BlackBerry's latest smartphone will satisfy workaholics and BlackBerry fans, but no one else

Edoardo Maggio/Business InsiderThe BlackBerry Motion.

  • The BlackBerry Motion is the latest device from TCL, the Chinese electronics giant that creates the products and then uses BlackBerry’s brand to market them.
  • BlackBerry phones have historically had a hardware keyboard, which has remained a constant even in the era of all-touchscreen smartphones; recent BlackBerry phones included the Priv and the KeyONE.
  • The BlackBerry Motion is a great device for business people with productivity in mind, but just an ok phone for everyone else.

BlackBerry isn’t a top player in the smartphone landscape anymore, and it hasn’t been for quite some time.

However, unlike Nokia, it hasn’t completely disappeared; it just maintained a retrenched, low-key profile, and kept making devices that some people chose either for security reasons, their need for a productivity-oriented device, the presence of a physical keyboard, or a combination of the above.

However, the most recent BlackBerry Motion rejects that, at least in part, as this is the company’s first high-end Android device that doesn’t feature a hardware keyboard at all. (It’s not even hidden as it was in the Priv).

It’s a phone that tries to earn its place in 2017’s increasingly crowded sea of devices, focusing on what BlackBerry does best and improving features such as battery life and software customisability instead of trying to offer top-notch performance or gorgeous-looking, borderless displays.

Making the Motion a full-touchscreen device is a way of streamlining the product along the lines of virtually any other smartphone, but this is not a phone that wants to compete with the iPhones, Pixels, and Galaxys of the world. It still wants to be a BlackBerry, front and center – and if anyone knows that that’s what they are going to find, chances are they will be happy with their purchase.

Nailing down the basics that matter (to BlackBerry users)…

The BlackBerry Motion is a no-frills handset that gets most of the basics just right, but overwhelmingly focuses on productivity and features that might be of interest to a business user, or a busy person in general.

I can say that just by pinpointing its absolute best feature: An astonishingly big, tablet-size battery (4000mAh), which was basically impossible for me to kill in one day.

An iPhone X or last year’s Pixel XL, by comparison, always required to be topped up by the time I went to bed, unless I wanted my phone to die on me some time during the morning after.

Battery life on the Motion is so good that I simply forgot about it; and this is especially useful for those who plan to use the device extensively, travel, write loads of documents and the likes. The Motion is the kind of device you’d want to use for a lot of time; or at least feel comfortable doing so.

The other good things this phone has to offer are in certain details: The excellent keyboard with its smart predictions, the widgets incorporated into icons via a simple, nifty swipe, the numerous quick accesses to functions inside the calendar, email, and notes apps, and even outstanding call quality (the voice from the other end is almost unexpectedly clear and rich).

BBM2Edoardo Maggio/Business InsiderThe BlackBerry Motion’s back has a carbon fibre-like texture, but it’s actually made of plastic.

There is also a smart “convenience key” button, which lets you remap it to a number of customisable options for immediate, one-click access. I found it useful to take screenshots to quickly crop or scribble on, but the button’s placement is terrible, as it sits right below the sleep/wake button and even after a week of use I kept confusing them.

Even worse is the fact that the convenience key has a special texture on it, which is usually reserved to distinguish the power button from the volume rocker, and that didn’t help my muscle memory to adapt.

BlackBerry’s universal search is also fantastic, as it scans through every angle of the phone to look for what you’re trying to find; and I also love the idea of its centralised hub, where BlackBerry manages to keep everything organised in one place: Email, text messages, phone calls, calendar events, and even tweets are all under one roof.

BlackBerry Motion softwareEdoardo Maggio/Business InsiderThe BlackBerry Hub (right) pulls information from a variety of sources, and puts them all under one unified roof. The advanced search feature (right), on the other hand, scans all of the information your phone has to find what you’re looking for, and also offers to extend the search outside of locally stored data.

And not just that: You have features such as rich text formatting, snoozing of notifications, and even a nice “conversation view” to display multiple messages more clearly, all inside the BlackBerry Hub.

The software overall has a somewhat steep learning curve because of its profound flexibility and customisation options, but this also brings an unmatched level of solidity for users that do master it. It’s powerful, useful for the kind of users it aims to serve, and can indeed be smart, helpful, and rewarding.

As far as productivity goes, the BlackBerry Motion gets very little wrong.

…but failing to meaningfully please anyone else

The Motion clearly aims at this one particular audience: Those who need to have some sort of work computer inside their pocket. Or, well, current BlackBerry users, if you will. And, in my experience, the Motion’s software is built to serve them well. But if I had to purchase the BlackBerry Motion for anything outside of that, its various shortcomings would inevitably make me look elsewhere.

Starting from its design, the BlackBerry Motion is as generic a phone as you can possibly get.

There’s nothing exciting about it: It looks like yet another black slab with some metal here and there, and even its carbon fibre-like back doesn’t impress, as it fails the in-hands feel test beyond the plastic it’s actually made of.

The one good thing is that, at least, the phone is rated IP67 for water and dust resistance, so it should be more durable than average, but that’s a kind of design element you can only appreciate in specific situations, not day-to-day use.

The bezels are just outright enormous, too; alongside the boxy shape, they contribute to make the phone feel gigantic, especially on the chin, where the home button and capacitive keys reside.

The button itself hides a fingerprint reader, but it is, annoyingly, a little too wonky, especially compared to the stiffer keys on the sides.

BBM3Edoardo Maggio/Business InsiderThe phone’s front has a huge chin that makes the phone way bigger than it should, while the sharp aluminium sides don’t help with ergonomics.

The capacitive keys are terrible as well; more often than not a slightly dirty, wet, or sweaty thumb wouldn’t be recognised, and even when it did the vibration is weak and unpleasant. The front’s coating is also particularly bothersome, as for some reason cleaning the screen was harder than usual, in my experience.

The 5.5-inch, 1080p display itself is fine, with good viewing angles and ok colours, but it falls a little flat when compared to anything higher-end smartphones offer – when using it side by side with an iPhone 8 Plus (which has the same size, resolution, and display technology), it’s just unfair how much better Apple’s smartphone is.

The camera is also acceptable at best; perfectly lit conditions will produce good results, but in most situations the Motion’s rear sensor struggles to get past anything a high-end smartphone camera from two years ago would have handled just fine, with low-light being the predictably sorest spot.

BBM pictureEdoardo Maggio/Business InsiderAs the light starts to go out, the BlackBerry Motion begins to struggle, particularly with detail, although the HDR algorithms do a generally good job. Photos are fine for social media and messaging, but nothing you would want to print out.

Photos aren’t bad, but the camera is far from the Motion’s strongest asset. The best feature it has is probably the built-in scanner, which ties in with its productivity-oriented software.

The front-facing selfie shooter, on the other hand, does its job well, and the camera also offers slow-motion videos, up to 4K resolution at 30fps (frames-per-second).

Performance is also nothing to cheer for – the Snapdragon 625 processor handles BlackBerry’s software without lag or hiccups, and the phone never froze or rebooted in my testing, but the Motion never feels like it’s running the otherwise stock Android 7.1.2 like a true champ either.

In short: There’s nothing necessarily bad about the BlackBerry Motion, whose overall experience outside hardcore productivity is ok – but so many other phones do the vast majority of things better, and, even if they’re more expensive, still offer more value for their money.

This is the perfect phone for former BlackBerry users tired of dealing with a physical keyboard

The BlackBerry Motion is not a phone for everyone, and it’s not even a good choice if your budget is the £399 TCL – The Chinese company behind the newer BlackBerry-branded devices – asks for.

The BlackBerry Motion’s strengths all lie within its insanely good battery life, as well as the numerous little software tweaks that make productivity task-completing much more powerful than on an average smartphone, and usefully customisable to one’s preferences.

If you were happy with the company’s previous devices, like the KeyONE, chances are you’ll like the Motion, too, so long as you don’t have a problem with a pane of glass taking the place of BlackBerry’s marquee physical keyboard.

For all other users, just £50 more can get a OnePlus 5T in your hands, and you can rest assured that the overall experience will be much, much better.

NOW WATCH: Tech Insider videos

Want to read a more in-depth view on the trends influencing Australian business and the global economy? BI / Research is designed to help executives and industry leaders understand the major challenges and opportunities for industry, technology, strategy and the economy in the future. Sign up for free at