Itís hard to believe, but at one point Blackberry was a Smartphone market leader. Of course, the Smartphone industry moves at a brutal pace and now Blackberryís latest Operating System, BB10 is lagging behind.
So they have 2 choices; Keep plugging on with BB10 and devoting the kind of resources it takes to keep it up to date and competitive or switch to Android to help cut costs and to also broaden their devices appeal. Well, I guess thereís 3rd choice, they could jump from their burning platform and.. oh never mind.
Anyways, Blackberry has taken the plunge with their first Android device, the Priv. Letís check it out.
What about the Samsung Galaxy Note 5?
To me, the Privís closest competitor is the Note 5. If youíre concerned about the Note 5ís lack of a curved display, you can always get its sibling, the Galaxy S6 Edge+.
Otherwise, they compare quite well. Both have large QuadHD AMOLED displays, 32GB of storage and powerful Cortex A57 based SoCís.
The Exynos in the Note 5 is a bit faster than the Privís 808. That said, the real-world difference between the Exynos and the Snapdragon is graphics performance. While both are more than adequate, the Exynos is a better choice if youíre a heavy gamer.
You also get 4GB of RAM on the Note 5 vs 3GB on the Priv. The difference between 4 and 3 is minimal.
The Note 5 comes with Samsungís S-Pen stylus while the Priv counters with a built-in keyboard. Iíll be completely honest; While both of these unique features look useful, I donít think that I use either of these features. The S-Pen works well but the Note 5 is just too small to make writing on it useful.
The Privís keyboard looks cool but in 2016, I find using the on-screen keyboard is just way faster. The area behind the keyboard is also too thin which makes awkward to handle.
The real difference between the two is in the screen, speakers and camera. The Privís screen is quite good but the Note 5ís is noticeably brighter. The Note 5ís speakers are also more powerful and the camera is better.
Then thereís the fingerprint reader. In 2016, you shouldnít even consider a flagship device if it doesnít have a reader. Everyone should lock their phone and a fingerprint reader just makes it so much easier to unlock.
The only feature the Priv has over the Note is a MicroSD card.
Then thereís the price, the Note 5 isnít cheap but the Priv is even more expensive.
Unless you absolutely must have a Android device with some Blackberry customizations, the Note 5 is a better choice. Heck, if you want a keyboard, Samsung actually makes a keyboard which you can snap onto the Note 5 though it doesnít have quite the same functionality as the Privís.
Besides the Note 5, other phones to consider include:
+faster Android updates
+better still photos
+bigger brighter screen
+better still photos
ZTE Axon Pro (review coming soon):
+much lower price
- 5.4Ē Super AMOLED display
- 2560x1440 resolution
- 3GB RAM
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 808
- 18MP rear camera
- f/2.2 lens
- OIS, phase detection AF
- 2MP front camera
- 3410mAh battery
- 802.11AC 2x2
- BT 4.0
- LTE bands (Canada): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 20, 25, 28, 29, 30, 38, 40, 41
- LTE bands (US): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 12, 17, 20, 29, 30
- 147 x 77.2 x 9.4mm
The display curves at the edges. Unlike Samsungís Edge phones, the Priv is a tiny bit thicker so I actually find it much easier to use.
The back has a carbon fiber finish on it.
I noticed that the side on the back piece has a tiny bit of give to it when you hold it. Itís quite distracting. On my unit, the loose part is actually half way down the left side so it almost feels like youíre pressing a button when it shifts.
I wish the buttons on the sides stuck out a tiny bit more. They have a decent feel when theyíre pressed in.
The curved display and carbon fibre back really help the Priv to standout but its calling card is the QWERTY keyboard which slides out the bottom.
The sliding action is reasonably smooth which is impressive when you consider just how large the Priv is. Previous Blackberrys with slide out keyboard, like the Torch, were much smaller.
The Torch was small enough that it still felt balanced when you pulled out the keyboard. The Priv, on the other hand, is substantially taller, while the keyboard isnít all that different from the Torch. This makes it feel a tad unbalanced.
Itís height also makes it slightly wobbly when youíre pressing keys at the edge of the keyboard like the backspace. You do get used to it but at the same time it may cause some hand cramps.
The keyboard supports capacitive touch just like the Passportís so you can use it to scroll. Itís mildly useful for this. You can also use the physical keyboard to flick type though, I found this feature to be hit and miss. It also lights up in case you want to use it at night.
Iíll be honest, while I have a Passport and use it from time to time, I usually carry an iPhone and an Android phone around. As such I'm extremely comfortable with an on-screen keyboard.
While I donít mind the Passport keyboard, I actually found that I didnít enjoy typing on the Privís.
Itís hard to believe but at one point a significant portion of phones had a keyboard of some sort on them. Of course in 2016, touchscreen has now been with us for many years and keyboard equipped phones are the exception rather than the norm.
Back when people were learning to email on their phones 10+ years, a QWERTY keyboard really made things easier. However, since then, a lot of people have grown used to touching on a screen. So now in 2016, a physical keyboard on a phone almost feels like a vestigial feature. Itís like a cassette player in your car. Itís nice that itís there but you probably donít use it.
I will say though that the added thickness of the pull out keyboard brings actually makes it easier to use.
Fortunately, if a pullout keyboard isnít your thing, thereís also an on-screen one. Itís a good one too; I was able to type way faster on it than I can the physical one.
There's a MicroUSB on the bottom. I guess some may complain that the Priv doesn't have USB Type-C but to me this is perfectly acceptable as MicroUSB is ubiquitous and it will be a few years before Type-C is on everything.
The display is a 5.4Ē 2560x1440 AMOLED display which curves on the sides. Itís similar to what you find on Samsungís Edge phones but the Privís is much better for 2 reasons; First off, the Priv is a little bit thicker which makes it much easier to use. Super thin phones are cool to hold in-store but theyíre actually harder to use. The curved screen greatly exacerbates this problem.
Secondly, the Priv doesnít usually use the extreme sides of the display so nothing happens when you touch the very edges. This makes it much easier to use as that was my number one complaint about Samsungís Edge phones. Youíd inadvertently touch the sides which led to unexpected behavior.
Itís the first display which curved sides that I actually enjoy using.
The problem with the Privís is that at max brightness itís similar to my iPhone 6s Plus at 60%.
Itís not to say that the Priv screen isnít bright, itís more than enough for indoors. Itís just that AMOLED displays need to be really bright when youíre outdoors and it's sunny. Otherwise they wash out.
The color also shifts a tiny bit when you view it a few degrees off-angle but this is true with every AMOLED screen Iíve tried recently so I guess itís to be expected.
Aside from that, itís a very nice display. Deep blacks, excellent viewing angles and very nice colour. Theyíve really reigned in the colour so that itís not fake and oversaturated looking. It just looks like a LCD display with super deep blacks.
Brightness aside, the Privís display is a reminder that AMOLED screens are probably the future for flagship phones.
On the back is a 18 megapixel camera with a dual tone flash, autofocus and optical image stabilization.
Iíll be blunt, Iíve been reviewing Blackberries for years now, letís just say that, no one buys a Blackberry for its camera. Thatís me being generous. That said, I guess camera technology has come a long way because while itís not class leading, the Privís camera isnít too bad. Itís good enough to take some keepers.
The problem with the Priv though is that the autofocus is a bit leisurely so itís not ideal if you want to be spontaneous. Itís especially terrible if you have young kids. The speed in which it focuses reminds me of Windows Mobile phones. Itís that bad.
The camera software is passable. Other than it being a little too reliant for my taste on the flash indoor itís easy to use. The interface isnít cluttered and Iím satisfied with the options. Thereís no ability to save photos as RAW files but I doubt anyone buys a phone specifically for this feature anyways.
Video can be recorded at up to 4K. Thereís optical image stabilization so video looks good. The microphone sounds fine.
You get Android 5.1 which is a version behind most newer phones which are now shipping with 6.0. Blackberryís reason for being a version behind is that they do some tweaks under the hood so that itís supposedly more secure than stock Android. It also sports a custom overlay.
While the Priv is currently a version behind, there are plans to update it to 6.0 sometime this spring.
Whether the Priv continues to receive updates remains to be seen, so allow me to speculate; BB10 isnít gaining enough traction in the industry to really make it viable in the long term. Supporting a mobile platform is a very expensive proposition. While the payoff can be great, itís only so if youíre a market leader which BB10 sadly is not.
So to me it makes sense for Blackberry to stop releasing new devices for it so that they can wind it down in a few years or maybe provide a clear upgrade path to Blackberries running Android.
Indeed, recently Blackberry has been noncommittal about releasing anymore BB10 devices while at the same time theyíve hinted that more Android devices running Blackberry are coming.
Think about it, killing off a class of devices abruptly can be bad for business, just ask Blackberry what happened with the Playbook.
For what itís worth, I could see Blackberry releasing more BB10 devices but I also think that they will be aimed at businesses and not really aimed at consumers. So, if they want to stay in the device business, Android will be the future going forward.
Anyways, if youíre used to Android then the experience should be familiar. At the same time if youíre coming from a BB10 device there are a few customizations to make it feel like home.
Take for example the on-screen keyboard, itís just like the one youíd find on BB10 down to it putting the ď@Ē sign and a ď.Ē when you press the spacebar when entering an email. It also letís you complete words by flicking up on keys. I never got used to this feature personally but itís there if you want it.
The on-screen keyboard works very well but I find that the default Android one is also excellent.
Another big feature is the BB10ís Blackberry Hub is available for the Priv. The Hub puts all your messaging in one place rather than having to use different apps for each of your email/messaging/SMS accounts.
The problem with the Blackberry Hub is that by default, when youíre setting up the phone you first setup your Google account which sets up the built-in Android Gmail client. Setting up the Hub requires you to re-enter your email credentials. This isnít Blackberryís fault but it highlights Blackberryís problem with making the Priv competitive; itís just an Android device thatís running a 3rd party email client which duplicates the built-in one.
This isnít to say that Blackberryís customizations arenít good, rather that itís going to be much harder to differentiate the Priv from other Android devices.
Blackberry also includes their DTEK app which helps guide you to make your Priv more secure. It reminds you to set a screen lock, turn on device encryption, leave developer options off, checks if the operating system has been tampered with - that sort of thing.
It can also tell you if your apps are accessing your device, how they are accessing the device (like getting location) and even where it happened.
Itís a neat app that fits in well with the Privís ďsecurity firstĒ image but at the same time, I doubt many people will use it that often.
There are some other tweaks here and there. If you look carefully, thereís a small tab on the right side. If you swipe it, you can quickly view your calendar entries, emails, tasks and recent contacts.
Theyíve also redone the settings and task switcher so that theyíre reminiscent of BB10. However, the BB10 gestures are gone so if youíre really used to them then youíll need to learn how to use Androidís back, home and task buttons.
Keeping in mind that Iím not a business user, Iím torn about how much value Blackberryís additions add.
On one hand, they emphasize two of Blackberryís most valuable qualities; the typing experience and security. On the other hand, theyíre just extra stuff which is layered on top of Android which means it will take Blackberry longer to keep pace Google releases new updates to Android.
A good example is the lack of fingerprint reader on the Priv. Android 6.0 brings native support for this feature but given the timing of the Privís release they couldnít include this feature. I wonder if they could have included one had they gone the plain vanilla Android route.
That said, if they didnít customize it then what would the Priv be? An Android phone with a keyboard - Itís a tough decision.
Benchmark scores are about what youíd expect from a Snapdragon 808 phone with a quadHD display.
If youíre a hardcore 3D gamer then a Snapdragon 810 is a better choice, otherwise the 808 acquits itself well.
More importantly, the 808 doesnít need to slow itself down as frequently as the 810 to keep from overheating.
As a Phone:
The earpiece is very powerful. The speaker phones maximum volume is average.
RF performance is also quite good.
You get a large 3410mAh battery. I managed 7.7hrs in my battery test which is quite good.
You get 32GB of storage with around 24GB available to the user. Most 32GB phones usually have an extra 1GB or 2 available. Anyways, if you need more space thereís a MicroSD slot.
The built-in speaker is quite powerful but it has a really narrow range so it sounds tinny with no bass at all.
While the Priv is a really specíd out flagship, the problem is that there are other flagships which are just as specíd out for less money.
While none of them have a slide out keyboard, the thing with the Priv is, its on-screen keyboard works better than the physical one and just serves as a reminder as to why no one else bothers to put one on their phones these days.
The rest of the hardware is okay; it works well as a phone, brightness aside, the screen is quite good, the camera isnít class leading but itís not terrible. The speakers arenít that great.
It is quite easy to use and the curved display adds a bit of flare. On the other hand, the build quality is hit and miss - mine had some strange squeaks which from my experience is not unusual on a Blackberry.
In the end, the Priv has to stand on the customizations Blackberry makes to Android.
I often like to compare the computer industry (which I follow closely) with Smartphones. The computer industryís history is often the Smartphoneís future.
Do you remember how every company used to load up their Windows PCís with tons of extras? From AOL shortcuts to various other extras? When you would boot up a new PC for the first time it would take another hour to install all the extras. Now remember how you would promptly remove all of the extras?
The same thing is happening with Smartphones. It used to be that every company had to put an overlay on Android and then replace all the built-in ones with their own. Youíd buy an HTC for their keyboard, a Samsung for the multimedia apps, that sort of then.
Back then Androidís user experience left something to be desired but that was a long time ago and now very few people complain about the Android UX. They spend all their time using 3rd party apps now.
Itís great that Priv has access to Google Play but at the same time, it going to be really tough for them going forward.
4 Howies out of 5.
- Curved display which is easy to use
- Interesting design
- Huge battery
- Powerful earpiece
- Strong RF performance
- Physical keyboard isnít that great
- No fingerprint reader