The release of the Priv was BlackBerry's first trip into the Android world, and it was not without some bumps in the road. The BlackBerry Android software, at the time, still had room to grow and pricing was a little on the high side for a lot of folks. Now, the DTEK50 is here, BlackBerry's Android software has had time to grow and improve, and we're once again taking a look at what BlackBerry brings to the Android world.
The quick take
For their second Android offering, BlackBerry sought out a balance between hardware and pricing and personally, I think they might have found it with the DTEK50. It offers BlackBerry's security, privacy and productivity coupled with the Android ecosystem and it's priced to move for its intended audience of enterprise fleet deployments and price-conscious consumers.
- Android Marshmallow 6.0.1 out of the box
- Great virtual keyboard
- Mostly stock Android experience
- Continual and fast security updates
- No RGB LED, only white
- No OIS on the camera
- Bigger battery would have been appreciated
Built by TCL
Before we get right down to the nitty gritty, let's just go ahead and address the elephant in the room. Yes, the DTEK50 is based off a reference design produced by TCL. Most folks reading this will likely know it better as the Alcatel Idol 4. Does that take away from the experience or hinder the offering in any way? Not in my opinion. In fact, the combination of TCL's design with BlackBerry's changes may have helped improve the device in some ways.
Yes, the DTEK50 is based off a reference design produced by TCL.
When you take the DTEK50 out of the box, the first thing you're likely to notice is the weight, or perhaps I should say lack of weight. Coming in at only 135 grams or 4.76 ounces, DTEK50 is the lightest smartphone that BlackBerry currently offers in their line up. Plus, it's also the thinnest as well coming in at 7.4 millimeters or 0.29-inches deep. There's an argument to be made there that, maybe they should have added a bigger battery instead of making it as light and as thin as it is but we'll get there further on in this review.
On the front of the device, you'll find the scratch resistant, and smudge resistant 5.2-Inch LTPS IPS display is coming in at a resolution of 1920x1080 and 424ppi. As expected, colors on the DTEK50 display are nice and vivid, the text is clear and even close up there's no fuzziness to the icons and viewing angles are where they should be. Even in sunlight where some displays end up useless, DTEK50 is still viewable. One thing I did notice during some comparisons with my Priv was that the DTEK50 display turned out to be much brighter when the settings were maxed out on each and placed side-by-side. Obviously not a bad thing for prospective DTEK50 owners, just an interesting observation
Also on the front of the device is where you will find the proximity and ambient light sensors as well as the 8MP front-facing camera and finally, LED notification light which doubles as a front-facing flash. There have been a lot of questions and concerns surrounding that LED light, so let's just be clear. It's not an RGB LED, and the only color you will see it produce is white, but still there's a notification light there. For me, it's not that big of a deal but there are certainly plenty of folks out there who feel as though not having that blinking red light is a downside to owning a DTEK50. Look carefully on the front and you will also spot the integrated dual speakers and dual microphones.
It's not an RGB LED, and the only color you will see it produce is white, but still, there's a notification light there.
Start making your way around the DTEK50 and on the right-hand side is where you will find your volume up and volume down rockers in chrome accents, though unlike Priv, there is no separation between the buttons. The volume up and volume down are one big button so you have to be precise when tapping them otherwise you will just hit somewhere in the middle. Also on this side is where you will find the BlackBerry convenience key, which is customizable, and provides quick access to your most used applications, tasks, and more. Additionally, below the convenience key and well hidden is the NanoSIM and the expandable up to 2TB MicroSD Card slot.
Head to the left-hand side of the DTEK50 and all you will find is the power and reboot button also with chrome accents. Priv users will be familiar with the placement of this button but on DTEK50, it moves a little bit higher to the top. Personally, I don't mind it being on the left-hand side, even as a right-handed user, but for some this is a bit of odd placement for the power button.
On the top and to the left is where you will find your 3.5mm headphone jack and at the bottom of the device to the left is where you will find your MicroUSB 2.0 charging port. Yep, still MicroUSB. No USB-C found here and much like the Priv, and I am once again OK with that. Also keep in mind that MicroUSB port is Quick Charge 2.0 enabled so that you can charge your device to around 50% in approximately 51 minutes, according to BlackBerry.
No USB-C found here and much like the Priv, and I am once again OK with that.
Flip the device over and this is where you will spot the first sign of the DTEK50 being a BlackBerry. Save for the software with BlackBerry branding loaded onto the device, the back side is the only spot where you see the BlackBerry logo, and it looks pretty great combined with the carbon grey that surrounds the device along with the chrome accents and chamfered edges. For those concerned about whether or not the DTEK50 is slippery to hold, I don't think you'll have to worry. The edges have a nice rubbery texture to them that helps with grip, and the non-removable backplate has a nice soft touch finish with a criss-cross pattern on it. Sure, it's not as 'sticky' as the back on the BlackBerry Priv, but it does the trick and looks pretty damn good. Also on the back is the 13MP camera that boasts features like Phase Detect Auto Focus, Dual Tone LED Flash and more.
As noted earlier, for DTEK50 BlackBerry sought out a balance between hardware and pricing and because of that, we got a device that is considered to be 'mid-range' when it comes to the specs. For some, that might be an instant turn-off, but there are plenty of folks out there who need these sort of devices.
- 5.2-Inch FHD display
- 1920x1080 (424ppi)
- 13MP rear camera
- ƒ/2.0, Phase Detect Auto Focus, Dual-LED flash
- 1080p 60fps video
- 8MP ƒ/2.2 front camera
- 2610mAh fixed battery
- Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0
- Snapdragon 617 Octa-Core 64-bit processor
- Adreno 405 GPU
- 3GB RAM
- 16GB internal storage
- microSD expansion
- Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
- On-screen BlackBerry keyboard
- Contextual auto-correct, word prediction, and learning engine
- Touch-sensitive gesture control
Like most mid-range devices on the market, the DTEK50 doesn't tick off every checkbox on the spec sheet checklist but overall, for what you're paying and what you get, it offers a pretty compelling package.
Mostly stock Android with some BlackBerry love
Back when the Priv was released in November of 2015, one of the biggest observations was the how little BlackBerry screwed with stock Android, and that's something that carries over to DTEK50 as well. Since then, though, BlackBerry has had the chance to improve their Android software and those BlackBerry touches, whenever you see them on DTEK50, are now more refined and improved upon from when the Priv first launched. Not going to lie, if you already own a Priv, you may find this software run down a bit boring to read because you already know how this works but for the uninitiated, here are some of the highlights from BlackBerry's version of Android.
BlackBerry Pop-Up Widgets
Widgets on Android are a great way to get information quickly from an app or take action without actually jumping right into the app itself but often those widgets take up a lot of space on your home screen, and that can be annoying. On the DTEK50, you have the option of enabling BlackBerry pop-up widgets, which allow you to view any app widget by simply swiping up or down across the icon on your home screen, giving you fast and private access to the information you need, when you need it.
Not all apps support widgets, unfortunately, but those that do will have a thee-dot indicator beneath the app icon. When you first swipe up or down on the icon, you can then choose which widget to set as the pop-up widget. If the app provides multiple widgets, you are presented with the widget options and from there you can choose which to go with, and it will remain set on that unless you wish to change it. Changing the widget once decided is easy as well, just when the widget is open, look in the top right for the three dots again. From there, you can disable the widget or change which it is using. Keep in mind not all apps offer widgets and in order to use pop-up widgets, the app icon must be on your home screen.
As part of the process of improving their Android software, the BlackBerry Hub has improved a lot from when Priv was released, though, its core function of being an irreplaceable tool for consolidating all of your messages in place remains the same. Initially, out of the box, the Hub supported Email, Twitter, Facebook, Text Messages, Call Logs, LinkedIn and of course BBM but recent updates have now added even more to the mix including WhatsApp, Slack, Instagram, Viber, Pinterest.
Additionally, the most recent update has now brought the fan-favorite 'pinch to filter' functions over from BlackBerry 10. With a simple, familiar gesture, Hub will filter to your choice of snoozed items, unread items, emails marked as high importance, flagged emails, or muted conversations. By default, the pinch gesture filters to unread messages, including both email and integrated social / instant messaging content, which can be customized by visiting Display and Actions in BlackBerry Hub and tapping Pinch Filter Criteria.
The most recent update has now brought the fan-favorite 'pinch to filter ' functions over from BlackBerry 10.
Having the ability to triage your inbox quickly is a key function of the BlackBerry Hub. Customizable left and right swipe gestures allow you to delete, snooze, flag, file, mute and mark read or unread messages while custom views allow you to personalize what you see in the Hub based on specific criteria whether it be unread messages, flagged messages, important messages or only those with attachments. These are all options you can change, so how you set it up is entirely up to you and everyone loves options when it comes to controlling how you get things done.
The BlackBerry Hub also includes the ability to define account colors, customize quick responses, conversation view, the option to show sent and filed emails, and of course, the option to delete on Hub only or Hub and server plus the option to have it prompt you each time for a choice. Additionally, you can still download images automatically and set up custom alerts for different contacts and messages based on user defined rules. Last but not least, the calendar peek option allows you to drag down all your calendar appointments from the top of the Hub for quick viewing or even for adding to your calendar.
All in all, the BlackBerry Hub is awesome but truthfully I was genuinely concerned about how the DTEK50 would handle it given the Snapdragon 617 processor. As it turns out, my worries were rather unfounded because, in my testing, the lower-specced processor didn't really seem to have an effect on how well the Hub handled the load of information coming into it and to be fair, the recent updates to the Hub have cleaned up a lot of what I can only sum up as 'code' that was causing it to act perhaps slower than it should have in the past.
BlackBerry Device Search
On the go and need to find some files on your device quickly, no matter where they are? BlackBerry Device Search is a powerful software inclusion that can help. You can find what you need by searching your Contacts, Calendar, BlackBerry Hub email, documents, media files, and more. The BlackBerry Device Search app also offers a remote search option if the info you are looking for is not found on your device.
You can also type what BlackBerry calls Instant Actions into device search. Instant Actions are shortcuts that allow you to perform tasks quickly. In the search field, type a command such as phone, dial or call to place a call or email, mail to send an email. Other options include sending text messages, playing music or even getting directions.
As part of offering the full package of BlackBerry tools, BlackBerry has included their own contacts app on both Priv and DTEK50. Of course, there is no requirement to use BlackBerry's offering if you wish to use a third-party app but with features such as remote search, recent contacts management that allows for blocking recent contacts, plus smart filters and contact groups, BlackBerry's contacts application is there and works just fine.
In fact, if your contacts are messy from using other apps, BlackBerry's contacts app just might be able to help you clean that mess up. Such was the case when I moved from BlackBerry 10 to Priv and DTEK50 maintained those changes for me. My contacts list is starting to look like those you would see in phone demos, all neat and organized in a way that makes you wonder how they even managed that.
As with the Contacts app, BlackBerry has also included their own calendar app and to too has had many improvements since its initial release on Priv. With the BlackBerry Calendar, you can view and respond to your meeting invitations directly from the BlackBerry Hub and by using the Join Now feature, you can instantly dial into your meetings directly from your event reminder. Additionally, you can use Google Now voice commands to book meetings and schedule appointments. Like everything else, though, there's no requirement to use it if you prefer to use something else, but it does enhance the overall experience of using DTEK50.
With the introduction of the Priv and its dual-curved edge display, BlackBerry also introduced the BlackBerry Productivity tab, which, provides glanceable views of the most pertinent info from Hub, Calendar, Tasks, and Contacts. Just tap on any of the four icons and ideally, you get a quick look at everything that is happening.
Interestingly, though, the Productivity Tab has not seen the same level of improvements as other areas of BlackBerry's software. For example, you still can't change any of the apps which appear on there and as such, you're stuck using only what BlackBerry offers. There's nothing wrong with that if you use those apps but if you don't, then chances are you're going to go ahead and disable it. Yes, that is an option. BlackBerry doesn't force its use on you.
Truthfully, I never really used it on my Priv because I just wasn't that into using it and on DTEK50, it feels as though it has become more of a nonessential feature to me because it's a bit harder to trigger if that makes sense. On the Priv, there's that curved edge there to help you 'push' it out, but DTEK50 is flat and has no curved edge. Although it might all be in my head, it feels as though it's harder to swipe it over and use the Productivity Tab.
Still, it has a place on the device, and it is an added feature that I'm sure a lot of folks are using. It just so happens that I'm not one of those people who uses it on a daily basis, and there's nothing wrong with that.
BlackBerry Password Keeper
As a part of BlackBerry's Android security offerings, the Priv and DTEK50 come preloaded with BlackBerry Password Keeper. For the uninitiated, the BlackBerry Password Keeper application allows you to keep all of your passwords, login information, and important records safe and secure. Your information is encrypted using AES-256 and protected by a single password of your choice.
Additionally, you can use the Password Keeper app to create secure passwords. If you're using the BlackBerry Keyboard, you can easily insert your saved login info into apps and web pages, and save your login info straight to BlackBerry Password Keeper with autofill.
BlackBerry Intelligent Keyboard
As part of their suite of apps, the DTEK50 also includes the awesome BlackBerry Intelligent Keyboard. For anyone who has used a BlackBerry since the release of BlackBerry 10, everything here should be familiar but in case this is your first Android BlackBerry, here's what you need to know about the BlackBerry Keyboard. It's awesome. The keyboard learns and provides suggestions as you type and let's you 'flick' them into place.
Swiping horizontally from right to left anywhere on the keyboard will delete previously typed words one-by-one. Swipe vertically from top to bottom and you can toggle between letters, numbers and characters. If that's not enough, you can also slide your finger from letter to letter to quickly type with one or hand without even lifting your finger off the keyboard. Plus, the keyboard can handle up to 3 languages of your choice all at the same time.
All-in-all, the virtual keyboard is a keyboard you would expect from BlackBerry and is one of the best keyboard apps out there in my opinion. Worst case, you don't like it and prefer to use something else. No big deal, you can do that. Just grab your favorite keyboard app from the Google Play Store and use it but at least give the BlackBerry Intelligent Keyboard a go. There's a reason BlackBerry is still keeping it to themselves.
Android with BlackBerry Security
DTEK50 Security and Privacy
When BlackBerry released the Priv, it was introduced as a secure smartphone powered by Android and BlackBerry laid out a ton of reasons as to why they were in the best position to create such an offering. Now, with the release of DTEK50, we're once again hearing that message from BlackBerry only this time around it's much louder.
Rather than just stating the DTEK50 is a secure smartphone powered by Android, the DTEK50 was introduced as 'the world's most secure Android smartphone' and BlackBerry has made no bones about telling anyone that. In fact, they've wisely made it a core selling point for the DTEK50 while also explaining what they've done and continue to do to make their Android offerings secure. So what is it that they do above and beyond others? Here's a list:
- Hardened Linux Kernel: We reduce the Android attack surface with numerous patches and configuration changes to improve security.
- Hardware Root of Trust: During manufacturing, we establish a Hardware Root of Trust that adds security keys to the processor on every DTEK50 and Priv as it is built. Those keys track, verify, and provision each device – meaning that the authenticity and integrity of your device is guaranteed, as is the safety of the data it holds.
- A Better Bootloader: Because of our secure boot process, you can trust that only an untampered, BlackBerry-signed OS can be loaded. Each stage of the secure boot chain must first verify that the next component is fully intact before proceeding.
- FIPS 140-2 Compliant Full Disk Encryption: U.S. Government-grade encryption protects your private information, like personal pictures or banking info, if your phone is lost or stolen.
- Ongoing Security Patching: Many popular smartphones put the user's private information at risk of being hacked due to slow security updates – weeks, months, or even years after a patch is released. BlackBerry's record of being the quickest to deliver Android security patches minimizes your vulnerability.
- BlackBerry Integrity Detection (BID): We continuously monitor Priv and DTEK50 for events or configuration changes that indicate a compromise to device security, then we trigger real-time actions if a threat is detected.
- Dedicated Security Research & Response Teams: We bring our world-renowned security experts and testing to our line of BlackBerry secure smartphones powered by Android.
Arguably, the biggest highlight there is the ongoing security patching. When Priv was released, BlackBerry committed to monthly Android security updates, and they have done an outstanding job sticking to that. So outstanding in fact, the monthly security updates often show up even before Google releases them for Nexus devices and if you're a BlackBerry Beta Zone member, there's a good chance you have the updates even before Google officially announces what has been addressed. In a world where some Android OEM's are flat out telling customers they won't be sticking to regular security updates, BlackBerry keeping pace here is worth noting. Monthly security patches are important to everyone and for some this part of Android is certainly broken.
This is one area where those who say the DTEK50 is just a re-badged Alcatel Idol 4 are very wrong. Sure, the DTEK50 may look similar to an Alcatel Idol 4, but the software on the inside has been revamped by BlackBerry and is subject to BlackBerry's current update schedule for their Android devices. This should be an important factor when deciding if the DTEK50 is a device for you or if you want to go with some other device that might not have the commitment to security and updates that BlackBerry does. I like updates and I like knowing that my device is secure as possible and I like knowing that if something happens in between updates where it might not be, BlackBerry will be issuing a fix to correct it as soon as one can be released. Even if some of the latest exploit news is a bit blown out of proportion.
Given the name of the device, it should come as no surprise that one of the security highlights of the DTEK50 is BlackBerry's DTEK app. As I noted in my Priv review, DTEK felt a bit premature when it was made available on Priv with Lollipop because there was very little you could do by way of adjusting the device and app permissions when DTEK found something to be suspect. Now though, with DTEK50 and Priv being on Marshmallow, not only do you get the visual representation of what is happening on your device with your OS and apps, you can take action by adjusting the permissions as you see fit.
Overall, DTEK is a great way to monitor, control, track and be alerted of the security rating of your device but it's not perfect either. For example, it's great for finding intrusive apps that are pinging your contacts, accessing your microphone, snooping into your files and more but you need to consider that some of those apps are doing those things for a reason, and if you revoke some permissions, the app might not work.
Plus, sometimes the Android way of doing things with apps may look intrusive or abusive, but there's generally a good reason for it looking or behaving that way. Still, adding another layer of protection to your device is never a bad thing, and that's where DTEK comes in. Personally speaking, I think folks should consider DTEK a guide for helping them make better security decisions – not count on it to make the decisions for them.
Just enough to get you through a day
DTEK50 Battery life
This one of those areas where I'm still being spoiled from having owned a BlackBerry Passport and the battery efficiency that BlackBerry 10 afforded. With that being said, the DTEK50 packs a non-removable 2610 mAh battery which according to the spec sheet should get you up to 17 hours mixed battery life. In my testing, those claims are pretty accurate for the most part.
That's not to say I don't wish BlackBerry had given up some of the thinness of the DTEK50 for a bigger battery because I certainly wish that was the case. These days, I gauge my battery performance based on whether or not it can last me a whole day or more and with the DTEK50, I found myself reaching for that MicroUSB cable near the end of my night or having to 'top up' the battery before calling it a night.
For the sake of testing, I 'forgot' to plug my DTEK50 in before bed as most people do these days, just to see if it would have enough juice to get me going in the morning and I was unsurprisingly disappointed. Luckily, the DTEK50 does include Quick Charge 2.0, which makes up for it a bit by being able to take in 20% battery life in around 10 minutes but there's a bit kicker there as well. You'll need to pick up your own Quick Charge 2.0 compatible cable if you don't have one already as one is not included in the box.
In all of the documentation for the DTEK50, BlackBerry calls the camera 'dazzling', and while the cameras are not terrible on the DTEK50, I don't know if I would call them dazzling either. For me, the 13MP rear shooter turned out to be one of those cameras where when settings were ideal I could get some great results. Anything less than ideal and you just end up with acceptable images. Not terrible, just acceptable.
One highlight, though, is the 8MP front-facing camera that makes the Priv's 2MP front-facing camera look even worse than we already know it is. On the DTEK50, it's not really an issue. I was genuinely surprised by some of the results from the front-facing camera. Plus, there's also that front-facing flash that really helps improve your selfie game even in low-light, if you're into that sort of thing.
For snapping photos, the DTEK50 does come pre-loaded with BlackBerry's own camera app which has been updated and improved multiple times now. The BlackBerry built camera app offers a wide array of built-in features such as filters, quick access to advanced settings like the flash, aspect ratio, and HDR, and you can slide your fingers apart or together on the screen to zoom in.
One newer item on that list is manual controls but on DTEK50, those manual controls are not simply confined to the BlackBerry Camera App. Unlike on Priv, where manual controls are left to BlackBerry's Camera app, DTEK50 supports Camera2 API opening the doors to other camera apps such as the fantastic Manual Camera if you wish to use that instead.
In the video department, DTEK50 can record up to 1080p video at various frame rates. There's no 4K recording here as on the Priv, but that was expected. Overall, the video results are on par with that of the camera results. Great under ideal conditions but anything less than ideal and you just once again end up with acceptable offerings.
- 1080p / 60fps
- 1080p / 30fps
- 720p / 60fps
- 720p / 30fps
To put this section to bed, I think the camera is perfectly fine and capable for most situations and at times might even surprise you in the quality it can produce. Just don't count on being surprised every single time because that won't happen.
Not having a dedicated camera button to fire off the shutter kind of sucks, but on the flip side you can set your convenience key to launch the camera or use the Marshmallow feature of hitting the power button two times to launch it, so that's cool.
Plus, if a photo doesn't turn out as great as you had hoped, well, chances are you're just going to fire it through Prisma, Snapchat, or Instagram and add a filter to it anyway. Don't be mad at me for saying that. You know it's true. It's the same thing I do. Have a look at some sample shots.
Up to the task
So what's the rest of the experience like using DTEK50? It's not bad at all. The Snapdragon 617 processor backed up by the 3GB RAM handles mostly everything you toss at it and should be adequate for most people in my opinion. Now and then when you're doing something processor intensive you'll catch a slight bit of lag but it never really sticks around, and it's never while using basic apps. Only heavy apps and games seem to cause a hiccup here and there.
When it comes to using the DTEK50 as a phone it does come in a little weak. While calls and speakerphone sound great in a basic room or office when you step outside and place some calls things start to sound a little soft and less clear. Overall, it's fine just not great. Keep in mind, my comparisons here are pretty much based on Priv and Passport as I still frequently use those two devices. The call situation wasn't related to network signal either.
I tested the device on the T-Mobile network in Arizona and always had great signal with fast LTE. Traveling back to Canada, I made use of the Rogers network in Halifax and staying attached to the networks wasn't really an issue either. All around, the network and connectivity on the DTEK50 is pretty good, from the network to WiFi (802.11b/g/n/ac) to GPS and NFC. All just worked fine.
PS: Don't expect a CDMA version. That's probably a good thing, considering Verizon can't even manage to roll out Marshmallow to the Priv as it is when every other North American carrier has managed to do so, nevermind giving them another device.
For you folks who believe USB OTG is the best thing since sliced bread, you don't have to worry about losing that option on the DTEK50. Provided you have an adapter to use; you can connect your USB drive, and it will be detected just fine.
If you like jamming out to music on your phone, you'll find the speaker situation similar to that of speakerphone calls. The DTEK50 sounds great in a room or an office but anything beyond that is a little weak. Through headphones, it's adequate as well. Just do yourself a solid and skip using the included headphones, they'll do you no favors.
Interestingly, BlackBerry decided to leave two things from the Idol 4 base here. An audio application called Waves MaxxAudio which acts like an equalizer app for the whole device and there's also an FM Radio application that works when headphones are plugged in. Such a small thing to include but I know a lot of folks like having one so it's certainly worth mentioning.
DTEK50 Bottom line
When the rumors BlackBerry was going to release a mid-range Android device started to appear, I wasn't really sure what to expect as an end result. As it turns out, the DTEK50 is a nice looking device that is pretty much up for anything you throw at it and while it doesn't include all the latest and greatest features, some are really bummed out that there's no fingerprint sensor, that was never BlackBerry's intent.
Their intent was to find a nice balance between the hardware and pricing and when you consider a DTEK50 only sets you back $299 USD, it's a pretty complete package and one that I can recommend picking up should you be in the market for a smartphone that does a lot of things well but won't break the bank while doing them.
DTEK50 is available to order from ShopBlackBerry.com in the US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and The Netherlands. Over the next few weeks, DTEK50 will be available in a number of channels around the world, including more than 40 partners from electronics stores and carriers. This includes Rogers, Bell, TELUS, WIND, Videotron and SaskTel among others in Canada. In the U.S., DTEK50 will initially be available in Best Buy, B&H and Amazon and additional global channels and countries will be announced soon.
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