Review: BlackBerry Motion
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Dec 18, 2017, 3:00 PM by Eric M. Zeman
The latest collaboration between BlackBerry Mobile and TCL is the Motion, a large slab that runs Android and boasts BlackBerry's powerful productivity tools. Mobile pros will be happy with features such as BlackBerry Hub and the Productivity Tab, while businesses that deploy the Motion will appreciate the DTEK security software. Despite its many strengths, however, the Motion is a little uneven. Here is Phone Scoop's in-depth review of the BlackBerry Motion.
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Is It Your Type?
The BlackBerry Motion is an all-screen Android smartphone with BlackBerry's business-focused messaging software on board. If you're looking for a secure handset with killery battery life and productivity-minded software, the BlackBerry Motion is a fine option for today's mobile pros.
The Motion, manufactured by TCL, is a large slab. It's made from a variety of materials, including glass, aluminum, carbon fiber, and some plastic. The design is a little chaotic with black, gray, and chrome patched together here and there. It's a BlackBerry, so it leans toward the conservative, and yet the Motion is still modern in its own way.
A U-shaped aluminum frame runs from the top left corner down around the bottom and back up the right side. It's a thick frame. I like the brushed look of the metal and the chamfered edges on both the front and back sides. The side edges are flat, which means they aren't the most comfortable against your palm. Unusually, the phone has relatively sharp corners at the top and rounded corners at the bottom. The Motion looks and feels serious.
The Motion is a Very Big Phone. The Motion is larger than the Pixel 2 XL; the only handset on my desk that's bigger is the Galaxy Note8. The size, combined with the flat side edges and blocky shape, make the Motion one of the least comfortable devices I've used in recent memory. If you have small hands you'll find this phone a chore to use effectively. It fits into pockets, though just barely. The Motion feels like a block of metal in your pocket and it will stab your leg from time to time.
TCL did a fine job assembling the device. The metal frame is solid, the glass is polished finely, and the carbon fiber rear panel has a pleasing soft-touch finish. These components are all fitted together tightly. I have absolutely no complaints about the build quality. Importantly, the Motion is rated IP67 for protection against water and dust. This means it can sit in three feet of water for up to 30 minutes and live to tell the tale. This is a rare feature for a BlackBerry.
The Motion's face is plain. I like the uniformity of the black glass panel as it stretches from side to side and top to bottom. The glass is curved just a bit where it meets the frame. I'm not a fan of the bezels; the chin and forehead are both extra thick. You can't miss the earpiece grille above the display, nor the BlackBerry button below it. This hardware button acts as a home key and fingerprint reader. It is slightly concave, which helps your thumb find it without looking. The action is decent. The back and app-switcher touch keys work as they should.
The card tray is on the left side and supports a nano SIM and a microSD memory card. It's a nice metal tray and I had no trouble with it.
All of the buttons are on the right edge. The BlackBerry "convenience key" has a ribbed texture to set it apart from the other controls. You can assign this shortcut button to perform a range of actions. Travel and feedback are very good. The power button / screen lock key is next. It's about the same size as the convenience key, but has a smooth texture. I liked travel and feedback, though I did often tap the convenience key thinking it was the screen lock button. The volume toggle is closest to the top and it is a long, slim affair. Travel and feedback are great.
The Motion includes a USB-C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Surely some will be happy about the headphone jack. The top edge is a rounded piece of plastic and it doesn't house any functional controls.
It's nice to see BlackBerry bring back the carbon fiber. I've always liked it as an option for phones and it looks great as the rear panel of the Motion. The carbon fiber is mostly flat and has a minimal curve right along the metal frame. The BlackBerry logo is emblazoned on the rear in chrome; you can't miss it.
The one aspect of the Motion's design that bugs me is the plastic cap at the top of the rear. A piece of plastic wraps from the edge of carbon fiber up and over the top of the phone where it meets the glass on front. The plastic cap holds the large, round camera module and dual LED flash. The material has the look of brushed metal but it is obviously plastic. I understand the engineering decision behind this design choice and yet I think BlackBerry could have done better.
Camera and Side Keys
You cannot remove the phone's rear panel; the battery is inaccessible.
The BlackBerry Motion is a significant piece of hardware. It's big, heavy, and industrial-looking, almost to a fault. However, it's well-made and pretty much your only option if you want an all-screen BlackBerry.
BlackBerry selected a 5.5-inch, full HD screen. The LCD screen makes use of the more traditional 16:9 aspect ratio, so it's the same shape as many other screens on mid-range phones right now.
The pixel count and size work together well enough. Pixel density is good at 401ppi. Text and icons look nice and sharp on the display. The screen does put out plenty of light. I had no trouble reading the phone outdoors with the brightness cranked up, though you'll notice the automatic brightness control is slow to react to huge swings in ambient light. Colors are mostly accurate. Viewing angles are good; the screen doesn't change colors when tilted from side to side, though it does lose brightness. It's a fine screen for this class of phone.
The screen supports glove mode. I was able to use the phone outdoors in chilly weather when wearing a pair of thin leather gloves. There's also a night mode (called Night Light) that reduces blue light in order to reduce eye strain, and you can adjust the overall color temperature.
The Motion is being sold as an unlocked international phone right now. It includes a decent selection of LTE bands for North America and overseas (1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 7 / 8 / 12 / 13 / 17 / 20 / 28 / 29 / 30 / 38 / 40 / 41 / 66), including the main bands used by AT&T and T-Mobile in the U.S. It's nice to see T-Mobile's band 66 on board, as well as AT&T's 29 and 30. I tested the phone on AT&T's network in and around New York City and would rate the Motion's performance as par with other unlocked phones.
The phone connected to AT&T's network with no issue. It landed on 4G data most of the time, though it occasionally dropped to 3.5G in weak signal areas. Download speeds peaked around 25Mbps and uploads reached 10Mbps. Streaming media (Spotify, YouTube) via LTE was acceptable with only minor amounts of stopping and buffering. Normal activities such as checking email and social networks never gave the Motion's LTE radio any trouble.
The Motion's ability to connect calls is not in question. The phone didn't give me any trouble patching through on the first dial. Moreover, it didn't drop any calls, even at highway speeds, nor did it miss any.
The Motion is a fine voice phone. The earpiece pushes clear voices with plenty of volume. I was able to enjoy conversations at home and even in the car with the volume set to medium levels. I had to turn it up when walking on city streets or sitting in a busy coffee shop. High volumes introduced a small amount of distortion, but it wasn't too bad. People I spoke to through the Motion said I sounded "near by."
The speakerphone does well. It offers clear, pleasing voice tones at medium volumes that are audible in spaces such as your home or office. Cranking it up does impact quality a bit (some distortion), but you can easily hear calls in a moving vehicle.
Ringers and alert tones got my attention the majority of the time. The vibrate alert did its job well enough.
One place the Motion impresses is battery life. TCL packed a large 4,000mAh battery into the handset, and it delivers. I consistently found the battery lasted through two full days of productivity. In fact, I found it difficult to drain the battery fully. I tested the phone with all the radios on and the brightness set to 50%-60%. The Motion outlasts many of today's big-screened devices, though BlackBerry's own KEYone lasts even longer.
The Motion ships with BlackBerry's Boost Mode, which is more about charging than it is about conserving battery. With Boost Mode enabled, the phone will use as little power as possible as it charges, thereby allowing it to charge more swiftly. I found the phone does in fact charge faster when Boost Mode is enabled. Technically, the phone supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 and includes a QC3 charger in the box. One thing I like: you can choose to see the battery charge status on the screen's edge when the phone is sleeping.
The Motion doesn't support wireless charging.
Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, WiFi
I cannot lodge any complaints about the Motion's secondary radios. The handset's Bluetooth radio paired and connected with headphones, speakers, and other accessories without fuss. I was pleased with calls made via Bluetooth headphones. Just as with the earpiece, clarity was good and volume was good enough. Calls patched through my car's hands-free system were very good. Music sounded decent when used with stereo headphones, though I have heard better.
GPS worked perfectly on the Motion. Google Maps pinpointed me in several blinks of an eye and was always within 15 to 20 feet. The app ran fluidly over AT&T's LTE network. The phone was a reliable real-time navigation tool.
The NFC radio was helpful in pairing with some Bluetooth accessories. The NFC also supports Android Pay for mobile payments.
The WiFi did its job with gusto.
BlackBerry's version of the always-on display is particularly useful on the Motion. The screen turns on for several seconds when new emails, messages, or BBMs arrive. The Motion will show the display notifications and the clock for about 5 seconds before they vanish. You can double tap the display to view the notification screen any time.
Software is BlackBerry's strength. The Motion lets owners tweak notifications more finely than most other handsets. For example, you can choose to view who sent an incoming email/message, the subject line, and/or the first line on the lock screen — or none of this. You may opt for basic, badge-style notifications that don't include sensitive details. The Motion carries over BlackBerry's signature red blinking light, which is yet another visual cue that you have unread notifications.
If you press the BlackBerry key or screen lock button, the screen wakes fully and shows more involved notifications. The Quick Settings shade is available from the lock screen, and shortcuts to the camera and Google Assistant are tucked in the bottom corners.
On the security front, the Motion includes a fingerprint reader within the BlackBerry key. It's a breeze to set up. I found it to be accurate and speedy. You may elect to use the fingerprint reader to lock individual apps and folders, something business types may appreciate.
The Motion includes a novel security tool called a photo password. With this method, you select a picture and a number. With photo password active, the Motion displays a number grid over a picture. You need to drag the number you selected to a "secret spot" on the photo itself. For example, I picked the number 9 and set it over a small rock in a photo of larger rocks. If I want to unlock the Motion using photo password, I need to position the number 9 over the rock. It works well enough, though I think the fingerprint reader is much faster.
If you wish, you can use the fingerprint reader to access the notification shade. Slide your thumb top-to-bottom to open the shade, slide back up to close it.
The Motion runs Android 7.1 Nougat with BlackBerry's security and productivity tweaks.
The home screen experience is hardly different from that of a Nexus or Pixel phone. The app drawer, drop down Quick Settings panel, and full system settings menus are completely stock Android.
You can customize virtually everything. Feel like adjusting font size, display size, wallpapers, icons, and the like? Go for it. BlackBerry includes more home screen shortcut options (direct dial, direct message, set timer) than most other Android handsets. These mini-widgets can be handy.
The Productivity Tab — something we've seen on other BlackBerrys — functions a lot like the Edge UX on Samsung smartphones. The Tab is opened by tapping a thin sliver that appears along the edge of the screen. The tab is available from within most apps. You can set the tab to appear on the left or right side, control how tall it is, and make other tweaks. The tab offers a productivity dashboard that packs your schedule, messages, tasks, and favorite contacts into an easy-to-digest snapshot. You can turn it off if you don't like it.
BlackBerry's version of Android has what it calls "hidden widgets." The idea is to protect sensitive information while still allowing people to view widget content. Apps that support these widgets are signified with three small dots under the shortcut on the home screen. Swipe up on the shortcut, and the corresponding widget will open, allowing users to see the content therein. BlackBerry bills this as a security feature.
The Motion carries over the Snapdragon 625 from the BlackBerry KEYone, but improves RAM from 3 GB to 4 GB. The combo performs well, as the Motion never felt slow or sluggish.
BlackBerry Hub and DTEK are the most significant additions in terms of apps. The former is your main messaging suite while the latter is a security tool.
BlackBerry Hub serves as a master inbox for managing all your communications. When I say all, I mean all. BlackBerry Hub lets users view their call log, their SMS, BBM, and email inboxes, as well as their social media messages. Hub lets you snooze notifications for individual accounts, sort between unread, flagged, muted, and high-importance conversations. The Hub offers an extensive number of settings for creating custom alerts, as well as prioritizing inbound messages and fine-tuning the exact appearance of emails. It also includes a killer search tool. For power users who want absolutely every communication tool accessible in a single place, BlackBerry Hub has you covered.
DTEK assesses the Motion's security settings and lets you know if you need to take additional steps to secure the handset. For example, if you create a PIN of "1234" DTEK will tell you you're an idiot and suggest you create a tougher-to-crack PIN. As long as you use a strong password or fingerprint, DTEK will pat you on the back.
BBM, BlackBerry's legacy messaging service, is on board, too. The app continues to be a robust messaging tool, at least for those still using it. It includes a ridiculous number of features, such as read receipts, stickers, emoji, voice/video calls, and so on.
BlackBerry Hub and BBM are available to most Android handsets, and BBM is also available to the iPhone.
The quickest way to open the Motion's camera app is to double-press the screen-lock key. You can also choose to assign the convenience key to launch the camera, but this only works if the phone is already unlocked. There's also the software lock screen shortcut if you've been checking notifications.
In the camera app, basic controls line either side of the viewfinder. The flash and HDR both have useful “auto” settings. On the right, you can switch shooting modes (photo, panorama, video, slow-motion, scanner) and apply filters (sepia, B&W, etc.) A unique slider tool near the shutter button lets you quickly adjust exposure (brightness) on the fly.
The scanner mode is meant specifically for capturing text such as business cards. It works okay. The rest of the modes perform about how you expect them to.
You'll find a manual mode buried in the settings. With this turned on, you can dial in focus, shutter speed (longest is a third of a second), ISO, white balance, and exposure. The controls are simple to tweak for more creative photography. Switching between auto and manual modes requires you to perform some settings menu jumps. I wish there were a simple toggle or mode.
The big addition to the camera is Locker Mode. Using your thumbprint, you can "lock" photos to the device. When this mode is on, any shots you take are stored only on the device and won't be uploaded or backed up to the cloud. Moreover, you'll need to use your fingerprint to view photos taken in Locker Mode. This is a great way for securing photos that might be sensitive. You can turn Locker Mode on and off directly from the camera app.
The settings don't let you do much. You'll get the full pixel count only if you use the 4:3 aspect ratio.
The Motion's Snapdragon 625 and 4 GB of RAM are more than up to the task of running the camera smoothly. I didn't experience any performance issues here.
The camera hardware is carried over from the BlackBerry KEYone.
The main sensor captures 12-megapixel images with an aperture of f/2.0. I found the majority of images to be very good with only a few outliers. The Motion dials in sharp focus and accurate white balance. Most every shot I took was razor sharp. Exposure is the one consistent problem. You can see in the small tree photo how overblown the background is. The same goes for several other shots. The phone defaults to HDR Auto and I suggest leaving it that way, as it doesn't seem to impact camera speed. The Motion takes decent pictures for a mid-range phone.
The user-facing camera captures 8-megapixel images with an aperture of f/2.2. The lens sees an 84-degree field of view, which lets capture a fairly wide scene. The selfies I shot showed decent focus, white balance, and exposure. I noticed some grain when shooting in low light, and focus was sometimes soft. The Motion has a screen-based flash that helps in the darkest spaces.
The phone can shoot video at max resolution of 4K and allows you to choose from a variety of frame rates. I was generally pleased with the results, which showed good focus, color, and exposure. The Motion produces video that's on par with other handsets in this price range.
BlackBerry and TCL have put together a fine productivity machine in the Motion. It may be a bit on the big and burly side, but it delivers on the basics needed to keep mobile pros working all day long.
The Motion's many hardware highlights include superb battery life, a good screen, fine radio performance, and solid build quality. It's nice to see both a headphone jack and waterproof design in the same phone. The phone is a fine voice tool whether you're in the office or in the car between meetings.
On the software front, the Motion offers more than most other Android handsets thanks to BlackBerry's tweaks. The Hub is a powerful communications management program, and the DTEK scanner lets you find the right security setting. Items like the Convenience Key, Productivity Tab, and Locker Mode let you take full control.
I like the improvements to the camera software, though I wished the camera were just a bit better.
The BlackBerry Motion is only available online right now. It costs about $450. The price is in the same ballpark as other mid-range devices. I think if you've got $400 or $500 burning a hole in your pocket, the Moto X4, Moto Z2 Play, or OnePlus 5T might be better overall options for most consumers. However, the BlackBerry Motion is the only option if you're interested in the very best of productivity, security, and that good old BlackBerry brand.
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