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BlackBerry didn't make BlackBerry's new phone

And here are the pictures to help prove it.

Juxtaposition by Sean Hollister/CNET

BlackBerry is pretty proud of its new phone, the DTEK50. But it's less a BlackBerry phone than any BlackBerry phone that's ever come before.

That's because it's practically a carbon copy of a different company's smartphone: the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 4.

We'd known for weeks that the two phones might share a manufacturer: according to FCC and Wi-Fi Alliance certification filings, the BlackBerry DTEK50 comes from TCL, the same Chinese electronics giant that owns Alcatel.

Left: BlackBerry DTEK50. Right: Alcatel Idol 4

Juxtaposition by Sean Hollister/CNET

But it's only now after the DTEK50 unveiling we can see how nigh-identical the two phones really are -- the same design, same specifications, same basic Android operating system, same JBL stereo speakers and even the same programmable "Boom Key" that Alcatel was so proud of.

Left: Front of the Alcatel Idol 4. Right: Front of the BlackBerry DTEK50.

Juxtaposition by Sean Hollister/CNET

The only notable differences are that the BlackBerry has a textured plastic back instead of a glass one, which makes the phone a hundredth of an inch thicker, and that it comes with BlackBerry apps and software tweaks instead of Alcatel ones. (You might think that the BlackBerry's black color might be a differentiator, but the Idol can come in the same black as well.)

Note that the Alcatel Idol 4 (click to enlarge) can come in the same black color.


There's nothing really wrong with BlackBerry tapping TCL to build its phone. No one company builds any smartphone, really. Apple's iPhones are built in China, just like all the others. The chips all come from different companies. And many famous consumer electronics weren't originally sketched by in-house artists, but rather boutique studios like Frog Design or IDEO.

Plus, it could still be an excellent phone.

It's not like BlackBerry's trying to hide something, either: in a Q&A session following the DTEK50's unveiling, BlackBerry design director Scott Wenger admitted the phone was based on a reference design from TCL.

But BlackBerry's taking things a bit further than phone companies usually do. When was the last time a major phone manufacturer sold a smartphone that also will be available in the very same countries under a different brand?

While the camera modules look a little different here, they're identical in person. Both are 13-megapixel with f/2.0 aperture.

Juxtaposition by Sean Hollister/CNET

And what does the BlackBerry name stand for, the company stand for, if not hardware design or the BlackBerry OS? Why would someone buy a DTEK50 over an Alcatel Idol 4? Is it the software and security claims alone?

That's what we need to figure out in our upcoming reviews of both phones.

BlackBerry didn't immediately have a comment. Alcatel declined to comment for this story.

Spec comparison

BlackBerry DTEK50 Alcatel Idol 4
Display size, resolution 5.2-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels 5.2-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 424 ppi 424 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.79 x 2.85 x 0.29 inches 5.79 x 2.85 x 0.28 inches
Dimensions (Millimeters) 147 x 72.5 x 7.4 mm 147 x 72.5 x 7.1 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 4.76 oz (135g) 4.76 oz (135g)
Mobile software Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
Camera 13-megapixel 13-megapixel
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel 8-megapixel
Video capture Full-HD Full-HD
Processor 1.5GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 1.5GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617
Storage 16GB 16GB
Expandable storage up to 2TB up to 512GB
Battery 2,610mAh (nonremovable) 2,610mAh (nonremovable)
Fingerprint sensor None None
Connector Micro-USB Micro-USB
Special features Front and back JBL stereo speakers, programmable key, BlackBerry software Front and back JBL stereo speakers, programmable key, reversible OS
Price off-contract (USD) $299 €270 in Europe, converting to $310 in the US
Price (GBP) £275 converts to £215
Price (AUD) Converts to AU$394 converts to AU$435

Note: some reports suggest that the Idol 4 processor runs at 1.7GHz instead of the same 1.5GHz as the DTEK50, but the company's US spec sheet disagrees.