BlackBerry, A Better Android than Android

“A better Android than Android” was a battle cry used by defenders of BlackBerry in various online platform battles. With PRIV and DTEK50, BlackBerry has officially done just that. And Quadrooter proves it.

It seems so long ago. The times that I spent in other forums and comments arguing for my favorite platform of mobile phone. During that time, there was one wild forum dweller that started a chant. The chant was “a better Android than Android”. The chant was very divisive. Those of us in the BB10 fan camp agreed, and kept the chant alive. The chant acted as bait for those BB10 naysayers who would come charging to argue against the chant.

I still say the chant was true. I still say that at that time, BB10 was a better Android than Android. At that point, BlackBerry had really opened up the Android run time in BB10. The days of having to side-load Android apps was behind us. We could now install those apps directly from various app stores, and the Amazon App Store came preloaded on our phones. At that point, regardless of what those BB10 naysayers said, most Android apps ran very well on our phones. All but the Google apps that required Google Play Services. In all honesty, I didn’t need those apps. It was no loss. I was able to download and use all the apps I needed on my trusty BlackBerry Z10. In fact, I ran in to more issues finding apps that would run on my Samsung Galaxy Tablet than I did finding apps that would run on my Z10. With my Samsung Galaxy Tablet running a full official version of Android, it seemed as if I was always running in to the dreaded “this app is not available for your device” message. Add to this the fact that BB10 ran these android apps in a sandbox, scanned these apps before installation, and outside of those apps, you had a BB10 phone with all it’s out of the box goodness and the Hub! Indeed, BlackBerry 10 was a better Android than Android. And those that say it wasn’t? They’re wrong.

But times have changed. Google has moved Android along. Those of us on modern Android phones are now on the ridiculously named Marshmallow (6.0). We are awaiting the equally ridiculously named Nouget (7.0). Google has pushed developers to include Google Play Services on all their apps. We all know that most these apps don’t need this, but it’s a way for Google to ensure that these apps are only available to phones which Google approves of. BB10 phones are something which Google does not approve of. The BB10 android run time is sadly stuck a few versions behind. The biggest change of course, is the BlackBerry PRIV and the BlackBerry DTEK50.

BlackBerry is now producing full fledged Android phones. Two of them in fact, with two more on the way. So how do they measure up? Is BlackBerry still a better Android than Android?

BlackBerry’s first attempt at an Android phone did something which no other Android OEM has done before. BlackBerry secured Android. Now some will tell you that they didn’t do anything new. Some will say that other OEM’s had already secured Android. Some will point to things like the Black Phone and Samsung Knox. Some equate encryption with security. Well, truth be told, it’s part of it. But it’s not all that’s needed.

BlackBerry has utilized full disk encryption. BlackBerry has used a hardened kernel. BlackBerry has created a hardware root of trust, and a secure boot. Do I know exactly what all this is? Of course not. I actually know very little on the technical side of what BlackBerry has done. You see, I’m not a very technical guy. But there are some things I do know. Samsung Knox security works by locking down the phone. Very much like how enterprises handled BlackBerry devices back in the 90’s. It’s not the 90’s anymore folks, and the Priv and DTEK50 don’t require aspects to be locked down to increase the security. The Black Phone’s security is based on having everything encrypted and communications going through a VPN to another Black Phone. Black Phone users had best be good at selling their friends on Black Phone, or else there’s not much of a point.

We can look at security in very many ways. If I’m looking at hardware security, I’m going to look at one very basic aspect. Has the phone been rooted? Can the phone be rooted? If it can be rooted, then there is a vulnerability there that has not been fixed. There’s a vulnerability that can be exploited, and has been. It means that there is a method for malware to take your phone over. Most importantly, it means that the phone is not secure. Samsungs are rooted everyday. In fact there are many out there that love to root their phones and tinker with them. That’s all well and good, but we also know that those that tinker aren’t to concerned about the security of the phone. I am. The Black Phone was very publicly rooted. There is only one phone manufacturer that has produced an Android phone that hasn’t been rooted yet. And that’s BlackBerry.

But we have seen even this put at risk recently. The Quadrooter vulnerability left the top phones in the mobile landscape open to various attacks which could result in phones being rooted. The vulnerability was based in the drivers for Qualcomm chipsets, and our BlackBerry Android devices were affected alongside other devices like the latest Nexus and Samsung Galaxy phones.

This is the moment that we had been dreading. The moment we hoped wouldn’t come, but we knew would. The moment that a vulnerability was discovered that would affect our beloved BlackBerry phones. The fact of the matter is, vulnerabilities happen. They just do. And no device will ever be immune to having vulnerabilities discovered. Although BlackBerry came damned close with BB10. But we all know that at some point, even our BlackBerry devices will be affected. How do we judge when a vulnerability is discovered, or an exploit happens that affects ‘us’ as equally as ‘them’? We judge by how the threat is handled.

Google has been very good as of late about addressing security concerns in monthly security patches. BlackBerry has been the best at pushing these patches out to users. There is no other OEM that has beat BlackBerry in pushing these patches out.

The Quadrooter was a different story though. As stated before, this was a vulnerability located in the drivers for the Qualcomm chipset. What this means is that this vulnerability needed to be patched by Qualcomm. And they did. They patched the vulnerabilities and sent these patches to their partners. Those partners being anyone that uses Qualcomm chipsets in their devices. The first three patches for the four vulnerabilities were ready in time for Google’s August security patch that went off without a hitch. Well, without a hitch for those OEM’s that also push out the patches to their users. There’s not many, but BlackBerry is one. Typically the first one.

One vulnerability remained unpatched. It arrived too late for Google to include in the August patch, and they have promised it will be there in the September patch. This might just be good enough. Then again, it might not be. Although the Quadrooter vulnerabilities made big news because of just how many devices were affected, there was not any known exploits found in the wild. Not yet anyway. And hopefully not before September when Google releases the patch. And hopefully not before the various OEM’s send this patch to their users. Well, if they ever do.

What is good enough for Google, and what is good enough for OEM’s that are awaiting Google’s patch, was not good enough for BlackBerry. BlackBerry took it upon themselves not to wait, and pushed this patch out to it’s users. BlackBerry was the first to patch the Quadrooter vulnerabilities for its users.

The BlackBerry Priv and DTEK50 are running a near stock version of Android, on top of BlackBerry security. The devices come with the amazing BlackBerry Hub, Calendar, keyboard and Tasks which all BlackBerry users know and love, pre-installed. And most important of all, when users are put at risk, BlackBerry actually cares enough to race in to action to protect the user.

There’s just no argument anymore. The answer is clear.

BlackBerry has made a better Android than Android.



Founder & Owner of UTB Blogs. Former BlackBerry Elite. When I'm not talking or writing about BlackBerry, you'll find me using my BlackBerry.