For physical keyboard devotees, there’s not much choice in the smartphone world right now, but BlackBerry does a decent job with the Priv.
There’s a slight metal ridge towards the bottom of the Priv, between the screen glass and front-facing speaker, enabling you to get your thumb under and push the handset up to reveal the keyboard. The BlackBerry Priv isn’t exactly small, and nor is it lightweight. At 147 x 77.2 x 9.4mm the Priv is sizeable in the hand, although not completely dominating. For intensive periods of writing you’ll want to hold on with both mitts, especially when you consider that the Priv tips the scales at 192g. Flip the phone up to reveal the keyboard and the height extends to 184mm, which feels very top-heavy when you’re tapping away on the keys – but more on that in the next section. The glass front surrounded by a metal rim, which is raised at the top and bottom to protect the screen when it’s face-down, makes the Priv appear suitably premium. Pick it up, though, and the illusion is somewhat shattered. BlackBerry has clad the back and sides of the Priv in what it calls a tensile weave, which basically means it’s not metal or glass, but what feels like plastic. The plus side here is that the material is extremely grippy, and the rounded edges of the BlackBerry Priv means it can be held securely in hand. The rear of the Priv is dominated by a sizeable, protruding Schneider-Kreuznach camera sensor, with a dual-LED flash to its side. These, plus the iconic BlackBerry logo, are the only features on the flat rear of the handset. On top you’ll find trays for the nanoSIM and microSD card, while on the base a centralized microUSB port resides next to a headphone jack.
Display and sound
BlackBerry saw fit to equip the Priv with a 5.43-inch plastic AMOLED display with with a Quad HD ( 2,560 x 1,440 ) resolution and a pixel density of 540 ppi. Using AMOLED means brighter, warmer colors and enables BlackBerry to add a slight curve to the Priv’s display, at the expense of accurate color reproduction. The Android app launcher you’ll find on Samsung’s Note Edge, BlackBerry hasn’t seen fit to do much with the sloping sides of its curved screen. The only really worthwhile use, so far, is that when the display is off and charging, a green power indicator bar runs up the right-hand curve. It’s rather sweet, since it creeps towards the top of the device the fuller your battery gets. Again, not a groundbreaking piece of work, but it’s a cute touch from a company that’s rarely known for such fripperies. Audio-wise, the bottom of the chin is given over to a short, but wide speaker hidden behind a band of laser-drilled holes. It’s no HTC BoomSound but the setup is clear enough to provide mono sound for a whole room.
The Priv comes with an hexa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor, clocked at 1.8 GHz, and backed by the Adreno 418 GPU and 3 GB of RAM. The Snapdragon 808 may not be the latest and greatest, but this has been the go-to processing package for a few other flagships out there as well, and the performance remains as good as expected here. There haven’t been any problems doing just about anything on this device, and any stutters and bugs we did run into felt more like the fault of BlackBerry’s Android iteration. General web browsing and media consumption go along without incident, and the device handles gaming very well too. Most of the work BlackBerry faithful will do on the Priv will involve the built-in Hub and other productivity tools, which all proved to be snappy. When BlackBerry gets an even better handle on their version of Android, the performance aspect will improve more, but even now, the Priv is still more than able to get the job done.
This is easily the most important aspect of the PRIV. BlackBerry adopting Android is HUGE. Not only because it is the first instance in the company’s history where it hasn’t used proprietary software, but also because it is arguably the only card the company has left to play before calling it quits for good as a handset maker. Sensibly, BlackBerry has left Android’s UX well alone. Boot up the handset and what you’re presented with, after logging in, is essentially the same deal as you get aboard Nexus and Motorola handsets. And this is a very good thing, indeed — Android no longer needs a custom skin layered over the top of it, despite what Samsung and HTC would have you believe. There are whiffs of BlackBerry smattered throughout, however, such as the Android version of the BlackBerry Hub, accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the screen, as well as the traditional BB notification icons. Everything else, more or less, functions just as it does on normal Android handsets. The app tray is a down-scroller here, widgets and whatnot are accessed via swiping right and there is something called the BlackBerry Productivity Tab, which sits on the right hand side of the display and can be accessed from anywhere in the phone. Inside you’ll find your calendar, task list, BlackBerry Hub, and contacts list. It’s handy, but you need to get used to using it before it really comes into its own.
BlackBerry says that the name “Priv” stands for Privacy and Privilege. The latter seems more like marketing speak, but the former is important to most of us in an age where it seems like everyone’s vulnerable to prying eyes. BlackBerry says it bolstered the Android kernel with additional security features like “Hardware Root of Trust,” which the company describes “a hardware-based root of trust is established during processor manufacturing by injecting cryptographic material that’s later used for device authentication and secure boot.” The secure boot sequence guarantees only a BlackBerry signed OS can be booted and constantly analyzes the hardware and software for any tampering. BlackBerry wants to offer a secure phone without getting in your hair. There is a compelling application called DTEK that lets you know how secure your device is, and which apps have access to what permissions. An indicator points to red for an insecure phone, yellow for a moderately secure one and green for an excellent security rating.
The Priv is equipped with an 18-megapixel camera, certified by German lens manufacturer Schneider-Kreuznach. On paper, the camera has a lot going for it. Features like phase detect autofocus mean you’ll have a better shot at capturing the action, and the dual color LED flash promises to brighten up your shots without casting an unsightly blue or yellow haze on your subjects. The lens is quick to focus, but the images it churns out are riddled with noise. The automatic white balance is also a bit unreliable, and there’s no way to set it yourself. And while you can adjust the exposure on the fly, the camera’s app doesn’t offer many options. The front-facing, 2-megapixel camera doesn’t fare much better, and while it lacks a flash I suppose the manual exposure control could help. If you’d like to take selfies with friends and left your selfie stick at home, there’s a selfie panorama mode that’ll help you get everyone in the shot. Video playback fares better. It still isn’t as sharp as I’d like, and colors look a bit flat, but it’s plenty serviceable at 1080p. At 4K resolutions, you’re running into many of the same problems that you do when shooting photos. The phone also offers optical image stabilization for video, but it’s only available if you’re shooting at 1080p or 720p, at 30 frames per second.
BlackBerry has managed to squeeze a sizeable 3,410mAh non-removable battery in the Priv, which is one of the largest power packs in the 2015 flagship lineup. The Canadian firm claims the BlackBerry Priv is good for 22.5 hours of “mixed usage” on a single charge with, and to be fair the Priv does get close to that figure. This means the BlackBerry Priv pretty much matches the battery performance of its flagship rivals, with a full day now. If you do start running low the good news is that the BlackBerry Priv comes with Quick Charge, enabling you to get seven hours of usage from a half-hour charge – you will need the Quick Charge-enabled plug adapter to take advantage of this feature though.The edge screen also comes in handy when you’re charging the Priv, displaying a slender battery meter showing the handset’s battery percentage.
It’s a great high-end Android phone, especially when you consider who’s made it. BlackBerry smartphone with all the apps you want, with a screen you can actually enjoy videos and games on. The flakey performance and absence of a properly premium design, coupled with a price tag which makes it more expensive than the established Android flagship players, makes the BlackBerry Priv very difficult to recommend over its closest rivals.