Embattled phonemaker BlackBerry promised at least three new Android smartphones this year, and leaks suggested as much. Now, though, the Waterloo, Ontario-based company has officially confirmed one of them: On Tuesday, it announced the DTEK50, a handset it calls the “world’s most secure.” Another factoid for the Guinness books? It’s BlackBerry’s first touchscreen-only Android phone.
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The utilitarian-sounding DTEK50 isn’t new, per se — it bears more than a passing resemblance to Alcatel’s Idol 4, which aligns with rumors that Alcatel partner TCL Communications will be handling BlackBerry’s short-term manufacturing duties. And perhaps unsurprisingly, the DTEK shares characteristics in common with its likely muse. It packs a 5.2-inch, 1080p display, and under the hood an octa-core Snapdragon 617 processor, 3GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, a non-removeable 2,610 mAh battery, and and a microSD card reader — just like the Idol 4. On the front is a 8MP front-facing shooter with a flash, also like the Idol 4, and around back is a nondescript 13MP camera above a soft-coated plastic BlackBerry logo.
What the DTEK50 lacks in hardware originality, though, it makes up for in software. It ships with BlackBerry’s now-signature software features, many of which debuted alongside the Priv last November. One is the Hub, an aggregator of unread emails, instant messages, calendar notifications, frequent contacts, app notifications, and scheduled tasks. Another is DTEK, BlackBerry’s proprietary security solution that acts as a sort of firewall against malware and “other security problems.” If your network settings are configured insecurely, or if you have an app installed that’s a known bad actor, DTEK will suggest appropriate courses of action.
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The DTEK50 runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow modified with encryption technology “originally developed for the BB10” platform, said BlackBerry, which includes a hardware Root of Trust, full disk encryption, and a secure bootloader, plus the promise of “rapid” updates and security fixes. “DTEK50 merges unique security and connectivity features … with the rich Android ecosystem,” Ralph Pini, head of BlackBerry’s device division, said in a press release.
The DTEK50 is available for pre-order in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and several other European countries starting at $300 unlocked, and it’ll begin shipping from BlackBerry’s online store, Amazon, Best Buy, and B&H Photo during the week of August 8. It’s compatible with T-Mobile and AT&T on the U.S., and it comes bundled with an external battery pack.
BlakBerry’s hoping the midrange DTEK50 will prove a hit among corporate types. The company’s first-ever Android phone, the Priv, launched in November, and contributed to the company’s disappointing 500,000 in device sales in the first quarter of this year — down significantly from the 2.1 million it sold in the same period in 2014. Analysts blamed the Priv’s substantial price tag — $700 — for the dip, a pressure point which BlackBerry’s obviously taken pains to remove with the affordable-by-comparison DTEK50.
BlackBerry chief John Chen has expressed a willingness to “cut loose” the company’s handset division if it can’t turn a profit — it needs to sell at least 3 million units a year at an average price of $300 to break even, he said in April. Last fiscal quarter, BlackBerry’s device division suffered a loss of $21 million, and its hardware accounted for less than 1 percent of the smartphone market.