The usefulness of a physical keyboard on a smartphone in 2018 is questionable. At the same time, BlackBerry made enough tweaks with the KEYone’s keyboard to give us some of our favorite experiences in Android in 2017.
Whether that continues with the rumored Athena is unknown, though alleged renders published by Slashleaks show us that BlackBerry is not yet ready to give up on its famed calling card.
Taking a look at the Athena’s keyboard, it looks like the keycaps are larger than the KEYone’s. The layout remains the same, though the space bar now features the BlackBerry logo. We presume the space bar pulls double duty as the phone’s fingerprint sensor, much like it did on the KEYone, though we are not sure.
The alleged renders also show that the Athena’s keyboard is covered by some sort of matte material. By comparison, the KEYone’s keyboard is glossy.
Also redesigned is everything above the keyboard. The front camera seemingly lives in a smaller housing, while the earpiece goes from a grille to a smaller single piece.
Even the sensor next to the earpiece shrunk in size. This size management looks to give the Athena’s display more room to work with, though we do not know if the display is larger relative to the KEYone’s.
The changes are equally subtle around back, where you can find dual primary cameras. The KEYone’s grippy back and metal frame make a return, though GizmoChina allege that the upper part of the back is leather.
Design annoyances rear their ugly heads, starting with the button placement. The Athena reportedly features the volume rocker, convenience key, and power button on the same side. Expect plenty of complaints concerning accidental button presses.
Also, capacitive keys seemingly make a return on the Athena. The KEYone’s capacitive keys sometimes got in the way when using the keyboard, so to see them return is disappointing.
I understand that BlackBerry wants to give you as much display real estate as possible when typing. Still, I hope that the company includes some sort of toggle between virtual and capacitive keys.
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Finally, the Athena’s alleged renders show a USB Type-C port at the bottom and a headphone jack up top. It is good to see that BlackBerry might not follow other manufacturers’ decisions to remove the unicorn that has become the headphone jack.