BlackBerry recently launched the DTEK50 in South Africa – a touchscreen Android smartphone built by TCL Corporation.
The DTEK range is marketed as the world’s most secure Android smartphones – a bold claim by the company.
With smartphone security a complex and multi-layered issue, it is not possible to conduct an assessment which takes into account the possibility of future hacking techniques or software – so claims of this nature must be read with caution.
Hardware root of trust, secure bootloaders, and factory reset protection
At the heart of BlackBerry’s security features is its hardware root of trust. This performs a four-stage integrity check of the smartphone’s critical software to ensure it hasn’t been compromised.
Another feature BlackBerry advertises is its improved bootloader for Android. Searching the web, we could not find a verified, working method to unlock the bootloader and flash custom firmware onto the device.
For tinkerers, this will be a bad thing, but for those looking for a completely locked-down Android device, BlackBerry appears to have delivered.
A feature BlackBerry doesn’t speak about is Android’s factory reset protection (FRP). This lets you make your phone useless to thieves by requiring that you sign in with your Google account even after your device has been factory reset.
Many manufacturers have introduced security flaws into their devices that let you bypass the FRP lock, however, rendering it useless.
We could not find any working FRP hacks for the DTEK50 at the time of writing.
Software updates and the DTEK app
All of the baked-in security mentioned above is great. Unfortunately, it does not necessarily insulate BlackBerry from flaws within Android.
When the Quadrooter vulnerability was first disclosed, the DTEK was one of the many Qualcomm-based devices affected.
BlackBerry said it was the first manufacturer to patch its devices, but it’s a reminder that even the DTEK is not untouchable.
Another issue not often mentioned in Android device reviews is that the future security of the device hinges on the continued partnership between the manufacturer and carriers.
If you buy your DTEK50 on contract, but your network operator is slow to test and release the patches supplied by BlackBerry, your device will remain vulnerable even if a security fix has been released.
This is a huge security concern and it’s a question even South Africa’s mobile operators have trouble answering.
|Dimensions||147 x 72 x 7.4 mm|
|Operating system||Android 6.0 Marshmallow|
|Display||5.2″ 1080p (1,080 x 1,920)|
|Processor||Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617|
|Cellular data||FD-LTE, HSPA+|
|SIM type||Nano SIM|
Great phone, great price, but don’t let your guard down
Overall, the DTEK50 is a great phone and at a recommended retail price of R6,899, it is pretty good value.
In criticising it, some have said the DTEK50 is just a rebranded Alcatel Idol 4 – which you can get cheaper elsewhere.
This is an oversimplification.
Yes, the DTEK50 does use TCL’s reference design for the Idol 4, but there’s nothing wrong with using a working reference design to build a solid product.
Among the physical differences between the devices is that the DTEK50 has an almost rubbery-textured back, which feels great in the hand. Alcatel opted for a smooth plastic back on the Idol 4.
The major difference is BlackBerry’s software. If the software and security features aren’t what interest you, then this is not the BlackBerry for you.
The DTEK50 offers a great suite of features, but I would warn against over-interpreting the “most secure Android phone in the world” marketing line.
In some respects it is more secure, in others it isn’t. What’s fair to say is that BlackBerry certainly makes the most security-aware Android phones in the world.
Battery. Average life. Non-removable.
Display. Good. Decent visibility in sunlight.
Storage. Supports the Android 6 feature to format SD cards as internal storage.
Network. LTE and HSPA+ support.
Cameras. Good performance overall.
|The Verdict: BlackBerry DTEK50|
Now read: BlackBerry is not abandoning the smartphone business