BlackBerry’s smartphone division is on its last legs. Its showdown at sundown, time to storm the beaches, a final stand to determine its fate. That being said, the DTEK50 is not the device you want to be storming into battle with.
Let’s get the battlefield scenario out of our head’s for a second. Because that’s not what BlackBerry phones are for. BlackBerry aim themselves at business men and women who need reliable devices that can ping an email faster than it can load up Candy Crush. But then there devices that can do the business while providing recreation.
Nowadays you see corporate types wielding iPhones and Samsungs. That’s because most of what BlackBerry offers, is now dated. The signature physical keyboard for example, at the time offered tactile accuracy for emails, but touchscreen technology has come so far it’s now irrelevant.
The DTEK50 is BlackBerry’s second stab at the Android route. Its not the Android device we expected BlackBerry to produce, its quite the opposite of the decent Priv. The Priv was an experimental device for BlackBerry, and it was actually an alright device. I was expecting BlackBerry to get the right amount of chemical X in the DTEK50, but instead the result is a concoction that’s metaphorically H2O in a beaker.
We wanted something with a messiah complex, high-end specs, and hopefully lasers (Okay maybe too hopeful). Instead we get a device that’s safe and to be honest, quite boring. More to come as we delve deeper into the Fort Knox of smartphones.
BlackBerry does get the price right this time, the Priv had the price tag of £559 at launch, a flagship price for a device that did not have flagship specs. A Snapdragon 808 was powering the keyboard warrior, whereas other flagships were using the Snapdragon 810, and were almost equal in price.
The DTEK50 retails for £275 SIM free, a decent price but for around the same price you can get better. But what you’re getting for your money is the excellent software, which proved to be useful and considering BlackBerry’s reputation with security, it’ll appeal to those wearing tin foil hats.
OS Android Marshmallow 6.0
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 octa-core 1.5GHz
Screen 5.2 inches
Resolution 1920 x 1080
Memory 3GB RAM
MicroSD compatible? Yes, up to 2TB
Rear camera 13-megapixels
Front camera 8-megapixels
Connectivity 3G, 4G
Dimensions 145 x 70.9 x 6.95 mm
[highlight color=#336699 ]Design[/highlight]
BlackBerry did not manufacture the DTEK50, instead giving TCL the job. TCL also manufacture Alcatel handsets and it is the Alctael Idol 4, the DTEK50 bears a striking resemblance to. I say resemblance, both are pretty much the same phone, looks wise. A cost saving move is what it is, which is fair enough considering BlackBerry’s not so secret financial turmoil. If you can do it on the cheap, and do it well, no one would care. However by doing this BlackBerry has on their roster an uninspired handset, incredibly utilitarian.
The back has been swapped for a rubberised and ribbed case, embossed with the BB emblem. A great move for usability it gives the device a comfortable grip, to compliment the glossy screen. The rest of the device just screams Idol 4 with the diamond cut edges to the ‘Convenience Key.’ What I’m glad the DTEK50 has ported over is the dual front-facing speakers. A feature rarely seen nowadays and is very much welcomed. Watching Netflix on the 5.2-inch screen is a joy, thanks to the speakers although it’s not as loud as HTC’s BoomSound on the M8 and M9.
Aiding my addiction to ‘Netflix Original’ Narcos is the lightweight frame. Watching a lengthy TV series is not ideal on a smartphone but with the DTEK50 – I’m sorry for the impending cliché – I almost forgot it was in my hand. Going back to the ‘Convenience Key’ mentioned earlier, it’s one of very few features that set the DTEK50 apart from other devices, well, not from Alcatel devices. As suggested in the title it does add a level of convenience. I used it quite often to launch Snapchat, and then proceeded to map Pokémon Go to the key. It’s a feature I wish more manufacturers employ, the recently announced Honor 8 has a similar button and is much more sophisticated.
TCL really wanted people to use the ‘Convenience Key,’ so much so it decided to put the lock button far beyond convenient reach. It’s not too much of a headache, but had it been a 5.5-inch screen, I would have been less kind. BlackBerry has actually made the DTEK50 wider than most 5.2-inch phones, to ensure users can type with comfort, but it does impact one-handed use.
It’s still a small enough phone with a slim profile. Probably one of the most pocket-friendly devices this year, despite the rubberised back, it glides into front pockets like a dream. A massive plus on the functionality front for the DTEK50. Not the prettiest of phones but functionality is on-point.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Camera[/highlight]
“Standard” is the one word I’d use to describe the DTEK50 if you had a gun to my head. The camera specs reflect my choice of word, in tow you get 13-megapixels in the rear camera with phase detection auto-focus, dual LED flash and a f/2.0 aperture size. It’s not bad at all and it’s even better in excellent lighting conditions. Details aren’t as great as the dual-lens Huawei P9, but it performs well for a device that’s under £300.
Winter is coming, sunny days will be few and far between. Thankfully a HDR mode is present and it adds vibrancy to pictures with overcasting shadows. But HDR mode tends to go crazy and will over-saturate pictures, depending on lighting conditions.
The camera app is quite basic and BlackBerry could have done a better job to highlight the manual mode. It’s hidden away in the hamburger menu and should be put under “mode” to add a bit of transparency. A manual mode is always appreciated and it’s quite easy to use to get your perfect shot. You get the usual white balance, shutter speed, ISO, enough to satisfy any budding photographer, who’s not ready for a DSLR.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Screen[/highlight]
It’s quite weird how anything over five inches was considered massive. The 5.2-inch screen is comfortable enough to use one handed, however that could have been improved if lock button was closer. As for the quality, it’s actually one of the best parts of the DTEK50.
The full HD resolution offers a pixel density of 424ppi, making everything on-screen crystal clear with excellent colour saturation. It’s not as good as an AMOLED panel with colour saturation, however the LCD panel does the job in a stylish manner.
Watching videos on-screen is pleasant due to the crisp quality, viewing angles are definitely up there within the 5.2-inch category.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Performance[/highlight]
For the price tag we were surprised to see a Snapdragon 617 powering the show. Qualcomm’s mid-range processor isn’t that great at today’s standards, and devices that use it are prone to slow down at a quicker rate. Although BlackBerry aren’t the worse offender with the pricing using a 617, HTC released the One A9 for over £500 even though it was an average performing device. Had BlackBerry released the DTEK50 a few months earlier it would have been forgivable, but it now rubs shoulders with more powerful devices such as: the OnePlus 3 and Nexus 5X, to name a few.
Running games is not a problem at first for the processor, but it eventually chugs along. An Adreno 405 GPU follows the 617, making graphics on Asphalt 8 spirited (no sprites either) and aids the gaming experience. Helping the device chug along is 3GB of RAM, anything less would have slowed things down to unbearable levels I reckon.
Having said that, carrying out day-to-day activities is a laggy experience. It’s disappointing and tiresome to look at. For a device that will be aimed at a demographic that are looking for a device that can carry out fundamentals at break neck speed, BlackBerry might have shot themselves in the foot. The below average performance gets worse once more apps are downloaded. The dated 16GB internal storage becomes a problem here, but at least you can expand it by 2TB, using a microSD card. You’re going to need that microSD card as 8GB is already taken up by the operating system.
Opening the multi-tasking screen is noticeably laggy, couple it with slow app opening times, you get a device that’s making you wonder; “why are you doing this to me?” Once you adjust to the load times it isn’t so bad, but you’re paying top dollar for a phone, you shouldn’t have to wait for anything. It’s not the slowest device in the world, but there are better options out there.
In our Geekbench test the DTEK50 scored 607 in single-core and 1598 in multi-score. Scores that aren’t out of the ordinary, hence nothing to shout about.
The DTEK50 is the world’s most secure Android device, a fair claim considering BlackBerry’s industry deep software implementations. The name of the device derives from the DTEK50 security software, which by the way is a shockingly bad name. But let’s forget that because software is where BlackBerry gets it right.
Running Android 6 Marshmallow with an almost stock Android overlay, the DTEK50 offers one of the cleanest Android experiences available. The star of the show is DTEK, the app offers a comprehensive look into how secure you can make the DTEK50. Even to the point where it’ll tell you using a pin is more secure than a pattern. BlackBerry promises the latest security updates from Google, to ensure hackers don’t get the upper-hand over old software. The majority of BlackBerry’s security is deep and laid into the hardware, it’ll work in the background to ensure safety.
BlackBerry also offers what it calls a “class-leading” keyboard. First thing to get straight, there is no physical keyboard. The DTEK50 keyboard offers a fast typing experience and also has an intuitive predictive text. Around 98% of the time suggested words are on point. The keyboard actually offers multiple suggestions on different keys, selecting one by flicking up on your chosen word. After getting used to it, the keyboard becomes a great part of the software. If you don’t like it, you can easily download a third party keyboard to replace it.
A nice little addition is the Productivity Tab, which is similar to the one on the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. You access it by swiping from the right, upon opening it you see messages, to-do, contacts and a task manager. I found myself using it quite a bit to make calls and make sure I get all of my daily duties done.
Earlier I mentioned how BlackBerry shot themselves in the foot with the performance. It was using a handgun then, as for the other foot it’s using a sawed-off shotgun. Battery life is shocking and if you do go for it, you’re going to have to bring a charger with you every day.
You can charge 50 percent after 50 minutes, roughly 20 minutes slower than your top-end flagship. Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 is onboard, when really a better processor with 3.0 in tow is needed, as the DTEK50 has too much going, drinking that battery faster than a bride-to-be with a bottle of WKD.
I minimised my use with the DTEK50 for one day, which meant I had to carry around a second phone for multimedia purposes. Strictly used the DETK50 for emails, messages and light social media yet it was exasperated for juice. On the plus side it supports microUSB, so finding a charger for it when you’re desperate won’t be so hard.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Conclusion[/highlight]
The DTEK50 isn’t a device that’s going to turn a lot of heads with its looks, but it is a fair effort from BlackBerry. However a fair effort isn’t what BlackBerry need right now, considering how deep in the red, the Canadian manufacturer is. It may resemble the Alcatel idol 4 massively, but users will appreciate the convenience key and rubberised design.
Its poor battery life is a massive negative, not even capable of a full day’s use without dying on you at some point. A charger or power bank is essential if you want to soak up the great software onboard.
That’s the highlight of the DTEK50, with deep hardware security coupled with some neat software tricks, the DTEK50 is great to use for those looking for a clean Android experience, with the added sense of data security.
But sadly its strengths are severely undermined by some core values usually looked for in a smartphone. If the battery life was significantly better, with smoother performance, the DTEK50 would have been a great handset to use. It starts slowing down the more intense you use it, not something desirable in a daily driver. Another factor that goes against the DTEK50 is the price tag, due to the competition on offer from the likes of OnePlus, Lg and Motorola.
At £275 you can pay £55 extra for the OnePlus 3, a device that boasts current generation specs with excellent build quality. Also on offer is the LG Nexus 5X and Motorola X Style, at the time of writing both devices were retailing at £349.99. Both are don’t compare to the OnePlus 3 in terms of processing speed, but it does smoke the DTEK50 in that area.
For more reviews, visit What Mobile’s dedicated reviews page.