BlackBerry Launches Its Licensed DTEK60 Android Smartphone

A month after announcing it would no longer build its own phones, BlackBerry unveils its first licensed model, built by TCL in China.

BlackBerry, BlackBerry DTEK60, BlackBerry DTEK50, smartphones, security software, Android

BlackBerry has rolled out its latest Android smartphone, the $499 DTEK60 high-security handset, which is the first phone the company is offering since it declared in September that it would no longer build and distribute its own phone hardware.

The DTEK 60, which is being licensed with the BlackBerry name and is being manufactured by China's TCL Corp., includes a 5.5-inch quad HD display, a special coating to resist smudges and fingerprints, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of memory, 32GB of on-board storage and a microSD slot for expanded storage. Also featured is a 21-megapixel auto-focus rear camera and an 8-megapixel front camera with flash, a fingerprint reader, BlackBerry's Intelligent Keyboard and a 3,000mAh rechargeable battery. It runs on Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

The DTEK60 also has built-in hardware security features, including encryption capabilities for all user and business information and data, according to BlackBerry. The handset also includes built-in malware protection as well as data back-up, wipe and restore capabilities. Other included software allows users to control which apps get access to personal information or device features, such as the microphone or camera.

The smartphone lets users manage their security and privacy options and services through a special DTEK app that provides automatic monitoring of the operating system and apps so they know when their privacy could be at risk, according to BlackBerry. In addition, the app provides options for users to improve their privacy and data security on their devices when threats are identified. The DTEK app also tracks applications and notifies users when someone is taking pictures or videos without their knowledge, turning their device microphone on, sending a text message or accessing their contacts or location without permission.

The handset also includes a secure multi-step boot process that verifies that each component is fully secure before proceeding, ensuring that the smartphone has not been tampered with since the last restart, according to BlackBerry. The company provides additional operating system hardening to Android on the device, plus uses FIPS 140-2 compliant full-disk encryption for user and business data on the handset.

By dropping its own design and manufacturing of handsets, BlackBerry said the new DTEK60 is part of the company's "transition toward a device software licensing strategy—which allows it to focus on putting its deeper security capabilities into the devices, while leaving the hardware development and production to others.

The handsets are available immediately from ShopBlackBerry.com in North America and Europe and will roll out to other regions in coming weeks. U.S. and Canadian buyers who obtain the device through ShopBlackBerry.com will receive a free soft-shell case and a rapid charger through Nov. 8.

Scott Wenger, vice president of design and device marketing for BlackBerry, told eWEEK that the release of the new DTEK60 exhibits the company's new direction in the mobile marketplace.

"We're not getting out of smartphones, but we're doing what we do best" by adding deeper security features for consumers and business users, he said. "The DTEK60 comes with the trusted security that BlackBerry is known for. We're in the process of shifting toward the licensing strategy."

Other parties will be distributing and marketing BlackBerry-branded phones in the future.

In September, BlackBerry dropped self-designed and engineered smartphone hardware from its offerings after being hit with a $372 million loss for the second quarter of fiscal 2017, along with revenue that came in under expectations. The decision came after a dramatic nine-year fall from market leadership in the mobile phone business. The company said it will no longer design, build, distribute and sell smartphones, but will instead outsource its hardware operations. BlackBerry's intention to end its smartphone production had been rumored for at least two years.

In July, the company unveiled the DTEK60's sister handset, the $299 DTEK50, an ultra-high security touch-screen Android handset that doesn't include the company's iconic physical QWERTY keyboard. The DTEK50, which went on sale in August, was the company's second Android phone, coming after the $649 Priv, which debuted in September 2015.

The DTEK50 features a 5.2-inch full HD display, a 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 octa-core processor, an Adreno 405 graphics processor, 3GB of memory, 16GB of on-board flash storage, a microSD card slot for additional storage up to 2TB and a user-programmable convenience key.

BlackBerry's fall from dominating the enterprise smartphone market has been swift and stunning. In early 2006, before the first iPhones appeared from Apple, half of all smartphones sold were BlackBerry models. By 2009, though, its share of the global smartphone market was down to 20 percent.

BlackBerry had been having a tough time financially for some time. In late June, BlackBerry reported a fiscal 2017 first-quarter net loss of $670 million, compared with a net loss of $238 million in the fourth quarter. The company's GAAP revenue was $400 million, while its non-GAAP revenue was $424 million for the first quarter.