BlackBerry PRIV review
|Review: November 2015|
In a nutshell: The PRIV by BlackBerry is a unique phone, running the Android Lollipop OS together with BlackBerry apps and security software. It has a unique design too, with a slide-out keyboard, and a double curved edge display, rather like the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. It's not cheap, but it offers a unique combination of premium build, physical keyboard, large screen and Android apps.
The PRIV by BlackBerry is a make-or-break handset for the Canadian company. After years of floundering, and a failed attempt to capture market share with the BlackBerry 10 operating system, BlackBerry has reinvented itself one more time by releasing the company's first Android smartphone. The PRIV is not just another Android smartphone however. Oh no.
Design - slide-out keyboard
The PRIV is a large phone with a premium feel. It's as heavy as even the iPhone 6s Plus, and thicker too, so this is definitely one for people who like their phones plus-sized. The exterior of the phone is plastic, but the chassis is aluminium, making it strong and sturdy.
The killer feature here is of course the slide-out keyboard. This slides out very smoothly, with a satisfying action, and is a typical high-quality BlackBerry keyboard. It's actually the screen that slides up, rather than the keyboard sliding down, which means that the body of the keyboard is solid, with no movement. The slide-out action can also be used to answer a call or unlock the screen. At S21, using the slide got us quite excited and more than a bit nostalgic about those Samsung slide phones from a decade ago.
If you're heavily into typing, or are coming from a traditional BlackBerry, you'll find the physical keys invaluable. Like the Passport, the backlit keyboard is actually touch-sensitive - you can use it like the trackpad on a laptop. The keyboard has features like contextual auto-correction, next-word prediction and a personalised learning engine.
And yet, we found that modern virtual keyboards are now so much second-nature that the benefits of the physical keyboard weren't huge. This will no doubt be a matter of personal preference. The phone has an on-screen virtual keyboard too, of course, and this is available when the slide is closed.
The lock/power keys, volume keys and mute are located on the side of the phone, and are perhaps a little too close together for our liking. We do like the LED call indicator though.
Dual curved edge display
The PRIV's screen is surely the largest on any BlackBerry phone - thanks in part to the slide-out keyboard in place of a fixed one. It's a 5.4 inch screen - larger than most flagship handsets - and has an extremely high Quad HD 2560 x 1440 resolution, which equates to a very finely-detailed pixel density of 540ppi. It's of AMOLED-type, like in Samsung's Galaxy phones, allowing it to reach much higher contrast ratios than conventional LCD displays.
Intriguingly, the screen is curved at the left and right edges, just like Samsung's Galaxy S6 Edge. The PRIV makes use of the edges slightly differently however. When charging, a vertical bar along the edge indicates charging progress. If you swipe in from the edge, the screen displays a few selected apps, and you can tap on these to see a preview. This can be used to check email, for instance.
Android Lollipop plus BlackBerry apps
This phone is the first from BlackBerry to run Android. You'll find Google Play Store and a good range of apps already on the phone, including Chrome, Gmail, Google Maps, Hangouts and more.
In addition to Android apps, the PRIV has a variety of BlackBerry apps pre-installed. These include BBM, BlackBerry Keyboard, BlackBerry Hub and DTEK, BlackBerry's new privacy software, which gives the device its name.
This is definitely a good device for the paranoid. All data on the device is encrypted by default and the integrity of the OS is verified every time it boots up. The DTEK software monitors how apps use the microphone, camera, location and your personal information. In addition, instead of conventional passwords or a fingerprint sensor, which BlackBerry says can be easily compromised by hackers, the PRIV uses a "picture password" which involves sliding your finger over the screen to align a pre-selected digit in a moveable number grid over a pre-selected location in a picture. It's an unusual way to unlock a phone, but supposedly more secure.
At the heart of the PRIV is Qualcomm's Snapdragon 808 processor. This is a 6-core 1.8GHz processor as used in the LG G4. It's a step-down from the Snapdragon 810 used on phones like the Sony Xperia Z5, but in the real world the differences are negligible, and the PRIV is fast. It helps that the phone is equipped with a huge 3GB of RAM, which helps significantly when multi-tasking, which is what every BlackBerry longs to do.
The PRIV has ample 32GB of flash storage available, and a microSD slot that can handle accept memory cards up to an incredible 2TB of memory.
BlackBerry's best camera
Traditional BlackBerry phones had rubbish cameras, but in 2015 that's not acceptable, especially in an Android phone that has aspirations to be a mainstream device. Hence, BlackBerry has given the PRIV its best ever camera.
It's an 18 megapixel camera with a BSI sensor, HDR mode, fast Phase Detect Auto Focus (PDAF), dual LED flash and optical image stabilisation (OIS). That's a heady array of features for a camera phone, and the camera is very capable. We'd say that overall it doesn't perform as well as the best camera phones from Samsung, Sony or Apple, but it's still good.
It's competent when it comes to video as well, capturing 4K video at 30fps or 1080p at 60fps. Video stabilisation combined with OIS lets you record very smooth video even in poor lighting.
The front camera is fixed-focus, but is ideal for selfies or video calling. With a 2 megapixel sensor and 720p HD video, it also features image and video stabilisation for shake-free video chats via Google Hangouts.
The phone supports a wide range of 4G LTE bands, as well as 3G HSPA+ and GSM networks. It supports the latest Wi-Fi standards too, as well as Bluetooth 4.1 LE, micro USB 2.0, NFC and a headphone jack. GPS and GLONASS positioning are included, as well as a wide array of sensors.
Strong battery performance
A phone such as this obviously needs a large battery, and the PRIV has been given one. The 3410mAh is one of the largest on any smartphone and is sufficient for up to 22 hours of mixed use.
Conclusion - a unique Android phone
This is a very different direction for BlackBerry, but an inspired one. BlackBerry 10 failed to reach more than a small niche of the market, but by embracing Android, the company can reach out to a much wider demographic, including many former BlackBerry owners. In our experience, BlackBerry devices tend to grow on you, and this has certainly been the case here. We were sceptical at first, but as time went on, we came to appreciate the phone more and more.
It's quite an expensive device, as you'd expect from a BlackBerry, but for the target market that won't be an issue. In any case, it's cheaper than the iPhone 6s.
The company has produced something unique with the PRIV, and it has many attractive features. Some may be drawn by the privacy software and BlackBerry apps, some by the keyboard, some by the premium looks and unusual styling. All of these aspects have been well executed, and the device delivers on many different levels. If the package attracts you, or if you simply long for something different, we'd encourage you to consider the PRIV. After all, it's an Android device, so the risk of the unknown is small.
BlackBerry PRIV features include:
- Operating system: Android 5.1 Lollipop with BlackBerry apps
- Touch-enabled slide-out keyboard with gesture support
- 18 megapixel camera with BSI, HDR, autofocus, optical image stabilisation, 5x digital zoom, LED flash and 4K video recording
- 2 megapixel fixed-focus front camera with 720p HD video
- Curved AMOLED touchscreen: 5.4 inches, 2560 x 1440 pixels
- On-screen or multi-colour LED indicator
- Processor: 64-bit Qualcomm 8992 Snapdragon 808 Hexa-Core, Adreno 418 600MHz GPU, 3GB RAM
- Memory: 32GB flash memory, plus microSD memory card slot (up to 2TB)
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1 LE, micro USB 2.0, 3.5mm stereo headset port, NFC, aGPS, GLONASS
- Sensors: Accelerometer, Activity Monitor, Altimeter, Ambient light, Gyroscope, Magnetometer, Proximity, Time of Flight
- Networks: LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 13, 17, 20, 28), 3G HSPA+, quad-band GSM
- Size: 147 x 77 x 9.4 mm
- Weight: 192g
- Battery: 3410 mAh
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BlackBerry PRIV user reviews
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Average rating from 4 reviews:
Reviewed by Horza
from South Africa
on 29th Jan 2016
A nice device.
I cannot see it rescuing BB at its price level though.
Since I didn't buy it and this being an unsupported opinion, I must give it the current average of 5 stars.
Reply by M
on 9th Feb 2016
If you don't have one why comment? We look on here for user reviews.
Reviewed by Adrianeds
on 22nd Dec 2015
I'm not one for a second review but just thought this warrant's one. The Blackberry Priv got an update on the 17th of Dec, & want a change, everything just works superbly, from productivity to the camera. everything in the camera has improved, now it's a very solid camera, day & night. Everything about the Priv is coming together nicely, it's a truly awesome beast in every department. I'm hooked.
Reviewed by Adrianeds
on 16th Dec 2015
Got the Blackberry Priv couple of weeks ago, I have been a Blackberry user before, a few years ago admittedly. Lately I have had a few Sony phones, with my family using iphones, HTC'S & Samsung. I loved the Sony's & still do, but I was ready for a change. To some degree I agree with Tris, but coming back to Blackberry after a break, this is far more of a business beast than the rest put together. It's got the office right in the front with your name on the door, however, it's got a Christmas party going on in the back keeping your life organised. It's a really good phone, there are a couple of things to iron out, but nothing that a software update can't cure. And, the camera, is excellent, even when compared against Sony, Samsung, iphones etc. This phone should sell, & I think it will sell over here in the UK. All major retailers in Canada, & to some extent the US have been selling out so hopefully good news for Blackberry. If you have any doubt, don't, just go out & buy you won't be disappointed. And thanks to Tris also, your reviews are excellentconcise & to the point.
Reply by Tris
on 1st Feb 2016
Android is the future of Blackberry and as much as I love BB10, I have to admit that it just isn't for the masses. Priv is the stepping stone that is needed to save the hardware business. Only Android can do this for them.
Reviewed by Tris
on 26th Nov 2015
Ive been waiting for this phone for a long time. I'm a well versed blackberry 10 user and swear by it for all things related. It's hard to rate the Priv. First off it depends which camp you have come from. The unique features it offers such as the slider keyboard and the curved display are great features and really add something. Parts that are not so great are things like the hub. It's clunky on the Priv and isn't always accurate with notifications. It's built well enough and the screen quiet simply put is stunning. The front speaker isn't great but it's in a very good position to give the best possible sound it can generate. It's not skinned to high heaven which is a real bonus for performance. It's battery is more then up to the job. Bit leggy on shutter speed on the camera.... But it does take very good pictures. All in all its a great device. Going back to which camp you came from before the Priv. Here's the thing. If you came from Android it will offer you a unique and outstanding experience. It really is one of the best Android devices around. If you have come from a Blackberry 10 device, and more specifically a passport it has very little to offer unless you really do need all those apps. For a productive bb10 user who doesn't use his phone as an entertainment device and has to have top notch security and productivity, stay with bb10. You will only switch to the Priv to try and use it like a bb10. This isn't a bb10 experience. This is Android through and through. In short this is a great Android phone. If you need apps and your on bb10, this is you best bet. If you switch you will gain apps but you will loose productivity. It's also my opinion that the keyboard isn't that easy to use as even the bold 9900. You must really be ready to move on from bb10 and accept the limitations that Android has over the productivity of bb10. Bb10 is for work and Android is for play. Priv for consumer and passport for corporate. It's that simple.