BlackBerry has trodden a rocky path these last few years that has lead us to a point that some felt was inevitable. With BB 7 and then BB 10 not really capturing the imagination in the way that iOS and Android have, it was of little surprise when BlackBerry announced that it was heading to Google’s mobile platform. In doing so it opens a lot of doors. Having offered compatibility with Android apps for some time – including supplying the Amazon Appstore as a method of delivery – the company has now released its fully-fledged Android handset, the BlackBerry Priv. It’s a silly name for sure, derided for its closeness to “privy” in the UK (a colloquialism for toilet) but the name is derived from privacy and privilege according to BlackBerry. But this isn’t just a “me too” smartphone. This is distinctly different, clinging onto some of BlackBerry’s most popular features, while firing with both bores into the Android space. But is this a best of both worlds?
BlackBerry Priv review: Design
The design of the Priv will be familiar. We not only saw the device teased in March at Mobile World Congress 2015, but BlackBerry made the unusual move of releasing pictures and specs for most of the device before launch. For those who have been living in a cave, it’s a slider with a 5.4-inch display, offering both a full touchscreen experience and the BlackBerry keyboard when extended. BlackBerry use familiar design in a number of areas although the curves to the edge of the display will be the main talking point. They lend a seamless quality to the front of the handset and give a lovely feel when you swipe across them. Given that this is a big phone, that makes use a little more comfortable as there’s no sharp front edge.
The display is framed in metal and that frame runs across the back of the visible area of the display too. It’s perhaps a design choice that’s been made for practical reasons, to lend solidity to the structure of this phone. There’s only a tiny degree of movement in some locations when you’re tapping on the display to the bottom, this is much more substantial than BlackBerry’s last touch slider, the BlackBerry Torch. We’d perhaps like the slide mechanism to be a little more precise, perhaps snapping and clicking into place, but we’ve little to complain about. How it will wear after a year of use is anyone’s guess: but after a few weeks, we’ve found it all feels pretty good. The finish to the rear section is all about grip. It’s a plastic shell, finished with a similar carbonfibre weave as we saw on the BB Q10, only here it’s rubberised. That gives a lot of grip, but doesn’t feel that nice. There’s also the odd creak around it, something that seems to be a side-effect of offering that sliding movement, and it feels slightly hollow when you tap it. Although it’s secure in the hand, it lacks the premium feel that you get from metal or glass: this isn’t the quality of the iPhone 6S Plus or the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge. The Priv measures 147 x 77.2 x 9.4mm when closed, extending to a substantial 184mm when open. When closed this is a large device, but once you’ve opened it up to access the keyboard, it’s noticeably long. The Priv weighs 192g which is heavy, although given that you have a slider, that’s perhaps something we can overlook. Overall, there’s a lot we like about the Priv. It’s interesting, it’s different and the curved edges to the display feel lovely. Despite this being a big phone, we’ve had no problems keeping a grip on it, which we can’t say for all other devices of this size.
BlackBerry Priv review: Display
The curve on the edges of this 5.4-inch display isn’t the same as on the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge devices. Although the edges of the surface curve off a lot in the design, the display itself is only slightly curved towards the very edges and this is part of the same panel as the flattened area. That adds interest, makes this phone a little different and gives a sense of width. BlackBerry has also added some elements in the software that makes use of these extremities, which we’ll talk about later. This is the 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution display, for 543ppi, meaning it’s up there with the highest resolution devices you’ll find on Android (ignoring the Xperia Z5 Premium). It’s a crisp and sharp display, packed full of detail. Some may argue that you can’t see all that detail, but there’s no doubting the potential it offers. It’s a plastic AMOLED panel, topped with Gorilla Glass 4, exhibiting those qualities you expect from this display technology. It offers deep blacks and punchy colours, so there’s plenty of vibrancy to those BlackBerry notification splats that appear against your messaging apps and elsewhere. It offers plenty of brightness and we had no problem viewing this display, although we noticed that you’ll sometimes catch some graininess from it. This was a problem that we used to see a lot in the early days of AMOLED, particular when scrolling against a white background, like a website when the display is dimmed. But that’s a minor complaint against a display that’s otherwise very good. It looks great in handling all your content, and watching Gravity on Play Movies rewarded us with nice inky deep blacks.
BlackBerry Priv review: Hardware and performance
Not only has BlackBerry stuck a Quad HD display on the front, but it’s not messing around with the internals either. This is a pretty powerful handset, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 hexa-core chipset and 3GB of RAM. That’s not the most powerful of chipsets out there, but has been the choice for devices like the LG G4, in the wake of the SD 810’s reputation for overheating. The BlackBerry Priv doesn’t have quite the oomph that some of the top devices offer, like the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+, but we found it skips through daily tasks competently enough. It is a handset that gets a little warm at times: when working the Priv hard, we’ve found it getting a little heated and despite the power, it’s not the fastest in operation. We suspect that software is to blame for some of that. We come to the Priv after reviewing the HTC One A9 and that’s a handset that’s a lot faster in navigation, despite having a lower-spec chipset, we suspect because of HTC’s long expertise with its Android UI. But elsewhere on the hardware front, BlackBerry is offering plenty. There’s no USB Type-C or fingerprint scanner, the latter a real omission given the number of Android devices offering this feature. With all the talk of security, it’s perhaps odd that the Priv doesn’t extend that to biometric security. There is 32GB of internal storage, with a microSD card slot to expand this further. We’ve found that the Priv piped up offering to store apps on the card and we also found that the camera always asked whether we wanted to store photos on the card every time we opened the camera. That’s an annoying software bug, but thanks for asking. There’s an external speaker across the bottom of the Priv and this enters plenty of volume. We found that calling was nice and clear and we had no problems with reception.