Review: BlackBerry Motion smartphone

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Review: BlackBerry Motion smartphone

A lot more smart/casual than strictly business.

Physical keyboards on phones used to be hot stuff, but now they’re are about as fashionable as winkle pickers and tie-dye.

The change left work-friendly phone maker BlackBerry searching for something else to keep its fans happy. The Motion might have found it: battery life.

Here’s ah handset that ditches physical keys for a touchscreen that’s much more 2017 than 2007, and squeezes one of the biggest batteries you’ll find in a phone behind it.

Throw in some signature BlackBerry software and an affordable mid-range price, and you’ve got something that’s truly built to last - in more ways than one.

DESIGN & BUILD - STRONG AND STABLE

From a distance you’d think the Motion was coated in ultra-tough carbon fibre, thanks to that checkerboard rear panel.

The soft-touch finish gives you plenty to grip onto, so only the clumsiest callers should send it tumbling to the floor. It feels sturdy enough that it could shrug off a drop or two - but is a little on the chubby side.

IP67 water resistance is a great inclusion, though, so a dunking doesn’t spell disaster.

The grey aluminium frame looks slick enough, but the fairly chunky top and bottom screen bezels aren’t exactly ultra-modern. Then again, this is a mid-range phone, so an 18:9 display would be asking a lot.

It also makes room for the capacitive keys and home button, which doubles as a fingerprint sensor, but the phone feels huge as a result - it’s even bigger than the KeyONE, which has a full-on physical keyboard.

This isn’t just a rebadged Alcatel, like last year’s DTEK50 was: the Motion is an all-new design, with a single rounded edge at the top of the phone and chamfered metal around the rest. You can tell if you’re holding it upside down before you even pull it out of your pocket.

The glass covering the screen is rounded at the bottom, but flat and square at the top, like it was on the KeyONE, but the power key has been moved from the left side to the right. It’s sandwiched between the volume rocker and BlackBerry’s Convenience key, which can open certain apps or launch different profiles for when you’re driving or at home.

It’s all too easy to press the Convenience key when you were actually after the power button, though, which quickly gets annoying.

Still, it gets the basics right: the Motion is a sleek yet subtle phone that won’t look out of place in the boardroom, but won’t also make you a laughing stock if you get it out at the beach.

SOFTWARE - BACK TO BLACK

It might not have a physical keyboard, but that doesn’t mean the Motion isn’t ready to get to work - it’s packed with the usual handful of BlackBerry additions and extras that should help you keep your inbox under control.

The Hub pulls in notifications from multiple accounts, so you only have to head to one place to catch up - especially handy if you work across multiple social networks, or run several email accounts. Some people swear by it, but if you’re already used to tabbing in and out of different apps, you may not find it much more convenient.

Commuters that don’t like over-the-shoulder intrusions will love the privacy shade, which darkens the whole screen, with your finger controlling which bit remains visible. And let’s not forget BBM, if you still know anyone that uses it.

Other extras are less crucial: DTEK keeps an eye on security, letting you know which apps have permission to access which phone features, and which settings should be turned off to keep your data safe - but improved security apparently also includes “having a BlackBerry device”. Locker is new, letting you store documents and images behind a password-protected folder.

These are all nice inclusions, but in a year where most phone-makers have stripped back their UI and dialled down on pre-installed apps, the Motion has gone the other way.

It can be almost overwhelming with the number of tabs, pages and menus to dig through, and each one needs a handful of permission approvals before it can start trawling through your incoming mail.

The BlackBerry keyboard, though? That’s an extra I’m happy to have. It’s setup first seen in the Z10, with predictive words that appear above the letters for you to swipe up into your messages. It has a clipboard now, and precision navigation for moving your cursor to the exact point in a document - it’s much better than tapping on the screen.

Once you’re done digging through all the Blackberry-specific apps, though, you won’t find any Oreo extras underneath - the Motion is running Android 7 Nougat.

PERFORMANCE & BATTERY LIFE - OUTSTANDING STAMINA

Look at the headline specs and it’s all too easy to write the Motion off as another mid-range phone that’s down on power. A Snapdragon 625 isn’t exactly cutting-edge, even when it’s paired with 4GB of RAM.

The thing is, you don’t need a fire-breathing Snapdragon 835 when you’re mostly sending emails - and even when you push it, the Motion copes surprisingly well. Games aren’t always silky smooth, and some apps can take a while to load, but no more so than any other mid-ranger out there right now.

Android feels smooth on the home screen, websites render quickly and none of the BlackBerry apps and overlays slow things down either. Unless you’re stepping down from a flagship phone, you won’t complain about a lack of power.

That CPU is also ideally suited for stamina, especially when paired with a 1080p screen. It isn’t working overtime to render extra pixels, and has a huge battery to draw power from, too. BlackBerry has found room inside the Motion for a massive 4000mAh cell, which has a much greater capacity than most of its rivals.

Simply put, this thing goes and goes. Then it goes some more. A day and a half between top-ups? Easy. If you’re not pushing it hard, you’ll get two days and some change away from a mains socket. Good luck getting that out of the latest iPhone.

Few other phones have such stamina, with Huawei’s Mate 10 Pro having to push a more power-hungry CPU and higher resolution screen with the same size battery. If you want longevity, this is an excellent buy.

There’s no wireless charging for cable-free top-ups, but you so get Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 3.0 for a 50% refuel in about half an hour.

With 32GB on board, there’s not a huge amount of room for your files - especially with 12GB used up by Android right out of the box - but the microSD card slot means it’s easy enough to add more capacity if you’re running low.

SCREEN & SOUND - TICKS THE BOXES

Does the Motion do anything truly exciting with its 5.5in display? Nah, not really: you get an LCD panel in a traditional 16:9 aspect ratio, which is about as mainstream as it gets.

Crucially, though, it doesn’t get anything wrong. The screen is perfectly acceptable for the cash, with a Full HD resolution, ample brightness, and rich colours. Well, rich for LCD, anyway.

It can’t get close to matching the deep blacks and vibrant colours of an AMOLED screen, but on the flip-side, it delivers images that look natural and whites that look truly white.

Everything is sharp enough, and brightness is excellent too. Your photos won’t exactly pop when you scroll through your gallery, but your email inbox will be easy to read on all but the sunniest of sunny days.

It’s a similar story with the speaker - the Motion doesn’t do anything wrong here, but it doesn’t truly amaze, either. There’s enough volume for catching up on podcasts or watching YouTube clips, but don’t expect any real bass - and if you want detail, a pair of headphones is all but essential. Good thing you still get a 3.5mm headphone port, then.

CAMERA - SO-SO SNAPPER

There’s no escaping the fact you’re using a BlackBerry phone when you open the camera app - it’s got a Scanner mode that digitises business cards, complete with OCR.

You don’t get any dual-camera cleverness here, just a 12MP, f/2.0 rear snapper with phase-detect autofocus. It’s quick enough during the day, with very little shutter lag, but image quality isn’t going to blow you away.

There’s plenty of detail on show in brightly-lit images, with decent colour balance, but dynamic range isn’t all that impressive. Skies either appear blown-out, in order to keep shadow detail exposed, or just a bit dull.

Zoom in even slightly and you’ll spot the limitations of the sensor, and often it would snap a shot without having properly locked focus first, leaving the end result looking blurry.

You don’t get optical image stabilisation to help smooth out hand shake, either. This would have really come in handy for low-light shooting, where the app is all too happy to drop shutter speed right down.

4K video recording and 120fps slow motion are nice little extras, though.

There are plenty of other phones out there for around $600 that take excellent shots for the cash, so if you can’t live with a so-so snapper, an Honor 9 might be a better choice.

BLACKBERRY MOTION VERDICT

Even without a keyboard, the Motion is very much a BlackBerry phone: firmly focused on productivity, with a design and specs to match.

The software is what helps keep your inbox under control now, rather than physical keys, while the restrained design and toughened build should help it survive a hectic work schedule.

Performance, display and camera quality don’t stand out enough to make this a must-buy over any other mid-ranger, even if it does a better job of breaking out of BlackBerry’s niche audience than anything that’s come before it.

It’s not an exciting phone - unless you get particularly stoked about battery life. And even if you don’t, being able to go several days between top-ups is very tidy indeed.

BlackBerry Motion
4 5
Verdict
"Even without a keyboard, the Motion is very much a BlackBerry phone: firmly focused on productivity, with a design and specs to match."
Overall
Specs
$629 AUD
• BlackBerry
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