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There’re just a few problems. It isn’t made by BlackBerry, doesn’t run a BlackBerry operating system and doesn’t really make your phone secure. And another thing: It doesn’t come with BlackBerry’s trademark physical keyboard, so fans of button-punching don’t even walk away with that satisfaction.
Basically, it’s your standard Android phone with a few tricks up its sleeve, and a lot of BlackBerry software tweaks. Does that add up to a phone worth buying? Probably not for many.
The BlackBerry Idol
There’s nothing explicitly wrong with the BlackBerry DTEK50, because there’s nothing wrong with the Alcatel Idol 4 – the phone which BlackBerry unapologetically cloned.
In fact, the new DTEK50 is better than recent BlackBerry phones in one important way – it’s an unlocked LTE smartphone that costs just $299 or £275 (roughly AU$390 converted). The BlackBerry Priv, its predecessor, originally sold for $750.
For the comparatively small amount of money, the DTEK50 isn’t bad. It’s surprisingly thin (at 7.4mm) and light (at 4.76 ounces, or 135 grams). While it’s partially made of plastic, a black aluminum band with shiny silver beveled edges catch the light quite nicely and make it hard to drop. It’s easy to use with a single hand, unlike many modern smartphones.
The 5.2-inch, 1,920×1,080-pixel IPS screen is perfectly competent, even if it’s not a stunning AMOLED display, while a pair of stereo speakers (they face front and back) make it a pretty decent phone for the occasional Netflix session.
There’s also a dedicated programmable button on the side of the phone to launch any app you want. While you can’t use it when the phone is locked, it’s decent as a quick flashlight or camera toggle.
Even the battery life is OK for a phone this small. It ran roughly 11 hours in our standard video streaming drain test. In my personal use, I usually make it home after a full day’s work before the battery dies – unless I play Pokemon Go.
For $300, the DTEK50 feels a good bit slower than I’d hoped. It always feels like there’s a slight delay before the phone opens the app, summons the keyboard or loads the link I want. Our benchmarks bear that out, too. Raw performance numbers show the DTEK50 performing at about the same level as the Moto G4, a phone that costs $100 less.
And it’s a shame that BlackBerry’s camera is so weak in low-light settings: I get super noisy, smudgy photos most places that aren’t outdoors. I also found it much slower to focus or shoot HDR images than today’s high-end phones.
Nate said it in our review of BlackBerry’s first Android phone, and I’ll say it again: BlackBerry has actually made some useful tweaks to the Android operating system.
It’s pretty neat to be able to slide out the Productivity Tab from the edge of the screen and instantly see my upcoming calendar events, and the BlackBerry Hub is a nice way to triage multiple email accounts, Slack messages and social media updates all in the same place. (There’s quite a bit of setup and you’ll have to shut off your Gmail sync to avoid duplicate notifications, but for power users it’s great.)
But I wouldn’t buy a phone for those things. And in some cases, I don’t have to. The BlackBerry Hub is free to download on other Android phones (though you’ll have to pay $1 a month or view ads after 30 days). So is BBM, the venerable messaging app that’s been a feature of BlackBerry phones for over a decade.
BlackBerry’s pitch isn’t just software, though. The company is proudly advertising the DTEK50 as “The World’s Most Secure Android Smartphone.”
But the features that make the DTEK50 so “secure” all seem to either be placebos or functions already found on stock Android devices.
For instance, the DTEK50’s storage is fully encrypted right out of the box. As good as that sounds, so is every other smartphone running Android 6.0 or above.
Heck, the DTEK50 is named after an app, “DTEK,” that tells you when other apps access your camera, microphone, location, and other sensitive permissions. But Android 6.0 already forces apps to ask for those same exact permissions.
And while it’s nice that BlackBerry protects your phone’s boot-up process from being tampered with, it’s a feature already available in Android as well – one that will be required by default in phones running Android Nougat, the next version of the operating system.
“You can’t say something is the most secure phone, because you can’t possibly know,” says Zack Whittaker, security editor at our sister site ZDNet. The proof? Right out of the box, the DTEK50 was vulnerable to a zero-day exploit called Quadrooter, which affected some 900 million Android phones.
Admirably, BlackBerry already has a patch for the exploit, but only for unlocked phones sold directly from BlackBerry’s store.
When it comes to security, Whittaker says Google’s Nexus phones are the best you’re going to get, simply because they get patched the quickest. They don’t have to wait for cellular carriers to test and approve an update before vulnerabilities get fixed.
The verdict: Nope.
BlackBerry’s DTEK50 is nothing particularly special, and it’s a little underpowered to boot. There’s no particular reason to buy it over any other competent Android phone, even a notably cheaper one like the Moto G4 ($200 or £169; AU$300 converted).
If you’re really concerned about security, you’d probably be better off with a Google Nexus 5X, which feels snappier, actually has a fingerprint reader, and can often be found on sale (for $199 in the US).
And if you really, truly must have a BlackBerry, you should take advantage of the BlackBerry Priv’s new $360 street price while it lasts. It’s a better phone than the DTEK50, and well worth the $60 difference for the physical keyboard and brilliant AMOLED screen. (Ask me how I know.)
Otherwise, there’s just no good reason to buy a BlackBerry.