News: Pros & Cons of BlackBerry's New 'Most Secure' Phone Ever

Pros & Cons of BlackBerry's New 'Most Secure' Phone Ever

Starting with the Priv, BlackBerry's become an Android manufacturer. This move gives BlackBerry's phones access to Google's sizable app store, but it also presents several hurdles to keeping the security brand they've built intact.

For example, Android encryption still lags behind government standards, and unauthorized firmware can be installed in place of the stock operating system—this is how custom ROMs like CyanogenMod exist, but it's terrible for security.

BlackBerry's prepared for the challenge, and this time around, they've created an Android device with the level of security their users have grown to expect. BlackBerry claims the new DTEK50 is the most secure Android device ever created.

While it's more secure, the phone has a few downsides that might not be for everyone—particularly those who like to mod their devices, and BlackBerry fans that demand a physical keyboard. But with a price tag of just $299, it fits perfectly into any budget.

The Specs & Build

Before we get into the security features, take a second to check out the DTEK50's specifications.

  • size: 5.79" (h) by 2.89" (w) by 0.29" (d)
  • weight: 4.76 oz
  • screen size: 5.2"
  • resolution: 1080p (424 PPI)
  • processor: 1.2 GHz Snapdragon 617,
  • GPU: 550 MHz Adreno 405
  • RAM: 3 GB
  • storage: 16 GB (expandable via microSD)
  • battery: 2610 mAh
  • rear camera: 13 megapixels, f/2.0 lens, 1080p video at 30 FPS
  • front camera: 8 megapixels, f/2.2 lens, 1080p video at 30 FPS
  • keyboard: on-screen software keyboard only

These specs put the DTEK50 squarely in the mid-range phone segment, but the thing that will stand out most to BlackBerry fans is the software keyboard. No hardware keyboard is available, but that keeps the phone slim and cheap.

But while these might not be the top-line specs, this phone's draw lies fully in its privacy, security, and price. Comparable secure phones like the Priv and the Blackphone cost two or three times as much at launch, and other budget-minded phones have long been plagued by security risks like the Stagefright vulnerability and iffy malware apps.

The DTEK50 is only 7.4mm thin. Image via BlackBerry

One strange aspect to the DTEK50's build is that it appears to be a clone of the Alcatel Idol 3. Aside from a few finishing touches like the circular button on the side (pictured above), the new BlackBerry device is a spitting image of Alcatel's budget phone, though the dimensions aren't exactly the same. It could be that BlackBerry is purchasing frames from Alcatel to save a few bucks, but it's worth mentioning nonetheless.

The BlackBerry DTEK50 bears a striking resemblance to the Alcatel Idol 3.

Key Security Features

The DTEK50 retains all of the best security features of Android, but adds several more layers on top of that base. For starters, the Linux kernel at the core of the Android software has been revamped with numerous patches to close loopholes like the towelroot exploit.

The bootloader in the DTEK50 is also locked down tight. This means that unofficial firmware cannot be installed on the device, because each stage in the boot process will not run until the previous element has verified that it is digitally signed by BlackBerry.

Sadly, that means this phone probably isn't a good fit for folks who like to root and install custom ROMs, but it reinforces one of Android's biggest security weaknesses.

BlackBerry is using hardware to establish a Root of Trust chain, which means that software hacks cannot gain access to key hardware components, so unauthorized changes to the operating system are virtually impossible. This is similar to Samsung's KNOX implementation, which, to date, has proven to be Android's most impenetrable security solution.

That's not all. The DTEK50 comes with FIPS 140-2 disk encryption out of the box. This is the standard used by government agencies to protect their own data, so it should exceed the requirements of any private-sector company. Android's stock encryption isn't quite as good as it needs to be, so this is a welcome improvement.

Then, of course, the DTEK50 derives its name from BlackBerry's powerful security manager DTEK, so the app is included out of the box. This gives you granular control over any of your apps and the permissions they request, and it can even prevent apps from accessing your camera, location, or microphone without your knowledge.

BlackBerry's DTEK app in action. Images via BlackBerry

Pricing & Availability

The DTEK50 will only cost $299, and it will be available in the US, Canada, France, UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands. The phone will hit shelves starting August 8, 2016, and it will be sold in stores like Best Buy, B&H, and Amazon. However, the DTEK50 is already available for preorder starting today, so make sure to reserve yours now. If you do, BlackBerry will throw in a portable charger featuring a 12,600 mAh battery pack to keep your DTEK50 topped off on the go.

Cover photo via BlackBerry

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