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BlackBerry DTEK50 review: Android’s customisability meets enterprise-level security

The current state of Canadian giant BlackBerry shows how companies need to continue innovating to avoid going into oblivion. From being the first manufacturer to offer ‘smart’phones with email access and QWERTY keypads to becoming an aspirational brand for youngsters and not just businessmen (remember the BlackBerry boys?) to grasping at straws – it has seen a meteoric rise and dramatic fall within the span of a decade. In fact, the company tried to change strategy drastically when it introduced its first Android smartphone in the form of PRIV (first impressions) last year, and now it has even given up on manufacturing and is re-using Alcatel’s designs for its latest offerings – the DTEK50 (first impressions) and DTEK60 (first impressions). While the former is a mid-ranger carrying a price tag of Rs 21,990, the latter is a premium device priced at Rs 46,990 to take on the flagships.

But can this move help BlackBerry become relevant again, and stand out from the competition? We got a chance to play with the BlackBerry DTEK50 and will try to answer this question. Read on to find what we think.

Specs At A Glance

Display
Size 5.2 Inch
Resolution Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels)
Performance
CPU Quad core, 1.5 GHz + Quad core, 1.2 GHz, Snapdragon 617
RAM 3 GB
Storage
Internal memory 16 GB
External memory Up to 2 TB
Battery
Capacity 2610 mAH, Li-ion, Non removable
Camera
Primary camera 13 MP
Secondary camera 8 MP
Connectivity
Network support Single SIM 4G
Other options Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS
Others
Battery Capacity 2610
Operating system Android 6.0 Marshmallow

Design And Display: Plasticky Yet Stands Out With Its Durable And Lightweight Build

Dimensions: 147 x 72.5 x 7.4 mm
Weight: 135 grams

Even with its polycarbonate body, the BlackBerry DTEK50 is unlike any other smartphone available in the market. Thanks to a 5.2-inch display, the phone can easily be held in a single hand. Adding to the ergonpmics is its slim form-factor of 7.4mm and its featherlight weight of 135g. In fact, it’s among the lightest phones in its class.

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Since the company is using the Alcatel Idol 4’s design as a reference, the BlackBerry DTEK50 is very different from its lineage. It has a metallic frame on its edges, while the display panel has been placed on a slightly elevated portion. The button and port placement is unique as well – the volume button is on the right along with the circular convenience key. An ejectable tray is also available on the right spine. The power switch is on the left edge. We’ll talk about the purpose of the convenience key later, but it’s worth mentioning that its placement is extremely odd. It can easily be mistaken for a power button, not just because of its positioning, but because of its shape as well.

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The antenna bands can be found on both the top and bottom, along with a 3.5mm audio interface and micro-USB ports and primary as well as secondary microphones.

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Similar to the front, the rear has a raised profile, and sports a rugged texture. It improves the ergonomic quotient as well as makes for a good grip. Here you’ll find the primary camera module with the dual-tone LED flash and company’s logo.

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Interestingly enough, there’s no branding on the fascia of the BlackBerry DTEK50. There seems to be a considerable space wasted below, since the navigation keys are present as part of the software interface. The speaker vents are placed on the frame, which is thoughtful as the sound doesn’t get muffled when the handset is kept on a flat surface. The front-firing speakers offer loud sound output.

The 5.2-inch IPS display on the DTEK50 is a full HD affair, and makes for sharp text and vivid visuals. The brightness levels are also adequate, and while you might find some difficulty in reading under direct sunlight due to the reflective nature of the display, it’s not impossible.

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The BlackBerry DTEK50 won’t win any awards for its looks considering the stunning metal smartphones around, but it surely gets a thumbs up for its practical design.

Software: Android With An Element Of Security

Operating System: Android
OS Version: 6.0, Marshmallow

The BlackBerry DTEK50 is the first all-touch phone from the Canadian company running Android. The interface is relatively stock and sticks to Google’s Material Design ethos for the most part – be it the lock screen, homescreen, or the notification drawer. Don’t worry if you get confused with the layout of recent apps, as you can change it to tiles or Rolodex apart from the default collage-like format.

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That’s not to say that the interface on the DTEK50 doesn’t get any BlackBerry treatment. Pop-up widgets is an interesting idea as you don’t need to utilise the homescreen space for widgets, and you can just swipe up on the compatible app to access its widget. You can identify apps that support this feature with the row of three dots below their icons, although a very few titles offer this capability – messages, BlackBerry Hub, calendar, etc. While other apps like Google Chrome and Play Store support it, their widgets don’t help much as the former shows you the list of bookmarks, while the latter opens up the store itself in a smaller window. The feature is useful for an at-a-glance view of things such as calendar appointments, messages on IMs, etc.

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The productivity tab is however, more useful, as it’s an omnipresent sidebar on the side of the screen. You can drag it to bring up the calendar, BlackBerry Hub, Tasks, and Contacts. This allows you to access these features irresepective of what you might be doing on the smartphone.

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The convenience key can be used for opening any app, or initiating any action as its name suggests. However, similar to pop-up widgets, it’s a neat idea that’s implemented poorly. It would have been immensely useful if it was contextual – in the camera app for instance, it could act as a shutter key.

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The BlackBerry Hub used to be helpful on BlackBerry devices thanks to the close integration with the BB OS and even third-party apps as it offered all notifications from different apps at one place. However, in the case of the Android-powered DTEK50, it doesn’t feel as useful. For example, if you have finetuned Gmail properly with various categories, the Hub will forego that to bring all your emails in one place. Not to mention that you’ll get two notifications every time you get an email.

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Of course, the highlight of the BlackBerry DTEK50 is the security features. With the DTEK app, you can get the complete status of your device and the options with which you can improve its security. Many of the security-related aspects are taken care of in the background – such as app encryption, secure bootloader, etc.

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Surprisingly, even though the DTEK50 plays up on the security factor, it omits a fingerprint scanner, which has become a standard these days. A fingerprint scanner would have taken care of device security and made it convenient for users to authenticate themselves as well.

Music lovers would appreciate the fact that BlackBerry DTEK50 features MaxxAudio app from Waves which lets you tweak equaliser settings as per your preferences.

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However, the UI isn’t completely optimised as we ran into some app crashes during our usage.

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Camera: Reasonably Good

Primary camera: 13 MP
Flash: Dual-color LED Flash
Secondary camera: 8 MP

Cameras haven’t really been BlackBerry’s forte, and thankfully the DTEK50 tries to change that. The images clicked with its 13-megapixel primary sensor capture good details and reproduce accurate colours in daylight. Even when viewed in full resolution, the photos retain their sharpness levels. That said, the HDR mode is a hit-and-miss affair and while it does result in better-looking images when it works, images captured in low light are hardly visible. The LED flash fails to help since it isn’t able to illuminate the scene uniformly.

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Talking about the camera app, it’s feature-rich, with the viewfinder presenting all the options up front. The interface is easy to understand as well, with the various shooting modes and effects available at the bottom along with the shutter button, whereas the toggles for HDR, flash, etc. have been placed on top. There’s a pro mode too, which lets you tweak parameters like ISO and shutter speed to get the desired results.

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Overall, the BlackBerry DTEK50’s camera performance might not be able to propel it ahead of the competition in its segment, it’s still quite decent overall. Take a dekko at its camera samples.

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Coming to the front camera of the DTEK50, it’s quite good. Selfie addicts will also love the front camera flash as the phone can capture selfies even in dim lighting. However, the video capabilities of the phone leave a lot to be desired. Not only does the resolution max out at full HD, but the dynamic range is also not the best. There’s software-based stabilisation which tries to help in keeping the videos smooth, but can’t match up to optical image stabilisation.

Performance: All Eight Hands On Deck

CPU:  Quad core, 1.5 GHz + Quad cor…
GPU: Adreno 405
RAM: 3 GB
Memory: 16 GB + Up to 2 TB
SIM Slots: Single SIM , GSM
Battery: 2610 mAH

After Snapdragon 810, another Qualcomm chipset that’s famous (read infamous) for heating issues is Snapdragon 615 / 617 SoC. Sadly, that’s what fuels the BlackBerry DTEK50, and the phone struggles with the same problem. The device starts to heat up even while performing basic tasks, and not just when the processor is pushed to its limits. It’s important to note that the heating is noticeable on the screen surface, rather than on the rear portion, possibly due to rubber being a bad conductor. Imagine when you have to make a call in such a scenario, when the screen is pressed against your ear.

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Coming to the day-to-day performance though, the DTEK50 offers a decent experience. The basic navigation, app opening times, and switching between apps is instantaneous. However, if we have to nitpick, we’d say there’s slight lag noticeable in the UI animations, etc. The trend continues with gaming as well, since Subway Surfers and Asphalt Extreme ran fine, save for some instances when there are noticeable stutters.

In the storage department, you get around 9GB space, which can be topped up further with the use of microSD cards.

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The DTEK50 comes loaded with all the connectivity options – 4G, WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS.

Being a productivity-centric smartphone, one would expect good battery life from the BlackBerry DTEK50. Blame the lower-than-the-usual battery capacity or poor software optimisation, but the device disappoints in this regard as it barely manages to last an entire working day. With the battery levels at 100 percent at 9 am in the morning, it was in dire need of a charge at 5 pm with mixed use consisting of internet usage via Wi-Fi, a few calls and 30 to 40 minutes of gaming. In our battery loop test, the handset fared rather poorly as it was able to play back an HD video for just six hours and 40 minutes.

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The device also supports Qualcomm’s Quick charge 2.0 technology, but doesn’t come bundled with a compatible adapter.

Verdict

To summarise, the BlackBerry DTEK50 generates mixed feelings. It could have been the Canadian giant’s masterstroke – combining the flexibility of Android with its security prowess, that too at a mid-tier price point. Adding to its troubles is the cut-throat competition in this price bracket. When it comes to compact options in the same price bracket, the ASUS ZenFone 3 (review), Xiaomi Mi 5 (review), and ZUK Z2 Plus (review) are powerful devices. If you don’t mind phablets, then the LeEco Le Max2 (review) is a steal deal offering the flagship-grade Snapdragon 820

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The BlackBerry DTEK50 is a decent smartphone, but isn’t meant for everyone. BlackBerry loyalists will miss the comfort of typing on QWERTY keypads, and while the inclusion of Android OS is enticing, there are some trade-offs like heating issues and poor battery life, making its case more difficult. However, if you are someone who values security and want a phone for one-hand use, then the DTEK50 could be worth a second look.

 

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