No, I didn't buy one. Yet.
But one of the "regulars" around the Ticker sent me his to review.
If you want the 30-second review it's this, assuming you're looking for a new phone: Buy it and get a case for it.
Now on to the details.... for comparison I am using my DTEK60, which I've had since launch -- and like a lot, six+ months into owning it.
The first thing that jumps out is the multi-color LED on the front. Boy, do I miss that from my Priv on the DTEK60.
The next thing that jumps out at you is size and mass -- it's basically the same size and mass as the DTEK60. A bit thicker and heavier, but almost exactly the same physical size. It feels good in the hand and has a somewhat-grippy back, but more on that in a few minutes. Note: The DTEK60 is slimmer. With a case, it's roughly the same as the K1. So if you add a case, the K1 will be thicker than the DTEK60.
I set it up initially without a SIM in it, but as soon as I stuck my T-Mobile SIM in the device it found it and immediately connected -- including for VoLTE and WiFi calling. No muss, no fuss, no screwing around.
In-hand I had one immediate complaint -- it's very easy to accidentally hit the convenience key. Fortunately I don't find it very useful, so I don't have it set to anything. IMHO they should have put the SIM tray where the convenience key is, moved the volume rocker up and the convenience key right under it. Other than that, no complaints with physical button locations and similar. The build quality is excellent -- no complaints there at all.
The fingerprint scanner is insane. It's fast, it's accurate and it's right where your thumb falls. Grab the phone "as you would to use it" and it unlocks. Nice. Of course fingerprints are nowhere near as secure as a password or even a picture password (which the phone also supports), but they're faster and more-convenient. You choose.
When it showed up the battery was at 90%. I intentionally did not plug it in -- not for setup, not for anything else -- to see how long it would go. The next morning it was at 22%, and I was not kind to the battery, using it as I "usually do" plus doing all the setup and download things that come with a new phone. There's no way I would have gotten away with that on any other device I've ever owned. The second day, with extremely heavy use including some video streaming and a short (less than one hour) charge session left me with 77% (!) at 5:00 PM (8 hours of "off-charge" time and ~2 hours of SOT), for some points of comparison. I then ran a race, with (bluetooth) music, played as usual with it (including pictures) afterwards, used it the rest of the evening and went to bed without plugging it in. The next morning it was at 55%! I ran all day with it, came home around 3:30 PM and it was at 26%.
Yeah, it's that insane when it comes to battery life.
There's been some garfing about signal strength on the 'net, so I went to some trouble to check that out. Here's the deal folks, in short: buy a case.
The phone has a metal exterior and direct contact in the "wrong way" with certain parts of it (including the bottom bezels, which is how you have to hold it to talk on it!) does impact signal strength. Grab the phone with a paper bag wrapped around it (so there's no electrical contact with your fingers) and the problem instantly disappears.
Remember the iPhone4? Yep. Get a case. You probably want one anyway both for screen and main camera cover glass protection. I recommend the Incipio DualPro. No, I don't have one, but I bet that completely resolves the signal complaints, if you have them. Driving around I saw no problems with signal in my carphone holder, but I can easily force the phone off LTE in my house or in a bar I frequent (and onto HSPA+) with nothing more than hand placement. I'd love to scream about this but the fact is that metal case phones are subject to this sort of problem -- all of them -- because your hand materially changes the resonant frequency of the metal and can thus cause the antenna to be "detuned."
Incidentally when it comes to damage risk remember this device is not water resistant. Don't get it wet. And don't let it fall on the screen or camera cover; both risks every phone has and no, neither is a warranty issue. With the screen going basically right to the side rails if you drop it and it falls so the screen gets hit the odds of it breaking are very high -- almost exactly as is true for every other device on the market today. Thus, get a case is not just an RF thing, it's a "don't break your $500 phone" thing.
Since I never run a phone "naked" anyway I don't care. You might, but IMHO if you do you're a fool. Just buy a case and be done with it.
To put objective context on this I put both my DTEK60 and the KeyOne in the exact same location on my desk and used the same SIM card sequentially. Then I turned on the app LTE Discovery, which shows you signal in dBM. Here it is; see if you can tell which is which -- both are on the same tower and band, with readings taken a couple of minutes apart. (there's a giveaway if you know what to look for -- oh well ;-)) (Note the TAC: 33363 in both cases -- same tower)
For what its worth the signal in my house sucks and always has. We don't have Band 12 here due to problems with Eglin AFB (they've got stuff in the same frequency area so T-Mobile can't turn it up) and I'm right along a shoreline where of course they don't care much for signal power. Step outside and it's better, go up the road and I have full bars. In the house? Meh. Our LTE around here is on a mix of Band 2 and 4 (PCS and AWS bands) which are notorious for having building penetration problems, especially if the building is made out of brick or (materially worse) any sort of metal cladding.
How about driving around and just using it in daily life? It gets better reception than my DTEK60. In particular there's a location near the local air-force base that is a true torture-test for phones, with every device I've ever owned having trouble. The DTEK60 can hold a call and data signal there, but it's not great. The KeyOne consistently outperforms it by 4-5db in that immediate area -- in a car clip, in the same location, on the same road.
So yes, you do need a case on this thing, if for no other reason than it prevents you from changing the antenna resonance and hurting your RF. Will you be grossly unhappy without one? Maybe, maybe not -- but with a case from my experience it will be fine.
The vibrator motor isn't real strong; about the same as every newer phone I've had. The days of the Z30 and Passport are over, but it's comparable to the Priv or DTEK60. I miss my "rock your world" vibrator motors, but to get that you need bigger, and, well, that takes up space that is occupied by other things. Like the battery. Oh well, tradeoffs are what they are and I'll take this one and not bitch.
How about the camera? It has much better low-light performance than the DTEK60. In other respects its similar, but if you're unhappy with the imaging on this thing IMHO you need something better than a phone camera -- which I usually do have with me if I think shooting pictures is part of whatever I intend. The KeyOne is able to shoot passable pictures in near darkness; yes, they will be (maybe very) grainy, but it can shoot in light you can barely see in. It focuses quickly and accurately and in any sort of rational lighting the shots are fantastic.
This is easily the nicest camera on a BlackBerry simply on the available light performance. Think Priv + excellent low-light, limited by sensor noise rather than inability to get an exposure. You won't be unhappy.
The internal speaker is ok; it's on the bottom right. Volume-wise it's approximately the same as my DTEK60. It will not win awards but it is serviceable for its intended purpose; speakerphone calls and sounding alerts (e.g. incoming calls, texts, etc.) BTW unlike the DTEK60 it has no "overdrive" problems on calls (which can, and does, lead to "broken up" speech on the DTEK60 -- absent on the K1. Thank you TCL.)
Call quality on the handset itself is good; no muffling or audibility problems worthy of note, and it connects without trouble to my car Bluetooth.
The charge rate on a QC3.0 charger is jaw-dropping; easily the fastest I've encountered. Gc says it's able to pull and stash right near 3,000ma out of the cord for the "bulk" phase of the charge, and it doesn't get materially warm doing so either; battery temp never goes over 100F. Basically to go from almost-dead to ~65% (at which point the power draw and thus heating start to cut back) is a roughly half-hour exercise. The DTEK60 is good at picking up charge but the KeyOne is better by a decent margin, and since it sips power to start with the winner on this is clear.
On standby GC's battery status shows single digit milliamp drain figures on WiFi and numbers in the mid 20ma range on LTE. That's dramatically less than the DTEK or Priv series phones which typically idle in the ~20-30ma range on WiFi and ~40-50ma on LTE. Some of this may be due to Nougat, and thus over time filter into other handsets, but it's a dramatic difference and thus worthy of note. I suspect most of it is due to the low-power SOC (chipset) in there. Whatever is responsible it makes a hell of a difference.
Between the battery life (nutty good; if you can kill it in a day of actual use you're way more aggressive than I've ever been, and I'm aggressive with my use) and insanely-fast charging this is the first smartphone I've ever had that can be charged "ad-hoc", without carrying a portable power bank, without risk of a flat battery at a bad time. In other words rather than charging it "nightly" while you sleep, or "whenever I'm near a cord" as is necessary for most phones so long as you are in your car (or at your desk, etc) for ~20-30 minutes every day or so plugging it in on an ad-hoc basis is more than good enough since it burns power very slowly but picks it up at a crazy-fast rate. This translates into using far less than a full cycle on the battery in a given day and that should translate into much better battery life before a decrease in usable capacity on the battery requires replacement. Oh, and you can replace it reasonably-easily, if you saw my previous article on this point.
Performance? Up the middle. Can I make it "stutter" or be less-than-smooth? Yep. There were a few times I hit something on the screen and nothing appeared to happen. A second or three later, it does. This is part of the lower-power processor but also the missing gb of RAM against my DTEK60 - 3Gb instead of 4. Is the trade-off for the battery life worth it? I think so. It streams media just fine; I watched Youtube videos, some MLB baseball and a few other things and never had an issue with any of them. But if the question is "can you get ahead of it", the answer is definitely yes, you can.
I like the screen; it's IPS, and that contributes (mightily!) to the lower power consumption. OLED has a material edge in saturation (although not color accuracy) but the more of it is lit the more power it draws, and what's worse every pixel lit contributes heat to the phone too. IPS screens are backlit with an array of LEDs and the power drain (and heating) is controlled by the brightness, which sounds like the same thing but it's not -- it's a constant and most of the time this means the IPS screen wins large on the power burn budget. Thus, if you care about power consumption, that's what you use, and you sacrifice the modest (but real) increase in deep blacks. There were no problems viewing it outdoors either -- it beat my DTEK60 in that regard, which simply runs out of illumination (being OLED) in bright outdoor conditions.
How about the keyboard itself? It's not the Passport. I wish it was, but it simply isn't; it's smaller. It is materially better than the Priv. I love the scrolling and the fingerprint scanner is great. BlackBerry included the "sym" key (thank you!) which pops up the virtual keyboard with symbols in most places, and when it pops up it can be quickly switched to on-screen letters if you wish, but of course then it takes up part of the screen. I adapted back to the physical keyboard quite quickly, but I'm torn -- it really is much faster and more accurate most of the time than a virtual keyboard, but is it enough to make the sale standing alone? For some people absolutely yes, but for me, I'm not sure. I do like it -- don't get me wrong -- but it's not the "must buy for this feature" trigger that some people have.
What I can tell you from using it now for a bit is that I could actually write Tickers on this phone. More to the point, if I have to use a remote shell into something, I can. That's a big deal; it's VERY hard to do this accurately on a VKB because the screen consumption issue becomes very real and nasty very fast, along with the risk of a false press which, in some circumstances, is catastrophic. I literally tore my hair out in the backcountry, on a trail, a couple of months ago when I needed to do some maintenance work on a box, on an emergency basis, right here, right now. The KeyOne would have made that same event a non-issue. If you have any use case where something like an accidentally-pressed "return" key is an instant disaster -- and that is always a risk with a VKB -- then the KeyOne is the only phone now on the market that you should consider owning. Period.
Oh, and the shortcuts... oh my. Want to run a completely blank home screen? You can. Or one full of widgets. The keyboard makes shortcut callups of any app or function you want trivial. I loved this on the Passport and it's back, in spades. The Priv had it but it was useless as you had to flip up the keyboard first. Not here. Short and long press, two functions. Damn, I missed that and it's great to have it. (e.g. press the "e" key, get EMAIL. Press "B", get BBM. Etc.)
There are two versions of note if you're in the United States. One is compatible with Verizon, the other not. The one compatible with Verizon is allegedly missing one of AT&T's bands (17), but Band 17 is actually Band 12 minus the lowest frequency subset, and 12 is in there. What this means is that theoretically the Verizon-compatible phone should be fully compatible with T-Mobile and AT&T as well. You do give up some outside-US bands on the Verizon-compatible device you'd otherwise have, so if you travel outside the US check the bands in the device carefully to see which unit is "more compatible" with where you travel. Likewise, if you're on AT&T you might have trouble with their extended-range (low frequency) LTE on the Verizon device -- or you might not. The unit I have is the GSM (not-Verizon) one, so I can't verify whether there's a potential compatibility issue with the Verizon-capable unit, but if not the ability to "hop" between all three primary US carriers is definitely worth consideration.
So will I buy one, now that I have to send this one back to its owner?
I want to know first if the Verizon-compatible one is fully operational on T-Mobile -- including VoLTE and WiFi calling. I assume yes, but you know what they say about assuming, right? So I want someone to play guinea pig, or I want to buy it somewhere I can try it and, if it doesn't come up immediately for both, say "no" and not pay. That's one of my big things here, because I believe network mobility is important and thus being able to to buy a true "any carrier" phone has real value to me. There aren't many in the marketplace (a couple of Motorola models) today but if the CDMA-capable KeyOne is one of those devices it's an instant and monstrous selling point.
Second, I don't need a new phone right now. Do the KeyOne's advantages make it worthwhile to buy one given that my DTEK60 is perfectly serviceable? IMHO, not really. The one really big deal is the battery life - there's nothing on the market that gets anywhere close in my experience. Next up is the keyboard and camera improvements. They're all real but are they $550 worth of improvement over a very nice device I like now? IMHO, no.
On the other hand if/when the DTEK60 takes a crap, or if I decide I want Verizon compatibility, then the picture changes quite materially. Then I'm "naturally" in the market and it's very, very hard to make the argument against the KeyOne having the build quality, battery life, performance in the real world (not the "fanboi" spec games, but real world performance) and a package that is worthy of the asking price. The only real shortcoming I can find with the device is the lack of water resistance, but that would be quite the accomplishment on a device with a PKB -- and the so-called "water resistance" isn't a guarantee anyway. I've yet to see any manufacturer back their claims of IP-whatever water resistance with their warranty -- in other words, if you drown it they eat it. Let me know when that happens and I'll consider such claims to be "real"; until then such marketing claims are twaddle, especially if they entice you to be less-than-careful with your phone when it comes to water exposure!
In short: Highly recommended - but get a case for it. You want one anyway. Both Best Buy and Spamazon have them but I am very interested in whether the Verizon-capable unit, when it ships, will also work (fully) on T-Mobile.
Update: I now have a report from a user on Crackberry who has stuck a T-Mobile SIM in the "Verizon" model and it is fully functional -- in fact, that's how he's using it as his primary device. So yeah, that looks to be the one to buy if you're interested -- it's the "-3" suffix model.
The Canon EOS M6 is the second in the latest-generation of the "M" series cameras.
Canon and Nikon have both "resisted" the mirrorless camera movement; Nikon is still sticking to their guns, but Canon (weakly) waded in with the original EOS M. It wasn't very inspiring, to a large degree because it had to use contrast-detection autofocus, which is very slow.
The M3 went to a sort-of-hybrid system, and was somewhat better, with a higher-resolution sensor -- but lost a material amount of battery life. But for tracking of any sort it was miserable, especially in other than bright light.
Neither of these were helped by the "kit" lens included (18-55mm), which was uninspiring. A 22mm "pancake" f/2 lens showed up, however, and pretty-much made the argument for it as a "pocketable" camera with excellent image quality, as that lens was pretty darn good, and nicely-priced. A lens adapter is available for $200 from Canon (MUCH cheaper for the third-party knock-offs) and since it's just a piece of metal with contacts (no electronics) there's little reason other than fit and finish to pay Canon's tax on that -- and using it allows you to run any of your existing EF-S or EF series lenses with full automation.
However, all the way through the M3 you were limited to contrast-detect autofocus with them, which while accurate was maddeningly slow and worse, in video mode "hunted" since the camera had no way to know which direction to move focus originally.
In the meantime competitors were and are out there. Sony, with their 5000 and then 6000 series shooters and a whole host of micro 4/3rds cameras. In reality the m4/3 cameras, other than the Olympus PEN series, are not really comparables -- they're heavier and a lot bigger. The Sony's are true comparables. But all of them suffer from "meh" lens quality (they all cheat bigly with "auto correction" for JPEG pictures) and very high, comparably-speaking, lens prices. Remember that with any interchangeable lens camera the camera body is only a part of the investment -- lenses often cost more than the camera does!
The u4/3ds mostly have either hybrid autofocus systems or contrast detection, which is (again) accurate but very slow. There are exceptions, but they're in the high end bodies. Some of the exceptions, such as in some recent Panasonic u4/3rds cameras, are proprietary to their lenses which defeats one of the big reasons to buy into a standard platform (such as u4/3rds) in the first place. True phase-detect autofocus is found in a few of these bodies, but not many, and the ones that do have it tend to be quite pricey.
Sony has PDAF, but you also get the (IMHO very nasty) Sony menu system. Oh, and you get high lens prices too and a proprietary ("E") lens mount to go along with it.
On the video side, on the other hand, the competitors have won "bigly." Nearly all of them will shoot 4k video in some fashion (although their competence and color depth varies a lot), where Canon does not. Does this matter? It can, but be aware that none of these cameras have global shutter which means on a pan you're going to get a rolling-shutter or "jello" effect on anything vertical, and yes, it's very visible and there is exactly zero you can do about in editing later. Many of these cameras are also extremely challenged when it comes to autofocus in video mode; in short, without true phase detect tracking or racking focus during video shooting with any sort of decency is very, very hard. This doesn't matter much for "set up" shots where you would use manual focus anyway, but it sure does for casual use -- or any sort of impromptu video where you can't control the shot (think street video, newsy things, etc.)
Enter the EOS M5 and, now the M6. The two are basically the same camera except that the M5 has a built-in electronic viewfinder and the M6 does not -- and is $200 cheaper. There is a hot-shot clip-on available for the M6 if you want it, at (big shock) about $200. For me the M5 made no sense, because the reason to buy one of these (either of them!) is for the tiny size with the excellent sensor, and the ability to use smaller and lighter lenses -- plus all my existing EF glass if I want to. Further, since I wear glasses, I need some projection of the viewfinder from the back of the camera body or I can't see the full frame without mashing my glasses into the camera. This is not a problem with my 5d3 but it sure looked like would be with the M5. If I decide I need the viewfinder later I can add it, and it's a bit "higher" and thus should present less of a problem for eyeglass wearers.
As for Sony (which has the EVF included in the 6000 series) they're damn near impossible to use if you're left-eye dominant! That's the price of having the EVF on the left far side of the body; you pretty much can't use it if you shoot with your left eye -- and I do. Thus the Sony line was instantly eliminated from my consideration.
What's the attraction of this camera over a dSLR or one of the other mirrorless options?
First, the reason you buy one of these in the first place, in my opinion, for stills is that you want or need something small and light. My 5d3, which is excellent, along with the 24-105L lens on it is a four-pound package and it's not small. Yes, I've taken it hiking. No, I didn't like it and there are plenty of times I'd like to have a small but really nicely performing camera. This fits that bill well; it shoots as well as any of the other 24mp APS/C cameras because the sensor is in fact exactly the same. It's also a quarter of the size and mass of my 5d3 with an appropriate piece of L-series glass on it.
So what else is on the "why this one" list?
A few things, in my opinion.
First, it has true phase-detect autofocus in the camera body on-sensor. This means it will autofocus quickly and knows which way to move the lens in both still and video shooting whether using a native lens or an adapted one. Having had the pleasure of PDAF on my dSLRs for a good long time I will not give it up for an inferior focusing system. This instantly reduces the list of available mirrorless cameras to consider buying by far more than half.
Second, it's very small and light. With a pancake lens it easily goes in a jacket (not jeans) pocket. But even with the kit lens, which incidentally is newly redesigned and not bad at all and is an 18-45mm (~28-70mm equivalent) it's pretty darn small and light -- the whole rig weighs right around 1.2lbs with the strap, battery and memory card in it. While the new kit lens does have some distortion and peripheral shading issues they're nowhere near what I've seen on other mirrorless lens cameras in terms of native performance, which means I can shoot in RAW -- which is a big, big plus as it retains all of the original dynamic range and information the sensor captures for later massaging. The trade-off with the M-series zooms is that they are not wide-aperture lenses by any means and this does interfere with low-light performance. Light, small and wide aperture are simply not three words that can be put in the same lens description when it comes to zooms -- it's a matter of physics.
So let's take a look at how it performs.
In short, pretty-much like any of Canon's better APS-C format cameras with the 24mp sensor -- which means the T6i and beyond. Phase-detect on the sensor means it focuses quickly and accurately provided you have a reasonable amount of light. It is not capable of quick autofocus in very low light conditions -- it reverts to contrast-detection in that situation, and can "hunt." It behaves much like a T7i in "live view" mode, in short -- which is darn good. It loses to a pentaprism/mirror dSLR -- any of them -- in the autofocus department, especially as light levels fall, so don't kid yourself in that regard but that's true for any mirrorless camera in my experience -- manufacturer claims notwithstanding.
The M6 also has greatly-improved buffer depth over the previous M3. Shooting bursts is now something you can truly contemplate; it really wasn't before. Between that and the autofocus limitations the M3 was never a camera I gave serious consideration to. With that said this is not a sports camera and if you try to use it like one you're going to be disappointed. There is some blackout on the screen when shooting bursts -- that's the price of an electronic screen instead of a pentaprism that simply lets light go to your eyes when the mirror is down.
Finally, the "face and object tracking" detection really works, including in movie mode -- with no hunting problems at all. I'm extremely pleased with the capability there -- Canon has really stepped up the CPU power in these cameras and it shows.
The limitation in movie mode, incidentally, which will cause some people to say "no way" is the lack of 4k shooting. The best you get is 1080 @ 60fps, which allows for a roughly 2:1 slow-motion effect. I understand this is a turn-off for a lot of people but for me it simply isn't -- this for me is a camera that shoots excellent stills and very good video, not the other way around, and while 4k would be nice even on my fairly expensive and capable 4k HandyCam I often don't use that mode because of the rolling shutter issues and drop back to 1080. (BTW the price of "getting rid of that" starts around $50k for a camera without this limitation, so no, it's not reasonable unless you're shooting professionally!)
The "newer" kit lens that comes with the M5 and M6 is surprisingly good. I'm used to them being just one step away from literal trash and in fact contemplated the idea of sending the kit back and getting the body only plus whatever lenses I wanted if I thought this one sucked. But I gotta say -- Canon has upped their game. It's not a wide-aperture lens at all, so you need decent lighting, but that's the price of small and light - especially in a zoom. On the other hand for still subjects the IS (stabilization) really does work -- just remember that it won't stop subject motion. The corners are a bit soft but far better than the older version, and the center is quite-acceptably sharp. The kit lens, in short, doesn't win awards but it produces very good images, it's small, light, and has a decent "up the middle" zoom range. For about $110 over the price of the bare body it's a good deal and not a throw-away like most. Allegedly the 11-22mm EF-M zoom is excellent (there are some people who have knocked its peripheral shading and accuse the camera but this is idiotic; if you look at some of the EF wide-angle zoom lenses you'll see what I mean) and I intend to check this one out for an ultra-wide -- it too is the same (physical) size! The two lenses plus the body will come in materially under 2lbs which makes for a nice, light travel camera kit that scares nobody unlike a big fat professional-looking 5d3 with a big red-ringed lens on it and yet covers the ultra-wide to mild-telephoto (~17mm - ~70mm) range with a very usable set of glass. If you want a mild wide-angle prime with a decently-wide aperture add the 22 pancake to the kit; it weighs nearly nothing and takes up almost no space -- but you got to bring another couple hundred bucks for it.
The other thing that's interesting is the integration of both WiFi and Bluetooth in this unit. The latter is nice because you get a "free" remote shutter release! The usual answer for that is one of the IR things, which I have, but being able to simply have your phone do it is a nice option. I have had some issues with Canon's software, however -- it's finicky on my Android DTEK60, and works sometimes but not others. Meh, but it's there.
I also like the plethora of dials and buttons essentially all of which can be reassigned, so I can set it up so it shoots almost-exactly like my much-bigger 5d3. In particular I like "back-button" focus when shooting stills; it puts the "focus and lock" on a separate button from the shutter, which leaves exposure unlocked until the shutter is half-pressed. This makes focus-and-recompose easy, but what's even nicer is that on the 6M you don't have to screw around to set a focus point -- the touchscreen is active just like on your cellphone. Touch the point you want to focus on, hit the button and shoot -- no focus, hold, recompose and fire. Nice.
The other interesting point is that in my brief use thus far object and face tracking (two separate modes) work quite well. The camera is very good at keeping track of what's going on in the frame and following it. It's not as good at tracking moving things as my 5d3 is, which can nail birds-in-flight on a high-speed burst repeated-frame basis but it also isn't a $3,000 camera. It radically outperforms anything else I've seen in the mirrorless world with the possible exception of the Sony 6300 -- which gets pretty darn close if not exactly comparable.
The "Q" menu system is exactly what you expect on a Canon and makes quick adjustments easy off the touch screen. It's arguably easier and faster than my 5d3 in that regard, which is really saying something.
The ability to use all of my existing EF lenses is a huge plus. I have several EF-series lenses and all have their purposes, from macro to wide-aperture portrait to sports and wildlife to starscapes. The M6 autofocuses very fast (for single-shot use almost as fast as my 5d3!) on my EF lenses, with one exception -- I have a Tamron 150-600mm and it refuses to run in autofocus mode with that lens at all. This is almost-certainly a compatibility issue as it's not a Canon lens; it's fine manually focusing, but the lack of autofocus is somewhat of a bummer since that would give me a 1,000mm telephoto effective length and shooting at birds and such (anything moving, really) without autofocus is damn near impossible at that focal length. My 70-200mm and other lenses, however, work flawlessly and fast. The only "gotcha" is that the IS (image stabilizer) is engaged all the time when the camera is on, probably because of the PDAF on sensor and "continual" focus point selection. I suspect this might have a material impact on battery life, but other than that it's a non-issue.
Update: I sent the Tamron in for a firmware update and it now operates perfectly on the M6....
The point of this exercise was to get something that I can comfortably add to my pack when hiking and not go nuts, while at the same time getting an effective "backup camera" for my big dSLR that can use my existing lens investment. It's not waterproof (the 5d3 has a much-superior water resistance rating) but on the other hand no camera is really waterproof and thus I always wind up double-wrapping anyway when it might get wet. It also will be a great addition to stuff in the car or just have with me -- I need to find a nice, small carrying pack that is just big enough to fit it and the second wide-angle zoom, at which point it could almost be a constant companion. That will simply never happen with a full-size dSLR, and the best camera for any particular circumstance is always the one you have with you.
Finally, there's (thus far) a dearth of decent case options. No, I don't want a huge dSLR case. Yes, I'd like something that would hold this with either the kit lens or the 11-22 on it and the other in a neoprene pouch. I've not yet found the correct carrying case option in either a sling or "chest pack" style, but I suspect it's out there.
In any event this thing massively outshoots anything in a cellphone, ever, period, and it's as close to dSLR performance as I've found in something that's half the size, mass and really not much more expensive than the lower-end dSLRs in price.
IMHO Canon has a big winner here when it comes to this market segment, either in this model or in the M5, provided you can deal with the lack of 4k video and want a small, lightweight and mirrorless setup. While there certainly are more-capable cameras out there in the micro 4/3rds and other mirrorless formats you won't find them in this price bracket nor in this size-and-mass bracket either. The only real competitor, IMHO, is the Sony 6300 -- if you like where the EVF is, you can deal with the menus and the price of additional Sony glass doesn't make you scream in horror (I'm not at all impressed with the 16-50mm kit lens they sell with those cameras and with the better lens available in a kit, the 16-70 which is a decent piece of glass albeit quite heavy you can almost buy two M6s kits!)
As promised here's an update after some time with my new BlackBerry DTEK60. You can read the original here.
Let's go down a bullet list and then we'll get into some specifics. Buy this phone if:
I have no quarrels with build quality at all; it's just flat-out excellent, as is "in-hand" feel. One point to be aware of if you run phones "uncased" is that the camera "bump" is there (as is the case with many devices) and that means running uncased is potentially hazardous not only to the glass back of the device itself (which is beautiful but since it's glass a sharp impact may shatter it) but also to the camera cover. That cover, by the way, appears to be glass rather than plastic, which is great for optical clarity and scratch-resistance (important!) but makes it possible to damage it by impact. I noted this is a phone you probably want in a case in my first look and I still feel that way, never mind the impact resistance a case gives you for the screen of the device. Note that the Alcatel Idol 4s cases will fit this phone, should you want a wider selection than BlackBerry offers. I am at present using an Incipio DualPro and like it a lot; it provides excellent protection (roughly "Otterbox" grade), keeps the "camera bump" slightly recessed and doesn't add too much bulk. The case BlackBerry includes is functional as well, is a bit smaller in terms of its impact on device size and bulk but leaves the camera slightly protruding.
If you're wondering whether 4Gb of RAM matters here's your answer -- it does.
RAM matters more than raw CPU speed if RAM is constrained. The difference between an app being cached (that is, already in RAM) .vs. having to re-activate it which involves reading it from storage, starting it and going through whatever initialization it requires is massive when it comes down to user-perceived performance. 3Gb devices are constrained by comparison to 4Gb ones -- it's that simple. The counter-balance is that more RAM requires more power, and it requires it all the time since you must strobe RAM continually for it to retain its information. We could wish that Android was more efficient with RAM use, but it is what it is as Android has always been a bloated mess from the outset and the reality is that with today's workloads and today's Android versions 4Gb is the sweet spot. 4Gb is also the limit for a 32-bit architecture and while today's processors tend to be 64-bit there is overhead involved in 64-bit operation that 32-bit doesn't have, so unless you need the capability the 32-bit system will actually be faster (even if only slightly), all other things being equal.
Now let's talk about the cameras since everyone and their brother seems to think this is arguably the most-important aspect of a phone these days.
There are multiple aspects to camera performance, and only some are captured by technical specifications. DXOMark has tested the (main) camera and says its "equal" (in score) to the Priv, which had an excellent technical score. I generally agree with this, but with that said let's talk about the differences, because there are some.
For background and to put some context on what follows I have been a photographer for pretty-much my entire life, starting as an early teenager. I used to have my own darkroom back in the film days and have shot nearly everything, including cold-camera astrophotography for a few years when I had "at will" access to a very nice telescope setup in northern Michigan that cost far more than I've got available for such endeavors (and which at the time was so far beyond my personal means that it boggled my mind.) Today I own a Canon 5d3 with a gaggle of lenses for various purposes and a very nice Sony 4k video rig, along with the usual plethora of tools to make use of those images (Adobe's suite, Vegas Video Pro, etc.)
The Priv's camera tended toward oversaturation of colors, which some people "like" but it is not what you actually saw when you looked at the scene. It also had "ringing", probably related to that oversaturation, evident some of the time, and high-contrast edges often had minor artifacts that were visible in 100% crops. Generally speaking performance was outstanding for a shooter on a phone, but I'm trying to pick some nits here.
The DTEK60 uses the same basic sensor as the Priv, however, it uses the entire 21mp frame instead of being limited to an 18mp one. Why the limit on the Priv? Simple: The Priv has OIS and a different lens system than the DTEK60, and both of those meant that illumination wasn't complete on the sensor, so only 18mp was used. This means the DTEK60 has the same pixel size. The lens on the Priv was f/2.2; on the DTEK60 it's claimed to be f2.0 but the embedded EXIM data claims f/2.2, so the DTEK60 either has a small (1/3rd of a stop) but real advantage in light gathering or is identical to the Priv, depending on which is correct.
The DTEK60 also does not exhibit the oversaturation that the Priv did. I'm not sure why since the camera software (at the application level) is the same, but the firmware in the camera module is likely different. Whatever the cause the oversaturation issue is gone.
Is the camera perfect? No.
The large-mp-count sensor means that even with an f/2.2 lens under low light you're not going to get the same sort of performance you'll get from some of the cameras showing up in phones with 12mp. There's a reason that Google, Apple and a few others went to smaller megapixel-count sensors -- it makes the pixels bigger, and thus the amount of light gathered per-pixel larger. This in turn allows for a faster shutter speed for a given ISO, all other things being equal, which means less risk of motion blur and less sensor noise in low light conditions. Yes, you get less resolution but as with all things there are trade-offs, and some vendors have gone that direction. BlackBerry did not. There is no free lunch, however, and in good lighting conditions resolution wins. You choose; to get you must give.
The camera also does not have OIS, while the Priv did. Does this matter? Not as much as you might think, but under low light with a stationary object being photographed it can, quite materially, sharpen the image you obtain because it reduces (by a lot) camera shake. Phones, of course, are hard to hold steady due to their shape. This also matters during video shooting, but electronic stabilization can be used there, and the DTEK60 supports it. The question to ask is how often do you shoot stationary objects in low light. A person or group of people (or any scene containing people, animals and similar) is not stationary. Neither is anything that can be impacted by wind or other movement sources. I can show you examples where the Priv outperformed the DTEK60 in this regard, allowing a slower shutter speed and a crisper image, but this actual scenario in real use is rare -- although darn easy to contrive for a test. My personal view is that OIS is nice but not necessary and I consider it a minor, but real, ding to not have it. It has not impacted my ability to take good shots at all.
The flash has less power than the Priv's by a small amount but it doesn't appear to impact the image quality. Again, the issue is on the fringe of the range where you can use flash; the Priv will cover a modestly larger area than the DTEK60 in that regard. I personally detest on-camera flash no matter the camera for the lighting field and effect it produces, but there are times you either use it or get no picture. When the camera is pushed in low light but with a lot of dynamic range performance degrades in a reasonable fashion and while the defects are clearly visible with 100% crops you won't see them looking casually at the images. Note that most uploads to social media or to blogs, including this one, are going to be cut down as the original files produced by the camera tend to be about 4Mb each so there's little point in trying to show you what the camera actually produces on a blog. You simply need to either look yourself or find someone with the dedicated bandwidth resources for multiple huge files you can download and view at the 100% level.
BlackBerry's camera app has been updated a number of times since the Priv's first release and it is found on the DTEK60. Beyond very simple exposure correction (which is nice) and touch-to-focus and take exposure lock (also nice) it allows for full manual exposure control should you wish. Manual controls only work, obviously, when you have time to compose, set and shoot, but when you can use them the flexibility is appreciated. Note that the one thing you cannot change in a cellphone camera is the f/stop and this means depth-of-field is not under user control; you must vary either shutter speed or ISO to change your exposure. I like the BlackBerry camera app a lot and consider it a major plus compared against many others, especially the vanilla Android app that some phones have. BlackBerry's camera app has face recognition and exposure compensation for detected faces (which can be turned off), and it works well.
Two things that are lacking on the DTEK60 camera, as with the other BlackBerry android handsets, are "Raw" capture and the Camera2 API. RAW photos are huge and in addition worthless until post-processed, but they get all the data the sensor has and are how I prefer to shoot with my dSLR. Having the option would be nice, and I'd like it a great deal if BlackBerry was to support it; since the DTEK60 has the ability to take a large SD card storage space is a non-factor. Here's hoping BlackBerry adds this capability! As for Camera2 the primary use for that is manual control and BlackBerry provides it, so that is IMHO far less important.
Here's an example of a 100% crop of a shot I took of the cat sitting on my lap in very low available light; there's very little artifacting, saturation is nearly bang-on as is white balance. In short, that's exactly what the cat actually looks like when you see her with your eyes. The problem with this shot at a 100% crop level is that the shutter speed and ISO combination made impossible completely stopping subject motion (if you think a cat is ever completely still forget about it!) and thus there's some evidence of motion blur when you dig into the image at the 100% crop level.
The shot, viewed as an image in Photoshop (or Microsoft's "photo viewer") in a "natural" size (e.g. fills my monitor) shows none of that defect; it appears to be very sharp and in-focus. It's only when you dig in at a pixel-peeping level you see the cost of the larger pixel count in low light. Of course as light level goes up that compromise disappears because shutter speed rises and ISO goes down; this shot has camera data in it saying exposure was 1/15th sec and ISO 757.
Noise (and moire!) is extremely bad at ISO 12000, but that's in the "ludicrous" range. At ISO 3200 it's much better with the moire gone, and once you get down to and below 1600 noise is very good (and improves with further ISO reduction.) That you can crank the ISO up far enough to make a photo possible in otherwise no-flash allowed conditions is interesting, but don't expect to like the results when you really push it.
There is a bug in the original firmware release; the positive exposure compensation adjustment is non-functional if the sensor gain is as far up as the software will allow, and the camera does not instead increase the ISO to allow the compensation to work. All the other manual overrides work (including negative exposure comp.) This is something I'm sure BlackBerry will fix as they tend to be very "on the ball" with camera software updates. In the meantime you can force the ISO higher manually and get your desired exposure compensation, so there is a workaround.
For video shooting the camera performs as expected. It has electronic stabilization and can shoot in a number of modes and resolutions as shown here -- of note is that while it can capture at 4k slow-motion (60fps) only works up to 1080p. You need a very fast SD card to be able to keep up with 4k recording -- UHS1/U3 (not U1!) is required and be prepared for utterly ridiculous file sizes! If you run into trouble with 4k recording your card is too slow; there are a lot of cards that claim to meet spec but do not. Stay with Sandisk or Samsung's Evo line and make sure they're U3 rated; you're going to pay more but they'll actually work.
Verdict: The camera acquits itself very well. The "selfie cam" is excellent also, easily the best BlackBerry has ever put into a phone. While "by the numbers" testing the main camera is equal to the Priv; in actual use it's a bit better. Is it "best available", no -- not in low-light performance anyway. It is suitable for a "flagship" level device? You bet; color accuracy is excellent, the presence of artifacts (largely a function of the jpeg compression used) is very well-controlled and the stock camera app provides for full manual control if and when you desire it.
The screen is gorgeous. As far as being accurate in its color rendition it's better than I expected. AMOLED screens always have very deep blacks (since it actually turns off pixels entirely and has no backlight) but tend to lose in the color rendering accuracy department. The common AMOLED sin of oversaturated colors and thus poor accuracy (although some people will claim that such inaccurate reproduction has more "pop" and thus they like it better) has been avoided on the DTEK60. This screen is one of the best I've seen on a smartphone and it has the chops to be reasonably visible outdoors in direct sunlight which is where many AMOLED screens fall flat.
The fingerprint scanner is very fast and accurate. But don't kid yourself -- fingerprint scanners are not very secure. They beat nothing, and they probably beat a 4-digit pin, but they lose to anything more complex and maybe lose big. If your fingerprint can be lifted from anything you've touched it can be trivially unlocked, so just keep that in mind. With that said the boot password cannot be fingerprint (good) but I'd really like to be able to set the screen to not be able to be unlocked with a fingerprint but apps that can use fingerprints to remain available. That would "stratify" the security model in the device since you have to unlock the screen first (the more-secure act) and then once that's done the fingerprint, while less-secure, is being used in the context of an already unlocked device. Today there's no option to do that but BlackBerry could probably add it, and IMHO should.
The power amp (for headphones) is both nicely clean and plenty loud for nearly anyone. The device sounds great through my Shure earbuds playing FLAC files. Speaking of which, download the Onkyo HF player; I like it and it works exceptionally well. If you're a real audio nut and want an external USB ADC there's a "pro" version of that player for a fee that supports them but that's not necessary for users that are happy with the built-in audio amplifier and headphone jack.
Notification sounds are a bit lower than I'm used to, even with the phone's volume set to maximum. Phone ringtones start at a lower volume and ramp; I suspect there's an error here in that notification sounds are doing that too, but since they're short they end before the ramp happens. If so that's something BlackBerry can easily fix in software, and I suspect they will.
On battery life it's simple: I'm impressed. I've yet to run out of power in a day's use or need to recharge mid-day. I've come home with 20% power remaining, but never a zero. If you do need to "top off" this phone picks up power at an utterly ridiculous rate; about an hour from nearly empty to full with a QC3.0 charger. The in-box QC2.0 charger will fill the battery from empty in about an hour and a half. It appears BlackBerry and TCL got the balance of battery capacity .vs. power consumption right where it needs to be for a flagship in that most users and most workloads will get through a full day without having to recharge in the middle of it.
There are two things to keep in mind with regard to carriers. First is the good -- T-Mobile appears to have no problem with the device including WiFi calling, Band 12 and VoLTE despite it not being listed as a "supported" device. This is a big plus. But AT&T appears to be blocking the phone's hotspot from working on purpose via their provisioning process when you insert an AT&T SIM (although the phone certainly can do it) and there are reports they have told customers that it's "corporate policy" not to allow it on devices they do not sell. That's an apparent violation of the law, by the way, in that it implicates "tied sale" restrictions in anti-trust law, so if this matters to you then you should head over to the FCC web site and file a complaint. We'll see how that turns out; I've done so, and the nice thing about the process is that the carrier has to respond. I have in fact received a call from AT&T as a result of my complaint and read them the riot act; we'll see if that makes it way up the chain and leads to a resolution. Shaking the tree might just be enough, seeing as this "omission" could be an accident and with relatively-recent FCC action on unlocking codes and similar "that which is old but no longer defensible" sometimes is easily toppled over. We'll see. If Hotspot is not important then you don't care (and there is a workaround if you simply want to connect a laptop and it has bluetooth; since your account has Hotspot enabled it is not a TOS violation to use it either) but this sort of discriminatory conduct is something that should absolutely not be tolerated by anyone. Update: AT&T and/or BlackBerry have resolved this; the Hotspot now works on AT&T service.
What compromises are you making, other than the potential AT&T issue, by choosing this device? A few.
So we have four things that are "minuses" compared against some of the competition, but that's about it in terms of items I can identify. There is certainly no difference in performance on a user-perceptible basis, you are giving up exactly nothing in terms of RF (in fact the radio performance is among the best I've ever experienced from any device), it's Android with all that's good (and bad) so you have the full Android app base and it has the BlackBerry "addons" that you can't get elsewhere, most-specifically DTEK.
Everything, in the end, has to be measured in terms of value received for price paid. It is here that BlackBerry has really stepped out and upped their game. Historically-speaking BlackBerry has tended to price their phones at the upper end of the range for a given set of specs, viewing their "special sauce" as having enough value to justify the ask. This device is different; it comes to market at the top of the game but one notch in pricing above the mid-tier of devices. This appears to be the result of BlackBerry exiting designing their own devices from the ground up, and instead selecting a reference design that already exists and asking for relatively-minor changes to be made to it.
The result of this change in strategy -- and pricing -- is that the only devices you can find with DTEK60 class specs at a cheaper price are the Chineesium devices with no promise of updates, an unknown provenance in terms of what might be in there you don't want (spyware, a root key that the Chinese government has, etc) and potential trouble with warranty replacement should the need arise. Some of them (e.g. the OnePlus3) are disqualified for lack of an SD card slot as well.
Before you consider the "unknown provenance" comment to be speculative may I point out that it is definitely not. There have already been devices caught in the last few months with "special" bootloader commands enabled from the factory but hidden that allow someone who is aware of them to break into the device. This risk is real and if you buy something from a Chinese company with no accountability it's a risk that could bite you down the road.
The "mainstream" brands -- Samsung, HTC, LG, Google's Pixel, Apple and similar all have "flagship" class devices with comparable specs, and in some cases advantages (e.g. water resistance in the case of Samsung.)
The bad news is that all of them are much more expensive, starting at roughly 40% more than the DTEK60!
There's a hell of a difference in price between a phone that sells for $499 and one that sells for $699; you damn well ought to expect much better from the $699 phone, and quite-frankly there's no rational argument to be made on this point: You simply don't get it.
Instead what you get are improvements at the margin while having to fork up hideous additional cost.
For me, and I suspect for most others, the answer is and ought to be "no thanks."
If you hate money and will pay 40% more for a camera that can shoot better in very low light then buy a Pixel or S7. If you tend to drop your phone in the toilet and hate money then buy the S7 since it's water-resistant (and 40% more expensive) while the other two competitors are not.
If neither of these descriptions fit you, signal-holding performance is very important, being able to easily monitor what apps are doing and control their behavior matters, a device that is inherently difficult to break into should you lose it or have it stolen is something you find to be of value, and you want a phone that runs with some of the best available today in terms of both specs and real-world performance, then buy the BlackBerry DTEK60.
The verdict is in and it is simple: Strongly recommended.
The content on this site is provided without any warranty, express or implied. All opinions expressed on this site are those of the author and may contain errors or omissions.
NO MATERIAL HERE CONSTITUTES "INVESTMENT ADVICE" NOR IS IT A RECOMMENDATION TO BUY OR SELL ANY FINANCIAL INSTRUMENT, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO STOCKS, OPTIONS, BONDS OR FUTURES.
The author may have a position in any company or security mentioned herein. Actions you undertake as a consequence of any analysis, opinion or advertisement on this site are your sole responsibility. Market charts, when present, used with permission of TD Ameritrade/ThinkOrSwim Inc. Neither TD Ameritrade or ThinkOrSwim have reviewed, approved or disapproved any content herein. The Market Ticker content may be sent unmodified to lawmakers via print or electronic means or excerpted online for non-commercial purposes provided full attribution is given and the original article source is linked to. Please contact Karl Denninger for reprint permission in other media, to republish full articles, or for any commercial use (which includes any site where advertising is displayed.)
Submissions or tips on matters of economic or political interest may be sent "over the transom" to The Editor at any time. To be considered for publication your submission must include full and correct contact information and be related to an economic or political matter of the day. All submissions become the property of The Market Ticker.
Market charts, when present, used with permission of TD Ameritrade/ThinkOrSwim Inc. Neither TD Ameritrade or ThinkOrSwim have reviewed, approved or disapproved any content herein.
The Market Ticker content may be sent unmodified to lawmakers via print or electronic means or excerpted online for non-commercial purposes provided full attribution is given and the original article source is linked to. Please contact Karl Denninger for reprint permission in other media, to republish full articles, or for any commercial use (which includes any site where advertising is displayed.)
Submissions or tips on matters of economic or political interest may be sent "over the transom" to The Editor at any time. To be considered for publication your submission must include full and correct contact information and be related to an economic or political matter of the day. All submissions become the property of The Market Ticker.