMA. While Verizon no longer accepts CDMA-only non-LTE phones, its CDMA network is still running, and in many locations, especially indoors, only CDMA works.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. cornetman Silver badge

    My wife was looking at Key2 yesterday with an intention to probably get a second hand KeyOne.

    She currently uses a Blackberry Bold and likes the proper keypad. The Bold is getting a bit unreliable and she wants to use WhatsApp and the like.

    TCL TVs, here in Canada, seem to get generally good reviews, particularly for the quality and reliability of the machines, albeit at the budget end of the price range.

    Generally thought to offer good picture quality comparable to some of the more expensive brands.

  5. karlkarl Silver badge

    I am still happy with my Blackberry Bold(s).

    A big solid chunk of metal!

    I liked them so much that I have another 12 spare haha. That is probably enough for 2 generations?

    (also no creepy telemetry because the server is no longer online)

    The only problem is the battery; I only have 4 brand new. The rest are at around 70% efficiency. Unfortunately even brand new batteries degrade over time, even if they remain unused.

    1. TheRealRoland

      How are the bolds still working? 3G, and still have native apps? I had to drop my Passport, due to android getting older and some banking apps no longer being supported... And the KeyOne is getting long in the tooth as well. Finding a Key2 here that works / is approved on Verizon is difficult...

      1. TimMaher Bronze badge

        Right. That does it.

        Have just gone upstairs and dug out my old Bold.

        It was lurking beneath my old Moto Razr.

        It’s on power up now but I shall be putting a SIM in it and find out how well it is working.

        If I remember, I will report back.

        1. TimMaher Bronze badge

          Re: Right. That has done it.

          Bloody battery wont charge.

          At least they are removable.

          Will go t’interweb and see if replacements are available.

          Report back in a couple of days.

      2. tcmonkey

        Ahh, Passport. My heart bleeds for thee. A device I truly liked, taken too soon.

      3. karlkarl Silver badge

        I only use my Bold for calls and texts. I have actually never put it online ;)

        For that, I have an equally ancient Thinkpad haha.

        I personally doubt that the "app-store" is still running. I can confirm that I can still upload my own C++ programs to it (it has no developer DRM).

    2. cornetman Silver badge

      One of the issues that my wife is having with her Bold is that it seems to start getting confused when the battery is dying. She dares not switch it off otherwise she will often find that it won't switch back on again, without removing the battery and doing the "funny dance", even if it says there is plenty of charge left. Have replaced the battery a couple of times but it always seems to succumb to the gremlins eventually.

      Just getting a bit fed up of the unreliability.

  6. rcxb Bronze badge

    You can get a lot more work done with a physical keyboard, than without. Same goes for smaller screen sizes you can keep a solid grip on while operating one-handed. Seems everyone with huge glass phones are just watching videos on them and not doing any real work.

    The KeyOne came along at the right time, when my old slider was showing its age. Perhaps I'll get a Key2, and stick with it for years, waiting for the next phone with a keyboard to come out. Might not be a huge market, but it's a dedicated one. I think a slider (portrait keyboard) will get much more interest than a traditional Blackberry bar. But besides that, the KeyOne and Key2 didn't exactly get widely advertised. Give it to Apple, EVERYBODY knows when a new model is released.

  7. adfh

    So where does this leave folks like Typo that Blackberry went after in the past?

    So if Blackberry the company has gone more for services, and TCL the manufacturer who's licensed Blackberry brand for devices isn't going to make keyboards... does that mean that there's space in the market again for things like Typo's add-on physical keyboards?

    That said, I have a Cosmo Communicator that's going fairly well thus far.

    1. Rockets

      Re: So where does this leave folks like Typo that Blackberry went after in the past?

      I'm sure if nobodies making BlackBerry phones any more BB would happily license their keyboard patents to companies that want to try a Typo style device.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    TCL=malware

    TCL has a long sordid history of installing malware and unwanted programs on users devices.

    This is all well documented on the XDA Developer forums where users have vowed to never purchase any TCL/Alcatel phones in the future.

    It is also documented online how TCL has accessed users internal networks with DNS rebinding attacks from TCL clouds from preinstalled apps on TCL/Alcatel devcices.

    Last year researchers found pre-installed malware on TCL/Alcatel phones that were doing ad fraud and also signing users up for paid services without their knowledge. To this day TCL has not made an official statement regarding the malware.

    So, perhaps BlackBerry as a so-called "security" company made the decision to end it's contract with TCL. (And rightfully so)

    https://www.zdnet.com/article/malware-found-preinstalled-on-some-alcatel-smartphones/

    https://forums.malwarebytes.com/topic/241803-alcatel-pre-installed-malware/

    1. Rockets

      Re: TCL=malware

      My understanding of the licensing agreements between BlackBerry and the companies that licensed the branding & hardware patents from BlackBerry, there was 3 companies, was that BlackBerry would supply all the software - OS & apps. TCL was the largest of these companies. One was for India and the other for Indonesia, while TCL did the rest of the world. I was a long time BlackBerry user from the first colour screen models right up till the first Android handset they did with the Priv.

    2. karlkarl Silver badge

      Re: TCL=malware

      *All* phone manufacturers are skanky companies. I think they all add malware, DRM or other crap like that that works against the user. TCL is simply no different.

  9. DanceMan

    A somewhat obscure alternative

    My son got a Unihertz Titan and gave me one as well to replace my old Q10. It's like a large Q10, on Android. I will miss the Hub.

    1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

      Re: A somewhat obscure alternative

      How are you getting on with it? I have the Fxtec Pro1, but the Titan also has its attractions.

    2. TheRealRoland

      Re: A somewhat obscure alternative

      While the hub on BB10 was great, i still think the Hub on android is ok. better than having to deal with separate inboxes, etc.

      Are you using the Hub+ (Blackberry's Android version of the hub) on the Titan?

  10. Slions

    Looking for Qwerty? Go FxTec Pro1

    Looks like I'm one of the lucky few owning a Pro1 from that FxTec London startup. I can tell you guys that product is most impressive for a startup's first release. Go for it, it's well worth it if you are a Qwerty junky.

    Hopefully they will resume production once the virus scare has passed.

    1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

      Re: Looking for Qwerty? Go FxTec Pro1

      They've stopped due to Chinese New Year at the moment, not the virus scare, although that's perhaps a factor too.

  11. kirk_augustin@yahoo.com

    Physical keyboards are vastly superior to virtual keyboards where you get no tactile feedback when you commit a fat finger mistake. No comparison. The Blackberry was the best, and will be missed by all rational cellphone users.

    1. seven of five

      ACK. Had to surrender my Q10 in December, half a day of battery life, broken display and the dire need for dual SIM operation brought be to a fairphone 3. Decent device, btw. But even with hub+ und blackberry software keyboard, it is a mere shadow of what I lost.

      1. SWCD

        Key2..

        ..has a dual-SIM version.

        1. seven of five

          Re: Key2..

          Yes, for a hundred quid more with an older version of android. I really, really want 5+ years of life in my phone.

    2. Dave K Silver badge

      It's possible to get some tactile feedback, although not on the same level. Plenty of 3rd party keyboard apps allow a "vibrate on key press", so you do get a small amount of tactile feedback when you touch a key. Not saying it is the same, but could be worth trying to see if it helps you to find touch keyboards on phones a bit more palatable.

  12. Danny 5
    Unhappy

    Odd

    I've never been a huge fan of the BlackBerry, although they were very popular at my place of work when they got introduced, but I do feel a sense of sadness to hear we've seen the last of the keyboard clad smart devices. In the early days of mobile connectivity to the workplace, they were absolute trailblazers imho and it's an odd feeling to know their end has finally come. As an Exchange admin I had to deal with BES servers plenty of times, never caused any issues on my end though.

    Goodbye Blackberry, we never really got to know each other, but I'll miss you nonetheless.

  13. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

    Mixed feelings on this, and there are alternatives

    On the one hand it's a pity the very specific niche of secure keyboard phones will be no more.

    On the other hand I'm still annoyed that Blackberry dumped the Priv's security updates after two years. The hardware and software was good, the lack of updates unforgivable. That lack of customer service and ability to root meant I refused to move to the TCL Key series[1].

    Now I have an Fxtec Pro1, and there's also the Unihertz Titan on the market. The jury is still out on the Fxtec I'd say : the software is not as polished as Blackberry's and I really miss the word selection and ability to swipe in the Priv's keyboard (this may be able to be worked around with software) but the hardware quality is good. It's a landscape phone, which I love, but Android is the same now as it was about four years ago with certain apps only working in portrait despite Android UI guidelines.[2]

    [2] Wait! Just tried split screen mode and it works! Rotates the apps to portrait, with two at once in landscape mode. Brilliant.

    Still, the Fxtec is also rootable and there are builds of Sailfish and LineageOS available. I suspect I'll be happy once I've made a couple of Android customisations.

    [1] Granted, the Priv's hardware was also failing. Despite the fact it is fractionally over three years old, the GPS was frequently dropping out, the battery was in definite need of renewal, and occasional random reboots were a thing.

  14. obiwanconobi

    ah, the blockbuster of mobile devices, finally gone.

  15. Unicornpiss Silver badge

    TCL quality

    I can't speak for the Blackberry devices, but I've been buying TCL TVs for the company I work for, for the past 5 years or so. I started buying them due to the low cost and variety of inputs--HDMI, VGA, SVIDEO, and composite, all on one device. We use them for wall and productivity displays, and not a single one has failed, unlike pricier units from other manufacturers.

  16. sw guy

    No comment...

    ...from neither TCL nor BB, thus I will propose mine as a question.

    Regarding decision, how much weighted price of license itself ?

    1. SWCD

      Re: No comment...

      "No comment" is half their problem.

      I remember having had my KeyOne a while, thinking I wonder when they might release a Two. Looked online, it'd been out about a month.

      Great advertising! :-/

  17. Federica Monsone

    I've had Blackberry handsets since the trackpad was first launched. I still have all the ones I had (bar the first one actually), stored in a drawer. The combination of their form factors and the physical keyboards are way better than any of the alternatives around IMO. I don't want a large, heavy phone - I want something that still looks like a phone and not a phablet. My Key1 is still doing well a couple of years on. I hope that by the time it give up the ghost someone will have come up with a phone that is just as small and that offers a physical tablet. The end of an era :-(

  18. keith_w

    Started using a KeyOne several months ago and love almost everything about it except perhaps the spellchucker.

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