BlackBerry’s first Android phone, the Priv, reviewed

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It may seem odd for BlackBerry to pair its latest handset with someone else’s software, but that’s exactly what the Canadian company has done with the Priv (rhymes with “Viv”).

It’s a new smartphone that marries BlackBerry’s legendary handset design prowess with Google’s Android operating system.

It’s a good marriage, too, as it gives lovers of high-quality phone engineering something to “ooh” and “aah” over while also addressing what many consumers perceive to be the company’s greatest weakness – its operating system.

While serious users won’t necessarily agree with that – BlackBerry is, after all, the only company whose phones are preferred in high-security corporate and governmental environments – on-the-ground consumers just haven’t taken to BB10-powered phones in sufficient numbers to bring BlackBerry’s revenues back up.

The right kind of hybrid design

That could change with the Priv. It’s one of the most lovingly-crafted phones BlackBerry has ever brought out, and crams in everything a discerning consumer could want: a high-resolution 5.4-inch touchscreen with curved edges, an incredibly sturdy build, excellent 22-hour-plus battery life (moderate use) and stellar everyday performance that complements the best of the company’s software – BBM, BlackBerry Hub, which comes pre-loaded.

It would be fair to say that BlackBerry’s designers took everything its customers liked about BB10 and added it to a custom version of Android, offering everyone something to like all wrapped up in the comfortable, familiar interface of Google’s OS. And we believe it’s a smart move, because during the review period we found that nearly everything on the phone just works, and that’s important. Especially if you’re trying to win over potential new customers.

Superb slider

As good as the rest of the phone is, undoubtedly the Priv’s pièce de résistance is its sliding mechanism; not only is it as smooth as we’ve ever used, but it hides a physical QWERTY keyboard that’s more than just a wonderfully-engineered input device: it’s a trackpad as well.

To use it, simply slide the phone open and gently glide your finger over the keys; pages scroll smoothly and quickly. Surfing the web and reading emails this way feels even better than we thought it might, and reverting to a phone that doesn’t work that way felt like a big step backwards.

The beauty of the Priv is that you can use it either as a touchscreen-only phone as the screen itself is so big, or switch between the physical and touch keyboard with the flick of your thumb and use whichever input method is most convenient. It’s another clever design touch that “just works”.

BB_Priv_Keyboard_small
The physical keyboard is as good as it looks, if not better.

Software

So physically and in terms of its Android-based ease of use, this is already a brilliant phone. But BlackBerry didn’t stop there: as we mentioned earlier, the Priv’s software also provides excellent security, work/life balance and is compatible with Android for Work, meaning it fits into any corporate environment with minimal fuss and maintains the integrity, separation and security of personal and work-related data.

BB_DTEK

It’s not all great news, though: the newest security feature, called DTEK, is supposed to “help you protect the privacy of your data” by giving you direct control of your security settings, and showing you how secure your phone is at a glance, but it’s not particularly useful. Its most promising feature, alerting you about which apps are accessing what information and for how long, is especially useless as that’s all it does. You can’t then do anything about any problems, because DTEK doesn’t suspend what that app is doing and then ask you for permission to continue – it merely informs you. It’s still up to you to set permissions or uninstall the apps manually.

Still, this is a minor issue. Overall, the Priv is a brilliant smartphone whether you’re a corporate executive or just a regular someone looking for an exceptional handset that looks, performs and feels amazing. If it weren’t for that price and the questionable usefulness of DTEK, it’d be as close to a perfect 10 as we’ve seen from BlackBerry.

[su_box title=”Details” box_color=”#f37021″]

  • Price: R12 999
  • Dimensions:                147 (184 opened) x 77.2 x 9.4 (mm)
  • Operating system: Android 5.1.1 Lollipop
  • Display: 4-inch QHD (2560 x 1440, 540ppi)
  • Rear camera:                18MP
  • Front camera:                2MP
  • Storage, internal 32GB
  • Storage, expandable microSD
  • RAM:                               3GB
  • Processor:                8GHz hexa-core Snapdragon 808
  • Battery:                3,410mAh
  • SIM type:                Nano[/su_box]

 

Deon du Plessis

Deon du Plessis

Deon got his first taste of PC gaming at the tender age of 11 when his father bought an 8088 XT, ostensibly to "help him with his homework". Instead, it introduced him to Leisure Suit Larry, King Graham, Sonny Bonds and many more, and Deon has been a PC gamer and hardware enthusiast ever since. He landed his first professional writing gig in 2006 at a prestigious local PC magazine, a very happy happenstance as he got to write for a living about things he loves - tech, PCs, gaming, and everything in between. He's been writing about it all ever since, and loves every minute of it.

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