(Pocket-lint) - BlackBerry has officially stopped building and designing its own phones. When that news broke, it was almost as dramatic as when it announced its first Android phone, the keyboard-equipped Priv.
For a company known for building its devices, operating system and hardware keyboards, going all-out on a standard all-touch Android phone with its DTEK line came as a surprise.
The company's next model and flagship, the DTEK60, is a Alcatel phone with some BlackBerry extras. So is it any good?
BlackBerry DTEK60 review: You've seen it all before
- Glass front & back, metal frame
- Front & back firing stereo speakers
- Just 7mm thick
If there's something familiar to you about the way the DTEK60 looks, there's good reason for that. BlackBerry has outsourced its product design and manufacturing to third parties. In this case, TCL Communication, the same company that builds phones bearing Alcatel's brand name and, more locally, Vodafone's.
The BlackBerry is an all glass and metal affair, with the soft-finish metal frame sandwiched between two layers of glass. Unlike the DTEK50, BlackBerry opted not to replace the glass with a grippy plastic, and we think that was a good choice. Well, for the most part.
Glass does have its downsides, so while it may be pretty, it's also slippery and attracts fingerprints without any effort. Put it down on the arm of your sofa, and it'll likely find its own way to the floor.
- BlackBerry DTEK60: Release date, price and everything you need to know
- BlackBerry DTEK60 vs BlackBerry DTEK50: What's the difference?
Another very minor negative we noticed with our review device was a very small gap in between the metal frame and the glass, right in the corners. It's not a big deal, until you end up with bits of pocket, um, lint stuck in the frame.
The dark grey finish under the glass on the back is subtle and attractive, but it's just a shame the round camera protrudes so far. It stops the phone from lying flat on its back.
Another curious design choice - which is something we expect from this device - is the power/sleep button positioning. It's on the left edge, right near the top corner of the device. It's only easy to reach if the phone is in your left hand. Thankfully, you can just double-tap the screen to wake the phone up instead.
The front of the DTEK60 is mostly just a big, black slab of glass. Like its doppelgängers, it has a two back and front-firing speakers build into the frame, which extends slightly beyond the top and bottom edges of the glass panel.
All in all, BlackBerry's new flagship is attractive, but it's definitely not a one-handed device. As 5.5-inch phones go, this feels like one of the biggest around.
What's the DTEK60's screen resolution?
- 5.5-inch AMOLED display
- Quad HD (1440 x 2560 resolution; 534ppi)
Like the best phones out there, the DTEK60's 5.5-inch screen boasts a Quad HD resolution. It's undoubtedly one of the phone's best features. What's more, it's an AMOLED panel, so blacks are really black and colours are very vibrant. It looks particularly striking when the monochromatic notifications show up on the ambient display with the phone on standby.
One of the big advantages of the Quad HD resolution over the Full HD panel used in the alcatel Idol 4S is that text and finer details are much sharper looking. So much so that even at close proximity it's almost impossible to see the pixels that make up each letter or shape.
From an angle, like many other AMOLED screens, there is the odd hint of whites turning pink or blue, but that only shows face when viewing at unnatural viewing angles.
For the most part, the DTEK60's screen is fantastic. Although not the brightest we've tested, the real estate offered provides a great canvas. Combined that with loud stereo speakers and we've found watching any form of media is an enjoyable and immersive experience.
BlackBerry DTEK60 review: It's all about BlackBerry Hub
- Android 6.0 Marshmallow
- BlackBerry Hub and apps
You could easily criticise BlackBerry for releasing a phone which looks so similar to other devices available, and not add anything to the mix except more powerful components.
But for some, BlackBerry's software is what makes the company's offering so worthwhile. Indeed, we find the selection of added apps and software elements refreshing - and mostly useful.
The DTEK app which comes pre-installed not only gives you an easy-to-understand snapshot at the state of the phone's security, it also helps you dig deep into which apps have accessed which features, and how many times.
You can also manually switch off permissions like access to location, camera, mics, contact details and so forth. This applies for every app installed on the phone - and without that, we'd never have discovered that the Twitter app had accessed the location more than 2,500 times in the space of a few days.
Then there's the BlackBerry Hub which conveniently pulls in notifications from most popular apps in to one big inbox. From here you can keep an eye on messages, updates and replies from the likes of Instagram, WhatsApp, Gmail, Facebook Messenger, Skype and Slack. It's a great aggregator.
With the notifications that appear in the Hub, tapping on an individual message opens the app to that message, rather than keep you in the Hub. Tapping back, most of the time, takes you back to the Hub inbox. Other times, it takes you to the app inbox, which makes navigation a little frustrating at times.
The productivity tab lives on from the previous Android phones and gives quick access to recently called contacts, upcoming calendar events, tasks and unread messages in the Hub. Similar to the Edge Panel on Samsung phones, it slides in from the edge of the screen as a dark, almost completely opaque layer.
As well as all that, you can quickly access pop-up widgets for any app with widget support by swiping up on the relevant icon from the home screen. That means you can get a quick glance at your email inbox, or calendar events, without having to have widgets permanently stamped on the screen.
All this runs on Android 6.0 Marshmallow which, although not the most recent software, is left in a stock-like form on the BlackBerry. That means no custom themes, or heavy skinning to slow down the performance. With BlackBerry's focus on security, the monthly security patches delivered by Google arrive on DTEK60 virtually as soon as they're pushed to Nexus and Pixel users too.
It all ties in together to create a version of Android which, for some, will be so much more convenient.
Is the DTEK60 a true flagship performer?
- 2.15GHz Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB RAM
- 32GB storage (plus microSD slot)
One of our complaints with the similar-looking Vodafone Platinum 7 was its performance. In that phone, a Snapdragon 6-series chip runs the show, but does so with some stuttering and lag here and there. Similarly, the DTEK50 was a bit laggy and slow.
The DTEK60 is much faster and smoother than both of those examples. Indeed, it feels like BlackBerry has finally been able to marry its hardware and Android-based software in a way that delivers a fluid experience. And you'd expect as much when you read the spec sheet.
Matching the most powerful phones out there, BlackBerry opts for a Snapdragon 820 processor, paired with a generous 4GB of RAM and 32GB storage. That should ensure stable, fast performance. You can expand the storage up to 256GB using a microSD card.
Launching apps, whether they be fairly simple like Twitter or WhatsApp is quick and painless. Even games with high resolution graphics are speedy. There's no need to wait eons for anything to load like you might get on a lesser-powered smartphone.
Switching in and out of multitasking, or the Hub, is a breeze using the DTEK60 and scrolling through lists or web pages was stutter-free during testing for the most part. The only issue we had once every couple of days or so was that apps would just freeze for no reason, requiring a quick device reboot.
How good is the DTEK60's battery life?
- 3,000mAh battery capacity
- Type-C port with Quick Charge 3.0
The 3,000mAh battery inside the DTEK60 easily gets through a day's use without going completely flat.
With heavy use during the first few days with the phone, we found it had roughly 15-20 percent battery left at bed time. With more typical or moderate use, the phone lasted until late afternoon on a second day. That is to say that the Google Doze mode does work well and ensures battery consumption isn't excessive then the phone isn't in use.
This kind of battery performance is fairly typical of high-end Android smartphones at the moment. It didn't blow us away, but it was certainly good enough that there were no issues.
With Quick Charge 3.0 support, the DTEK60 can be topped up quickly. It can fully charge in little over an hour when in standby, but isn't as efficient if you're using the phone while charging. A Type-C port ensures the phone is at least keeping up with market trends.
Does the BlackBerry DTEK60 have decent cameras and OIS?
- 21-megapixel camera
- f/2.0 aperture lens
- Phase-detection autofocus
- 4K video recording
The 21-megapixel sensor tucked into the rear of the DTEK60 may technically be able to shoot good photos, but doing so isn't as automatic and easy as you'd hope. We can't help but feel BlackBerry should have chosen a sensor with fewer pixels that emphasised quality beyond resolution.
That's not to say the camera is terrible. In good light, it's capable of producing photos with even and natural tones. It does a fairly good job focusing on close-u subjectsp, and even has some manual controls so that you can adjust some control elements. But there's almost always a softness about the images; they're never super sharp.
In low light - as you find with many phone cameras with too much resolution on a small sensor - image noise starts to creep in. In automatic mode, the camera overcompensates by ramping up the exposure and extending the shutter speed so that you often get lots of blur too.
Optical image stabilisation (OIS) and an enhanced electronic image stabilisation wouldn't go amiss here. Sadly, the BlackBerry doesn't have either of those. If there's not a lot of light, and you don't use a tripod or some kind of support, then chances are you'll end up with blurry images.
The DTEK60 also has phase-detection autofocus, a dual tone flash, and the lens aperture is f/2.0. It can also record video in resolutions up to 4K.
While this is BlackBerry's flagship phone for 2016, the camera doesn't live up to the standards set by the likes of Samsung's Galaxy S7 or the Google Pixel. But then again, there had to be at least one compromise in a phone that costs £200+ less than its premium competition.
For BlackBerry, coming out with a flagship phone at the right price was always going to be a challenge. With the DTEK60, the £475 price point is halfway between the super value-for-money OnePlus 3 and the more traditional flagships like the Galaxy S7 edge and Google Pixel XL.
The problem is, despite the screen being better than the OnePlus, it doesn't offer much else in terms of hardware or performance, which means all the value lies in the software and added security. Whether those points are worth the money or not is a discussion that's going to divide opinion.
On the flip side, the DTEK60 is a phone that offers something close to the performance and quality offered by much more expensive flagships. If the camera was improved, and better at producing consistently sharp and colourful images, it would be an even better all-rounder.
The DTEK60 shows that BlackBerry's day isn't done yet. Well, kind of: it might not be designing or building its own phones, but it knows exactly how to specify things for a great flagship experience.
From £475, Amazon
BlackBerry DTEK60: The alternatives to consider
An obvious choice because, design wise, this Vodafone exclusive is approximately identical to the DTEK60. It's a little less powerful, but that's reflected in the lower price point. You'll have to wave goodbye to BlackBerry Hub and security settings though.
OnePlus is a brand hard to ignore: it produces flagship-level phones at a cut of the price. The OnePlus 3, with its 5.5-inch screen, is a similar size to the DTEK60 (it's actually a millimetre here and there smaller), and of similar power, yet a whole lot less cash. As affordable Android phones go it's a great alternative for, well, almost anything on the market - not just BlackBerry.
If you're not convinced by BlackBerry any more then Apple's iOS is a sensible route of escape. The iPhone 7 is smaller in size than the DTEK60, but it's a logical alternative choice if you're not considering an Android handset. It is a little pricier though, but that's Apple for you.