The latest smartphones are sleek, beautiful masterpieces with nary a bezel between your hand and the phone. They’re slim, minimalist, and stylish, but there’s no denying the fact that a lot of us miss when typing on a phone didn’t mean mushing your fingers against glass. Yes, we’re talking about phones with a QWERTY keyboard.
But in the age of the iPhone 12 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, it’s a lot harder to find a QWERTY phone, as the market for them has slowly but steadily dried up. Thankfully, there are still a few to be found if you know where to look. Here are the best QWERTY phones for 2021.
Best QWERTY phones at a glance
Why you should buy this: It’s still the best choice for a QWERTY keyboard-equipped smartphone, even if it is getting on.
Who it’s for: Anyone who needs the best QWERTY phone around.
Why we picked the BlackBerry Key2:
Despite being an unexpected success story, the BlackBerry Key2 looks to be the last great hurrah for QWERTY phones on Android. Blackberry hasn’t shown much interest in upgrading the line for a Key3, and it hasn’t even bothered to update the phone from Android 8.1 Oreo — an operating system update released in December 2017. As such, this isn’t a phone to buy if getting the latest OS matters to you.
But despite those hefty downsides, the BlackBerry Key2 remains an excellent piece of kit. Sporting the best keyboard experience you’ll find on a smartphone today, this is still an attractive, moderately powerful phone with plenty of stamina and a host of security and privacy features. BlackBerry refined the keyboard experience offered by the original KeyOne by adding slightly larger keys and dropping the frets between them to provide more room. The backlit keyboard is also capacitive, which means it’s touch-sensitive, so you can flick up to select suggested words on the predictive bar, and you can use the whole keyboard as a trackpad for scrolling. You can still program button functions, but there’s also a Speed key now, which acts as a shortcut into apps.
Do you have to compromise to get a keyboard like this? Unfortunately, yes. Performance wasn’t too far from the flagship phones of the time, but the gulf has widened since then, and you’ll find that this one definitely lags behind more modern phones. The camera suffers from shutter lag and mixed low-light performance, but the Portrait Mode is good. The screen is only 4.5 inches to accommodate the keyboard, and it’s an odd aspect ratio to boot.
But even with these problems, theis still the best overall QWERTY phone we can recommend. It has an excellent keyboard and can now be found at an excellent price — even if you’ll struggle to find it new these days. Regardless, this is your best choice if you’re looking for a keyboard-equipped phone.
Read our full BlackBerry Key2 review
Why you should buy this: You need a QWERTY phone with a bit more protection than your usual slim, sleek business phone.
Who it’s for: Someone who commonly finds themselves typing emails in challenging environments.
Why we picked the Unihertz Titan:
Yes, you read that right — a rugged QWERTY phone. Sure, we’re still not 100% exactly who this is intended for, but it’s still an excellent QWERTY phone, even if it’s absolutely massive.
The rugged construction is one of the keystone features of this phone. Metal plates cover the sides of the phone and the camera lens, and a thick rubber coating covers everything else. The rugged nature is backed up by a truly enormous build. It’s almost a full inch wider than the BlackBerry Key2, twice as thick, and almost twice as heavy to boot. 303 grams is an awful lot in a phone, and you can really tell when you’ve been using this for a while. This isn’t a phone for your pocket, and it shows.
The keyboard also isn’t as good as the Key2’s. You’ll need to tap a software bar at the bottom of the screen for punctuation, and some keys are in odd places, which makes the typing experience feel slightly odd. Still, we imagine most people will need a period of adaptation when using a QWERTY phone these days, so perhaps this won’t be as big an issue for some. The display is decent, though. It’s a square 1400 x 1400 resolution display, and while it’s nothing special, it certainly does the job.
The processor is the MediaTek Helio P60, and like most processors you’ve probably not heard of, it’s a decent, if not noteworthy, performer. We had a few hangups, but generally, performance was solid. Gaming isn’t likely to be something you’re going to want to do on this phone, though, which is generally true for most QWERTY phones anyway. A 6,000mAh battery makes the most of the phone’s bulk, and we saw some pretty great performance on standby.
There are some larger missteps, though. The camera is just okay, and the phone is apparently stuck with Android 9.0 Pie now. That’s a newer OS than the Key2, but hardly anything to get excited about. It’s also well-priced, and unlike many of the other options on this list, you can still buy it new, which makes the a strong contender.
Read our Unihertz Titan hands-on review
Why you should buy this: You’re after a great value proposition and don’t mind aging hardware and software.
Who it’s for: Someone looking for a cheap, cheerful, and still-reliable QWERTY phone.
Why we picked the BlackBerry KeyOne:
We’ll start with the downsides you’re getting by buying this phone. It’s long reached the end of its life, so you’re unlikely to find it for new. Also, the specs are now very dated. The Snapdragon 625 will handle most tasks, but it’s hardly powerful, and 32GB of storage isn’t going to be enough for most people these days. It’s also likely to be stuck on Android 8.1 Oreo.
But if you can put those to one side, there’s a lot to love here, too. Since most KeyOne devices you’ll find are used or refurbished, that means you can score some serious deals, with a lot falling under $200. The keyboard, being a BlackBerry product, is as good as expected, and it also has capacitive buttons, so you can use it to swipe and scroll as well as type. The space bar doubles as a fingerprint sensor, and the 4.5-inch display runs 1080p resolution. BlackBerry is all about security, too, so it comes with added security features.
It also has a decent camera, though there are many better options in that department. However, keep in mind you’re limited to buying the international version on Amazon — which means no connectivity to Sprint, U.S. Cellular, or Verizon. However, if you’re looking to save a little money compared to the Key2, the cheapercould be the way to go.
Read our full BlackBerry KeyOne review
Why you should buy this: You just need something with a physical keyboard and don’t care about the OS, specs, or anything fancy.
Who it’s for: Anyone looking for the true basics with a keyboard.
Why we picked the LG Xpression:
It’s fair to say the QWERTY phone market is dominated by BlackBerry and some off-brand Android phones. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you look hard enough, you can still find some old feature phones sporting a QWERTY keyboard.
The LG Xpression has a side-opening QWERTY keyboard and a 3.2-inch touchscreen. At 15mm thick (double the thickness of a new iPhone), it’s a little bulky, and its 2-megapixel back camera isn’t very impressive, even by old feature phone standards. However, the battery lasts for 17 days on standby, a feat that the iPhone can’t boast. Sure, you won’t find Android on here — which means no WhatsApp, Spotify, or any of the apps we know and love — but if all you need is a cheap, basic feature phone with a keyboard and a 3G connection to answer emails, then it’s hard to go wrong with the Xpression. With a starting price of $80, it’s easy to see why you might pick the other CDMA networks.
. Just keep in mind it won’t work on Verizon or
Research and buying tips
Yes. QWERTY phones have admittedly been out of fashion for some time, but you can still find them. It’s not easy, and you may have to settle for something a little less swish than you’re used to, but it’s absolutely still possible to buy and own a phone with a physical keyboard in 2021.
Of course, we have no idea how long this will still be possible, and some of our favorite picks are looking a little long in the tooth. While some phones like the Unihertz Titan were surprise appearances, it seems BlackBerry’s days of creating smartphones may be over. Until the Key3 makes its appearance, you’re going to be looking at a selection of phones that just get older and older.
Absolutely. Most of the picks above run some form of Android, and that means you’ll have access to the Google Play Store. From there, you can download all the apps you love, whether that’s social media, messaging apps, or even games.
This is a tough question, and like anything else, a QWERTY phone will last longer if it’s treated well. Of course, many of these phones are already old, and that means they may have some issues that won’t be updated or aging hardware that will really start to show down the line. Expect them to last anywhere from a year to two years, extending that to two to three years if you’re able to pick one up from new.
While you can still buy a QWERTY phone, with the market being as it is, it might be worth buying a normal phone and adding some accessories to emulate some of what you’ll get from a QWERTY phone. While you’re going to struggle to get the same tactile feedback on the move as you would get with a dedicated phone keyboard, you can buy portable wireless keyboards that will allow you to set up shop with your phone in a cafe, on a train, or anywhere with a flat surface.
The bonus of this approach is that you can use any of our favorite smartphones to accomplish this, as all they need is a Bluetooth connection. Check out our list of the best smartphones to see which phones we recommend in general. Or, if your budget is a bit more limited, check out our list of the best cheap smartphones, too.