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2 months ago

BlackBerry DTEK50 hands-on: Stuck in neutral


BlackBerry's second Android phone, the DTEK50, has a vexing name and a lack of star appeal. But it's also cheap.

I have been fielding radio interviews since mid-2013 about the inevitable demise of BlackBerry's smartphone business, and each time since then I say, "Sure, this may be it," and each time I am left wondering whether the company's stubborn tenacity is its blessing or its curse.

In the DTEK50, BlackBerry may have finally solved the solution to its hardware profitability problem: a low-stakes handset based on the reference design of an existing product, the Alcatel Idol 4, with a software experience that brings the Priv's impressive amalgam of near-stock Android and a homegrown app suite to a price more palatable to the average IT manager.

Hardware impressions

At first glance, this is an Alcatel Idol 4 — yes, the still-unreleased cheaper version of the Idol 4S — with slight changes, particularly to the phone's back. A 5.2-inch 1080p LCD display covers the phone's otherwise-uninteresting front, and it is, like the rest of the hardware, adequate but largely unimpressive. Colors are vibrant, and white balance, which can be adjusted through the settings, is slightly too warm out of the box. Thankfully, BlackBerry decided to set the phone's DPI — the amount of content shown on the screen — fairly high, which is a nice change fro the average device in this price range.

More: BlackBerry DTEK50 specs

The phone costs $299, and it feels like it: Aluminum chamfers and a rubberized textured back are highlights, but its near-weightlessness is not an asset. Still, the back does not creak like its Priv predecessor (which cost nearly three times as much), and despite the gimmicky nature of the front and back being offset from the bezels to mimic layers, there is a solidity to the chassis that I appreciate.

Unfortunately, the DTEK50 inherited a now-standard negative trait of Alcatel's recent product lineup: a power button located on the top left, which is sure to vex the vast majority of the right-handed user base.

Even worse, where the power button exists on most phones — right side middle — is a convenience key that, after unboxing the phone, I depressed like an idiot for 10 seconds before realizing it didn't power on the phone. This isn't the first time we've seen such a button on an Android phone — Samsung's Galaxy S Active line famously added one a few years ago — but BlackBerry hopes that you'll use this one to quickly open its Hub, or its Calendar, or — mercifully — BBM.

Around back, you're looking at a 13MP rear camera, which doesn't have the same pedigree as the Priv's 18MP shooter, but upon first impression the DTEK50 exhibits a fair approximation of what a $300 phone in 2016 offers. A full review will reveal specifics, but at least BlackBerry's camera app has received considerable performance improvements since the Priv's debut last year.

The phone costs $299, and it feels like it.

The DTEK50's spec sheet is largely identical to that of the Alcatel Idol 4, which means its middle-of-the-road inclusions are somewhat mired by a quickly-aging Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor and 16GB of internal storage (which is, thankfully, expandable via microSD). In its announcement, BlackBerry hedged against the naysayers by claiming that the phone's 3GB of RAM will keep things running smoothly over the long haul, but after a few minutes tapping away on the company's first-party keyboard, it's clear the phone is severely underpowered.

Finally, the DTEK50 lacks a fingerprint sensor, which was, according to BlackBerry's head of design, Scott Wenger, was more a price consideration than a security one. Surely, a fingerprint sensor cannot replace the need for a strong password (and two-factor authentication), but Android today is a far better experience with biometrics than without. But having to enter a password or pin when opening 1Password feels like a regression, and one that we've seen avoided on other devices in this price range.

Software impressions

First, the good news: the DTEK50 runs Android 6.0.1 with the very latest security patch from Google (July 5th, as of writing), which is considerably more encouraging than some upcoming phones asking twice as much.

I have gone on the record as being a fan of BlackBerry's Android apps.

If you've used the Priv, the software experience is the same: a powerful home screen that in many ways resembles a hybrid of Google Now and Action Launcher (in a good way), and a bevy of first-party apps that I can only describe as excellent. I have gone on the record as being a fan of BlackBerry's Android apps, from the Hub, which has improved considerably since last year, to its minimalist calendar and notes apps. And all of these apps are updated directly from Google Play, a means of distribution that BlackBerry has utilized often.

Then there's DTEK, the phone's branding namesake, the foundation for BlackBerry's claim of "the world's most secure Android smartphone." While the average consumer may balk at BlackBerry's intention to sell this directly through distribution channels like Amazon, the real sales volume is going to come by bundling the phone alongside BlackBerry's suite of enterprise management tools like BES 12. DTEK (the app) puts a friendly face on a narrative that BlackBerry is desperate to convey to potential customers: Android may be secure, but with this phone you'll never have to worry about being compromised again.

The Accessories

Of course, with every BlackBerry phone, there are the accessories. I got to try three cases that will be available alongside the phone when it launches on August 8: the Smart Pocket; the Smart Flip Case; and the Hard Shell. There will also be a Swivel Holster, because of course there will be.

All three cases are well-made and, between $24.99 and $34.99, in line with what you'd pay from Otterbox or Incipio.

The Bottom Line

At this point, I'm cautiously optimistic about the state of BlackBerry's device business. John Chen has said again and again that he has no qualms shutting down the whole project if it fails to turn a profit, though he stubbornly keeps pushing back that due date. And while this is certainly a BlackBerry phone in name, we're expecting a more traditional keyboard-sporting Android device by the end of the company's fiscal year, which could take us into early 2017.

As for the DTEK50 itself, it appears to be a decent phone that will likely be severely hampered by an underpowered processor. I hope to be proven wrong by the time I write the review, but I doubt it.

More: BlackBerry DTEK50 pre-orders have begun, ships August 8 for $299

See at BlackBerry

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2 months ago

5 things to know about Honor 8 in the U.S.

Honor 8

Huawei-owned Honor set to bring its A-game to the U.S. market.

Alongside a European launch in Paris later next month, it looks like the Honor 8 is headed to the United States, with an event scheduled for Aug. 16 in San Francisco. It'll be the second Honor phone to hit the U.S., following the Honor 5X earlier in the year. That phone was a mixed bag, with sluggish performance, Android 5.1 out of the box and a smudge-prone, fingerprinty screen.

But the Honor 8 looks like a serious improvement, with flagship-class internals and build quality, backed up by a seriously improved software setup. So as launch day approaches, let's come to grips with what you need to know about the Honor 8 in the U.S.

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2 months ago

Verizon rolls out small updates to the LG G5 and V10


Verizon has started rolling out a fresh set of updates to both the LG G5 and LG V10, bringing along some slight tweaks to both.

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2 months ago

BlackBerry DTEK50 priced £275 in the UK, launching early August


Retailers confirm SIM-free price and release date for new Android-powered BlackBerry.

BlackBerry's new Android smartphone is called the DTEK50, because branding is hard, and how else were we going to top "Priv". Based on Alcatel Idol 4 hardware and named by a cat walking across a keyboard, the security-focused phone is scheduled land in the UK the first week of August.

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2 months ago

'Soft Gold' OnePlus 3 is now on sale in the U.S. for $399


OnePlus has begun selling the 'Soft Gold' color version of its OnePlus 3 smartphone in the U.S. The price for the new version remains the same at $399 and it can be purchased at the company's website.

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2 months ago

BlackBerry DTEK50 specs


What's inside the BlackBerry DTEK50?

Following on the relative success of the Priv, BlackBerry went in a slightly different direction with its second Android phone, the DTEK50. An all-touch more mid-range device, the DTEK50 quite clearly resembles that of the Alcatel Idol 4, and the specs line up as well. Here's what's inside.

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2 months ago

BlackBerry's upcoming second Android phone shown in new images


The official BlackBerry website briefly posted new images and specifications for its second Android smartphone, "Neon", before the company took them down.

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2 months ago

OxygenOS 3.2.2 brings Doze improvements and more to the OnePlus 3


OnePlus has started pushing out OxygenOS 3.2.2 for the OnePlus 3. The update brings a number of fixes to the phone, including improvements for Doze, updated security patches and other optimizations. There has been some controversy surrounding how the OnePlus 3 was working with Doze, and hopefully this update will address those concerns and more.

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2 months ago

Kevin Spacey is investing in a mysterious gaming smartphone startup, Wonder


A new report claims to have some information on a startup called Wonder. The company is apparently working on a gaming-themed smartphone and counts actor Kevin Spacey among its investors.

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2 months ago

OnePlus 3: A second opinion

OnePlus 3

A phone as good as the OnePlus 3 should really cost more than $399. They've nailed it this time around. Now they just have to keep the software up to date.

There's not a whole lot to say about the OnePlus 3 that we haven't already said. (You've read our official OnePlus 3 review already, right?) This phone is legit. It hits a price point that's not inexpensive, but doesn't break the bank. And on paper, the OnePlus 3 probably should cost more than the $399 asking price.

It ticks all the boxes. It's nicely designed and built just as well as anything else out there.

So is there any reason to not recommend this phone?

Let's take another quick spin around the OnePlus 3 and see what's what.

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2 months ago

You can save $100 on various Nexus 6P models at Newegg right now!


Newegg is currently offering $100 off the Nexus 6P in all storage capacities, dropping the price of the base model down to just $399. Whether you've missed out on previous deals, or are getting excited for the upcoming release of Android Nougat, you won't want to pass up on this special. You'll have your choice of multiple colors for each size, so you can pick the one that you prefer.

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2 months ago

Galaxy Note 7 might have a smaller battery than the GS7 edge


Latest leak points to a 3,500mAh battery for Samsung's upcoming Note.

There's been no shortage of Samsung Galaxy Note 7 leakage of late, and the latest details to sneak out of a Korean carrier gives some intriguing info on the phone's battery capacity.

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2 months ago

HTC Desire 530 now on sale at T-Mobile and


The mid-range HTC Desire 530 smartphone is officially on sale in the U.S. The phone can be purchased unlocked on the company's website for $179, or you can get it from T-Mobile for $159.99 without a contract. T-Mobile is also selling it for $0 down and $6.67 a month for 24 months.

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2 months ago

Moto Z Droid or Moto Z Force Droid — which should you get?

Moto Z and Moto Z Force

Two phones, both alike in dignity. On fair Verizon, where we lay our scene ...

The Moto Z lands on Verizon on July 28. And if even if you've made up you're mind that you're going be diving into this modular menagerie, you've got a decision to make. Verizon, as it's been prone to do with its Droid line of late, has two Moto Zs from which you'll need to choose.

In many ways, they're exactly alike. Same software. Mostly the same internals. And they both use the new Moto Mods accessories.

Let's take a look at the ways in which they're different, though, and see if we can't figure out which one is for you.

Better battery capacity

Moto Z and Moto Z Force

Should you ever turn down the opportunity to have more battery? The Moto Z has a 2,600 mAh battery. The Moto Z Force has a 3,500 mAh battery — that's about a 34 percent increase. Along with that extra battery comes some extra thickness, however. The Moto Z is a svelte 5.19mm thick (or thin, I guess). The Moto Z Force is 6.99mm. That's without the stock Style Shell back that comes in the box, however, so you'll need to add a couple millimeters for those, too.

I've used both phones. You should never pass up the opportunity for more battery out of the box.

I've used both phones. And you should never pass up the opportunity for more battery out of the box. Even with external batteries and the 2,200 mAh Moto Mod Power Packs that are available for the Moto Z and Moto Z Force, that extra 34 percent can be the difference between having to top up toward the late afternoon, or not.

The extra thickness on the Moto Z Force means a few things. One is that I don't mind using it without a Style Shell as much. That doesn't mean I won't use it without one, but the option is at least more comfortable. The other is that it's going to fit larger hands better than the Moto Z. That's subjective, but not unimportant.

Higher-resolution camera

Moto Z and Moto Z Force

The Moto Z and Moto Z Force have similar cameras. Same camera app, same f/1.8 aperture. They're both pretty darn good in sunlight, and less so when it gets dark. They're both what I'd call an above-average camera, though a few steps down from the best available.

The only real difference is that the Moto Z Force has a higher possible resolution — 21 megapixels — than the Moto Z, which is lower at 13MP. (One thing to keep in mind, however, is that both phones shoot at a wider, 16:9 aspect ratio by default, and don't use the full resolution until you change the setting to accommodate their native 4:3 aspect ratios.)

For my money, I'd opt for the Moto Z Force because of its larger battery and better chance at surviving a fall.

For the most part this discrepancy hasn't really affected me any. At least not in the way I shoot and share photos. For things like Facebook and Instagram and your basic social sharing, either one has served me just fine. It's another differentiator for Verizon, I suppose. But merely adding more megapixels doesn't necessarily improve the finished product that much.

ShatterShield display

Moto Z and Moto Z Force

If a bigger battery didn't do it for you, this one might. The Moto Z Force is the second phone to sport "ShatterShield." The short version is that means some extra protection for the display. So you'll be able to drop it without the screen breaking into a million pieces.

That doesn't mean you might not kill the phone if it takes a bad fall. Here's the important part from Moto's fine print:

The display and embedded lens are warranted against shattering and cracking for four (4) years from the original date of purchase; scratches or other damage to the protective lens is not covered by this warranty, but should always be in place to prevent scratches and other damage to the underlying components. This phone is not shockproof or designed to withstand all damage from dropping.

We dropped the Moto Z Force until it quit working. Actually, let's be more specific. The phone still works. The display, while showing signs of abuse, did not crack. It, uh, just doesn't actually show a picture anymore. So the first four times it took a bad spill ShatterShield worked as advertised. That's a pretty good insurance policy.

The bottom line

So which phone should you get? The Moto Z, or the thicker, longer-lasting, better protected, higher-resolution Moto Z Force? For my money, I'd opt for the latter. The upgraded camera sensor isn't that big a deal for me. But more battery and a better chance at surviving a fall?

That's worth my money just about every time.

Moto Z & Moto Z Force and Moto Z Play

Motorola Verizon

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2 months ago

Nexus 5X price cut to £169 at Carphone Warehouse

Nexus 5X

Cheapest UK price yet for the LG-made Nexus.

We may be rapidly approaching new Nexus season, but there's still time to pick up a great deal on last year's models — specifically, the LG-made Nexus 5X, which has already been discounted by various U.S. retailers. And now Brits can get in on the action, with Carphone Warehouse selling the 5X for £169 SIM-free.

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