After the Keyone failed to impress, can the all-touch BlackBerry Motion win over a BlackBerry-less generation?
- Long-lasting battery life
- A handful of useful software features
- Clunky design
- Lacklustre performance
- Low-light camera performance could be better
Oh BlackBerry, look at what you’ve become. The once great smartphone maker was relegated to just a one-man corner booth at last year’s IFA tech conference, and its last big launch – the BlackBerry Keyone – failed to inspire the same lofty praise as its keyboard-toting mobile email terminals once commanded.
But a quick glance at our comments section offers a glimpse of the tenacity of BlackBerry fans. Filled with not-so grammatically correct ripostes to our – hardly glowing – Keyone review, it seems there’s still a sizeable interest in BlackBerry in 2018. It’s a good job then, that the firm is trying to satisfy this hunger, in the form of the keyboard-free BlackBerry Motion.
BlackBerry Motion review: What you need to know
So what’s all this Motion commotion? Essentially, it’s BlackBerry’s 5.5in all-touch, mid-range smartphone equipped with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 625 chip, 4GB of RAM and 32GB of expandable storage. It has a 16:9, 1,920 x 1,080 resolution touchscreen and there’s no keyboard in sight.
The firm promises lengthy battery life with the new handset thanks to the Motion’s huge 4,000mAh capacity battery and there’s a 12-megapixel f/2.0 camera on the back. It also runs Android 7.1 Nougat out of the box, with an upgrade to 8.0 Oreo scheduled for the near future.
BlackBerry Motion review: Price and competition
The BlackBerry Motion is available SIM-free for £372. That’s roughly the same price as the Keyone asks for these days, with its physical keyboard and smaller touchscreen.
At that price, the competition is cutthroat. There’s Moto’s similarly-equipped G5S Plus, which can be yours for around £257, and Huawei’s now-£211 Nova which is a bit old but very tempting at this price. Both the Nokia 8 (£400) and the Oneplus 5T (£450) are its biggest mid-range competitors and Lenovo’s long-lasting P2 is one to consider too, so long as you can find one in the UK.
BlackBerry Motion review: Design
It’s a good thing, then, that the Motion does things a little differently, especially in terms of its design. Instead of following the crowd and adorning its latest handset with a glass or aluminium rear, the BlackBerry Motion has a soft-touch plastic behind, complete with a textured carbon fibre-style pattern surrounded by an asymmetrical frame that has sharp corners at the top and curved ones at the bottom. This makes for a phone that not only looks unusual but that is also grippier than most and doesn’t have as much of a tendency to pick up scratches or fingerprints on the back.
I also like that BlackBerry has included a programmable ‘convenience key’ on the right edge, which can be mapped to a handful of shortcuts, allowing you to turn on silent mode or launch a specific app at the touch of a button. You can even program it with different behaviours based on your location or what you’re doing – to launch the navigation app when you’re driving, for instance.
From a comfort point of view, things aren’t quite so positive. The Motion is a solid lump of a handset, measuring 8.1mm thick and in my tiny Trump-like hands feels, is rather unwieldy. It doesn’t help, either, that its harsh, flat edges dig into your palm uncomfortably.
BlackBerry Motion review: Display
As for the Motion’s 5.5in Full HD IPS display, well, it certainly won’t blow your socks off. The image is quite oversaturated, particularly in the reds and yellows and a maximum brightness of 396cd/m2 isn’t exactly the best we’ve seen. It’s readable in most conditions, but the brightest of ambient light will likely prove a challenge and not a patch on the best in the business, which tend to peak at well above 500cd/m2.
Still, according to our Xrite i1 DisplayPro colour calibrator, the Motion achieved a respectable 98.7% sRGB coverage and a contrast ratio of 1,243:1, helping to ensure an image that’s vibrant and has plenty of impact.
Likewise, the extra inch of screen real estate made all the difference compared with the cramped 4.5in screen of the Keyone. BlackBerry has also fitted out the Motion with a special ‘nano-diamond anti-scratch coating’, which means it should be less prone to scratches if say, you put it in the same pocket as your keys.
BlackBerry Motion review: Performance and battery life
When it comes to performance, BlackBerry’s recent effort doesn’t do any better than similarly-priced alternatives. Inside is a low-powered 2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 and 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, expandable up to 400GB via microSD.
Geekbench 4’s single- and multi-core tests prove its performance is unequivocally sub-par for the price. For instance, the Nokia 8’s performance is 59% faster, and you can pick up that phone for only an extra £28. Gaming performance is the same, with low frame rates across GFXBench’s suite of GPU tests.
That said, a lower-powered processor does accrue some benefits. Namely, a longer-lasting battery. Lasting an impressive 18hrs and 20mins in our continuous video rundown test with the screen set to 170cd/m2 and flight mode engaged, the Motion isn’t to be trifled with.
Yes, it may not be as impressive as Lenovo’s nigh-on-unbeatable P2, but it’s up there with the current crop of Android flagships. Not only that, but it also takes advantage of BlackBerry’s “Boost Mode” when charging, which disables certain features and reduces performance for faster charging speeds.
BlackBerry Motion review: Software
Like the Keyone, the Motion has Android 7.1 onboard, although a free over-the-air update to Android 8.0 Oreo is scheduled for the near future. This isn’t stock Android either, and Blackberry’s own launcher is very interesting indeed.
The usual suite of Blackberry-specific apps are here. There’s the Blackberry Hub, which gathers together your messages from Twitter, Slack, WhatsApp and the like all in one handy place. There’s also BlackBerry’s DTEK app, which gives you an at-a-glance view of your phone’s security status. It’ll tell you whether developer options are switched on, or if encryption is enabled, for instance. All you have to do is tap on the alert and it’ll take you to the relevant setting.
There’s also a handy new feature called the Productivity Tab. This works in a similar way to Samsung’s Edge Screen function. Simply drag the on-screen tab from the right-hand edge of the screen to the centre and it will reveal your calendar, unread messages, tasks, and favourite contacts.
BlackBerry Motion review: Camera
Now onto the camera, which is the same as on the Keyone. So you get a 12-megapixel camera on the rear, complete with a bright f/2.0 aperture, dual-LED flash and phase-detect autofocus and an 8-megapixel shooter on the front.
So long as you have plenty of light, the results are good. In our outdoor tests, the camera captured colours accurately, with crisp details, especially in the looming cloud layers in the background. Flicking on HDR boosts detail a touch without lending photographs an unnatural, over-processed appearance.
Like the Keyone, though it’s in low-light where the Motion’s camera fails. As the light dims, the Motion’s camera has a tendency to produce images filled with visible noise and scenes taken without the flash looked terribly soft and lacking in detail.
BlackBerry Motion review: Verdict
I expect that BlackBerry fans might disagree but the Motion isn’t BlackBerry’s finest smartphone. It’s very much a me-too device and doesn’t excel in any one particular area. Sure its design is a bit different and it has a few handy software features but none of these things is enough to justify the phone’s mind-numbingly middling performance and camera.
Instead I’d recommend BlackBerry do what Nokia did a few years back: take a break, pull its best minds together and come up with something actually worth buying as part of a grand resurgence. Or, failing that, maybe it’s time to let the past die.