For all the speculation as to why BlackBerry has failed to keep up with the best smartphones, one thing is certain – it should have done so, so much better. It’s too late for it to assume the throne once more, the throne it sat on back in the days when everyone was bashing out emails on a BlackBerry Bold.
Now, after the company tried to change tact with the square Passport and the high-end Priv, it has released the DTEK50. It’s a mid-range (in terms of specs and price) Android handset with no physical keyboard and a penchant for security. Surely this is something the company should have done several years ago?
The DTEK50 is quite plain looking, and bears a close resemblance to Alcatel’s Idol 4. This shows the design sacrifices BlackBerry has had to make, to the point of sharing designs with other manufacturers, to produce what is in essence a mid-range, stock Android smartphone. Having said that, the DTEK50 is good looking, if in a strictly business-like way.
It’s pleasant to use and hold, with metallic edges, though it’s not quite heavy enough to have the familiar reassuring heft of flagship devices, and the back is a rubberised crosshatch. This stops the DTEK50 slipping out of your hand, though it doesn’t scream high quality. It is practical, though.
It measures 147x72.5x7.4mm and weighs just 135g. With a 5.2in screen it’s right on the edge of easy onehanded use. If you’ve got smaller hands you’ll struggle still though.
It’s charged over Micro-USB, and a fast charger is supplied in the box, which is great to see because it works very well. Slightly confusingly, the power button is on the top left edge, while the silver button on the right edge where you’d expect it to be is a ‘convenience’ key. You can assign one of a number of uses to this button to launch an app or command of your choice. We used it to open the camera app as there’s no camera button. The camera itself is 13Mp with single LED flash, while the front facing camera is a respectable 8Mp.
The right-side edge of the DTEK50 also has a volume rocker, and there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top. So far, so normal. Like we said, it’s not unattractive, but there’s no escaping that this is not a very exciting phone to look at or to hold.
Things picked up a bit after our first impressions though, when we turned the DTEK50 on. It’s a shame that the casing is a bit dull because the specs are actually quite good. The phone has a 5.2in full HD display with a resolution of 1920x1080. Colour reproduction is solid, and videos display surprisingly well. The glass is supposedly scratch and smudge resistant, but the latter is impossible on smartphones at the moment. Expect fingerprints.
The speaker grills at the top and bottom of the screen are welcome; not only is the design subtle but it means that for video viewing you have two front-facing speakers that are pleasingly decent. For those Netflix sessions you’ll still want headphones, though.
With mid-range price comes mid-range processing power. The DTEK50 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 powering it, but in everyday use it zips along very nicely. For web viewing, social media, email and the like it is not noticeably slower than many flagship Android devices. Once you put it under some pressure (multiple app jumping, graphically intense gaming), then it starts sweating a bit, with occasional screen freezes and lag.
What is great to see, and probably helps with the speedy dayto-day performance, is 3GB RAM. This is more than the 2GB in Apple’s flagship iPhone 6s – this doesn’t mean the DTEK50 is as good at multitasking as that phone, but goes to show that if a manufacturer finely balances the processor and RAM specs it can achieve above average performance. That is the case here.
So it is frustrating that our usual methods of benchmarking simply wouldn’t work on the DTEK50. Both Geekbench 3 and GFXBench refused to connect to their respective
servers, so for now we can’t bring you any benchmarks. Although in average use the BlackBerry was good, you can be sure that it will fall behind flagship models in these sorts of tests.
We wondered if the DTEK50 is so secure it doesn’t connect to what it considers unsecure servers. Hopefully this won’t extend to stopping consumers doing simple tasks in daily use, though we didn’t encounter any more stumbling blocks like this.
You might see a pattern emerging here, with the cameras firmly in the mid range. A rear-facing 13Mp snapper takes great close-up images, but tends to struggle with detail in wider-angle shots. Take a look at the example photos above for an idea of the quality. The frontfacing 8Mp camera can cope with Skype calls, but it isn’t one to go for if you’ve got a strong selfie game – pictures are just too grainy.
The DTEK50 is pleasingly strong in terms of battery life. It has a 2610mAh non-removable battery that teams up well with the bundled fast charger. After taking the device off charge at 8am, it lasted a whole working day with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on, receiving push notifications from several apps. Come 11pm it was on about 15 percent, which represents good stamina.
The DTEK50 runs near to stock Android Marshmallow 6.0.1. It’s a pleasure to use, as ever. One thing to avoid is the BlackBerry Intelligent Keyboard – an onscreen monstrosity that tries to make typing easier with pop up predictions. Google Keyboard is infinitely better, so make sure you use it instead.
Where BlackBerry is trying to differentiate the DTEK50 is in its concentration on the privacy and security of the device and its user. The marketing for the phone even calls it ‘the world’s most secure Android smartphone’. This is a bold claim given Android’s open nature. What’s more, BlackBerry doesn’t properly explain what it’s done to the DTEK50 to make it so secure.
Aside from the claims that BBM is highly encrypted (so is WhatsApp), all the DTEK app does is make you aware of potential security flaws and then prompts you to do something about it. It won’t stop you sending your credit card details to a spam email, for instance (then again that’s pretty much impossible). Instead, the DTEK app gives you an overview of your device set up and points out where you might be vulnerable.
We purposefully didn’t set up a PIN code to unlock the phone – the phone dutifully lets you know this is bad.
It’s good that the app shows you how to fix the problem and gives you menu links straight to where to do it, but we couldn’t help but feel the marketing is a tad misleading by claiming the DTEK50 is the world’s most secure smartphone. Anyone with a bit of know-how will already have set up any other Android smartphone to be just as secure.
What’s more useful is the ability to monitor and change the permissions third-party apps have. If you’re worried about an app accessing your microphone, for instance, you can set DTEK to notify you when it does so. Or, you can stop it doing so altogether. This is more useful and pleasingly discreet if you don’t want to use them. The company also says it will deliver the DTEK50 Android security patches faster than any other handset, aiding security.
This all amounts to one question about the DTEK50 – who is this phone for? Businesses may welcome the Android BlackBerry if they are reluctant to let go of the older models, but in reality they will probably just buy in a load of iPhones.
The DTEK50 is a good phone. Above average, even. But we can’t fully recommend it because of the way BlackBerry is marketing it. The perhaps incorrect status quo is that people don’t want to worry about security; they just want a phone that works. Security flaws on huge scales are largely down to external database hacks, not device vulnerabilities. The DTEK50 is a good phone at a good price, but it isn’t different enough to drag BlackBerry back into smartphone relevance. Henry Burrell