BlackBerry still gets some credit for piecing together a good camera app, though. A shutter button lives on the right edge of the screen, with a handy exposure slider, mode selector and a panel of photo filter effects nearby for easy access. More serious photographers will get some mileage out of the included manual mode, which allows for finer control over focus, white balance, shutter speed, exposure compensation and ISO. It's not the most polished camera app, but it's enough to get the job done.
Performance and battery life
This is where things start to get hairy. The octa-core Snapdragon 617 (with four 1.5GHz cores and four 1.2GHz cores) is a well-known chipset at this point and has landed starring roles in phones like the fourth-generation Moto G line and the HTC One A9. For the most part, that combination of CPU cores and 3GB of RAM keep the DTEK50 running without issue. It's certainly not flagship level, but launching apps, multitasking and generally just getting things done generally aren't a problem. Graphically intense games sometimes threw the DTEK50 for a bit of a loop, but I could usually log plenty of time in Asphalt 8 with the visual settings cranked up before noticing any slowdown.
Once in a while, though, the phone would start to stutter, even during pretty basic tasks, before eventually returning to normal. I didn't see hiccups this frequently while playing with other 617-powered devices, though that's not to say they were immune to the occasional slowdown. I could usually clear things up by closing all running apps, and I suspect at least sometimes the problem was caused by using the DTEK50 out in the summer heat. Thankfully, these issues didn't crop up every day, and with any luck a post-launch software patch will help smooth things out a bit.
The battery, meanwhile, has been awfully hit-or-miss. BlackBerry and TCL fitted the phone with a 2,610mAh nonremovable cell that typically saw me through a full workday and then some before giving up the ghost. That's about 14 hours of pretty consistent, mixed use -- my days involve lots of phone calls, emails, Slack messages and card-slinging in Hearthstone, for the record. That's in line with what we've seen from other midrange phones, which makes the DTEK50's lackluster performance in our standard video rundown test so surprising. The phone looped a 720p video with screen brightness set to 50 percent and WiFi connected for just under eight hours, putting it well below the LG G5 (with a similar size battery) and either of this year's new Moto Gs. In fairness, that's not exactly a natural use case -- I don't know many people who'd watch videos on their phones for eight hours straight -- but it's still sort of a let-down.
BlackBerry clearly wants to sell tons of DTEK50s to businesses, and among corporate buyers, the company's storied brand and devotion to security might give the phone an edge. The thing is, BlackBerry is trying to sell these to regular people too, and on that front, the DTEK50 faces a much tougher fight. Consider this year's Moto G Plus, an enhanced version of the fourth-generation Moto G that launched alongside it. For $299, you'll get a phone with the same Snapdragon chipset as the DTEK50 but with more RAM (4GB), more storage out of the box (64GB), a better camera (16 megapixels), a fingerprint sensor and an almost-stock version of Android. Motorola's tight focus has wavered a bit -- there are more Moto models now than ever -- but the brand can still put out an excellent cheap phone.
The problem is, you could do so much better if you'd be willing to spend just a little more cash. ZTE's Axon 7 and the OnePlus 3 can be had for as little as $399, and they offer full-on flagship performance in impeccably built bodies. None of these options offer the same level of hardened security as the DTEK50, but if you're dead-set on a BlackBerry, you could find a Priv online for around $300. It might be a little older, but the Snapdragon 808 chip inside it is still no slouch, and you'll get a great physical keyboard, to boot.
It's been more than a week, and it's still hard to judge the DTEK50. As a ploy to appeal to those crucial business customers, it's brilliant. For them, the DTEK50 is a solid, not-very-expensive option with the security chops to put IT paranoiacs at ease. As a phone for regular people, though, the DTEK50 is a much a tougher sell. Make no mistake: The DTEK50 is a perfectly good handset, and I'll always appreciate BlackBerry for trying to keep security in the front of people's minds. Still, it takes more than that to make a smartphone great, and BlackBerry's approach won't be for everyone. Unless you're a BlackBerry loyalist or you take your security very, very seriously, you're better off setting your sights elsewhere.