It was already announced that TCL picked up the contract to manufacturer future BlackBerry smartphones, after the Canadian company opted to not make anymore hardware. While the DTEK50 and DTEK60 were pretty similar to Alcatel smartphones already on the market, like the Idol 4, TCL is now officially making BlackBerry smartphones. The company talked with a small group of journalists in Las Vegas at CES this week about the changes and what it means for BlackBerry, the enterprise consumer-base as well as TCL and their other brands like Alcatel. We also got the chance to take a look at a brand new smartphone from TCL that will be a BlackBerry-branded device. The company did say that it is not named Mercury, and that was something generated on the Internet, but did decline to state what the name was.
This device is going to be formally announced at Mobile World Congress next month in Barcelona. The company did not share any specs or even the name of the device, but it will be available before the middle of the year. We do know that it will be sporting a Qualcomm processor, but as to which Snapdragon SoC will be inside, there's nothing set in stone. As you can tell, the device has a physical QWERTY keyboard, like many of the classic BlackBerry devices have had. Which is going to make die-hard BlackBerry fans very happy.
Looking at this new BlackBerry-branded device from TCL, you will notice that it takes plenty of design cues from other other manufacturers. For instance the top looks a whole lot like a Sony Xperia smartphone, while the rounded sides and aluminum chassis looks a lot like most other flagship devices on the market today. The two-toned back is likely something that most people won't be too fond of, but luckily the back does have a nice amount of grip, making it touch to slide out of your hand. We asked what material it was, but weren't given an answer. It feels like soft-touch plastic, almost like the Nexus 5, but a bit softer.
As far as the camera goes, it appears to have dual-LED flash, but the exact specs of the camera are still unknown. There is a front-facing camera, which does take somewhat decent pictures, from our limited hands on time. But it's important to note that this is not final hardware nor final software. So things can and likely will change. As far as software goes, we're looking at a "near-stock" approach to Android 7.0. It could be bumped up to Android 7.1.1 before it launches in a few months, however. All of the usual BlackBerry apps are included, and one of the big changes we noticed, to Nougat was the app drawer. As you can see in the gallery below, the app drawer (at least it is still there) has three panels. One for apps, another for widgets and a third for shortcuts.
When it comes to software, TCL stated that they would like to keep it "as close to Nexus as possible". Just adding in some of BlackBerry's security features – mostly to appeal to enterprise customers – and this will also help them stick to their fast security update process. Currently, they roll out their monthly security patches sometimes before Google does, or on the same day. They are planning to continue doing that. But they did note that bigger releases (like Marshmallow to Nougat and so forth) are going to take longer, mostly due to them being larger updates and the updates needing to be certified by carriers and other partners.
So this is BlackBerry's next smartphone, it's made by TCL and has quite a bit going for it. We'll have to wait until Mobile World Congress next month in Barcelona to find out exactly what is under-the-hood of this new smartphone, but there is a lot to like about it, in our early impressions.