BlackBerry hasn’t given up on their handset division just yet. Despite discontinuing their two-year old BlackBerry Classic without a follow-up, the company has announced a second Android device called the DTEK50. While their first Android device, the BlackBery Priv, was priced in the premium range, the DTEK50 has its sight set on a mid-range market that has suddenly become a little more accessible, with more and more companies focused on affordable flagships priced at around $400. With a $300 price tag, decent specs, and security features that no other smartphone can match, the DTEK50 could be BlackBerry’s best (and last) chance at taking back the enterprise and government niche that they’ve been slowly forced out of.
The DTEK50 is a 5.2″ smartphone running Android 6.0 Marshmallow, although you can be assured that BlackBerry has made heavy modifications to the OS. The phone has a 1920 x 1080 display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 SoC, 3 GB of RAM, 16 GB of storage, a 13 MP rear camera, an 8 MP front camera, and a 2,610 mAh battery. The Snapdragon 617 should be good enough for business uses because it’s been paired with 3 GB of RAM instead of 2 GB, although we do have some doubts about multitasking performance.
That could depend on how well BlackBerry has optimized their Android tweaks. 16 GB of storage is pretty low, especially considering Android 6.0 takes up a lot of space (and will take up more with BlackBerry’s software), but fortunately, there’s a microSD card slot that can expand storage by up to 2 TB. The battery capacity seems low, but BlackBerry is offering a $60 external power pack as a freebie for those who preorder. But, here’s the big disappointment for many BlackBerry adherents — no physical keyboard, slide-out or otherwise.
Curiously, there’s also a physical BlackBerry Convenience Key on the side of the phone that can be programmed to open up apps or quickly execute other commands. We say curiously because it looks so much like the button on the Alcatel Idol 4/4S that it’s almost hard to believe it’s a coincidence. There have been rumblings that the DTEK50 actually is a rebranded Idol 4 with BlackBerry’s software, and while we can’t confirm that, we can say the phones physically look identical from the front, back, and sides, just with a BlackBerry backplate in place of the Alcatel backplate.
Those specs don’t wow, but that’s not where BlackBerry is making their sales pitch. BlackBerry is talking up several security features in the DTEK50, although many of them have been Android staples for a while. Controlling which apps have permission to access which features was made standard in Android 6.0. Hardware root of trust, secure boot process, and FIPS 140-2 full disk encryption have all been seen in Android devices before, too, and it’s not clear what, if anything, BlackBerry is adding to those features.
There are some better arguments. Android OS hardening works to prevent attacks executed by scrambling application/system memory using improved random number generation, address space generation, and certificate pinning. BlackBerry is also guaranteeing continuous and rapid security patches, which is something they can pull off — their security software and hardware work is the most stable part of their business right now. Meanwhile, the DTEK app is a security dashboard of sorts, alerting users whenever someone has gained access to their phone features, data, or accounts.
Security aside, the DTEK50 also includes the BlackBerry Intelligent Keyboard, which learns user tendencies and can switch between multiple languages by default. The BlackBerry Hub, one of BlackBerry’s strongest software features, is also here — the Hub groups multiple email accounts, texts, calendar events, and social media messages and notifications into a single unified inbox.
It’ll be an uphill battle. BlackBerry needs to regain ground in enterprise and government, and while security features could help, we noticed that the government has already started moving away from BlackBerry when BlackBerry announced they were discontinuing the Classic. Still, for the specs and what extra security features there are, $300 is a pretty good asking price. It really depends on those security features, though — the Moto G4 Plus with 4 GB of RAM looks like a slightly better buy at $300 in terms of performance, and the Alcatel Idol 4, ZenFone 3, and a possible Honor 5X follow-up are all strong competitors. If BlackBerry can prove that their security software is worth it, though, they could start winning back some enterprise customers. BlackBerry is saying they’re looking for mass market success with the DTEK50, too, but that seems like a bridge too far — for most customers, stock Android on the Moto G series will likely prove preferable.
BlackBerry is also going into this without carrier partners, which isn’t bad for us, but makes BlackBerry’s job a lot harder. The DTEK50 available for preorder now directly from BlackBerry, and will also be launching in a handful of other countries simultaneously. Shipping is scheduled for the week of August 8.