Apple may have put the brakes on plans to build its own self-driving car, but the company’s plug-and-play, self-driving operating system is still moving forward, even if the team has been scaled back. According to a new report from Bloomberg, what’s left of Project Titan is coming together at Apple’s Canadian office in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata, using a big team of engineers poached from BlackBerry’s automotive software division QNX.
While QNX is best known for building in-car entertainment systems, the company started making software for autonomous vehicles in the past year. Former QNX CEO Dan Dodge was actually hired to run Project Titan earlier this year, but as one executive told Bloomberg, more than two dozen former BlackBerry engineers are now commuting to Apple’s Kanata office to build its car platform instead — which must sting a little bit now that BlackBerry has finally bowed out of the smartphone wars.
Since Apple doesn’t have a real world vehicle to build, the company is said to be testing its self-driving platform using VR simulations built in-house by a separate Project Titan team led by VR/AR expert Doug Bowman. While those are a lot of high-profile hires in the past year, the Titan team was hit with a big round of layoffs during its restructuring last month and those that are left are still working to deliver a viable self-driving solution under a hard deadline of late 2017.
BlackBerry has announced the DTEK60, the second in its range of Android smartphones manufactured by a third party. Like the DTEK50, the actual device has been put together by TCL, leaving BlackBerry with the job of making sure that it’s secure enough to be loved by corporations. The biggest new feature, compared to its predecessor, is the new fingerprint scanner that allows you to unlock the device as well as use Android Pay.
The DTEK60 is a little bit bigger than its older sibling, packing a 5.5-inch QHD display and a 3,000mAh battery. If we were guessing, we’d assume it was based on the same design as TCL / Alcatel’s Idol 4S, which packs a similar screen and display, not to mention the same fingerprint scanner. But unlike that handset, this one carries BlackBerry’s security know-how tucked inside, including the hardware “root of trust.” The other big difference between the 60 and the Idol 4S is in the camera, since BlackBerry’s version is packing a 21-megapixel rear camera.
Then there’s the usual raft of BlackBerry additions, including the company’s intelligent keyboard, unified inbox tool and rapid security patches. It’s not clear how much built-in storage the device ships with — we’re guessing 16GB — but it comes with a microSD card slot that’ll push that figure up to 2TB. The BlackBerry DTEK60 is available to buy from the company’s website today, setting you back $499 / $650 CDN / €579 / £475. If you deal direct with BlackBerry and pay before November 8th, you’ll also be handed some form of phone case (depending on your region) and a rapid charger for free.
Smartphone company BlackBerry confirmed today that it will cease internally developing its own handsets and rely on partnerships with other companies “for any future hardware efforts,” lining up with company CEO John Chen’s estimation that he would know by September 2016 whether or not BlackBerry would continue participating in the hardware manufacturing business (via Recode).
Chen said the decision was a monetary one, as the brand’s presence continuously dwindles in percentage stakes of the smartphone market, capturing only 0.2 percent of the market as a whole in the fourth quarter of 2015.
“The company plans to end all internal hardware development and will outsource that function to partners,” CEO John Chen said in a statement. “This allows us to reduce capital requirements and enhance return on invested capital.”
“We are reaching an inflection point with our strategy. Our financial foundation is strong, and our pivot to software is taking hold,” Chen said. “In Q2, we more than doubled our software revenue year over year and delivered the highest gross margin in the company’s history.”
Over the summer, the company announced the discontinuation of the BlackBerry Classic as a way to pave the way for more “state of the art devices.” Since then, it’s released the security-focused DTEK50 smartphone powered by Android, and Chen has stated that the company plans to release two phones by February 2017.
BlackBerry today also announced a net loss of $372 million on revenue of $334 million, but the company noted that it “essentially broke even, on adjusted revenue of $352 million.” Coinciding with all these announcements, chief financial officer James Yersh has left the company “for personal reasons,” and is being replaced by Steven Capelli, a former executive at Chen’s last company Sybase.
The company has been battling against the surging popularity of iPhone and Android smartphones for years, last year announcing a new physical keyboard-enabled, Android-based device on the same day that the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus launched. It’s also been phased out of some popular mobile apps, namely PayPal, which discontinued apps for BlackBerry, Windows Phone, and Amazon Kindle Fire earlier in the year.
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In BlackBerry’s latest quarterly financials released today, the company revealed it’s getting out of the hardware business once and for all, choosing instead to “outsource that function to partners.” It’s not a huge shock given BlackBerry CEO John Chen has foreshadowed the cut and run several times. Earlier this year, he warned that if hardware wasn’t making a profit by September it would be time to call it quits, and he’s kept his word after the Mobility Solutions division posted an $8 million loss for this past quarter. This doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of BlackBerry handsets, though; they just won’t be produced in-house anymore.
With a review headline that reads “cheap, secure and better than expected,” you might expect the device in question to have earned a high score. As it turns out, this is a BlackBerry we’re talking about, which is to say, “better than expected” doesn’t necessary mean you should actually buy one. The good news is that the new DTEK50 offers solid build quality at a reasonable price: just $299. For the money, you also get improved security over typical mid-range Android phones — a potential selling point for prospective business customers. While this is indeed a decent choice for IT departments, individual users can get more for their money at a similar or slightly higher price (read: faster performance, longer battery life and superior image quality). Basically, then, while the DTEK50 surpassed our admittedly modest expectations, you can still do better.
BlackBerry launched their first Android smartphone ever last year, and while there were a lot of people who were eagerly awaiting its launch, the Priv fell short of expectations. Granted, there were some good things going for it, but a lackluster camera and premium pricing meant that their first effort wasn’t exactly a smash hit.
- BlackBerry PRIV review
- BlackBerry DTEK50 hands on
Now, BlackBerry is back with their second attempt, and what BlackBerry is touting as the most secure smartphone in the world. What else does this device have to offer, and is security enough of a selling point to make this phone worth buying? We find out, in this in-depth BlackBerry DTEK50 review!
Buy the BlackBerry DTEK50 now
When looking at the BlackBerry DTEK50, you will find that this device appears to be eerily similar to another phone that we’ve seen before, but not to worry, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. The design of the DTEK50 is actually based on the same TCL reference design that Alacatel used with the Ido 4, making them pretty much identical.
Everything from the curves at the top and bottom, the rounded corners, flat sides, and the dual front-facing and rear-facing speaker setup is found with the DTEK50, and the only distinguishable design element that separates this from the Idol 4 is on the back. Instead of a glass backing that is available with the latter, the DTEK50 features a textured material with a silicone-like feel.
This difference actually works in favor of the BlackBerry smartphone, with it not attracting fingerprints, and allowing for a lot of grip. The general shape of the DTEK50 is reminiscent of the Nexus 4, especially when looking at it from the front, so I’m definitely a fan of the design. It’s simple, clean, and easy to use with one hand, thanks to the thin side bezels and small top and bottom chin.
Taking a look around the device, the SIM and microSD card slot is on the right side, and the headphone jack and microUSB port are at the top and bottom respectively. The volume rocker is also on the right, and below it is a large circular button that you would expect is the power button. Instead, it is what BlackBerry is calling the “convenience key.” This is a completely programmable button that can be used for a variety of functions, like composing a text, controlling the LED flash, toggling Wi-Fi, or opening any app.
The power button is located on the upper left side of the phone, and that is actually my biggest gripe with the design of the DTEK50. Unless you use the phone with your left hand, it can be quite awkward and difficult to reach the power button, and will certainly take some getting used to. Thankfully, the phone does come with a double tap to wake and sleep feature, and even though it may not work as well, and can be quite slow at times, it’s still better than having to reach for the power button all the time. The convenience key can be used to lock the device, but unfortunately cannot wake it.
The BlackBerry DTEK50 comes with a 5.2-inch IPS LCD display, with a Full HD resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 424 ppi. It’s not a display that is going to amaze, but you certainly won’t have any complaints either. It gets bright enough to see outdoors, has decent viewing angles, and offers a good amount of color and contrast, without being oversaturated. 1080p is more than enough at this display size, and reading text, watching videos, and playing games are all enjoyable on this screen.
Under the hood, the DTEK50 comes with an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor, clocked at 1.5 GHz, and backed by the Adreno 405 GPU and 3 GB of RAM. This processing package is pretty standard fare when it comes to mid-range smartphones in 2016, but the performance is a little bit of a mixed bag. With normal, everyday use, the smartphone works perfectly well.
The touch responsiveness is good, and opening, closing, and switching between apps doesn’t result in any problems, even if there is an occasional stutter here and there. While gaming, however, is where you will notice a lot of hiccups. Games are very playable for the most part, but load times can be pretty long, and there tends to be a lot of choppiness and lag when playing a game as basic as Pokemon Go.
This issue is even more pronounced if there are a lot of graphical elements on the screen at the same time. Games like CSR Racing 2 have to render graphics at a much lower resolution, and also limit some in-game functionality in order to run smoothly, which is a little disappointing. If you’re big into mobile gaming, the DTEK50 won’t make the cut, but for everything else, this phone will certainly get the job done.
You only get 16 GB of on-board storage with the DTEK50, but the device does offer expandable storage via microSD card up to 256 GB, so if you are looking to download a lot of apps and games, you will definitely need to pick up a microSD card.
One of the best aspects of the DTEK50, as is also the case with the Idol 4, is the speaker setup of the device. You get dual front-facing speakers as well as dual rear-facing speakers, and the sound quality is pretty good. They get plenty loud, and the audio doesn’t sound tinny, or become distorted at the highest volumes. Since the speakers are also mirrored on the back, and you can put the phone face up or down without any deterioration in sound quality. The only issue with these speakers is that because of the tiny machined holes, they are very prone to getting dirty and trapping dust.
On the battery side, the DTEK50 comes with a 2,610 mAh unit, which is rather small when compared to other similar smartphones that are available. As such, battery life proves to be a weak point for this device. You can get a full day of battery life with light usage, but if you are someone who likes to play games, watch videos, and check social media often, the phone will unfortunately not last a day.
With similar usage, I needed to charge the device after just 7 or 8 hours. You do get Qualcomm QuickCharge 2.0 support, so it doesn’t take long to get back to a full charge, but if you are on the move often, picking up a battery pack may be a good idea.
The BlackBerry DTEK50 comes with a 13 MP rear camera, with a f/2.0 aperture, phase detection auto focus, and a dual LED flash, along with an 8 MP front-facing shooter, with a f/2.2 aperture.
As far as the camera app is concerned, it is quite simplistic, with not a lot of bells and whistles. You don’t get any extra shooting modes beyond the standard video, photo, panorama, but it does have a bunch of live filters built in. There is also a HDR Auto mode, and a built-in manual mode for controlling the focus, white balance, shutter speed, ISO, and exposure.
To get a great looking photo with this camera, the lighting conditions have to be perfect, but even then, there is a noticeable lack of sharpness and detail when zooming in. The color reproduction is good though, when shooting outdoors or in well-lit areas.
However, in low-light conditions is where the image quality really deteriorates. The camera constantly hunts for focus, making it very difficult to take a photo, and when you do take a shot, they’re usually very noisy with a lot of artifacts, and the images just look soft and muddy.
The front-facing 8 MP isn’t particularly noteworthy either. You can take some decent selfies with it, and the notification LED can also double as a front-facing flash to help you get slightly better results in low-light situations, but the results are still typically not that great.
The big selling point of the DTEK50 isn’t the design, the camera, or the specifications. It’s all about the software, and the security that comes along with it. The majority of the security comes from the DTEK application, which is also what gives this phone its name. DTEK will show you the security status of the device, and this can change over time the more you use the phone. With DTEK, all your data is encrypted, and you can control the permissions of individual apps and what they’re allowed to access, so you never have to worry about apps having access to things that you don’t want it to.
There’s also a factory reset protection, so in the event that someone steals your phone and factory resets it, they still won’t be able to use the phone without knowing your Google account info. Whether it really is the most secure smartphone in the world is pretty tough to say, but BlackBerry is promising that they will be very quick to release security patch updates as soon as they are available.
The rest of the software is a very stock-like Android 6.0 Marshmallow experience, with a lot of Blackberry’s software enhancements on top, many of which were seen with the Priv last year. It comes with BBM installed by default, which is something I personally don’t use, but could be ideal for those who still love communicating via BBM.
However, I do like a lot of the features from BlackBerry, and many of them are actually pretty useful. You have the productivity tab, which you can access by swiping from the right, to see your current calendar events, emails, tasks, and your most recent contacts.
My favorite feature of the lot definitely has to be the BlackBerry Hub. If you aren’t familiar with it, the BlackBerry Hub is your one stop shop for virtually all your notifications. It aggregates your BBMs, text messages, emails, phone calls, and social media, all in one place, making them very easy to check. It does have some issues, such as Gmail not rendering properly through the Hub, but for the most part it does what it is suppose to do extremely well.
You can also swipe up from the bottom, similar to how you would access Google Now before, but here, you get access to three app shortcuts, which are set to BlackBerry Search, the dialer, and the Hub, by default. You can change them to whatever you want though.
BlackBerry gives you a lot of room for tweaking and customization, and something that I really enjoy is the fact that you can use third party icon packs to customize the default launcher. If you’re a fan of widgets, the Pop Up widgets is another very useful feature. Basically, any app that you have that supports a widget will display 3 dots beneath it, and all you have to do is swipe up to open the widget. It’s a really elegant solution to using widgets without having them take up any space on your home screens.
Of course, you can’t talk about a BlackBerry without talking about keyboards. The DTEK50 is an all touch screen device, so it obviously doesn’t have a physical keyboard, but it does come with BlackBerry’s own software keyboard. It’s accurate and easy to type on, and I like that the predictive text allows you to swipe up on a letter to quickly complete a word.
BlackBerry’s software isn’t perfect, and it does have some minor quirks, like the way the app drawer looks when the apps are sorted alphabetically. They’re not only sorted alphabetically, but it’s also sectioned out by the letter, and visually just doesn’t look very appealing. Overall though, I’m a fan of the software package, and their features add a lot of value, without making the experience feel boated, or taking away from the stock Android experience.
|Display||5.2-inch IPS LCD display
1080p, 424 ppi
|Processor||1.5 GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617
Adreno 405 GPU
expandable via microSD card up to 256 GB
|Camera||13 MP rear camera, f/2.0 aperture, dual LED flash
8 MP front-facing camera
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
GPS + GLONASS
|Software||Android 6.0 Marshmallow|
|Dimensions||147 x 72.5 x 7.4 mm
Pricing and final thoughts
The BlackBerry DTEK50 will be priced at $300 in the US, and will be available unlocked, and can be used with AT&T and T-Mobile.
There you have it for this in-depth look at the BlackBerry DTEK50! $300 is relatively cheap, especially if you want a smartphone that prioritizes security. If that is the case, you’re probably not going to find a better deal.
However, as far as phones go, there are a few better options out there that offer a lot more for similar prices, like the OnePlus 3, the Moto G4 Plus, and the Axon 7. If you do store a lot of sensitive information on your phone, the DTEK50’s top notch security will be well worth the investment, but if there is one major flaw, it is that BlackBerry didn’t make it a better phone all around.
What do you think about the BlackBerry DTEK50 and would you buy one? Is smartphone security as important to you as say, things like the camera, display or battery? Let us know your views in the comments below!
Buy the BlackBerry DTEK50 now
BlackBerry’s first Android phone was a curious, ambitious machine, so it’s funny that the company’s second turned out to be so … practical. The $299 DTEK50 is affordable from the get-go, lacks a physical keyboard and was basically tailor-made for corporations to buy in bulk. Seriously: BlackBerry has been pretty candid about the fact that this is a “fleet” device, a supersecure phone it hopes will attract companies trying to trick out their mobile workforce. BlackBerry is trying to pitch this to regular people too, though, and in the process, it’s hurling the DTEK into a crowded, crazy-competitive pool of midrange phones. Spoiler alert: It’s probably not for you.
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you already know BlackBerry didn’t design the DTEK50 by itself. Instead, the company chose a reference design from TCL — the folks behind the Alcatel brand — that offered the level of performance it was after. That decision was… divisive, to say the least. CEO John Chen has long said that BlackBerry would stay in the hardware game as long as there was money in it, and by customizing an existing design, the company just saved heaps of money on product development. The flipside is that the finished device doesn’t really feel like a BlackBerry.
I’ll be the first to admit that sounds a little silly, but still, I was a little worried when I first heard the news. BlackBerry has historically taken pride in designing its devices, from pint-size beauties like the Pearl series to last year’s delightfully bonkers Priv. Pulling an existing design off a shelf and adding BlackBerry accents like a logo and a textured rubber back didn’t sit right with me at first, even though the company maintains it’s a pretty common practice.
Ultimately, though, it’s safe to say that these concerns only really matter to mobile wonks like me. Once I got down from my high horse, I was met with a device that’s respectably well built and even sort of handsome (in an understated sort of way). The company also says the DTEK50 is the thinnest BlackBerry ever, which helps explain the mediocre 2,610mAh battery squeezed in there. I’ll dig into that a little later; for now, just know that the DTEK50 manages to be very light without ever feeling cheap. Nice work, TCL.
Unlike last year’s premium Priv, we’re working with a midrange list of specifications: an octa-core Snapdragon 617 chipset with 3GB of RAM and an Adreno 405 GPU. Alas, there’s no physical keyboard this time; you’ll be typing your messages on a 5.2-inch, 1080p IPS LCD touchscreen. Flanking the display is a surprisingly capable pair of stereo speakers, an 8-megapixel front-facing camera and a notification LED up top. But don’t get too excited, BlackBerry loyalists: It only blinks white. Meanwhile, the DTEK50’s backside is home to a 13-megapixel camera (with phase-detection autofocus, no less) and a two-tone LED flash.
For a phone that’s so focused on security, it’s a little odd that the DTEK50 doesn’t have a fingerprint scanner. The reason is purely practical: BlackBerry had to keep costs down. That’s probably also why the DTEK50 comes with only 16GB of internal storage. (Thankfully, you can add up to 2TB of storage by way of a microSD card slot.)
What we got instead of said scanner is a convenience key that sits below the volume rocker on the phone’s right edge. The premise is simple, enough: You can set it to launch apps or perform specific actions like calling someone or turning on the flashlight. Alas, the convenience key isn’t always very convenient. It won’t work while the phone is locked — something its distant relative, the Idol 4S, does just fine — and you can’t use it to snap a quick photo or take screenshots. More important, that key sits where most phones have their power buttons, and it took me an entire week to get used to that tricky placement. (If you’d rather not reset your muscle memory, you can make the convenience key unlock the phone too.)
Display and sound
The Priv’s fancy, curved AMOLED panel obviously wasn’t going to make the jump into a midrange phone, but — surprise, surprise — the 5.2-inch LCD we got on the DTEK50 is pretty damned good. It runs at 1080p (that’s a pixel density of 424 ppi, if you didn’t feel like doing the math), making for plenty of crisp text and visuals. It lacks the sort of punchy colors and deep blacks we got from the Priv, but who cares? They’re accurate, and the screen and scratch-resistant glass covering it are laminated together, so viewing angles are great. (If the color temperature doesn’t do it for you out of the box, you can tweak it in the device’s settings.)
In fact, the only time the DTEK50’s display seems to fall short is when you look at it next to other devices that cost about the same. ZTE’s Axon 7 will cost only $100 more when it launches in the US in September, and it features a beautiful Quad HD screen. Would it have been nice to get a higher-res screen on the DTEK50? Sure. Would it have made any sense, considering BlackBerry is trying to sell these en masse to businesses? Not even a little.
The audio quality another pleasant surprise, given that BlackBerry has never paid much attention to it in the past. I always feel a little twinge of giddiness when a phone I’m reviewing has stereo speakers, and the DTEK50’s offer crisp highs and decent channel separation for immersive sound. Even better, the speaker setup is replicated on the phone’s back so the jams won’t stop even when the DTEK50 is lying face down. Still, they’re far from perfect: Most songs I tried sounded hollow. What’s more, the DTEK’s maximum volume isn’t terribly loud, though it’ll do fine for podcasts and YouTube videos. The DTEK50 also comes with Waves’ MaxxAudio tuner, but your mileage may vary. The app’s presets usually succeeded in making my songs sound different, but not necessarily better.
Software and security
Now that the company is willing to almost completely outsource hardware design and production, BlackBerry’s soul boils down to two things: software and security. Unless it nails both of those things, then, there’s little reason to buy into the company’s vision. As far as the former goes, there’s no point in hiding it: I dig BlackBerry’s take. Things haven’t changed dramatically since the Priv’s days — the company didn’t mess with Android 6.0.1 itself. Most of the same tricks are back and they still focus on getting things done fast.
Swiping up from the bottom of the screen, for instance, brings up shortcuts to the dialer, the Device Search app and BlackBerry’s Hub. Long story short, the hub acts as a one-stop shop for your messages, be they emails, BBMs, texts, Facebook messages or Viber pings. I typically prefer the rush of pseudo-productivity that comes with jumping in and out of multiple apps, but it didn’t take long to appreciate having a single place to triage all the stuff that flew into my inbox. (As a bonus, you can now download this app from the Play Store and use it on other Android devices too.)
Meanwhile, peer closely enough at the screen and you’ll see the edge of a tab all the way on the right. Swiping on that opens the Productivity tab, where you’ll find a rundown of the day’s calendar events, unread messages, tasks that need completing and favorite contacts (you know, just because). Just like Samsung’s Edge UX, it’s easy to forget the feature even exists, but it’s handy when you do remember it’s there.
If that wasn’t enough swiping, you can view an app’s widgets in a pop-up window (as opposed to finding room for them on your home screens) by swiping up on them. It’s a neat touch that gives you extra context without having to fully open the app, but I never really use widgets in the first place. That swiping continues when you use BlackBerry’s software keyboard. Fan that I am of Google’s in-house keyboard, I love what BlackBerry has come up with: It’s perfectly sized, it’s precise and swiping up on word suggestions to complete messages is actually pretty fun. It’s easily one of the finest keyboards available on an Android phone, which is only natural considering the company that made it. Curiously, though, one of the BlackBerry’s neatest software touches didn’t make the leap here: You can no longer set a Picture Password, which is puzzling because it worked fine on the Priv.
Obviously, the DTEK50’s biggest selling point is security, and I haven’t dwelled on it until now is because it’s almost completely invisible to the person using the phone. You can’t tell that a hardware root of trust was baked into the phone during manufacturing, just like you can’t tell the phone is fully encrypted by default. The only real reminder that the DTEK50 is more locked down than most is the namesake DTEK app, which offers an at-a-glance look at how secure the phone is. But here’s the rub: DTEK is what you make of it. You’ll get a rating and a checklist of things that are or aren’t going well on the phone upon launch, but after you take basic precautions like setting up a PIN, the app mostly just says everything is excellent.
It’s when you dig a little further that DTEK’s value really becomes apparent — it outlines which apps have access to certain parts of the phone and counts up how many times those apps try to gain access. As of this writing, for instance, Facebook Messenger has tapped into my device’s contacts nearly 500 times. In certain cases, you can even see where you were when an app tried to gain access. More important, permissions can easily be revoked and apps can be quickly uninstalled from within DTEK, making it yet another one-stop shop for functions that would normally be buried in settings menus.
I wasn’t expecting much from the DTEK50’s 13-megapixel camera. After all, BlackBerry hasn’t had the best track record with imaging performance, and on at least one occasion it didn’t bother with a camera at all. It turns out that fretting was for nothing: The DTEK50 won’t win any photography awards, but both its main and front-facing cameras were respectable performers. That main sensor around back has a f/2.0 aperture lens and a phase-detection autofocus system; too bad it lacks the optical image-stabilization offered on last year’s Priv.
Even so, my photos contained plenty of detail, with nicely balanced colors in good lighting conditions. Don’t expect too much from the DTEK50 in low light; you’ll see grain and soft edges everywhere (even after the phone applies it multiframe low-light enhancements). I really shouldn’t have been surprised at the DTEK50’s performance here — midrange phones have become more impressive on all fronts, cameras included. That said, I still preferred the photos I took with the similarly priced Moto G4 Plus, which packs a 16-megapixel sensor and an additional laser auto-focus module.
BlackBerry still gets some credit for piecing together a good camera app, though. A shutter button lives on the right edge of the screen, with a handy exposure slider, mode selector and a panel of photo filter effects nearby for easy access. More serious photographers will get some mileage out of the included manual mode, which allows for finer control over focus, white balance, shutter speed, exposure compensation and ISO. It’s not the most polished camera app, but it’s enough to get the job done.
Performance and battery life
This is where things start to get hairy. The octa-core Snapdragon 617 (with four 1.5GHz cores and four 1.2GHz cores) is a well-known chipset at this point and has landed starring roles in phones like the fourth-generation Moto G line and the HTC One A9. For the most part, that combination of CPU cores and 3GB of RAM keep the DTEK50 running without issue. It’s certainly not flagship level, but launching apps, multitasking and generally just getting things done generally aren’t a problem. Graphically intense games sometimes threw the DTEK50 for a bit of a loop, but I could usually log plenty of time in Asphalt 8 with the visual settings cranked up before noticing any slowdown.
Once in a while, though, the phone would start to stutter, even during pretty basic tasks, before eventually returning to normal. I didn’t see hiccups this frequently while playing with other 617-powered devices, though that’s not to say they were immune to the occasional slowdown. I could usually clear things up by closing all running apps, and I suspect at least sometimes the problem was caused by using the DTEK50 out in the summer heat. Thankfully, these issues didn’t crop up every day, and with any luck a post-launch software patch will help smooth things out a bit.
HTC One A9
3DMark IS Unlimited
GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan Offscreen (fps)
The battery, meanwhile, has been awfully hit-or-miss. BlackBerry and TCL fitted the phone with a 2,610mAh nonremovable cell that typically saw me through a full workday and then some before giving up the ghost. That’s about 14 hours of pretty consistent, mixed use — my days involve lots of phone calls, emails, Slack messages and card-slinging in Hearthstone, for the record. That’s in line with what we’ve seen from other midrange phones, which makes the DTEK50’s lackluster performance in our standard video rundown test so surprising. The phone looped a 720p video with screen brightness set to 50 percent and WiFi connected for just under eight hours, putting it well below the LG G5 (with a similar size battery) and either of this year’s new Moto Gs. In fairness, that’s not exactly a natural use case — I don’t know many people who’d watch videos on their phones for eight hours straight — but it’s still sort of a let-down.
BlackBerry clearly wants to sell tons of DTEK50s to businesses, and among corporate buyers, the company’s storied brand and devotion to security might give the phone an edge. The thing is, BlackBerry is trying to sell these to regular people too, and on that front, the DTEK50 faces a much tougher fight. Consider this year’s Moto G Plus, an enhanced version of the fourth-generation Moto G that launched alongside it. For $299, you’ll get a phone with the same Snapdragon chipset as the DTEK50 but with more RAM (4GB), more storage out of the box (64GB), a better camera (16 megapixels), a fingerprint sensor and an almost-stock version of Android. Motorola’s tight focus has wavered a bit — there are more Moto models now than ever — but the brand can still put out an excellent cheap phone.
The problem is, you could do so much better if you’d be willing to spend just a little more cash. ZTE’s Axon 7 and the OnePlus 3 can be had for as little as $399, and they offer full-on flagship performance in impeccably built bodies. None of these options offer the same level of hardened security as the DTEK50, but if you’re dead-set on a BlackBerry, you could find a Priv online for around $300. It might be a little older, but the Snapdragon 808 chip inside it is still no slouch, and you’ll get a great physical keyboard, to boot.
It’s been more than a week, and it’s still hard to judge the DTEK50. As a ploy to appeal to those crucial business customers, it’s brilliant. For them, the DTEK50 is a solid, not-very-expensive option with the security chops to put IT paranoiacs at ease. As a phone for regular people, though, the DTEK50 is a much a tougher sell. Make no mistake: The DTEK50 is a perfectly good handset, and I’ll always appreciate BlackBerry for trying to keep security in the front of people’s minds. Still, it takes more than that to make a smartphone great, and BlackBerry’s approach won’t be for everyone. Unless you’re a BlackBerry loyalist or you take your security very, very seriously, you’re better off setting your sights elsewhere.
Even if Kim K ends up ditching BlackBerry, she could still replicate part of the BB experience with an Android phone. The Canadian phonemaker has released its Hub+ suite of applications on Google Play for devices running Android Marshmallow. BB’s Hub shows all your mail and social media notifications in one interface, while the suite as a whole comes with the Calendar app and a password manager. As the company wrote in its announcement post, we once described Hub as the “closest [thing] to [a] universal inbox.” The Hub+ used to be exclusive to BlackBerry 10 and to BB’s Android phone the Priv, but the company’s sluggish sales hinder the software from reaching as many users as possible.
By releasing the suite for all Android Marshmallow devices, it now has more potential users. However, its success depends on how many people deem it worthy of a monthly subscription. It’s only free for the first 30 days, after which you’ll either have to pay 99 cents per month or agree to continue using the suite with ads. The subscription-based version will also give you access to the company’s Contacts, Tasks, Device Search, Notes and Launcher apps. If you want BB’s virtual keyboard, though, you’re out of luck.
Take note that some Marshmallow phones might not be able to run the suite yet. However, the company is adding more and more models to its compatibility list everyday, so you can try again. That is, unless you have a tablet — Hub+ will only work on phones. BlackBerry, by the way, has big plans for the suite and aims to make it available for Android Lollipop and iOS devices in the future.
BlackBerry pivots to software with Hub+ Android app https://t.co/Rxv2kZ4WWF (Photo: Google Play) pic.twitter.com/F67gyRXSTV
— USA TODAY Tech (@usatodaytech) August 4, 2016
Source: BlackBerry, Google Play (1), (2)
BlackBerry pulled back the curtain on its new DTEK50 smartphone a few days ago, and soon after gave hungry journalists units to play with. I’m still working on my full review of BlackBerry’s $299 Hail Mary pass, but since I spent a day playing with it, here’s a peek into an evening of nutso, BlackBerry-centric thinking. Long story short, it’s all at once a perfectly adequate phone with serious security chops, a shrewd business move and a lesson in lousy marketing.
1:00PM: After a handy Q&A session, I’m given a DTEK50 of my phone to play with. First impressions: Yep, this feels like an Alcatel phone. In case you missed it the other day, the DTEK50 is based on the TCL reference design that ultimately gave us Alcatel’s (still-unreleased) Idol 4. Both share a 5.2-inch, 1080p screen, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 chipset, 3GB of RAM, a 13-megapixel main camera, a 2,600mAh battery and even a convenience key on the phone’s right side to which you can assign shortcuts. (Alcatel called it a “Boom” key, but BlackBerry’s naming choice was the right one.) If you’re like me, though, you’d keep trying to wake up the phone using that button, which doesn’t work unless you specifically set it to.
Oh, and there’s more. There’s no fingerprint sensor, and it only has 16GB of internal storage. (You can at least you can flesh it out with a microSD card.) The DTEK50 is startlingly light too, lacking the reassuring density of the high-end BlackBerry Priv.
I’m torn. It’s a BlackBerry in name and in functionality, but this is the first time I can remember the company leaving hardware design almost entirely up to someone else. Even the low-cost Leap we first met last year felt more substantial. There was a certain level of aesthetic pride that went into BlackBerrys, but the company’s shift in strategy has given us a phone that doesn’t feel special in the way the company’s older phones did.
2:30PM: Ran down to St. Marks to get some footage of the DTEK50 for our hands-on video. Setting up the phone was business as usual, but the phone got noticeably warm for reasons that weren’t readily apparent. At the same time, battery drain kicked into high gear for a spell, even though few apps were running at the time. Weird. My hopes for this phone start to sink a bit.
4:30PM: Hustled back to the office to give the DTEK50 a much-needed charge. Thankfully, Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 2.0 tech got the phone back on its feet within minutes and I let it regain about a half charge. I fiddled with it more in the meantime; it’s a pretty smooth little machine, and the DTEK50 seemed like a decent, slightly underpowered workhorse. It would’ve been nice to see BlackBerry choose a reference design with a beefier chipset like a Snapdragon 652, but the company wanted to keep costs down. I haven’t yet gotten a great feel for the camera but early test shots seemed in line with other devices that cost the same, and the screen’s pretty decent, to boot. Meanwhile, my boss Dana says the DTEK50’s textured back reminds her of a cat’s scratching post.
6:30PM: My latest meeting ends and I’m back at the office contemplating the DTEK50 again. BlackBerry insists that the DTEK isn’t a rebranded device — it’s a standalone smartphone with security as its biggest selling point. From security keys baked into the processor during manufacturing to the full disk encryption that’s enabled by default, It’s clear that BlackBerry’s security know-how is one of its most powerful assets.
You won’t notice much of that in practice, though. The phone’s namesake DTEK app gives you a quick look at how secure your device is and how you can lock it up even further, but that’s really all the insight you’ll get. On the plus side, though, DTEK also gives you the option to manages your apps’ permissions from inside it, which is a nice touch made possible by Android Marshmallow.
If you’ve used a Priv before, you’ll feel immediately at home with the DTEK50’s software features. As usual, you can manage your messages from the BlackBerry Hub and swipe up on app icons to see their widgets. The DTEK50 is another mostly-stock-Android affair and I’m warming up to it more because of it. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the company’s secure software approach hasn’t impeded performance; it’s as fast as the new Moto G4, but I wonder if there’s anything here regular consumers would respond to.
8:30PM: After a beer — fine, a few beers — the DTEK50 makes perfect sense. As a business move, it’s a great idea: BlackBerry gets a new device on the market without spending loads of money on product development. It’s also an appropriate follow-up from the Priv, if you think about it. BlackBerry’s first Android phone dealt with some serious scrutiny from critics and security buffs alike, and for the most part the company is pleased with how it all turned out. Now that it had a better sense of how responded to an Android-powered BlackBerry, the company was free to take that formula and apply it to a device that meant to be sold in bulk — to businesses, say, or governments. The DTEK50 is, as company spokespeople called it, a “fleet” device. If the DTEK50 finds a foothold with regular people, great! If not, so be it. As long as those corporations snap them up.
11:00PM: It’s late, I’m tired and the DTEK50 is still hanging on — 15 percent battery to go. And seriously, this thing is actually called the DTEK50? BlackBerry says it’s meant partially to evoke the numbers used by BB10 devices — the company topped out with the Z30 before switching back to proper names, so “50” was the next logical step. Still, it’s straight-up gibberish without a nuanced understanding of BlackBerry’s recent history.
I’m growing fonder of this thing, though, partially because it’s a solid little phone, but also because it’s a symbol of John Chen’s shrewdness. He’s said countless times before that BlackBerry will bail out of the hardware business if it’s not profitable, but dangit, the company just keeps trying anyway.
Apple has brought on the former head of BlackBerry’s automotive software division to lead its own self-driving car tech projects.
The latest addition to the Apple team previously founded and acted as chief executive officer of QNX, the operating system developer acquired by BlackBerry back in 2010. Dan Dodge joined Apple earlier this year to assist a team headed by Bob Mansfield. As part of Project Titan, Apple’s automobile initiative, Dodge is helping to research development of a new automated driving system in tandem with storied plans for Apple to create its own vehicle. This marks a change in direction from Apple’s previous plans for simply creating its own automobile.
In addition to Dodge, Apple has employed hundreds of additional employees who have been tasked with designing cars for a projected release date of 2020. While this date has changed several times over with the addition and departure of team members and switches in direction.