Introduction and design
The BlackBerry DTEK50 is the world’s most secure Android smartphone.
So says the Canadian firm at least. It’s a compelling claim too, as concern over personal security on mobile devices has never been higher – and the DTEK50 looks to play on that insecurity in people’s minds by offering solid specs with enhanced protection.
The rather awkward DTEK50 name – taken from the DTEK security app which is pre-installed on the handset and its big brother, the BlackBerry Priv – doesn’t do anything for the phone’s appeal and gives it a decidedly business tone from the outset.
While BlackBerry calls the DTEK50 the world’s most secure smartphone, the truth is that it has the same level of protection as the Priv – which means the firm actually has a pair of world-leading secure handsets.
Short on time? Check out our BlackBerry DTEK50 hands-on video:
YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmnDH2QBt_E
The BlackBerry DTEK50 price is an attractive $299, (£275, around AU$400) considering its solid-looking spec list, and the phone finds itself rubbing shoulders with the OnePlus 3, Nexus 5X and Moto X Style as it makes a case for your pocket.
The BlackBerry DTEK50 release date has been and gone – it went on sale back in July 2016 – and the phone is now widely available online and in some stores in key territories around the world, including the US and UK.
Those looking for a solid, affordable smartphone with added security could well be in luck – and the demand for this type of device is on the up.
- Security built in from the ground up, with full data encryption
- Handy DTEK app pre-installed to give you complete control over privacy
The bold claim of “the world’s most secure Android smartphone” is always going to come under quite a bit of scrutiny, but BlackBerry has a strong case with the DTEK50.
The firm has built in additional security at every level of hardware production, and enhanced Android’s already robust defenses with its years of privacy and security know-how, as well as adding full data encryption of all your content.
That encryption prevents thieves gaining access to your personal details such as photos, banking information, emails and contacts.
To top it off the BlackBerry DTEK50 (like the Priv) comes with the DTEK app pre-installed, which makes checking and improving your phone’s security status, and managing the permissions individual applications have, super-easy.
Don’t like the fact that a particular application has access to your phone’s microphone for no good reason? You can easily revoke access to just the mic, without uninstalling the app.
For its part Google releases a security patch update for its Android operating system every month, ensuring your phone is protected against the latest threats – but for many manufacturers it usually takes a few weeks to filter these patches to users.
Not with the DTEK50 though, as BlackBerry promises same-day updates whenever Google pushes a security patch – preventing hackers taking advantage of any newly-highlighted vulnerabilities. That’s great news, and something we hope more firms will adopt going forward.
One surprising omission on “the world’s most secure Android smartphone” is a fingerprint scanner – something we’d expect to be a nailed-on inclusion for an added layer of protection when it comes to mobile payments and unlocking the device.
Alas, though, BlackBerry wanted to keep costs down on the DTEK50, so the finger scanner didn’t make the cut, but it feels like a missed opportunity to hammer home the security aspect of this phone.
Question marks are already being raised over the DTEK50’s security claim, with Samsung claiming its new Galaxy Note 7 – complete with both finger and iris scanners – is more secure, thanks to its Knox platform.
This is likely to be an argument that rages on – but even if the DTEK50 isn’t the most secure phone, it has a whole host of defenses to protect you and your data.
- BlackBerry’s thinnest-ever phone, but it’s the same mid-range chassis as the Alcatel Idol 4
- Practical, not premium, and easy to hold with a grippy soft-touch rear
The BlackBerry DTEK50 isn’t a flagship device. It slides in below the keyboard-toting Priv in spec and price, but with the removal of the iconic physical keys emerges a handset which will likely appeal to a much wider market.
It’s no secret that BlackBerry has failed to do anything special in the design department. The firm has confirmed it used an off-the-shelf reference device from manufacturer TCL, and then tweaked the hardware and software to give it the BlackBerry look and feel.
In fact, the DTEK50 is a modified Alcatel Idol 4. It may not be the most appealing phone around, but it means BlackBerry can keep costs down while still delivering on performance.
Getting into the design, the DTEK50 features a grippy, soft-touch plastic rear which gives the handset a slightly rugged feel in the hand.
It won’t be winning any awards for cutting-edge design or premium appeal, but the metal frame feels solid, and the manageable 147 x 72.5 x 7.4mm dimensions means it nestles nicely into the palm.
This is the thinnest BlackBerry ever, so if pocket bulge is a concern of yours the DTEK50 shouldn’t worry you, and at 135g it’s also surprisingly light.
Spend just a bit more, though, and you can bag yourself the supremely more premium OnePlus 3, which also has a stronger lineup of specs – which takes the shine off the DTEK50’s offering a little.
Meanwhile the slightly cheaper (and older) Moto X Style has a similarly solid design with a touch more class about it.
The power/lock key resides on the left, while the volume rocker on the right is joined by a centralized round button, which BlackBerry calls the Convenience Key. It’s reminiscent of Sony’s power/lock key on its Xperia devices, and at first it’s a little confusing, as it looks to be the more obvious power option.
Instead, this is a programmable button that enables you to access an oft-used app, task or function of your choosing. If you find yourself constantly firing up Instagram to check your follower count, or regularly diving into your email inbox, the Convenience Key provides a useful way of quickly accessing that feature.
However, we found ourselves reaching for this button a little too often for our liking when attempting to wake/lock the screen during our time with the DTEK50, which was rather annoying.
What’s it like to use?
- Full HD display makes a near-stock Android Marshmallow look great
- General performance is okay, but it can get sluggish when it’s really pushed
- Variety of BlackBerry add-ons and apps with varying degrees of usefulness – the Hub stands out
The BlackBerry DTEK50 runs Android 6 Marshmallow – the latest version of Google’s operating system – and it has kept things pretty much the way they are in the stock version.
Unlike Samsung, HTC and Sony, BlackBerry hasn’t gone overboard with a skin, instead opting to add complementary features to the already robust Android offering.
That means you get BlackBerry’s suite of applications, including Hub, Contacts and Password Keeper, while additional functionality comes in the form of the Productivity Tab and pop-up widgets.
The Productivity Tab is accessible by swiping in from the right edge of the display. This gives you quick access to emails, contacts, calendar entries and tasks, and reduces the amount of app-hopping required to reach key information.
We didn’t find ourselves using it that much during our review, but for those with busy meeting schedules or highly active email accounts, the fact that you can view them quickly is a big plus point. If you decide you don’t like the tab, you can switch it off completely.
The 5.2-inch full HD screen is excellent though, offering a pixel density of 424ppi, which ensures everything is pin-sharp. Considering the price tag of the DTEK50, it’s a very good offering.
The phone’s LCD panel isn’t quite as colorful as AMOLED screens, with hues looking a little more muted, but there’s very little to complain about. Gaming looks great, videos are comfortable to watch and text is easy to read.
The keyboard is another area where BlackBerry has added its own touch, and claims it has a class-leading offering. While that’s still up for debate, the good news is that if you don’t like it you can download an alternative from the Play Store.
While next-word suggestions were usually pretty accurate, the requirement to swipe up over a character key seems slower than in other implementations, and the accuracy of your swipes needs to be spot-on.
Our typing speed increased with use, but we never felt as speedy on BlackBerry’s board as on options such as SwiftKey, or even Google’s stock Android option.
A fun little feature BlackBerry has baked into Android is its App Widget View. Apps which come with home screen widgets can take advantage of this, and you can easily tell if a particular application is viable, as three dots will appear under the app icon on the home screen.
Slide a finger over the app and a pop-up will appear, allowing you to select and then view the app’s widget. This gives you a quick overview of important information, such as your agenda in the calendar or new texts in messenger.
It’s reminiscent of 3D Touch on the iPhone, but without the fancy pressure-sensing technology. It’s genuinely useful, and a nice addition on the DTEK50.
Another boon for the DTEK50 is the inclusion of the BlackBerry Hub, a one-stop-shop for all your messaging and social needs. It pulls in texts, BBM messages, emails and notifications from a variety of different sources including WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, giving you an easy way to manage your online life.
While you can delete messages and notifications from the Hub, to view them the DTEK50 will load up the relevant applications, which slightly nullifies the smooth working of an app which some could cruelly dub a glorified notification bar.
It’s a handy feature, but it’s far from essential – and that’s the general feeling you get with the DTEK50. When it comes down to it, the DTEK50 is a solid Android smartphone with a few nice additions, but none really feel like showstoppers.
We had no trouble with Spotify playback, YouTube videos and watching movies, with the full HD display of the DTEK50 providing a more than adequate experience – especially for the reasonable price tag of this handset.
The slimline, lightweight frame of the DTEK50 means it’s comfortable to hold for extended periods of time – whether you’re enjoying the latest box set of that hit TV show your colleagues won’t shut up about, or ploughing some serious laps into Real Racing 3.
There are dual front-facing speakers here too, giving you a reasonable kick-back when the volume is cranked up. It’s not the same quality as HTC’s BoomSound offering on the One M9 and 10, but it’s certainly not bad. For the best audio experience though, you’ll still want to plug in a set of headphones.
In terms of pre-installed applications, BlackBerry has stuck with Google’s suite, giving you Play Music and Play Movies, which allow you to access your own content as well as the search giant’s stores and music-streaming service.
Moving onto gaming, and the DTEK50 can run most things you throw at it – Pokémon Go and Clash Royale included – but load times can be slow, and in-game action can stutter from time to time.
It’s not the smoothest of operators under pressure, and for those playing more taxing titles the experience can become slightly frustrating.
Specs and performance
At the heart of the DTEK50 is a mid-range Snapdragon 617 octa-core processor and 3GB of RAM, with 16GB of internal storage expandable via a microSD slot.
The expandable memory slot supports cards up to 2TB in size, and this additional space can be adopted by Android so the DTEK50 treats it as internal storage. That makes your card work far more seamlessly with the phone, and reduces storage headaches.
You’ll certainly need the extra space too, as we managed to fill up the 16GB – of which only around 8GB is actually available to you – rather quickly.
After about a week we were unable to download any new apps, or update our current ones, due to a lack of space, so if you’re opting for the DTEK50, buy a microSD card.
So how does it perform? In short, not as well as we’d hoped. On paper the Snapdragon 617 chip and 3GB of RAM sound promising, but once you’ve downloaded your apps, logged into your various accounts and started to fill up the storage the DTEK50 falls a little flat.
Apps aren’t the quickest at loading, and sometimes it feels like the phone really struggles to run them at any reasonable speed.
If you open up multiple apps, switching between them via the Recent menu (hit the square icon on the right edge of the navigation bar) can also highlight some slowdown in the system, which is disappointing to see, as the healthy dose of RAM inside the handset should handle situations like this a bit better.
Battery and camera
- The DTEK50 won’t last a day on a single charge, so take a charger with you
- Supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0, giving you 50% in 51 minutes
The BlackBerry DTEK50 comes with a non-removable 2610mAh battery, which really isn’t big enough and is smaller than many rivals, such as the 3000mAh OnePlus 3.
Battery life was consistently poor on the DTEK50, and drain seemed sporadic and unexpectedly high. A two and a half hour Spotify streaming session (over a mobile network) with the screen off saw the battery percentage dive by around 50% – which is a seriously alarming rate of decline.
Even with day-to-day usage, which included a few phone calls, light social media use, emails, a handful of texts and a couple of brief Spotify sessions, the DTEK50 was crying out for a charge come early evening.
In short, you’ll really struggle to get a full day from a single charge, and that’s very disappointing. Drain doesn’t get any better when it comes to movie playback or gaming, with both activities hammering the battery life. 45 minutes of Pokémon Go saw 30% disappear from the DTEK50.
Running the 90 minute HD TechRadar video test with screen brightness on full and various accounts syncing over Wi-Fi in the background, the DTEK50 lost 27% of its life. Again, that’s not a particularly strong showing and flags up the phone’s weakness in this area. The OnePlus 3 for comparison dropped 23% and even that isn’t a great result.
The micro USB connection on the base of the phone is Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 enabled, giving you 50% charge in 51 minutes, but with handsets like the OnePlus 3 giving you the same amount of juice in almost half the time it provides little comfort.
If you do opt for the DTEK50, make sure you carry a charger or portable power pack with you. You’ll need it.
- Solid everyday snapper on the rear with an easy to use application
- Front-facing camera is fine for the occasional selfie
While the battery may be a low point, the BlackBerry DTEK50 redeems itself somewhat with a 13MP rear camera, which is capable of taking some rather nice snaps.
Don’t go expecting flagship quality, but we were impressed with the snapping ability on a phone which costs half the price of the top tier offerings on the market.
The rear camera boasts auto-focus, a dual-tone flash, HDR (high dynamic range, which brightens up shadows) and full HD video recording, all controlled by a simple application which makes point-and-shoot easy.
Modes are limited, with just camera, panorama and video under the main “mode” menu. There is a hidden fourth option though, with manual mode available from the drop down menu in the top right corner giving you control over exposure, ISO, white balance and shutter speed – perfect for any budding photographers out there.
There’s also a selection of 20 Instagram-style filters you can apply to your shots if you fancy something a little artier. They’re pretty basic, but can give you the desired effect with little hassle.
Get snapping and the DTEK50 can be slightly sluggish when focusing, with a gentle tap on the screen sometimes required to help it on its way – but once it’s sorted the shutter speed is quick.
In good light the BlackBerry DTEK50 takes solid, detailed shots, and if you opt for HDR it does a really good job of brightening up areas in shadow. It can get carried away though, with some HDR efforts looking over-saturated.
In low light things are a little more of a struggle, with the DTEK50 finding it difficult to pull in enough light for a clear shot and images tending to come up a little grainy.
Round the front, the 8MP selfie camera is serviceable for the odd mug shot, but the quality of the final images falls short of the megapixel billing on the spec sheet, with a lack of vibrancy and detail.
The BlackBerry DTEK50 is a surprisingly promising smartphone with a more than reasonable price tag and a spec sheet to be proud of.
It’s not going to wow you with design, flagship features or super slick performance, but what you do get is a phone which fully encrypts all your data, makes it easy for you to monitor your privacy and ensures everything is secure.
Battery life is the low point and you’ll want to carry a charger with you to work, but aside from that the DTEK50 is a solid business-focused device at an affordable price.
If the battery life was better, and the performance a little smoother, the DTEK50 could have been one of the best phones around for the money, but as it stands it’s just another mid-range smartphone which will struggle to really stand out.
Who’s this for?
The BlackBerry DTEK50 is mainly aimed at business customers looking for a secure smartphone they can buy in bulk – but it’s also a more than viable option for recreational users.
There’s a selection of BlackBerry applications and software additions which play more to business users, but you can disable the Productivity Tab and ignore most of the firm’s pre-installed applications to leave you with a slick Android interface.
Access to Google’s Play Store ensures you won’t be without your favorite apps and games, and the full HD display provides an excellent viewing experience – giving everyone from young to old access to the things they want from a phone.
Should I buy it?
The DTEK50 is a mid-range phone that goes the distance, it’s just not the best in class. There are cooler, more desirable handsets in this price bracket, some of which we’ve mentioned in more detail below.
They will likely draw many buyers away from the DTEK50’s business-first outlook, but if you want excellent security and privacy controls no one is doing it better than BlackBerry at the moment.
Even if that doesn’t matter to you the DTEK50 shouldn’t be immediately dismissed, as it does a lot of things right. The screen is very good, the design isn’t anything special, but it is functional, lightweight and easy to hold, and the almost-stock Android interface makes the phone easy to use.
There’s a decent rear snapper too, and if you’re yearning for better security controls on your smartphone the DTEK50 will be right up your street.
The OnePlus 3 is slightly more expensive than the BlackBerry DTEK50, and while it doesn’t boast the same level of super security it does have a number of advantages.
There’s a full metal body giving it a supremely premium look and feel, a fingerprint scanner on the front provides easy, yet secure access into the handset, and under the hood there’s true flagship power with the same processor as the LG G5 and HTC 10. Phones which are almost double the cost of the OnePlus 3.
OnePlus has adapted the Android Marshmallow operating system with its Oxygen OS interface, which keeps the overall look and feel of Google’s platform while adding in some handy extra features.
It’s an all-round better smartphone than the DTEK50, but the BlackBerry is cheaper and has a higher level of security.
- Read our OnePlus 3 review
Moto X Style
If you’re on a tight budget than the Moto X Style is also worth considering, coming in slightly cheaper than the DTEK50, but sporting an equally impressive spec sheet.
A 5.5-inch full HD screen adorns the front of the handset, while a punchy 21MP camera resides on the rear. Inside the X Play doesn’t pack quite as much power, but it’s still adequate and the battery life is better than the BlackBerry.
It looks and feels a little more premium, but it’s also bigger and heavier. If you’re looking for portability the DTEK50 is the more compact package.
- Read our Moto X Style review
The Nexus 5X may be about to be replaced by a couple of new Nexus devices, but it still packs a super Android punch.
The polycarbonate body isn’t premium, and its 12MP rear snapper may be a little on the week side, but there’s still a decent amount of power to keep all your apps running smoothly and with this being a Google handset you’ll be first to get the latest software updates.
There’s a 5.2-inch full HD display for your gaming and video needs, and it’ll see out a day on a single charge, unlike the DTEK50.
- Read our Nexus 5X review
First reviewed: August 2016
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