As expected for many years now, BlackBerry has announced that it will no longer build smartphones itself. Phones with BlackBerry’s branding will be designed, manufactured and marketed by partners while the company itself focuses on software. The last phones that BlackBerry itself launched were the DTEK50 and DTEK60, both based on Android and designed to appeal to buyers who don’t necessarily want a physical keyboard, but value BlackBerry’s business and security features.
However, it feels as though BlackBerry has already begun its outsourcing operations with these two new phones. They’re manufactured by China’s TCL and are nearly identical to the Alcatel Idol 4 and Idol 4S respectively, which TCL is responsible for. So is there more to these phones than just modified software and a sticker slapped on the back? Or is the BlackBerry we’ve known for so long effectively dead already? We’re reviewing the smaller and more affordable model, the DTEK50, in order to tackle those very questions.
BlackBerry DTEK50 look and feel
In terms of design and aesthetics, the DTEK50 has a bit of a split personality. The front face is mostly glass and the sides are metal with shiny bevelled edges, but the rear is plastic with a hard, grainy texture, which feels extremely unusual. The rim of the phone protrudes beyond the top and the bottom, making space for stereo speaker grilles. It looks like two shapes have been jammed together.
While easy to grip, the DTEK50’s dull grey rear panel reminded us of the bottom of an anti-slip mat. It just doesn’t make for a good-looking phone, and if BlackBerry was trying to make the DTEK50 feel rugged, this doesn’t do the trick. The similarly priced BlackBerry Leap (Review) looked and felt way better than this.
There’s no branding on the front, and if fact it’s totally plain thanks to the use of on-screen Android navigation controls. The power button is on the upper left, which is going to be difficult for anyone to get used to, while the volume buttons are on the left with BlackBerry’s programmable “convenience key” below them. Of course, thanks to its positioning (and similarity to some other companies’ designs), we kept hitting it when we wanted the power button. There’s a 3.5mm audio socket at the top and a Micro-USB port at the bottom.
The SIM and microSD card tray was clearly intended to sit flush with the rest of the phone’s rim, but at least on our review unit the edges didn’t line up, making it stick out like a sore thumb. Finally, we come to the back where there’s only the camera and flash in one corner, and a large BlackBerry logo in the centre. The battery isn’t removable.
Overall, we’re underwhelmed by the DTEK50’s look. It’s the most generic design we’ve ever seen from this once-famously unique brand, and it just doesn’t have much of an identity. We also have to point out that the parts of the metal rim which extend beyond the rest of the body are rather sharp, which makes this phone uncomfortable to hold up to an ear while talking. On the plus side, weight is manageable at 135g, and it’s relatively easy to hold and use this phone with one hand.
BlackBerry DTEK50 specifications
We’ve been annoyed with BlackBerry in the past for releasing phones with low-end specs at high-end prices. Both the Leap and Z3, which were launched at around the same price as the DTEK50, were shockingly underpowered and underwhelming. Thankfully, that isn’t the case anymore. BlackBerry seems to have come to terms with what it’s up against and so the DTEK50 has at least relatively modern internals.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor is a bit old, but still competent. It’s more typical of sub-Rs. 15,000 phones, and if figures that BlackBerry would go with this positioning since it’s using its software and brand power as the main value propositions. The Snapdragon 617 is an octa-core SoC with integrated Adreno 405 graphics and wireless communications. The 3GB of RAM is generous, but only 16GB of storage is quite ordinary. Expansion of up to 2TB is supported, if and when microSD cards ever reach that capacity.
BlackBerry has gone with a full-HD display, which is a first in this price class for the company. The screen measures 5.2 inches diagonally resulting in a high density of 424ppi. There’s a 13-megapixel camera on the back and a fixed-focus 8-megapixel one in front. Both support 1080p video recording at up to 30fps.
LTE is supported on Indian bands. This is a single-SIM phone even though the SIM tray has a hybrid design with a cutout for a second SIM, likely because TCL didn’t change this when adapting the Idol 4. There’s also Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, A-GPS, NFC, and FM radio.