Lets Talk About: Complete Review Of BlackBerry DTEK50

Last year’s PRIV was a mixed bag and a letdown for many of the brand’s fans, but BlackBerry is now back with a new (and very different) smartphone. Rumor has it that one (or even two) more are coming by the end of the year, but until then let’s take a look at the DTEK50.

What we have here is in many ways the exact opposite of the PRIV: full-touch candybar form factor instead of a slider, regular 1080p display instead of dual-curved QuadHD, rebranded hardware instead of a custom BlackBerry-engineered design.

Yes, it’s true: save for the back plate, the DTEK50 is identical to the Alcatel Idol 4 (not to be confused with the more advanced 4S). This was disappointing for many, but I think it’s the right idea. Maybe not the best choice of device to “borrow”, but it’s the right idea for BlackBerry to focus on the software and security side and pick up whatever hardware design they deem appropriate for the market segment they wish to target with each device.

Given its specs, price (299 USD / 264 EUR / 226 GBP ) and even its name, the DTEK50 is clearly intended to appeal to the business sector, which has always been BlackBerry’s bread and butter, not to impress with hardware capabilities, cool software features or any kind of gimmick.

Design & build quality
The DTEK50 has a clear-cut look that I can only describe as “unassuming yet elegant”. It sort of resembles older Moto G models and the Nexus 4, especially with its top and bottom mounted stereo speakers.
In terms of dimensions, this 5.2-incher can be comfortably held with one hand despite some generous bezels all-around. At 135 grams (4.76 oz), it’s also quite light, but I would have welcomed a bit more weight in the form of extra battery capacity. Overall it has a solid build which ironically is a step up from the rather creaky PRIV.

The DTEK50 wouldn’t dare call itself a BlackBerry without a notification light up front, so LED fans can rest easy. Well, sort of, because the familiar red blinking is no more: this LED doesn’t support any colors at all. Going with a white (and larger than usual) notification light might have something to do with the front camera, but more on that later.

This is the Canadian company’s first smartphone that lacks the BlackBerry text branding on its front side. Up until now, it was always there (top or bottom), but on the DTEK50 it’s nowhere to be found. The BlackBerry logo rests at its usual location on the back though.

The back plate is also the only hardware/design aspect that differentiates the DTEK50 from its Alcatel-branded twin brother: glass has been replaced with a textured plastic surface which, aside from increasing grip, doesn’t collect smudges and looks more in line with BlackBerry’s design principles and past devices.
An unexpectedly large camera module and the dual-LED flash are located here as well, in a top-left position similar to the iPhone 6 and 6S, along with another pair of grilles for the stereo speakers.

There’s no fingerprint sensor to be found, front or back, which was expected given BlackBerry’s reluctance to rely on this kind of technology just yet. To be honest, it’s for the best because at this price point the sensor would have most likely been shoddy, at best.

The power/lock button is located on the left side, just like the PRIV, while the right edge houses the volume keys and a round Xperia-like button called the convenience key. This arrangement might confuse a lot of people but thankfully the key can be configured to lock the phone, among other functions (open any app, access speed dial entries, send messages and tons of different shortcuts, including toggles for various functions like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or notification sound volume).

A nice touch is not being forced to restart the device whenever you insert or remove a SIM card (Samsung users know what I’m talking about).

A 5.2-inch / 1920x1080 / 424ppi display should look crisp and the DTEK50 does not disappoint, especially since it’s an IPS panel. Not the brightest I’ve seen but it does a great job (unless you put it against this year’s flagships, which wouldn’t be all that fair). Colors look good and can be further tweaked from the settings app.

It supports the double-tap to wake gesture just like its higher-end predecessor, but enabling it might not be the best idea given the smaller battery. The battery charging green “snake” also makes a comeback.
One more thing: I don’t consider this a drawback, but the multi-touch support is limited to 5 points instead of the more common 10.

Hardware setup
We already know the hardware specs are identical to the Alcatel Idol 4, which brings nothing impressive to the table. Still, it’s nice seeing 3GB of RAM on a device in this price range.
The DTEK50 uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 617 SoC combined with the Adreno 405 GPU, making for a decent and mostly snappy device, but certainly no gaming machine.

There are plenty of sensors, including magnetometer and hall effect, and no misses in terms of connectivity: LTE/4G, Wi-Fi up to 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2 with EDR and A2DP, GPS and NFC.

Sadly, the data/charging port is of the old microUSB 2.0 variety, so it seems we’ll have to wait some more until BlackBerry makes the jump to USB Type-C. It does support Quick Charge though, but it’s the 2.0 version, which is strange since Snapdragon 617 was supposed to support QC3.0.

The SIM/microSD card tray can be populated with a second SIM in place of the memory card, which might lead you to believe the DTEK50 has some sort of dual-SIM capability, which is not the case.

Benchmark performance
As expected, benchmarks revealed mediocre performance across the board:
Some didn’t run fully due to a strange network-related error. It looks like the DTEK50 blocks connections to some sites, including those of AnTuTu and Geekbench, at the OS level.

As can be seen from the graphs, the AnTuTu 15-minute stress test did not cause the device to overheat or throttle the CPU, drained about 10% from the battery.

Real-life performance
Looking past numbers and benchmarks, what we have here is a smartphone that runs well and without snags most of the time, especially if you’re not into mobile gaming. The Hub is miles away from the lag fest that it was on the PRIV when it initially launched, which is great, considering it’s one of the selling points of the device.

The DTEK50 rarely gets warm (when installing Android OS updates or patches, for example) and I didn’t notice instances of overheating. It’s not a gaming machine, which is understandable given the specs and price range.

The near-stock Android used is a great help, things would have certainly been different (read: worse) with a “skin” like many OEMs love to use these days. BlackBerry has done a good job implementing Marshmallow on their Android-based devices (on the PRIV it runs visibly better than Lollipop) so let’s hope the same happens when they move to Android M.

Software (OS & BB Apps)
BlackBerry’s Android flavor is still very close to the stock experience in terms of customization, a far cry from the deep customization other Android vendors love to do much to the dismay of their customers. Still, the security features and extras we’ve first seen on the PRIV are here as well, including the Hub which is better than ever… on Android that is. It’s still (and probably will ever be) inferior to the original, BBOS 10 version.

Apart from the Hub, BlackBerry’s productivity suite includes: Contacts, Tasks, Notes, Calendar and Device Search, plus the BBM messaging app and a handy data transfer application that supports both Android and OS10-powered BlackBerry devices.

I’ve described them all in detail in BlackBerry PRIV review but it must be mentioned that the Hub is still the best mobile email client out there, despite all the competition, especially after the latest updates which added more app integrations and the missing pinch gesture support. It’s fast, never misses emails, doesn’t lag and does wonders for productivity on the go.

There’s still no gallery app, so you’ll have to rely on the pre-installed Photos from Google, or find a third-party one that doesn’t suck.

As a side note, most of BlackBerry’s apps are now available for all Android phones, with a small catch: after 30 days you can either subscribe for $0.99/month or agree to see advertisements every now and then.
Before we move to the camera, a mildly interesting fact: after adding a Google account to the phone  I got the usual “New Sign-in” email but instead of DTEK50, it mentioned Acer Iconia, which isn’t even a phone (it’s a 6-year old tablet).

BlackBerry continues to work on its camera app and it shows: there are manual controls baked into it now, which might help squeezing the best shots possible from the DTEK50’s mediocre sensor.
I also took some comparison shots using the DTEK50 against the iPhone 6, Nexus 6P, Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ and BlackBery PRIV and medium light and bright light.

There’s no optical image stabilization at all, which BlackBerry tried to mitigate by using a software-based solution. It’s better than nothing but keep in mind it gets disabled for 60fps videos regardless of the resolution.

The 1.125um pixel size is all you need to know when it comes to camera performance in low-light conditions: in short it’s terrible, all the more so for videos. In bright light, however, results are decent for  this price range, but nowhere near anything you might call a flagship device. Using a different camera app did not help either.

There’s not much to be said about the front camera: it’s got 8MP,  it uses the notification LED as a flash (with varying degrees of success) and it’s good enough for video calls with Google’s new, shiny, and apparently very popular new app Duo.

Finally, it’s important to note that without a memory card, the available built-in storage doesn’t allow for too many videos, especially if you shoot 1080p@60fps.

The same warning applies to photos as well, because despite a normal JPEG quality setting of 95% and JPEG subsampling of 2x2 (which favors reduced file size over image quality) the resulting files are much larger in size than what other phones with similar MP/resolution are able to produce.
Hit the gallery for camera samples (indoor, outdoor rainy, outdoor sunny).

Audio & call quality
In-call audio quality is very good, something we’ve grown to expect from BlackBerries. After PRIV’s rather sneaky mono speaker, we are again treated to a stereo setup that sounds great, albeit not very loud, which was sort of a surprise given the four individual speaker grilles.
The preinstalled Waves MaxxAudio app comes with several equalizer presets for music plus a movie mode. It can be used in simple mode (four knobs to tweak bass & treble levels, stereo separation and “revive” – whatever that is) and advanced mode which gives access to a traditional 10-band equalizer ranging from 32Hz to 16kHz.

There's an automatic mode as well, which picks the preset to use based on the audio being played at that moment.

Battery life & charging
The DTEK50 has a battery capacity of only 2610 mAh, which is low and frankly unexpected given the market segment targeted by the device. Matching PRIV’s 3410 mAh battery would have been advisable because the device can barely last a day of moderate usage (20% or less battery left in the evening) without a quick charge-up at the office.

Using the included charger with Quick Charge 2.0, the DTEK50 charges from 0 to 50% in 50 minutes and to 100% in 2 hours and a half. There is no indication of fast/normal charging however, and as far as I can see, the red/yellow/green charging indicator doesn’t display the ETA to full charge anymore. You can get an estimation in Settings -> Battery, though.

The white-only notification LED also means you have no way to quickly see the phone is fully charged, unless you allow the charging indicator to be displayed at all times, which keeps the screen dark but visibly on.
During charging, the lower part of the screen gets warm, but not the back side.

Security is still front & center and DTEK, the app the phone takes part of its name from, is preinstalled and ready to give all sorts of advice regarding phone settings and permissions.
Its most useful feature is keeping tabs on what permissions apps use (and when). You can review events by app or by permission and there’s also the option to get notifications automatically every time an app accesses something (configurable for each app and permission). There are handy shortcuts to any given app’s permissions and info pages from the app manager (settings) if you need to make adjustments or even uninstall rogue apps.

A strange choice was removing the picture password unlock method that was present on the PRIV. Granted, it was a bit confusing for some users, but removing it altogether instead of fixing it is not the way to go.
Other than that, you still get BlackBerry’s hardened Android environment and the fastest security patch cycle among all Android vendors.

With a better camera and CPU, the DTEK50 could have been a mid-range best-buy. Instead, it’s going to mostly appeal to the business segment, who favors security and productivity features. Regular users will look past it and to alternatives that offer improved everyday features for the same price.

I wouldn’t label the DTEK50 as a failure though, quite the contrary, it looks like the beginning of a new, clearer and more focused strategy to provide cost-effective DTEK-series devices for businesses.

It remains to be seen what will happen to the enthusiast segment, because BlackBerry fans still long for a high-end device worthy of the flagship title (in short, everything the PRIV was supposed to be).

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