PRIV by BlackBerry
BlackBerry. They were once synonymous with the very word smartphone. Now, they are seen as little more than a memory. A forgotten giant waiting to be gobbled up. They have tried, and failed, to compete with the likes of iOS and Android. Well, you know what they say about if you can't beat them, join them…?
The PRIV by BlackBerry is the company's latest attempt in a saving grace. The flagship is also a shift in their smartphone platform of choice. Yep, the newest BlackBerry runs Android. And I couldn't be happier.
While I am in the minority that really likes BB10, I also recognize that BlackBerry couldn't continue on it's existing path with their in house solution. The app selection just wasn't there to compete with the monsters of the App Store and Google Play. They had to make a move, and Android was the only one that makes sense.Software
Honestly, I'm impressed with how BlackBerry has handled the transition. I was afraid that they would “Samsung” the software, but overall, it's a pretty stock Android experience. With the exception of the notifications tray all the BlackBerry tweaks have been very subdued. You have quite a bit of control out of how much you allow BlackBerry to influence the UI of the PRIV. Most selections by the Waterloo department come in the form of stand alone apps that you have the ability to opt in and out of at your pleasure.
The biggest of these apps has to be the BlackBerry Hub. While I found it a refreshing take on the notification paradigm on BB10, I don’t find it as useful when paired with Android. Android already has a rich notification shade that is more than adequate, and surpasses the Hub in some ways. I found the inclusion of both to be redundant and soon turned off the Hub. If BlackBerry could provide a way to opt users into turning off the traditional shade, and implement some of the great Hub peak/gestures, I might reconsider. However, for now, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
Security has always been a mainstay of the BlackBerry ethos, and they claim to be providing measures for Android as well. Some are a little hard to see like the hardened Linux kernel the PRIV uses in substitute of those provided by default. Meanwhile, others are a little more consumer facing like the Dtek app that provides a real time evaluation of apps and their web and data privileges as they are being used in daily operations.Keyboard
While I think the move to Android is the bigger story, many would argue that the addition of the PRIV’s slide out hardware keyboard is even more significant to the Android landscape. It’s been a long time since we have seen a true physical keyboard partnered with a rendition of Google’s mobile software. And personally, I think it’s great!
I have longed, not only for physical keys, but for a portrait slider at that. And BlackBerry has delivered a really good experience. The keys seem cramped on first use, but within a day or so I found myself comfortably flying through texts and email. Another awesome carry over from recent BlackBerry’s is the touch sensitive keys found on the PRIV. This feature was first found on the Passport, and allows for the keys to be used much like a laptop trackpad enabling scrolling with just a brush of the keys. It may not seem like much at first, but you soon grow enamoured by the screen real estate you save by not constantly covering your screen with your fingers when scrolling through data.
The touch sensitive keyboard adds to proficiency as well. You are presented with auto correction and suggestions on the screen while typing and swiping up on the physical keys found below that word will auto complete the suggested options. Once you train your brain to accept this feature it really is quite fluid. You can also control the cursor with a double tap of the keyboard and slide the cursor where needed to adjust text without having to hunt and tap with the onscreen options and a finger.Camera
BlackBerry has never been known for the quality of their cameras, but the PRIV is surprisingly good. It’s by far the best BlackBerry camera to date, and sits well in the upper echelon of Android cameras. You will produce really good photos in well lit, outdoor environments, while having above average success in less than stellar low light scenarios.
One negative of the camera is it’s kinda slow. While it never caused me to totally miss a shot, it did present me with more focus lag than I feel is present from the likes of top tier Android OEMs. Samsung and LG both offer a much faster experience, and BlackBerry should make this a focus in the next few software updates.Screen
The display for the PRIV is a partnership between Samsung and BlackBerry, and it shows immediately on picking up the device. The colors are crisp and have a pop to them that most Samsung users will find familiar. The 5.4 inch AMOLED is also curved much like the Galaxy Edge series, although not at quite a pronounced angle. It does, however, lend to the ease of sliding out the keyboard underneath.Internals
Speaking of underneath, the PRIV offers adequate horsepower to justify flagship status. The unit is driven by a Snapdragon 808 CPU paired with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage space. Add it all up with a microSD expansion slot, and you have more than enough room and powertrain to take on almost any usage case. I saw lag at times, but I would put it on par with other 808 devices, like the Nexus 5x. I personally prefer the 810, but most will be more than happy.Battery
The Waterloo engineers have the battery of the PRIV rated for an estimated 22 hours of mixed use, and I’d say that’s achievable depending on your demand. I found the PRIV got me through a normal 12 hour day starting at 4am with around 55% left at the end of my work day. I usually saw around 18-20 hours hitting around the 20% mark at bedtime.Conclusion
I really enjoyed my two weeks with the BlackBerry PRIV. The hardware is superb with a unique addition to the Android market with the slide out keyboard. Many will say the physical keyboard is dead, but I’d say it’s just been forgotten a little. I may not be better, or faster, on one in comparison to the on screen offerings, but it just feels better.
Android also could use a bump from BlackBerry on the software side of things. Privacy and security are becoming more and more a negative talking point surrounding Android. BlackBerry may not be the cure, but I do think it can contribute, and improve, the default offerings by Google.
I guess the big question is should you buy the PRIV? I would say an overwhelming yes. The PRIV is a great alternative to those being sold by the Samsungs and Moto of the world. It has a unique hardware combination that I hope we see more of in the future. A refreshing break from the black and silver slabs in the Android market. Hey BlackBerry, give me an Android Passport already! Check out www.att.com/cellphones
for more info and ordering options.