PRIV by BlackBerry

The world's first BlackBerry secure smartphone powered by Android

PRIV by BlackBerry has arrived. PRIV is the world’s first BlackBerry secure smartphone powered by Android. It combines the privacy and productivity you’ve come to expect from BlackBerry with the full Android app ecosystem. The new Android smartphone from BlackBerry brings flagship specifications to a curved QHD OLED display atop a touch-enabled physical keyboard with SmartSlide.

This device is aimed at those who want zero compromises when it comes to their mobile handset. Aimed at enterprise users wanting more apps, but built to appeal to consumers at large, PRIV stands tall as one of the most interesting devices released in 2015.
* PRIV was used in conjunction with a BlackBerry Passport during our review period.

DESIGN:

This is the best hardware BlackBerry has ever put to market; everything here was chosen with care. The back side is built with a light, yet grippy, glass-weave tech giving a premium feel. Reflective chassis buttons accent the device well and the black bezel gives the screen a waterfall effect. Thoughtfully, there’s a thin metal perimeter around the screen creating some delineation while also making the screen easier to move. Serious engineering has gone into the thinness of the slider mechanism. It’s solid, but smooth. The four-row physical keyboard beneath the screen is chiseled for serious business. PRIV feels very durable and the front-facing speaker adds to an aesthetic that looks uniquely futuristic.

DISPLAY:

The PRIV has a rich 5.4 inch dual-curve display, protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 4. Coming in at a resolution of 2560×1440, that means it has a whopping 540 PPI, whereas the iPhone 6S Plus only comes in at 401. The screen is OLED, meaning it offers saturated colors and deep black levels with less power consumption. The curve here is less pronounced than other displays, but this makes it easier to use in many cases. Overall viewing angles are great even outdoors, and the screen curve makes the device feel all the more thin in the hand. There’s no distortion of on screen images and the curved black bezel minimizes on screen reflections.

CAMERA:

BlackBerry has certified the optics on PRIV naming Schneider-Kreuznach on the camera ring. The 18MP module aims to integrate technologies found in professional cameras. Of note, optical image stabilization and phase detect auto-focus are present and lauded. The camera UI is plain and easy to use. Things like burst shooting, live filters and more are intuitive. 4K video and various 1080p options are available and video capture is phenomenal on the device. The mere 2MP front-facing camera is amateurish, but hardware shutter options like space and volume keys are a nice touch. The viewfinder runs at a high frame rate which keeps the subject and focus lifelike.

RECEPTION / CALL QUALITY / SOUND:

It works as a telephone. The front-facing speaker is audible, and phone calls across the earpiece are fair. There’s integrated BlackBerry Natural Sound technology to adapt the sound experience to your ear. There are a triad of microphones on the device which work in tandem to deliver a best-in-class audio experience. WiFi and cellular connectivity have been great. In comparison, PRIV offers stronger WiFi data speeds than the Passport. Across this review period, the device has never dropped out of data coverage – be it LTE or WiFi. BBM Voice calls on the device are truly remarkable for those looking for free WiFi calling.

PERFORMANCE:

PRIV executes at a high-end level. Many of its benchmark scores will be less than similar flagships. This is due, in part, to the full – always on – device encryption. With security enabled throughout, the device still hauls. Be it gaming or messaging, PRIV has kept up with all of our demands. As the OS and kernel set during the first few days, performance throttling and heat were noticed – but afterward, everything  improved, from 808 clock speed to GPU rendering. This BlackBerry does not compromise on performance to achieve its advanced security implementation, but it also remains a few milliseconds behind Nexus devices running Lolipop 5.1.1. Where software is concerned, BlackBerry can and will continue to optimize.

SOFTWARE:

This is no BlackBerry 10 OS. Android feels cumbersome at times, and the UI, while simple, is not intuitive or elegant, though Material Design looks great however. BlackBerry-made Android apps are gorgeous, but Android itself seems like a lazy regurgitation of mobile paradigms. It’s cramped with corners and settings and overlays that get in the way of real work. BlackBerry has done an honorable job adding in features such as Pop-Up Widgets to peek into apps, and the Productivity Edge to give a semblance of the Hub gesture from BlackBerry 10. There are swipe gestures here as well to access favored apps. All the BlackBerry experiences are opt-in and user defined, which is a smart way to leave the user in control of the otherwise stock Android experience.

BATTERY LIFE:

Coming in at 192 grams, PRIV weighs the exact same as the iPhone 6S Plus. A good deal of this heft comes from the large 3410 mAh battery integrated into the back of the handset. BlackBerry utilized the curved edge of the device to show a ‘Battery Edge.’ This edge travels from the USB connection up the curve of the screen, showing a visual indication of the device’s battery charge. The battery definitely powers through a full day of use. It’s no Passport in terms of battery life, but it’s a bigger battery than most of its direct Android competitors from LG, HTC and Samsung. The battery is rated at 22.5 hours of mixed use, and once your new phone habits die down, you’ll be surprised how reliable it is.

ECOSYSTEM:

Ecosystem is basically the entire reason this phone exists. Android is a vast array of applications and 3rd party support. These areas are where BlackBerry has struggled over the years. No longer. Running full Android gives PRIV an edge into Android Wear, Android Auto, Chromecast and many other Android ecosystem benefits, such as Google Play services. Couple this with access to 1.3 million applications and you’ll quickly realize why BlackBerry finally made the jump. There’s a solid BlackBerry app ecosystem that lives on Priv so BlackBerry users will still feel right at home after an adjustment period. Gmail, Google Maps, Drive and Google Now are all present here.

Reward your thumbs on the touch-enabled BlackBerry PRIV keyboard with SmartSlide

SHORTCUTS:

On PRIV, you can utilize a plethora of user-defined shortcuts. You can access them through custom icons which you can add to your home screen. In addition, you can use the physical keyboard as a launcher for a given application. For instance, you can program a short or long press to activate an application or function; you could hold the I key and launch Instagram, or set F to one Facebook or the Flashlight. Priv puts you in control so you can access what you want, super quickly. Think of it like a speed dial for apps – there are about 52 combinations you can setup. This allows you to refine the work flow on the device to your liking while extending the usability of the keyboard even further.

BLACKBERRY HUB:

Hub has some limitations in terms of third party integration with social apps like Twitter and Facebook. It’s an impressive implementation that gets close to BlackBerry 10 level. For 3rd party services, BlackBerry invokes or launches the respective app to allow the user to interact with notifications. Hub is a standalone application here, and things take a while to load and refresh compared to the in-built, always-on BlackBerry Hub from BB10. Still, the app itself looks great. You can pull down to look at upcoming calendar events and set different colors, gestures and settings for each connected account. As you install connectable applications, Hub prompts you to integrate it into the experience. 

KEYBOARDS:

BlackBerry pioneered them, and so of course PRIV has some of the best we’ve ever used. Be the on screen virtual keyboard or touch-enabled physical keyboard, BlackBerry has nailed the implementation of both input mediums here on PRIV. Gestures on the virtual keyboard allow it to excel in one-handed situations where the slide-out physical keyboard offers enhanced accuracy and tactile feedback. The keys are soft press and there is little travel between them. You’ll definitely need some time to acclimate your typing, but you’ll be able to type faster and with more accuracy once you get accustomed to the keys. You can also use the physical keyboard as a touchpad to navigate through the OS or applications, and even quick launch applications and shortcuts.

DTEK BY BLACKBERRY:

This app is the unsung hero of the PRIV. BlackBerry has built in privacy monitoring and suggestions to put the user in control of their privacy and security. DTEK monitors installed apps and allows you to drill down to how, and how frequently, applications access your personal information, such as your location, camera, microphone and contacts. DTEK also allows you to setup notifications so you know when an application is accessing specific app permissions. For instance, Outlook for Android had accessed my contacts over 1000 times and I’ve only opened the app one or two times. This gave me insight into the app’s abuse of my permissions and I deleted it on the spot. DTEK feels primped and ready for Android Marshmellow as well.

PRIV CAMERA SAMPLES:

PHOTO GALLERY:

The Good:

Unique hardware and powerful specifications, including a 4K camera and 32 GB on-board storage, make PRIV a well-rounded device for the mature, mobile professional who require as few compromises as possible. With DTEK and other security additions, PRIV stands out as one of the broadest BlackBerry releases in recent memory.

The Bad:

With a weak front-facing camera and adjustment period that comes with a hardware keyboard, PRIV finds itself at odds with cheaper devices established in the mobile space. PRIV feels as if it was built for Android Marshmallow 6.0, and the nascent feel of some software features may detract from the experience for some.

Design

90%

Display

90%

Camera

85%

Reception & Call Quality

90%

Performance

90%

Software

90%

Battery Life

90%

Ecosystem

95%

RATING

PRIV SCORES 90/100

\\ END //

Layout | Photography | Review by James Nieves
Edited by Alex Smith
Specification Slides by The World of Pootermobile

  • adrianeds

    Got mine when it came out, I’m very happy with it and everything has been getting better in-fact with each update. But since Marshmallow it has jumped a huge amount and cannot see me at present buying another phone. Never owned a Blackberry before, now I’m starting to see what I have missed, might think about buying the new Blackberry “Mercury” that’s how impressed I am, and get a Blackberry Passport so I can experience BB10. Great job by Blackberry.

  • Ed

    Great review, James. I’m making the switch from BB10 to Android and was about to pull the trigger on a Nexus 6P, but I kept coming back to how much I love the productivity of BB Hub, the BB calendar, and all of the other little BB quirks. Your review and information definitely helped make up my mind. Thank You!

  • ATInsider

    Can’t stand Android. There’s really nothing BlackBerry can do to chance this unless they can make Android identical to BB10. It would have been better to Perfect the so called Android App ecosystem experience on the BB10 OS rather going with a downgraded OS. Great Review nevertheless. So far Android lacks the capability of running like BB10, because its too old.
    Thank You

  • Amritha Alapati

    A lot of people love their Passport, so this review of Priv, makes us feel we are not leaving that much behind, when we make the big switch to Priv :)

    Thanks James, and great pics Pootermobile!

  • StephenBB81

    Great review. Except this line tainted the entire review for me “This is the best hardware BlackBerry has ever put to market; everything here was chosen with care”. The specs internally are the best they have used yes. But the build quality of the Priv is very Android device like. It has a plastic feel that we haven’t really had since the Q5 and Curve line. The build quality of the Passport is easily an order of magnitude higher. The device is beautiful and powerful, but typing on it is not as good as Classic nor Passport while I do like the 4 rows better than the 3. For me the Priv isn’t a no comprise device. It is a huge comprise device coming from BlackBerry 10 though an Android user or iPhone user would likely be happy with the software, and wouldn’t feel the difference in hardware quality that those coming from a Passport, Z30, or Classic would notice

    • Lol Passport had screen lifting issues, Classic had speaker problems. No hardware is perfect. I’ve owned every single one of the devices you mentioned and still feel as elaborated in the review. Thanks for taking them time to share your perspective nonetheless.