BlackBerry DTEK 50 Hands-on: Why BlackBerry don't need no stinkin' keyboards

BlackBerry DTEK 50 price: £275

BlackBerry DTEK 50 release date: August

Oh, BlackBerry. The once-dominant mobile brand has seen its influence decrease massively over the past few years, but it still has a soft spot in my heart. One of my favourite phones ever was the Bold 9700 – a mobile behemoth that seemed to last forever on a charge and had a keyboard that made knocking out those BBM messages seriously easy.

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But that was then, a very time different time. I liked, though just, BlackBerry’s first Android phone. The Priv was big and bulky, but it had clever software features and a nice-ish keyboard. It was like BlackBerry wanted to see whether or not people were still interested in that physical keyboard, and it turned out they probably weren’t.

BlackBerry’s second Android _phone_ ditches the keyboard and slips below the Priv in the line-up, but I think there’s still a lot to like here. It won’t be for everyone, and BB is certainly aiming for the business market, but for the £275 price it shouldn’t instantly be dismissed.

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My first impressions were less stellar, though. The box actually says the _phone_ has a "Touchscreen", like this is a feature that needs to be advertised in 2016. And then there’s the phone itself – a nondescript black slab that uses the same basic design as the equally dull Alcatel Idol 4.

The flat back and sides make it easy to hold, and I do like BlackBerry’s grippy, textured back. But it’s instantly forgettable and won’t help BlackBerry grab the attention of shoppers. Down one side there’s a volume rocker and "Convenience" key – this can be mapped to any function, and you’ll definitely think it’s the lock button – while the actual power button is alone on the other side. On the bottom there’s a Micro USB socket – USB-C would've been nice – and a headphone jack on the top.

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The "Convenience" key

The only slightly eye-catching design traits are the protruding speaker and microphone grilles on the top and bottom, which are framed by a slightly chamfered rim. It’s all made of plastic too, which is probably why it feels always comically light. I’m not sure this would compare well with the BlackBerrys of old when it comes to durability, but time will tell.

In truth, though, this phone isn’t about the hardware – it’s all about the software, and the boat-load of privacy functions that go with it. BlackBerry DTEK 50 sounds more like the name of a budget TV from some no-name Chinese outfit than a phone, but it actually comes from the DTEK app that’s pre-installed. This app judges how secure your device is, and gives you handy ways to improve the score. This could be by giving certain apps fewer permissions, or deleting it altogether. The DTEK 50 ups the security stakes even further with a locked bootloader, promises of snappy monthly software patches and system-level encryption.

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The DTEK app helps keep the phone secure

While privacy and security are a focus, it’s some of the other software additions that have caught my eye so far. The very clean version of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow dispenses will heavy skins, but makes clever changes that are in some cases better than regular Android.

Blackberry Hub is possibly one of my favourite software tweaks – an app that combines all your messaging and social media accounts into one handy spot. I’ve only been using it for a few hours, but I think I’ll struggle to go back. All my Slack, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, texts and emails are pulled together in a single page, making it so easy to trawl through them and not miss anything. You can even set yourself a reminder to go back to a message later, which is a nice touch.

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BlackBerry Hub combines all your messages

The "Productivity" tab is just as useful. This sits on the side of the screen and once you pull it out, gives you a heads-up of upcoming calendar appointments and to-dos.

You can swipe up on icons to reveal widgets, search the entire phone with the very powerful "Device Search", and the on-screen virtual keyboard is one of the best I have tried. Suggested words pop up over relevant letters and the predictive text seems eerily accurate – much more so than on an iPhone.

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Considering the £275 price tag, the internals are decidedly more Moto G than Samsung Galaxy S7. But performance so far seems to be perfectly acceptable. The Snapdragon 617 CPU and 3GB of RAM should be enough to banish slow-down and lag, while the 5.2-inch 1080p screen is certainly a lot sharper than the one on the Sony Xperia XA. Colours are accurate, detail is strong and it seems very balanced. There’s 16GB of storage, plus a microSD slot, an FM Radio (because, why not?) and NFC for Android Pay. I’d have liked to see a fingerprint scanner, but that’s far from a must-have at this price.

I haven’t had the phone in my pocket long enough to judge the 13-megapixel camera with phase-detection autofocus, nor its 5MP selfie sibling, but my thoughts on both will come in the full review. The same goes for the battery, which seems a little on the small side at 2,610mAh. There’s no way it’ll match the endurance of my beloved Bold, but hopefully it’ll last through a day. Quick Charge 2.0 is onboard, giving 50% charge in about 50 minutes.

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Early Verdict

Considering the boring design, I'm quite surprised by how much I've warmed to the DTEK 50 already. Sure, it's not the phone that'll make BlackBerry relevant again, but its focus on genuinely useful software tweaks and a secure approach help it to stand out. It offers decent specs for the price, with plentiful RAM and a nice screen. It's also compact – something quite rare these days. Should you be rushing out to buy the DTEK 50 on day one? Probably not, but it might be worth keeping an eye on.