MEGATech Review: BlackBerry Motion Android Smartphone
If it's not running BlackBerry OS, it doesn't have a physical keyboard, and it's no longer made by the company we once knew as RIM, is it still a BlackBerry? Or is it just another middle of the road Android?
Pros
  • High quality build
  • Tremendous battery life
  • Convenience key
Cons
  • Humble performance
  • Dated design choices
  • Camera struggles in low light
7Overall Score

Way back in the day, well before there was even such a thing as Android or iPhone, BlackBerry was the be-all and end-all of smartphones. Sure, Microsoft made a play at with Windows Mobile, but Research in Motion's domination of the space was utterly undeniable. My, how the mighty have fallen. But the BlackBerry brand has recently received a new lease on life by making the leap over to Android and one of the newest in the line is the BlackBerry Motion. But can it compete with the Galaxy S9s, Google Pixels of the world?

BlackBerry Motion at a Glance

As you may already know, BlackBerry as we know it isn't really BlackBerry anymore. Just as the "Nokia" branded phones that are out there are being made by HMD Global, phones carrying the BlackBerry name now are being made by TCL. That shouldn't be an immediate knock on the device, of course, but it is worth noting. BlackBerry made a name for itself for its security and TCL Corporation is based in China. It's one of those potentially guilty by association things, so take it how you might.

In any case, we learned late last year that the BlackBerry Motion would be coming to Canada and now it's officially here. It's been a few years since I last reviewed a BlackBerry smartphone and, at the time, it was still running on BlackBerry OS. Times have changed. The BlackBerry Motion follows in the footsteps of devices like the KEYone, running on Android with a BlackBerry skin. The rest of specs are decidedly mid-range.

  • 5.5" FHD (1080x1920) IPS LCD display
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 625
  • 4GB of RAM
  • 32 GB of storage
  • Android 7.1 Nougat
  • 12 MP main camera with phase detection autofocus
  • 8 MP front camera
  • 4,000 mAh battery
  • USB-C 2.0
  • Front-mounted fingerprinted reader

The device itself feels well-built in the hand with a solid construction. You get that signature BlackBerry textured back, save the band near the top for the camera. Instead of just a standard block, you get rounded corners and a flat edge on the bottom, but a rounded edge and flat corners at the top. I suppose this is meant to evoke a sense of motion or personality.

The net result is a design that feels like it's all business, but this also feels comparatively dated. In an age where everyone is moving to nearly bezel-free designs, the Motion's still got plenty of bezel, particularly with the bigger chin that reminds me of the Pixel 2. Having a clickable, tactile home button (that doubles as the fingerprint reader) is also a bit of a vestige to a recently forgotten age.

Productivity Tab and Convenience Key

If you're the kind of person who prefers to have as close to a stock Android experience as possible, you may find some of the "enhancements" offered by BlackBerry as something of a nuisance. Of course, you likely feel the same way about a lot of Samsung's phones too. You can choose to disable most, if not all of these on the BlackBerry Motion, however.

For instance, while I don't really make use of the BlackBerry Hub app necessarily, I have been making good use of the customizable Productivity Tab. There's an omni-present "tab" that you can resize and reposition. When you swipe in from the side, you reveal such options as the BlackBerry Hub, your calendar, your contacts, and more. You can also customize the widgets to suit your needs too. It's pretty handy, but does get in the way when you're taking screenshots.

The second value-added feature on the BlackBerry Motion is the Convenience Key. This textured button is located along the right side of the phone, below the volume keys and power button. The positioning is such that I found myself hitting it by accident quite often when I wanted to hit the power button. This may have been alleviated by moving the volume keys to the left and shifting the power button upward, but some people prefer having everything on one side. You can't please everyone.

The Convenience Key can be mapped to up to three shortcuts at a time, including specific tasks like adding a contact or recording a voice note, or as a quick launch for an app. When you map just one, it'll perform that action with one press. If you map two or three, the three shortcuts will appear on the side of the screen and then you have to choose one. I found this rather inconvenient, to be honest, and I stuck to having just the one shortcut for ease of ease.

The Convenience Key can also take on different functions when you're in different modes, like Car Mode. That's based on it connected to a specific Bluetooth device, and then it can be assigned an entirely different set of shortcuts and quick launches.

The Daily BlackBerry Experience

When I looked at the spec sheet for the BlackBerry Motion, I prepared myself to be disappointed and I tempered my expectations accordingly. This was not going to be UHD Super AMOLED display with pixels that spill over the edges. This was not going to blow those benchmark figures out of the water and propel me into a multitasking, multimedia binging god. But it was going to be good enough.

Generally speaking, I'd say most of that held up to be true.

I don't really miss the extra pixels as full HD on a 5.5-inch screen is going to be plenty for most people. For some reason, I found that the "touch" part of the touchscreen wasn't as precise and as responsive as I would have liked. It sounds superficial, but moving stickers and other elements around in my Instagram story posts was imperfect and "jumpy." It's not "smooth."

With 4 GB of RAM and a Snapdragon 625, the BlackBerry Motion mostly held its own. I never really pushed it to its performance limits, but I was able to stream YouTube and do some light gaming. Little tasks weren't as snappy as I've experienced on phones with Snapdragon processors starting with the number 8; switching apps, bringing up menus, scrolling... these all resulted in minor, but noticeable blips.

All this said, there are two areas that really impressed me with this phone. First, and this is something I've already mentioned, is the build quality. There's a confident feel in the hands. Second, the battery life has been tremendous. With the lower resolution display and lower processor, along with the bigger battery, I'm consistently able to get almost two full days (we're talking 36-48 hours with about 7 hours of screen on time) between charges. That's incredible in this day and age.

One other quibble I have is with the speaker. There's just one, on the bottom of the phone, and while it's plenty loud, it's really easy to cover it up accidentally with your thumb when holding the phone in landscape.

Camera: Photo and Video Samples

It becomes obvious rather quickly that the camera on the BlackBerry Motion is not at all in the same league as what you find on the iPhone X or Galaxy S9. There's no dual lens magic and the "machine learning" that we enjoy on the Google Pixel 2 XL simply is not here.

Both the front and rear camera put out perfectly serviceable images when the lighting is good, though you may need to play around to get the exposure just right (there's also full manual mode if you prefer). The HDR isn't as good at its job as what we may find elsewhere and the photos taken in low light are markedly grainy and lacking refinement.

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Performance Benchmarks

I did not have high hopes for the benchmarks on this phone and it actually ended up doing worse than I had anticipated. With a single-core score of 840, the BlackBerry Motion is in the same league as the the Nexus 5 and it's bested by the Galaxy S5 and the LG G3. These are phones that are four to five years old! The multi-core score of 3608 is a little better, roughly on par with the Galaxy Note 7.

Running the phone through Sling Shot Extreme - OpenGL ES 3.1 in 3D Mark is much the same. The overall score of 448 only puts the BlackBerry Motion in the 23rd percentile. That's not exactly great.

And just to round out our benchmark suite, here are the scores from PCMark's Work 2.0 benchmark (4942) and AnTuTu (76775).

MEGATechie Research in Motion or MEGATechie BlackBerry Bummer?

BlackBerry as a brand finds itself in a very tough situation. Even though sales have been poor, they're continuing to move forward, hopefully seeking out more profitable pastures. Here's the thing, though. If they move upscale with more high-end components and design, it's unlikely they'll be able to dethrone Samsung and Apple. But moving downscale into budget phone territory may represent brand suicide and they'll need to drastically increase volume to compensate. They're in a tough spot.

For my part, despite the somewhat dated design and the decidedly mid-range specs, the BlackBerry Motion is still a pretty decent phone. The battery life is tremendous, the build quality is great, and the value adds are actually useful. The poor camera could be a big deal breaker for many, though, as so many of us are simply doing it for the 'gram.

The BlackBerry Motion is available now unlocked for about $450 US or about $600 Canadian. You can also find it on contract with select carriers. Would you pick this over a OnePlus 5T or an Essential Phone?


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