What to keep, what to ditch?
The BlackBerry Key2 LE isn’t just the cheapest QWERTY-packing Android phone on the planet – it’s one of the only QWERTY-packing Android phones on the planet; a callback to the good old days when every phone came with a physical keypad and touchscreens were the stuff of a madman’s dreams.
A revised version of the Key2 from earlier this year, the Key2 LE has a weaker processor and uses a plastic body, but it also shaves loads of cash off the recommended retail price and, by and large, is just as agreeable a handset – especially if you crave the feel of real buttons beneath your fingertips.
However, as we mentioned in our review, there are moments when the handset chokes up and the user experience suffers as a result. Despite possessing 4GB of RAM – the same amount as the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL – the Key2 LE regularly warns you that it’s running out of available memory and this is usually when performance hiccups rear their ugly head; there are long pauses between touch inputs and the phone acknowledging them, and apps take longer than they really should to load up.
Part of this is BlackBerry’s fault, as it has loaded the Key2 LE with a suite of apps that, while useful, won’t be essential for all users. These apps often open up in the background even when you’re not using them, and that soaks up small amounts of memory which could be better used elsewhere.
This issue is exacerbated if you choose to download additional ‘core’ apps from Google Play that you depend on, which also take up valuable RAM. BlackBerry appears to have optimised the phone to only expect its pre-installed applications; installing even a few extra, memory-hungry apps (Pokémon GO is a prime example, we can’t live without it) gives the Key2 LE even less free memory to work with. So what’s the solution?
Thankfully, almost all of the pre-installed apps that come on the Key2 LE can be totally removed. While we love the idea of the BlackBerry Hub+ – an app which pulls together all of your notifications from email, text, social media and more – we can live without it, especially as it hogs an insane amount of memory and is constantly running in the background. So we simply disabled it; it doesn’t remove the app from the phone, but instead stops it from functioning and soaking up memory.
To do this, all you need to do is long-press the app icon from the Home screen or app drawer and look for the ‘Disable’ option in the top-right corner of the screen. Drag the app icon to this and the app is disabled (if the app can be totally uninstalled, the message ‘Uninstall’ will appear here).
We removed or disabled BBM (because let’s face it, no one uses it anymore in 2018), Password Keeper (we have 1Password, thanks very much) and even BlackBerry’s calendar app, because we choose to use Google’s option instead. On the surface, these actions only seem to free up a small amount of RAM, but every little helps; those small changes quickly mount up and the end result is a phone which is much, much more responsive and pleasurable to use.
It’s also worth turning off the Productivity Tab, which sits on the side of the screen very much like Samsung’s ‘Apps Edge’ system. It’s a great little feature but we found that it hogged an insane amount of memory and turning it off resulted in a much faster handset. You can do this by going to Settings > Display > Productivity Tab, and turning it off.
About the only app that you can’t disable is BlackBerry’s DTEK, which is admittedly quite a useful thing to have as it provides an enhanced degree of security that monitors for attacks and dubious applications that could compromise the integrity of your handset. It’s worth keeping.
It’s been a long time since we’ve had to dig deep into the settings of an Android phone to ensure smooth performance, but in the case of the Key2 LE, it’s worth the effort – especially when you consider that it’s one of the only options that QWERTY fans have right now, and it’s cheap and good-looking to boot.
It might be a bit of a ballache, but it’s something you should do regardless – even if it does highlight one of the key problems impacting Android right now; hardware manufacturers and networks pre-loading their devices with apps which either duplicate functionality or are largely pointless. This isn’t so much of an issue when you’ve got a phone which has 6GB or RAM (or even more), but with mid and low-range devices where memory and power are in short supply, this practice can seriously affect the user experience.
While the last thing BlackBerry wants is for you to remove the apps which make its phone unique, we’d argue that it’s almost essential if you want to get the best experience out the Key2 LE. It makes for a better phone overall, which responds quicker and is easier to use. In short, don’t be scared to be ruthless when it comes to removing apps – focus on the ones you use the most and ditch anything that you either won’t use or you have another option for already, and you’ll thank yourself for it later on.