BlackBerry Motion Review: Getting the business

BlackBerry motion header

The Pros

  • Tasteful and rugged design
  • Expanded Convenience Key
  • Tasteful and rugged design

The Cons

  • Camera could be better
  • Productivity Tab needs more
  • Pricing could be divisive

Now that BlackBerry is no longer a phone manufacturer, but rather a brand leveraging its software, the company’s devices are still recognizable. But are they desirable? The Motion hones in on the mid-range pack, trying to stand out, yet again.

This is the second device manufactured by TCL, which also makes its own phones under the Alcatel brand. It first announced its licensing deal with BlackBerry in January, culminating in the KEYone, a retro-looking handset with a physical keyboard.

That was clearly aimed at users who wanted to punch away at real keys, limiting its wider appeal. The Motion is a touch-only affair, coming at a lower price point, and with the software suite that is supposed to make Android-based BlackBerrys uniquely suited to privacy, security and productivity.

Feeling better

BB Motion fingerprint sensor

Whatever the agreement clauses between TCL and BlackBerry, the Motion continues the solid effort behind the KEYone. It’s tastefully designed, and built to endure. Aluminum edges flank the two panels all around, with a rubberized back that improves grip. It’s a cross between the textured backs used on the Priv and DTEK50.

The industry’s drive to shave bezels down as much as possible makes those surrounding the phone’s 5.5-inch IPS display (1920 x 1080 pixels) stand out more. To put it in perspective, the bezels take up 30 per cent of the panel. There’s nothing particularly unusual about that for a mid-range handset, especially since it’s not all that different from something in the premium category, like the iPhone 8 Plus.

Despite that, BlackBerry has touted the screen’s durability, claiming it to be 25 per cent more scratch-resistant than Gorilla Glass 5, which is commonly found on phones now.

A fingerprint sensor is embedded in the physical home button below. It responds reasonably well, though I found the KEYone to be a tad faster, despite that device embedding it in the space bar. Swiping down lowers the notification pane, with another swipe down revealing the settings shortcuts.

Some of the other physical traits stay consistent. There is a headphone jack, plus a USB-C charging port. The power and volume buttons are joined by the Convenience Key, a feature going back to the DTEK50 last year. The SIM card slot can also handle microSD cards up to 256GB to further expand on the phone’s very modest 32GB of internal storage.

Running on the octa-core Snapdragon 625 gives the Motion decent chipset performance, though nothing to get overly excited about. Working with 4GB of RAM is a nice compromise, given the positive impact on multitasking.

Unlike the KEYone, the Motion is IP67-rated for water and dust resistance, meaning you can use it in water down to one metre for up to 30 minutes. It’s not exactly something you would always use in the pool, but you have peace of mind that an accidental dip or exposure to rain won’t irreversibly damage it.

Software familiarity

BB Motion Convenience Key

That the Motion runs on Android 7.1 Nougat out of the box was actually a disappointment for me. I’m well aware that BlackBerry is on the ball with monthly security updates, but am left wondering about system updates. An upgrade to 8.0 Oreo has already been confirmed in an interview with MobileSyrup. What about beyond that?

Assuming there is an impetus to draw in more of Android’s evolution over time, the Motion automatically becomes a more interesting prospect. Time will tell on that front.

Since embracing Android, BlackBerry has tried to make the case that it has a leg up on securing an operating system it otherwise has no control over. The company’s commitment to security patches is more than admirable, considering the rampant negligence from others post-launch, except it’s hard to connect the dots for those who aren’t in the know.

The DTEK app is back, providing insight into the Motion’s overall security posture. It functions like it has on previous BlackBerry Android devices, so no real surprises there.

I don’t want to go off-track by diving into the company’s marketing strategies, but it would probably behoove them to cast a spotlight on their own apps. The productivity story doesn’t begin and end with the company’s logo or brand, yet I wonder how many Android users are even aware BlackBerry apps are available through Google Play.

Getting things done

BB Motion keyboard

The Motion, in effect, is the messenger. With the Hub+ suite and services pre-installed, the stage is already set. I have yet to see something as robust as this for messaging and communication on Android. Rather than opening various apps to stay in touch, texts and emails can populate in one interface. They could be easily separated too.

Unfortunately, it’s still not as deep as its BB10 counterpart, which is capable of integrating social media messaging accounts as well. Despite that, notifications from WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Slack and Instagram can run through the Hub, thereby keeping you in the loop in the same space.

I’ve long wanted BlackBerry to make the onscreen keyboard available on Google Play. Do a search on any Android device, and almost two dozen apps appear. There’s just no keyboard. I appreciate how accurate it is, as well as how the supporting features make it useful. The cursor d-pad and clipboard are two examples, making it much easier to highlight, edit or copy text in any app. Predictive text is still excellent, though I wish BlackBerry would allow for some customization to expand the frets a little. Larger displays like the Motion’s should make this easier to do.

Again, with productivity and communication being the focuses here, not all apps are necessarily preloaded. Docs To Go, Tasks and Notes are three that come to mind. Microsoft Office integration and customizable methods for creating new tasks or notes with privacy in mind, they may be a worthwhile addition to the current suite, depending on what your needs are.

Productivity Tab and Convenience Key

BB Motion edge

Orienting apps to business use cases is par for the course for anything adorning a BlackBerry logo, and that’s why the Productivity Tab and Convenience Key are given some priority.

I’ve never been fully sold on the former of the two, but will concede the quick information the tab displays can be convenient. It’s just that little is actionable. If I want to add a calendar entry or contact, it’s merely a stepping stone to the corresponding app. I could just as easily launch the app needed from the launcher in the same amount of time.

The Convenience Key is more robust, in my opinion. It can be mapped to a wide array of different shortcuts, and it was genius to separate it into profiles. Home, Meeting and Car are the defaults, allowing you to map up to three shortcuts for each one.

This proved a real benefit in the car, where I was able to do a voice search or launch Google Maps with a simple press. Even with the Home profile, I used it as a shortcut to launch the camera or Sonos.

What I liked about this approach was that it’s entirely agnostic. It isn’t pushing forward a business focus. It’s open enough to mix it up between work and personal needs.

Camera

BB Motion camera

Having seen what the KEYone’s camera could do, I wasn’t overly optimistic about the Motion’s 12MP rear camera performance. My concerns were mostly well-founded, as this phone is every bit a mid-range shooter. It’s capable of producing decent photos, but good lighting plays a big role.

Manual controls, which need to be toggled on under the camera settings, can certainly help the cause, lending a helping hand to extract more out of a scene. Even when deployed, the Motion takes decent photos, but nothing I would consider remarkable.

Some of what’s been included carries value in other ways. For instance, the Scanner mode can snap a photo of a business card and load the information to create a new contact. Locker was on by default, and it required that touch the fingerprint sensor before taking a photo or video. Viewing the images afterward also required a fingerprint. Pretty good for a sense of security in not revealing anything compromising, I suppose.

I did like that BlackBerry offered 4K video recording, including at 24fps for the motion picture effect. Results were okay, but nothing to get overly excited about.

Battery life

Anytime a phone has a 4,000mAh battery inside, it should last a long time between charges. The Motion is one of them, letting me roll right past a full day without having to charge until the following day or night. On very light usage over a three-day span, the phone still had 20 per cent left.

Quick Charge is able to hit 50 per cent charge in about 40 minutes, getting you back up and running in a short time. The Battery section under settings tells the wider story, indicating which apps or processes take up the most juice. Turning on Battery Saver can stretch out a charge for a longer period, which may come in handy in a real pinch.

With such impressive battery life, though, I don’t see those situations popping up too often, at least for the first 12 to 18 months of owning the unit.

Wrap up

The Motion fits within the parameters BlackBerry set for it. It is reliable, productivity-focused and offers great battery life. It does those things well, partly at the expense of the camera, which isn’t as good as other phones in its price range.

Does that mean it’s only for business users? Not necessarily, but that’s who would benefit most. Whether you’re a high-paid executive or running a small business, the Motion doesn’t discriminate either way. At $599.99 outright, it comes off as a bargain compared to the likes of the $1,000-plus iPhone X, Google Pixel 2 and Samsung Galaxy Note 8.

True, it’s not exactly apples to oranges, but competition is arguably tighter in the mid-range space where more vendors partake. BlackBerry sticks to its niche, only needs to make more noise to stand out.

"The Motion fits within the parameters BlackBerry set for it"

7.5

Comments

  • Elky64

    Pretty much agree with what was said here.

    The camera, yeah meh. I know the jury is still out on this whether it’s software, hardware, or both. I pretty much resigned myself at this point to conclude TLC (BB) opted to use an inferior sensor over that offered on the KEYone. Dumb move if that is the case.

    Bought the motion mainly for the productivity aspect and its battery, so far we’re happy on those fronts. Distancing myself from the $1000+ club also played a role in purchasing.

    • h2oflyer

      Congrats on getting a phone with real impressive battery life.

      Totally disagree with the jab at stellar battery performance being a problem in 12 to 18 months. That problem is usually reserved for under sized, over used batteries that are mostly on charge while in use.

      Usable battery life is measured by how often and how much you have to charge.

    • Elky64

      Thanks – Took the battery life comment with a grain of salt thinking someone stayed up too late writing this review LOL.

    • h2oflyer

      Yes, they seem to rely on poking jabs at real or imagined negatives on phones other than Apple or Samsung.

    • John Lofwire

      Should had taken the essential its a much better buy than this.
      almost as good battery life.
      better in every others aspect.

    • Elky64

      Nope we shouldn’t have, and didn’t. Bought the phone that was going to work best for ME, so far happy with our choice. Besides, the Essential’s road to stardom has been too rocky for my liking that I thought it best to stay clear.

    • John Lofwire

      All I care about is result and essential delivering in more aspect than this cheap overpriced low mid end device.

      Sd625 is pretty slow at that price it’s should had faster SOC.

      Design and material are not very impressive as well.

      But hey you spend your money how you want to but I will for sure recommend the essential over this any day to my clients.

    • Elky64

      Humm… So I chose the Motion because it was going to suit my needs best and now you got a thorn up your butt because I didn’t pick the Essential, strange.

      I care about results too, in the form of productivity, and the Motion handles that aspect quite well I might add. Not for you, great because I never recommended it to anyone else besides myself.

      And I did spend my money exactly how we wanted to thank you very much. Knock your socks off recommending the Essential if that’s what makes you happy.

    • John Lofwire

      Price for what you get it’s inferior simple as that.

      Those blackberry from tcl also have bad ratio of returns with various hardware issues.

      As for productivity I can easily be as productive as you are on that device if not more as it’s much faster and can handle more app running at the same time so better faster multitasking.

      My issues is with ppl paying same price and receiving much less.

      Blackberry software and app I can download like the blackberry hub I just checked.

      So beside a slightly bigger battery, waterproofing (oem do not cover water damage and waterproofing seal will get damaged by salty water or others non clean water) I see no advantage to this device.

      Versus essential that have Superior : camera , SOC , built quality , bigger onboard memory , screen quality ect. That blackberry should be 400$ Max then it’s would be an amazing buy but at 600 versus essential you have to be crazy to get it sorry.

    • Elky64

      Is it, says who, you? I feel sorry for your customers if that’s how you roll, fixated with specs and pricing alone. Thought you once said you listened to your customers and recommend a device based on their needs/wants, or is it based on a device’s spec’s, price or, YOUR personal preferences.

      You do realize don’t you John that the Essential Phone as a whole hasn’t been a picture of health either right? There is a darn good reason its price plummeted and for those exact reasons I wasn’t willing to take that chance. So don’t give me the sob story about TCL when Essential themselves ain’t no saint either, not by a long shot.

      Go ahead and take your Porsche and be faster who cares. For my type of use I highly doubt there’d be a noticeable difference between the two, contrary to what you believe. Have fun with you multi-tasking and gazillion open apps cuz you can only have two in focus at one time – and maybe that’s why in the past you complained about phones being laggy, you don’t know how to manage your device. I have multiple Android devices and for some reason, that isn’t an issue for me.

      One is only getting less if it doesn’t live up to their expectations. If I purchased the Essential Phone (because it’s such a good deal!) and it didn’t live up to my expectations, and/or I was the unlucky soul who got that device riddled with problems, and/or Essential ceased support, and/or the company threw in the towel, are you going to come to my rescue John, and would that still be a good deal? Didn’t think so. Again, based my purchasing decision on facts as it is known and what the device can do for me, less to do with price/specs. Being in this industry John you should be fully aware, especially in today’s mobile world, specs aren’t everything and people DO have personal preferences.

      You are not supposed to see and advantage if its not for you. I did (for my use) and that’s what counts.

      Yeah and there’s many other phones out there with superior specs too, maybe not same price point but then again, the Essential’s price just didn’t drop because Andy felt us consumers needed a break. So although you see a better spec’d/prettier device that’s similarly priced, I see one that brings with it much uncertainty and instability. So Is it too hard for you to believe some of use actually look beyond the surface when deciding what to purchase?

      So go ahead a tout your Essential Phone to somebody who actually cares cuz I don’t. Got what I was looking for and totally happy. Maybe if you look deep inside yourself you’ll find what you are looking too.

    • Marshall Davidson

      Elky64 I’m not sure you realize just how lame you sound in your long-winded post here defending the Motion as something so much better compared to an Essential when its patently obvious the Essential is the better device of the two and where the productivity argument is just as ridiculous. If the Motion had a PKB then I MIGHT understand your preference for such but because its the same industrial design as any other slab Android device out there the argument isn’t compelling. It runs Android, has the same number of apps but for the price point it does have poor specs that just don’t hold a candle to rival devices out there. In point of fact you just sound like a fanboy in your mindless drivel and your anger is palpable. You got called out for buying crap today and don’t like it because you didn’t take the time to shop around for a better value. Those are facts you need to deal with. Not John Lofwire.

    • Elky64

      Apparently I hit a never here LOL. Maybe you and John can learn how to comprehend a little better so you both don’t look like fools.

      Will the REAL lame ducks please stand up…

      Have a nice day 🙂

    • Marshall Davidson

      Ah yes of course, the old ‘comprehension’ excuse. Maybe you could also learn to be a discerning consumer and more carefully research your purchases to determine value for money spent instead of jumping on the fanboy bandwagon and claiming how happy you are buying an inferior device for more money. Makes a lot of sense. smh

    • Elky64

      😎+🍿… Stand Up Comedians are my favourite, how did you know?

  • Marshall Davidson

    There is nothing compelling here for either a business executive or a regular Joe looking for a new device. The brand of Blackberry is finished in the hardware business and the software angle they are pursuing here has zero appeal. Do we know how well the Keyone sold? Of course not. Just like we don’t know how the DTEK phones went over and it seems like TCL has taken a page from the ole Blackberry playbook by continuing to release more irrelevant devices that end up going nowhere beyond maybe a couple hundred thousand sold.
    The author is right about one thing. The company could make more noise about marketing this stuff but when you consider what you’re getting here its just not that compelling. What would be the marketing angle? Security? lol They no longer have any monopoly in that realm and only fanboys believe otherwise.

  • John Lofwire

    i take an essential at 650 over this any day lol. 50$ more = better screen , camera and MUCH faster.