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DTEK60 Preview: BlackBerry’s Surprisingly Speedy Return To The Smartphone Market

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As part of its calendar Q3 earnings call, BlackBerry announced that it would no longer be manufacturing BlackBerry smartphones. The hardware-focused game was over and the future would be in software. This makes the timing of today’s launch of the new DTEK60 BlackBerry handset kind of awkward.

It’s awkward but it’s not contradicting the previous statement. The DTEK60 is a good illustration of where BlackBerry sees its smartphone future. The Android manufacturer ecosystem is one that is becoming a commodity market for all but the highest-specification handsets at the top end. Margins are smaller, and with price as a key battleground the real value is found elsewhere in the system.

BlackBerry does not have a volume of sales or significant market share on its side to help bring in enough revenue with custom hardware. When there are off-the-shelf reference designs to use, and your real power is software, the decision is clear. BlackBerry is open and upfront when you ask. Industry watchers who know their reference designs will spot the heritage of TCL’s handset in this new model, but for the consumer in the street or the Enterprise buyer looking for a volume-based rollout of devices, they will simply see the name BlackBerry, recognise the branding, and consider the Android-powered DTEK60.

That’s the plan.

The smartphone obsession for thinness is also present, with the DTEK60 measuring 6.99 mm (although this ignores the extra millimeters provided by the camera lens bulge). Inside the case is a Qualcomm SnapDragon 820, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage – the DTEK60 is only offered in one storage size with any extra storage requirements passed over to the microSD slot.  As with most new Android devices at the higher price points, connectivity and charging is provided by USB-C, and audiophiles will be happy to see that the 3.5mm headphone jack is retained.

There’s nothing in the hardware that sets the world alight, but neither are there any major mis-steps. This is BlackBerry’s third Android handset, although some elements of the Android software package have been available for third-party handsets for a longer period.

Central to the DTEK60 (and BlackBerry’s vision of communications software) is the BlackBerry Hub, bringing in alerts and notifications from all your messaging apps as well as social networks and team organisational software such as Slack. One glance at the screens and you’ll seen the BlackBerry lineage back to the original messaging devices from the Canadian company. The Hub offers a consistent interface between email, Facebook, Twitter, and countless other applications. Think of it as a super-notifications system with a preview of your messages and you’ll get the idea.

The DTEK60 also ships with the rest of BlackBerry’s PIM suite, including its own Calendar and Contacts Book software, and the ubiquitous BlackBerry Messenger.

If you were to boil down the brand, its essence would be rapid messaging (which has evolved into the Hub) and a secure environment. From the unique security keys included in the manufacturing process to prevent device counterfeiting and a secure bootloader that checks the various systems as the handset is powered up, to the fingerprint reader (a first on BlackBerry hardware) and the constant monitoring the DTEK app does to protect your information from being accessed by other applications without your permission; the DTEK60 promotes itself as a ‘secure smartphone’.

The promise to rush the Android security updates to the handsets as soon as they are released by Google. SIM-free handsets supplied directly by BlackBerry will pick these up direct, while those sold through carriers around the world will need to wait for carrier certification, but there are clear agreements between BlackBerry and the carriers that security patches will be passed through with haste.

The DTEK60 is a clear representation of where BlackBerry’s future lies. It will continue to leverage a strong brand name and corporate values through software. The Android application software here matches that of the PRIV and the DTEK50, so has been in use for some time and is stable. The deeper changes to Android to provide a secure space offers Blackberry a slight advantage over other handsets using vanilla Android, but Google could add in similar features to later builds of Android.

What BlackBerry offers the enterprise market is that level of security right now, and the ability to stay on top of security issues for the lifetime of a device. The DTEK60, with a touch more power and potential than the DTEK50, is aimed at the enterprise market as a corporate device.

The DTEK60 is available to individual users, but you should be aware of the reference design nature of the handset. The value in this handset is in the software and being part of the company’s cloud-based product. BlackBerry’s historical prowess as a manufacturer gives it the edge when software and hardware is combined, but be in no doubt the DTEK60 transitions the user and the company from hardware-first to software-first.

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