BlackBerry’s security-focused Android identity crisis

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Think about BlackBerry. Take into consideration the corporate, its merchandise, its most iconic features. What involves thoughts? Enterprise apps? A QWERTY keyboard? BBM? The as soon as-mighty Canadian smartphone maker is banking on one phrase standing above all the remaining: safety.

You see, BBM is not solely the realm of BlackBerry units, and the keyboard hasn’t been ubiquitous because the firm belatedly responded to iPhone with the Storm in 2008 (a chapter the smartphone maker would possible simply as quickly overlook). Heck, even the productiveness focus has taken a backseat as Apple and Android units have made sizable inroads within the enterprise area.

When the corporate lastly launched its lengthy-awaited Android handset late final yr, safety was front and middle. In reality, the product’s identify was the primary 4 letters of “privateness.” Security was how BlackBerry envisioned the Priv standing aside from the numerous throngs of Android units. Nicely, safety and a slide-out key. This time, nevertheless, the corporate’s newest device doesn’t even have a type of.

The corporate has taken to calling the DTEK50 the “world’s most safe Android smartphone” — or at the least a part of a two-method tie with the Priv. Actually, the corporate simply went forward and named the handset for the privateness app it launched with its first Android phone. It’s considered one of various qualities the device shares with the Priv — and actually, the new handset is a complement, not successor to that device.

The DTEK50 is each a present of religion to the corporate’s continued dedication to Android and an try at wider-scale accessibility with a beginning price that undercuts final yr’s mannequin by a full $four hundred — a smart transfer, provided that the Priv’s $699 price tag was amongst many reviewers’ chief complaints. The new phone is a way more populist device, a reality mirrored within the video that opened the product’s launch occasion, during which the corporate questioned individuals on the road about smartphone safety.

So, with a new take on the corporate’s new strategy, we discover ourselves asking the identical query we ask every time the corporate presents a new device: Might this probably be the one which places BlackBerry again on the correct monitor?

At a look

  • 5.2-inch 1920 x 1080 display
  • No bodily keyboard
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow with BlackBerry apps
  • $299

Execs

  • Plenty of safety customization
  • Light-weight design
  • Good price

Cons

  • Rebranded third-celebration hardware
  • No bodily keyboard

Alcatel that ends properly

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If there’s no bodily keyboard, can we actually name it a BlackBerry? It’s a type of “if a tree falls within the forest”-type thought experiments. When the iPhone first appeared on the scene, it was exactly the corporate’s refusal to drop the keys that set it aside. Finally, nevertheless, the corporate’s stubbornness is exactly what received it into this place within the first place.

Naturally, when it lastly embraced Android, the corporate did so with a keyboard in tow, a nod to the truth that, even because it embraced one other firm’s working system in an effort to open itself up an lively app improvement ecosystem, it maintained a spotlight on what made it totally different. When the DTEK50 was first unveiled this week, there have been questions round whether or not or not the device was merely a middling piece of hardware rebadged with a BlackBerry emblem. The reply is sure and no. Once I first laid arms on the phone, it turned out to be rather a lot nicer than I’d initially anticipated. As the corporate notes in its press materials, its 7.7mm width makes it the corporate’s thinnest phone to date. And at 4.7 ounces, it’s additionally fairly mild.

Actually, there’s not a lot right here that screams “BlackBerry.” That would nicely be as a result of the handset seems to be a refurbished rebadge of Alcatel’s current Idol 4. The corporate confirmed as a lot with out truly popping out and saying it once I reached out shortly after receiving the handset. Scott Wenger, BlackBerry’s International Head of Design, defined the similarities between the handsets suchly,

Firstly, we're targeted on assembly the wants of our customers — they usually need and anticipate the best in safety, productiveness, perform and design. To satisfy this demand, we partnered with TCL to fabricate DTEK50 as a result of we noticed an ideal match between our software options and an present hardware platform to satisfy these wants.

BlackBerry DTEK50

Alcatel’s handset department is, naturally, owned by TCL. So, the 2 telephones share a reference design and a lot of the similar specs, with BlackBerry providing some customization on prime of that. It’s disappointing for a corporation that has made a number of the most iconic items of hardware within the handset area, however, properly, at the very least the corporate selected a strong beginning level.

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It does make one marvel what may need been within the combine had the corporate began from the bottom up. For a corporation so targeted on safety, a fingerprint reader jumps out as a risk. Wenger once more,

Our aim with DTEK50 was to strike an amazing stability, offering the consumer with high efficiency, Android apps and experiences, and legendary BlackBerry safety, all at a compelling price level. We rigorously chosen hardware and software elements to make sure that stability, and can proceed to guage fingerprint and different biometric authentication means shifting ahead.

In the long run, the design partnership/outsourcing was doubtless an try and rein in prices, protecting BlackBerry’s handset properly under the price of final yr’s Priv — however finally, it’s onerous to not see the transfer as one other key step away from the core of what has made BlackBerry (nee RIM) such a singular firm as increasingly smartphone producers have consolidated across the similar working system and comparable design.

A BlackBerry in hand

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The DTEK50 has a pleasant really feel. It’s mild however strong, and the custom textured backing provides a pleasant grip. The 5.2-inch display is flanked on prime and backside by skinny speaker grilles, that are recessed barely from the screen’s bezels. Up prime is an eight-megapixel camera — the comparatively high quantity is a nod to the wants of a enterprise-minded device meant to do extra than simply snap selfies. To the left is an indicator that flashes massive, white and vibrant.

The front of the device is completely devoid of any BlackBerry branding — in truth, there’s nothing in any respect that signifies its connection to the Canadian firm. The edges of the device are encased by a metallic band, comparable in look to the one you’ll discover on Samsung’s most up-to-date Galaxy units.

At prime is a headphone jack and on the underside is the microUSB slot (no USB-C right here). The power button is on the left (which takes a little bit of getting used to), with the volume rocker situated in the identical spot on the appropriate aspect. Under that may be a round button — what our associates at Alcatel confer with because the “Growth key.” BlackBerry, in line with previous units, has deemed it the Comfort key. Regardless of the identify, it’s a useful feature, serving as a customizable shortcut to launch often used apps or different duties.

BlackBerry DTEK50

The device’s rear has a textured, hardened rubber really feel. At prime is the 13-megapixel camera, simply above the flash module. Within the middle is the BlackBerry Bs emblem, the one clear hardware indicator (apart from the corporate’s identify in tiny, barely seen letters on the backside) that that is, certainly, a product of Waterloo, Ontario. The backing in a pleasant aesthetic addition to what may in any other case be a bland handset. It’s not precisely a premium really feel, nevertheless it definitely provides one thing totally different in a sea of lookalike handsets.

Even so, it’s removed from the long-lasting BlackBerry of yore, one the corporate lastly, symbolically despatched out to pasture with the lonesome demise of the Basic. The very fact is that units lately are principally screen — one thing the corporate struggled to simply accept early on, however ultimately conceded. What meaning, in fact, is that an organization has to do a fair higher job setting itself aside on the software front.

On lockdown

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That, naturally, is simpler stated than executed. Through the years, smartphone makers have struggled with exactly how a lot of a mark to go away on Google’s mobile working system, to the purpose that “Pure” variations of the OS have felt like one thing of a breath of recent air.

Final yr, BlackBerry lastly give in and jumped aboard the Android practice. Whereas the corporate has maintained a aspect dedication to BB10, it clearly noticed Google as the trail towards a return to mainstream adoption, courtesy of all of the apps that appeared they’d by no means come to the corporate’s units by means of its native OS.

That is the place safety is available in — the truth is, that’s the place the handset will get a reputation even much less inherently pronounceable than the Priv. The DTEK software carries over from that device, providing safety as a lot as peace of thoughts. As the corporate rightfully factors out, many shoppers made the bounce from laptop computer to smartphone and forgot to take all of their safety considerations with them. And given the massive variety of third-get together apps we recurrently download, we’ve opened a lot of our valuable info as much as each malware and snooping, courtesy of a bit of hardware that primarily quantities to a set of sensors.

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What DTEK provides is a useful spot for monitoring these potential factors of weak spot. And the corporate has achieved an excellent job making that detection so simple as attainable. Hearth up the app and also you get a purple, yellow and inexperienced gauge, telling you ways good a job you’re doing securing the device. That knowledge is predicated on a weighted 10-level guidelines, together with things like knowledge encryption and screen lock (and, to be truthful, two of the factors are marked as inexperienced just because it’s a BlackBerry device operating BlackBerry software).

Clicking into APPS and PERMISSIONS drills down on a per-app foundation. Every one alerts the consumer to the permissions they’ve requested, in addition to any method of suspicious exercise, together with monitoring. It’s a useful piece of software, and one BlackBerry ought to think about licensing to 3rd-events as safety and privateness breaches and considerations rise amongst smartphone customers. And on a really primary degree, it’s a little bit of a wake-up name, breaking down exactly how a lot info our totally different apps are requesting.

BlackBerry-flavored Marshmallow

BlackBerry DTEK50

The corporate has additionally ported over numerous enterprise and productiveness features. BlackBerry Hub provides a centralized location for a slew of various communication platforms like e-mail, social media, textual content, phone, calendar occasions and, in fact, BBM — useful for many who are overwhelmed by the ever-growing variety of communication fronts.

BlackBerry DTEK50

The BlackBerry Clever Keyboard picks up the mantle from the corporate’s iconic bodily providing. Whereas, naturally, it may well’t exchange the tactility of the actual factor, the corporate has gone out of its approach so as to add productiveness touches like phrase ideas that hover over particular keys, which may be chosen with a swipe up. I discovered the mixing a bit distracting at first, nevertheless it grows on you.

Coupled with BBM and some different additions like a productiveness sidebar, the DTEK50’s working system isn’t BlackBerry-skinned Android a lot as it's Android with BlackBerry performance sprinkled in. The additions will probably be largely welcome — and, extra importantly, are principally out of the best way once you don’t want them.

DTEK specs

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The 5.2-inch display is available in at 1920 x 1080 decision, understanding to 424 ppi; not dangerous for what is actually a mid-tier and even borderline price range handset. The colours are good and crisp and do a superb job for these wanting so as to add just a little leisure on prime of their productiveness. I can’t actually say the identical for the audio system. You’re going to need some headphones should you plan on listening to something however brief YouTube clips.

Inside, a 1.2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 is coupled with 3GB of RAM; not earth shattering, however greater than sufficient for what most customers will need to do with the device. The usual 16GB of storage is much less spectacular, however that’s the place the expandable storage is available in, providing customers as much as 2TB by way of microSD. There’s additionally a decently sized 2610 mAh battery that may get you thru a day of use, no drawback.

I didn’t run into any efficiency points throughout my time with the device, however the DTEK50 does warmth up fairly shortly and the backing does little to insulate that.

What’s in a reputation?

BlackBerry DTEK50

Once I met with BlackBerry to select up the review unit, I requested whether or not the corporate would think about licensing its branded safety choices to a different producer. The corporate line appears to be one round a dedication to making a unified hardware/software answer — and positively that’s been a defining attribute for the corporate. BlackBerry opening itself as much as new concepts is a step in the proper path, so far as the corporate’s future well being is worried, however this handset feels aimless.

The DTEK50 is much less of a step ahead than a transfer towards an organization that's extra service-targeted, slightly than offering the complete package deal. Would an organization providing an Android handset augmented by BlackBerry software actually really feel like that huge a shift from this present product?

In fact, BlackBerry doesn’t plan to hold its hat on this device. The extra premium (and far larger-priced) Priv felt like rather more of an try and outline BlackBerry’s future, and the corporate has promised extra keyboard units to return. Because it stands, the DTEK50 is an honest mid-tier device focused at customers looking for a safety suite that gained’t value an arm and a leg.

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