BlackBerry DTEK50 Hands-on: Repackaged, ‘secure’ Android

In an effort to reinvigorate its handset business, which is currently trudging forward on life support, BlackBerry has finally relented and released the touchscreen, Android-based phone hardcore fans of the brand have fantasized about for a long time. The problem is, the DTEK50 is likely five years too late.

In 2016, a BlackBerry device featuring Android and a touch display is decidedly less exciting than it would have been in 2009.

BlackBerry Alcatel OneTouch Idol 4

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It’s almost as if we’re in a time machine given the fact that touting a “touchscreen” is one of the DTEK50’s most heavily talked about features, along with BlackBerry’s now standard emphasis on security.

While BlackBerry claims its latest handset is “the world’s most secure smartphone,” and while that’s a nebulous statement, many of the phone’s features do in fact allow users to make their device more secure.

The DTEK50 also isn’t a homegrown BlackBerry device. Instead, is little more than an off-the-shelf reference design by TCL that closely resembles the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 4.

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The one major difference between that device and the DTEK50, beyond obvious software features, is an exterior design that calls upon the company’s previous design cues. In the case of the DTEK50, the Idol’s glass back has been replaced with a patterned rubber rear. The backing feels strange and resembles rubberized sandpaper, but the device’s target enterprise audience may find it appealing to their tastes.

The DTEK50 is also extremely light, reminding me of the Nexus 5X, though the phone’s build feels slightly more flimsy than LG and Google’s flagship, as well as the Moto G4, two comparable handsets in terms of price and specs.

‘The World’s most secure Android’

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For a smartphone that emphasizes security so heavily, it’s strange the DTEK50 doesn’t include a fingerprint scanner, though during my hands-on briefing, Scott Wenger, the company’s head of design, said the now standard tech’s exclusion was a “price consideration” rather than a security one.

As with most of its services and smartphones, particularly the Priv, BlackBerry’s main pitch behind the DTEK50 is security, with the stilted presentation about the phone repeating the words “secure” and “security” a seemingly endless number of times.

Moving beyond securing Android’s bootloader, something BlackBerry did with its first Android-based device, the Priv, the company has also added an additional layer of security to the operating system, cryptographically signing the DTEK50’s chipset.

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The focal point of the DTEK50, however, is an app that shares the phone’s name, DTEK. It allows users to monitor and control each app’s access to resources and information. This gives the user additional insight into what portions of the phone every app is accessing. For example, many flashlight apps request access to a phone’s mic, even though they don’t really need to.

DTEK will be able to easily show you when situations like this arise, and allow the user to edit an app’s permissions as necessary, though this also limits the apps funcionality. The user can also switch to another version of the app, or uninstall it altogether.

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Other features like the BlackBerry Hub, as well as an interesting Android skin tweak that makes accessing widgets more secure, are included in the DTEK50. If an app features a widget, there are three dots below it; swiping up from these three dots activates the widget temporarily.

BlackBerry says this feature is designed to prevent “screen watching.” While this feature does, in fact, help prevent screen watching, it also defeats the purpose of widgets: providing glanceable information.

Mid-range specs

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Specs wise, the DTEK50 comes equipped with a 5.2-inch 1080p display that I found bright and vibrant, though also comparable to other mid-range phones that share its price point. It also features a Snapdragon 617 processor, which is likely sufficient for the device’s target enterprise market, especially given its 3GB of RAM, allowing for ample multitasking. The phone also comes equipped with 16GB of storage.

The main issue with the DTEK50 is there are so many other comparable devices out there, namely the Moto G4, though BlackBerry’s latest device does seem to have a more responsive camera when compared to Motorola’s mid-range smartphone. In terms of specific photography specs, the phone features a 8 megapixel front shooter and a 13 megapixel rear camera.

BlackBerry might be onto something with the mid-range DTEK50, especially when it comes to targeting the enterprise market, it’s just a shame it took the company so long to finally release a smartphone like this.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misrepresented the DTEK’s app functionality, not noting that it allows users to change app permissions as they see fit. 

Photography by Igor Bonifacic (other than the header image).

Related: Win a BlackBerry DTEK50!

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