- Useful software additions
- Excellent battery life
- Ageing CPU
- Disappointing low-light photo quality
- Review Price: £399
- 5.5-inch 1920 x 1080 IPS LCD screen
- 4GB RAM
- Snapdragon 625 CPU
- 32GB storage
- 12-megapixel rear camera
- 8-megapixel front camera
*** Note : £1 = $1.33 (correct at time of post)
What is the BlackBerry Motion?
For some, the first reaction to a BlackBerry phone is: does BlackBerry still makes phones? The answer is yes – the brand is alive… and doing reasonably well.
The BlackBerry Motion is a handset for the masses, much more so than the earlier BlackBerry KeyOne. It doesn’t have a keyboard, and at £399 it’s significantly cheaper.
Although a new release, its design appears slightly dated. However, with a battery life that’s significantly better than that of rivals Honor 9, Moto X4 or HTC U11 Life, the BlackBerry Motion is easy to recommend to people for whom reliability and practicality are top priorities.
For those who haven’t followed the BlackBerry story over the past few years, the Motion isn’t quite a BlackBerry phone in the same way as, say, a BlackBerry Curve from 2007. In late 2016, Chinese manufacturer TCL signed a licensing/production deal with BlackBerry, as it has done in the past with Alcatel. TCL is also set to revive Palm, for all you underdog lovers out there.
BlackBerry is still reported to have a hand in the design and software of the phones – and the Motion certainly looks and feels like a BlackBerry, even though it doesn’t come with a classic BlackBerry physical keyboard. The company logo sits on on front and back of the device, and the soft-touch plastic of the rear sports a business-like stepped pattern.
The Motion feels fairly dense, and while much of the handset is made of plastic, the sides are aluminium. The curved plate on the back that holds the camera is made to look like brushed aluminium, but it’s plastic.
The use of plastic by phone manufacturers is fine, as long as it isn’t flimsy or made to look like something it’s not. The one durability concern on my particular handset was the presence of a few tiny bubbles in the rear soft-touch finish around the BlackBerry logo, which suggest the coating may start to flake off after a while.
The BlackBerry Motion also lacks the ultra-slim screen surrounds of some of the latest phone designs. However, it’s roughly similar in size to the Sony Xperia XZ Premium. Since the phone has an unusually large battery, a 4000mAh unit, I’m happy to forget slight size complaints.
In most other respects, this is a typical modern Android phone. It has a USB-C charge port, a good fingerprint scanner on the front, and light-up soft keys to each side of the scanner. Storage is 32GB rather than the 64GB you get with the HTC U11 Life (in some territories), but there is a microSD slot in the SIM tray.
The BlackBerry Motion is also water-resistant to IP67. The device can withstand a dunk in water without fear of permanent damage.
The BlackBerry Motion’s screen is similar to that of other phones at this price. It isn’t ultra-high resolution; nor is this an OLED panel. But its quality is good enough to survive a comparison with a phone at any price.
It has a 5.5-inch 1080p IPS LCD screen, making it as sharp as an iPhone 8 Plus. Colours are a little energetic for my taste, but most people appear to prefer this style over a more relaxed one – particularly judging by the reception of the Google Pixel 2 XL. People complained about the Pixel 2’s more muted display.
BlackBerry doesn’t offer much control over the Motion display’s look. However, there is a colour temperature slider in Settings with which you can adjust the screen for a more warm or cool look. Top brightness is good. And, as usual with a solid LCD, the only time you’re likely to really notice a signifiant shortfall in performance is in a dark room watching a movie.
Blacks won’t appear perfect, but they’re not too far off. Contrast is solid. Viewed from an extreme vertical angle, you’ll notice quite a bit of colour shift too – but this isn’t really a major issue in what is a mid-range phone.
The BlackBerry Motion runs Android 7.1.2 at present, with a custom BlackBerry interface on top. Your initial assumption might be “it’s Android with extra business bits”. And from one perspective, it is.
There’s a Privacy Shade feature that lets you illuminate just a small area of the screen, which makes people looking over your screen on the train (almost) a non-issue. The DTEK app analyses your security (in a fairly light way) and Password Keeper lets you keep all your logins behind a single password. Add BBM and you have several core parts of the old BlackBerry appeal.
However, I’m not too bothered by much of this, particularly as someone who doesn’t have to work with tight business security. My take on the BlackBerry UI is a little different.
The BlackBerry interface is how Android might have turned out if Google had kept a little more of the nerdy spirit of Android version 4.4. Widgets are still a “thing” here, even though we know that most Android folk stopped using them years ago.
If a BlackBerry Motion app icon has a three-pip icon below it, it means there’s a widget you can bring up by flicking upwards on the icon. It pops up on the homescreen like a micro app.
The BlackBerry interface is also big on “shortcuts”. These look like app icons but are actually function shortcuts you drop on your homescreen. You might have ‘compose email’, ‘torch’ and ‘new alarm’, for example. I haven’t used these much, but they let you trick out homescreens to suit your needs.
There’s also a whole extra section to the OS, which you summon by flicking inwards from the edge of the screen. This brings up a toolbar that houses your calendar, contacts, a task manager and BlackBerry Hub.
If there’s a part of the software that makes the Motion seem like a business phone day-to-day, this is it.
Back to those features. BlackBerry Hub is an app that aggregates your emails, WhatsApp messages and SMS messages, letting you see all your communications in a single feed. I can’t say that I’ve fallen in love with the Hub over the course of my time with the Motion – just as I didn’t in the days of the BlackBerry 10 – but it has its fans.
I have started using the Tasks part of the Motion’s pull-out productivity bar, though. It’s just like a to-do list app that lives near the top of the software. If you make a daily list of tasks, you’ll like this bit.
The BlackBerry Motion’s Convenience key is handy too, if you find a use for it. This is the button on the side of the phone that your thumb will almost certainly presume to be the power button at first. It’s actually a customisable shortcut key that stores up to three macro-like commands. They could be launching an app, sending an email to a contact, locking the screen, or a whole swathe of other actions.
These turn up as little round icons by the button when you press the key, although if you add just a single “macro”, it’s executed immediately. I’m using the BlackBerry Motion’s Convenience button to launch WhatsApp at the moment. It may be unimaginative, but it’s sort-of useful.
The BlackBerry Motion has a mid-range CPU: the Snapdragon 625. This is an octa-core chipset that has enough power to drive a 1080p phone without an obvious lack of speed – as long as it’s partnered with enough RAM. The phone has 4GB: plenty.
However, it’s a shame that TCL didn’t use the slightly newer Snapdragon 630 chipset. While at the same level, this chipset has better graphics power and slightly improved battery efficiency.
Playing Asphalt 8 side-by-side with the HTC U1 Life, which does have the 630, the BlackBerry Motion runs the game at a slightly lower frame rate. However, it appears that the HTC is extremely smooth for a mid-range phone – rather than the Motion making the game seem choppy or slow.
Overall, I’m generally happy with the Motion’s performance. On a few occasions the BlackBerry parts of the software have crashed — on one occasion the “Hub” tab disappeared completely until I restarted the phone — but the software isn’t laggy and app load speeds are fine. Every now and then the keyboard takes a beat to appear, although I’ve experienced this on some more powerful phones.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t tease a Geekbench 4 score out of the BlackBerry Motion. However, nothing I’ve seen suggests it would fare any worse than other phones with the Snapdragon 625 CPU.
Given the perfectly real-world performance, the Motion’s only issue is the competition. For an extra £50, the OnePlus 3T offers far more power; the Honor 9 gets you more power for £50 less. And while Snapdragon 630 phones such as the Moto X4 and Asus Zenfone 4 aren’t a full generation ahead, they’re better for gaming.
The BlackBerry Motion has a single 12-megapixel camera on the rear of the handset, neatly stepping around the kind of dual-lens zooming and background blurring some mid-range phones now offer.
This is a fairly conventional camera, but it does have one feature that’s so “BlackBerry” it hurts. The camera has a specific mode for capturing business cards, complete with optical character recognition.
One other part that’s slightly different from the norm is the “always there” exposure dial, which sits just to the left of the shutter button. You can alter the brightness with a quick gesture. If you’d rather just point and shoot, that works too.
The BlackBerry Motion’s camera feels reasonably fast in just about all conditions, with minimal shutter lag and (usually) no focus seeking. However, image quality is a somewhat mixed bag considering it may use the same high-end Sony IMX378 sensor as the BlackBerry KeyOne (and Google Pixel). BlackBerry hasn’t released the Motion’s sensor type, but its specs sound the same as those of the KeyOne.
In daylight, the Motion’s photos are fine. There’s enough detail to satisfy and colour balance is acceptable. However, the best rivals offer far better dynamic range optimisation. Here, the foreground can end up looking pretty glum against a bright sky.
It’s perhaps mid-level lighting shots that disappoint the most. Images rapidly become soft, losing the punch they have in perfect lighting.
At night photos look very soft, and the settings used by the Motion (according to the images’ EXIF info at least) are at times quite strange. The shutter slows down to 1/3 of a second at night, which is extremely bold for a phone that’s lacking optical image stabilisation. That said, I was still able to achieve sharp images within the limits of the low-light processing (not that sharp at all).
One-third-of-a-second exposures should mean the Motion can take detail-packed images with a still hand, but the results end up looking vague. Looking over the dozens of images I’ve taken, there are also quite a lot of shots with handshake blur.
There are some signs of remedial processing too. In all light conditions, there’s often quite a lot of purple fringing and chromatic aberration. You’ll find hints of purple across a lot of images if you look hard enough.
There’s also one usability niggle. At times I’ve found the BlackBerry Motion takes shots before focus is achieved, making it a good idea to take several exposures when you whip out the camera quickly. There’s actually a mode that tells the Motion not to wait for focusing, but it seems to happen even when this mode is ‘off’.
Here are some demo shots:
No overexposed sky, but the Royal Academy looks quite dull here.
This is one of the better night shots I got out of the Motion, but it’s still a little soft
It’s clear, but there isn’t much detail when you look closer
Again, limited detail
Bright enough, but not sharp enough
Not bad, but the colour of the sky is way off
This shot is fine, but there’s mild purple fringing
Overall this shot is fine, although parts of the clouds look slightly purple
Mid-level lighting: uninspiring
The BlackBerry Motion’s camera is fine. I’d be happy to use it, but it isn’t the best in the £300-400 class of smartphone. It doesn’t appear to make great use of the hardware at its core.
There are some more advanced features, mind. You can shoot video at up to 4K at 30fps, 60fps at 1080p and a full 120fps slo-mo mode. The top modes disable electronic image stabilisation, though.
Around the front of the BlackBerry Motion sits an 8-megapixel camera. Image quality is fine – but, again, image processing is an issue, with more chromatic aberration and general noise present.
Unless you’re keen on BlackBerry’s software additions, battery life is the best reason to buy the Motion. This phone has a 4000mAh battery, larger than that of any mainstream rival. The HTC U11 Life has a 2600mAh unit, the Moto G5S Plus 3000mAh, and the now price-comparable LG G6 a 3300mAh cell.
The Motion is just one of a few phones that can claim to last two days – without it having to sit in a drawer for this to be true. On one weekend, when I simply used the phone for some WhatsApp’ing and a few photos, I still had more than 60% charge remaining by bed time.
I wouldn’t call this my general experience, but it may be yours if you’re a light user. During the week I stream a lot of audio, which can kill a phone’s battery by late afternoon. I didn’t have to worry about this with the Motion.
Twenty minutes of playing Real Racing 3 consumed just 3% of the battery level too – which is so low it makes you question the Motion’s battery reporting.
Great as the battery life is, it does also make you wish the Motion had the Snapdragon 630 CPU instead of the 625. Aside from a faster GPU, the new model’s main improvement is power efficiency.
Still, the BlackBerry Motion supports Qualcomm QuickCharge 3.0 for a 50% charge in around 40 minutes. That’s not the fastest, but isn’t bad.
Finally, there’s the speaker. This is a single driver on the bottom of the Motion. It’s fairly loud and displays enough bulk to avoid sounding harsh at top volume. It doesn’t set a new standard, but it’s a good speaker for what some might see as a “business” phone. It passed the test of letting me listen to a podcast in the shower. What more could you ask for?
Why buy the BlackBerry Motion?
BlackBerry is never again going to be what it was before iPhones and Androids took over the smartphone market. However, the BlackBerry Motion does carve out a little space within Android that may well appeal to the fans of BlackBerry Curves and Bolds back in the company’s heyday.
Its privacy, productivity and security additions may not be essential, but they do feel like worthwhile additions that don’t ruin the usability of Android. And in prioritising battery life over an ultra-slight frame, BlackBerry has produced a real work horse phone.
Those keen to get the most smartphone for their money should consider the Honor 9 and OnePlus 5T, though. Neither will last as long between charges, but they offer more powerful processors and designs for those who don’t have a “thing” for that classic BlackBerry look.
A solid Android smartphone for those tired of their phone’s battery running out before 10pm.