The BlackBerry DTEK50's hardware is almost irrelevant, as the magic lies in the software.
Pleasing screen, camera provides good results, hardened security, price
Unremarkable design, so-so performance, confusing button placement, poor battery life
Software and security
We have no quarrel with BlackBerry's claim that the DTEK50 is the "world's most secure" Android smartphone. Silent Circle's second Blackphone offers fully encrypted phone calls, texts, file transfers and video conferencing, but BlackBerry has gone further by encrypting email communications.
Unlike a niche device like the Blackphone, the BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) framework is widely implemented in organisations the world over, and no-one else even gets near to that level of security and trust.
The beauty of safeguards like BES12, Hardware Root of Trust, a hardened Linux kernel and FIPS 140-2 Compliant Full Disk Encryption lies in their anonymity. It's therefore baffling that BlackBerry has chosen to promote the DTEK Blackberry App when marketing the DTEK50.
As far as we're concerned, the DTEK app is nothing more than a glorified checklist. On launch the app presents a string of information that reliably informs us we're using a BlackBerry device, our OS is Android, that we haven't turned on Developer options - you hopefully get the picture by this point.
As long as a screen lock (a PIN will suffice) has been set up, the app tells us that our device security is excellent. This is all well and good, but it feels like overkill. Wouldn't it be more beneficial to receive a notification if the integrity of the OS is breached or similar vulnerabilities are detected?
To us, it all comes across a bit like one of those free tune-up apps with the whirly health indicators and bright colours.
By default Android 6.0 Marshmallow provides greater control over what apps are allowed to access, allowing users to disable permissions as they see fit. BlackBerry's DTEK app goes one step further by keeping track of the number of times the app has accessed the camera, contacts, microphone, location etc.
It will even call up a map view and show exactly where any infiltration took place. If you're already used to denying access to your installed apps then, like the Convenience Button, this functionality could be superfluous. Again, we're unsure whether this is a genuinely useful resource or simply window dressing.
BlackBerry has also put a lot of emphasis on the update cycle, and the DTEK50, along with the BlackBerry Priv, are treated to the latest security patches every 30 days. Traditionally we'd plump for a Nexus if we wanted our device to get the latest updates first. This is where things could get interesting for the DTEK50 (and BlackBerry), thus providing the competitive edge it so sorely needs.
It will also be interesting to see how long BlackBerry upholds this update cycle. How many years does the DTEK50 have in it? We put this to the company, and we'll update when we get an answer.
In the days that followed the announcement of the new handset, BlackBerry made what in our eyes was the DTEK50's crowning glory available to all Android owners.
We're therefore surprised that the BlackBerry Hub is not included on the home screen(s) by default. The Hub app does a good job of combining email accounts, text messages, phone calls, calendars, BBM messages and social media accounts.
Being able to access all of our accounts from a single place was really quite liberating, as the seconds wasted popping in and out of the numerous dedicated clients soon add up. What's more, you can personalise the layout and have your mail displayed in a single view, from where it can be ordered by unread messages, flagged, snoozed and more.
It's possible that BlackBerry has gone overboard with gestures. BB10 introduced gesture-based controls for the first time, and gestures are alive and kicking on the DTEK50. Swiping right on an email snoozes the notification and allows you to set an alert for a later time or place, while swiping left removes the message completely.
Swiping plays a role too when it comes to pop-up widgets. A lot of apps come with their own widgets signposted by three little dots underneath the app icon. An upward swipe offers a quick glance at messages, calendar events, emails etc without having to go into the app proper. Such functionality is a boon if you fear people trying to sneak a glance over your shoulder.
We're not done with gestures just yet. In addition to the 'Type by Swiping' functionality (that existing Priv users no doubt recognise), the DTEK50 keyboard allows you to quickly insert suggestions by flicking upwards over suggested words that appear on the keyboard. It's also possible to to delete words with a simple swipe to the left.
The BlackBerry Productivity Tab reminded us of the functionality in the Galaxy Edge's display, an observation quickly denied in our sit-down briefing with BlackBerry earlier. The Tab is located on the right edge (this can be changed in Settings) and accessed by swiping inwards. Here you can flick between events, messages, tasks and contacts.
The multitask view offers a refreshing new layout to the default list of old and makes it easier than ever to move forwards and back through your apps.
We feel compelled to mention the keyboard. We're not going to jump on the bandwagon and bemoan the BlackBerry DTEK50's lack of physical keyboard, but the capacitive version is one of the most responsive, accurate and satisfying typing experiences.
The BlackBerry keyboard is peerless even when compared with popular alternatives like SwiftKey. The ability to use more than one language is a boon, so you can add an English and French dictionary to your keyboard and predictive text will automatically switch between as and when.