If there has been one thing missing from the Android smartphone market over the past few years, it’s a great device with a physical keyboard. In fact, ever since the T-Mobile G2 (HTC Desire Z) hit the market in 2010, there’s been nothing worth paying attention to. That’s why — to me — the rumored BlackBerry Venice is the most exciting phone of the year so far. At least, the most exciting unreleased phone of the year. As each week goes by, the chances of it becoming a real product get stronger. For the first time, the Android-powered BlackBerry has been shown of in real, leaked hands-on photos.

These photos corroborate previous render leaks and rumors of a device with a slide-out physical QWERTY keyboard. Specifically, it’s a five row keyboard with the traditional BlackBerry sculpted design. Although the rows of keys aren’t separated by metal frets like the current BlackBerry flagships, they’re still far enough apart to make typing comfortable. At least, that’s the way it appears from the photos. Beneath the keyboard is a slightly protruding chin covered with individually machined holes, presumably to cover the loudspeaker and microphone.

On the back, the device has some kind of carbon-fiber type effect. While we don’t know without testing the camera, it could be a big selling point of the smartphone. The brushed metal protruding ring around the lens states clearly that it is 16MP with optical image stabilization (OIS) and has ‘fast focus’. Along with that are two individual LED flash modules.

What I find interesting is that — despite clearly running Android — it still features the same, traditional BlackBerry physical buttons on the right edge. There are two longer volume buttons, separated by the BlackBerry shortcut button which traditionally launches BlackBerry Assistant, the company’s answer to Siri, Google Now and Cortana. This adds support to the rumors, and UI leaks, which showed a custom BlackBerry software running alongside Android. On the opposite side is the power button. Judging from the design and the fact it has external SIM and SD card trays, it’s safe to assume the rear cover is non-removable as is the battery, similar to the Passport and Classic.

BlackBerry is a company that divides opinions. While some don’t see the point of the company, it has proved over the past few years that when hard times come, it can deal with them. Even to the point where it’s going to start making a profit again soon. It may own under 1% of the smartphone market, but it knows what its niche is, and how to make people in that niche happy. With the seemingly impending arrival of an Android device, it could finally make those people happy (like me) who desperately miss having a great smartphone with a great keyboard on a great platform.

About the Author

Cam Bunton's favorite gear