BlackBerry’s recent phones have been something of a departure for the company. Especially given its long-time aversion to rocking the boat.
Originally known for business phones, its handsets later found their way into the hands of every ‘yoof’ with a serious BBM habit.
Those wash, repeat and rinse formulas worked for BlackBerry back then. But its risk-free approach and failure to gamble on a new direction meant that eventually BlackBerry lost its way.
That was then. This is now.
In recent months, BlackBerry hasn't just rocked the boat, it has fully capsized it. First it served up the radical Passport and now there’s the Priv.
Not only does the Priv feature a new OS, in the form of Android. There is also a dual curved display, akin to Samsung edge phones, and a physical, slide out keyboard thrown into the mix.
Read on to find out what we think of the BlackBerry Priv
- Big, bright display
- Great camera
- Best of BlackBerry
- Keyboard too small
- Good display
- Robust design
- Non-slip rear
The BlackBerry Priv feels premium, but bigger than you would expect with its screen size.
What can’t be said is that it looks unique, on initial impressions. Its dual curved screen follows in the footsteps of the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge, S6 Edge and Edge Plus, and sits between the last two, on display size.
- Looks sleek
- Rear is great for holding
- Solid build
Don't expect to see the screen’s image tumbling over the curved edges, as with similar Samsung phones.
That was a little bit of a letdown, with the screen just touching the curves. Hardware limitations were cited for this, but it’s still a vibrant display that suits the phone.
A premium feel oozes from the Priv, with a high-quality finish throughout, including the non-slip, tensile weave, rear cover.
Its extra heft initially comes as a surprise, but you quickly become accustomed to it, making every other phone you hold feel like it’s missing a battery.
Priv’s physical keyboard, with its aircraft-grade aluminium sliding mechanism, has to be the standout feature. However, the keys are a little on the small side and are not geared up for those of us with bigger hands.
Having said that, there are some positives. Not least the way you can use the capacitive keyboard like a mouse. You can swipe across the keys, to swipe across the screen, up and down, and navigate the cursor on text entry.
Adding to this are the expected BlackBerry shortcut keys, such as 'T' to the top, 'B' to the bottom and a whole heap of programmable keys.
- Build: Aluminium, Glass
- Weight: 192g
- Dimensions: 147(184 opened)x77.2x9.4mm
- Great colours
- Glossy finish
Sporting a 5.4-inch AMOLED screen with a Quad HD resolution, the Priv's screen is one of the brightest we’ve seen, either on a BlackBerry or anywhere else.
The colours are rich and bright, looking more realistic, rather than over-saturated and unreal. We noticed this not only on images, or pictures taken with the phone, but also on video, although the experience wasn’t great on the latter.
Curved displays look good, and are definitely eye-catching. But the reason they're eye catching doesn’t bode well for video playback.
If you watch video on the Priv on a train, Tube, or anywhere there is light, the curved edges pick up the light and reflect it.
It's very distracting. We tried to ignore it, but it’s always there.
The Priv's curved screen does have some positives, though. Among them is access to a slide-out tool bar, featuring some key BlackBerry add-ons.
This is an always-present suite, offering quick access to calendar entries; emails; tasks, and a contact.
For those that have used and loved the ever-present BlackBerry Hub unified inbox, this goes some way to appease them.
The company has said there are other features in the pipeline to take advantage of the curved display too. We expect these will be along the lines of the Galaxy Edge's colourful contacts system that to quick access apps.
- Size: 5.4 inches
- Resolution: 2,560x1,440 pixels
- Technology: AMOLED
- Good picture taking
- DSLR settings
- Dual flash for low light picture capture
Partnering with a known camera specialist was once a good way to make your mobile’s camera standout, with the backing of a known name.
Nokia paired with Carl Zeiss, where now BlackBerry has followed a similar route with Schneider-Kreuznach.
They have worked together on the optics and it is decent snapper as a result, taking a nice shot.
The app launches fairly fast, not in the realms of Samsung, but to the novice, you wouldn’t notice.
Picture focus and taking is quick, where even the likes of the multiple shot HDR doesn’t slow it down.
There is also tech on board found in DSLR cameras. These are the likes of adjusting exposure levels, to a high frame rate viewfinder, with less time focussing for taking that perfect shot.
- Camera: 18MP
- Optical image stabilisation: Yes
- Unique features: None
Performance and battery life
- Nippy access to menus and apps
- microSD supports 2TB
- Very large battery
Moving on from a different OS to another could have been an issue, but BlackBerry seems to have taken it all in its stride.
The Priv running Android Lollipop, instead of the BlackBerry 10 OS is very nippy. This is in loading and running apps, which couldn’t be faulted.
YouTube playback of 4K video wasn’t as smooth as we have seen. We doubt the 4K video market is a target audience for BlackBerry, so perhaps that is an unfair test.
It does have 3GB of RAM, ideal for running multiple apps, rather than the limit of the past OS.
Instead of opting for an octa-core CPU, there is the more reasonable hex-core processor running the mobile. That is pairing a dual-core 1.8GHz and quad-core 1.44GHz CPU, in the Qualcom Snapdragon 808.
If the phone is to be used for the emailing road warriors of BlackBerry’s past, the hardware seems adequate, and we didn’t find any major issues in its use.
It does have one of the largest power sources we’ve seen in a phone. Coming in with a 3,410mAh battery. BlackBerry has said it will last for 22.5 hours, in mixed-use.
We went from 50 per cent to 9 per cent battery life in six hours, with still an hour left. That is good enough for real world use, where quick-charging offers 13 hours of battery life, when plugged in for 30mins.
BlackBerry has brought across its famed Hub inbox to Android. It is an universal inbox, collecting emails, text messages, IMs, Facebook messages, Tweets and beyond – in one place.
You can respond to all these, and more, all without leaving the one inbox. And after just a short period of time, you’ll wonder why every OS doesn’t offer this.
The Priv is fully encrypted, straight from the box, giving it is Priv-acy name. Adding to this, are security checks built into the hardware at boot up, plus accompanying the phone is security software.
BlackBerry’s DTEK app monitors the phone and its apps for vulnerabilities, where although it’s not possible to limit an apps access to hardware – you can monitor it, with alerts, in case of malicious malware behaviour.
- RAM: 3GB
- Battery capacity: 3,410mAh
- Storage: 32GB/microSD card, 2TB
- OS and version: Android 5.1 Lollipop
Value for money
BlackBerry’s Priv doesn't come cheap. It starts at £39 a month (plus an upfront fee of £59.99) with 6GB of data.
SIM-free, it'll set you back a wee bit shy of £600. That comes close to both the Samsung Galaxy Edge Plus, but undercuts the iPhone 6S Plus.
- Great screen
- Amazing build quality
- Decent picture taking camera
- Good OS deployment
- Long battery life
- Dual curved display is a bit of a novelty
The BlackBerry Priv is a very decent Android phone. In fact, it's one of the best we've used.
And we're not alone. After speaking to a good number of mobile phone reviewers, the consensus is that this the best BlackBerry for aeons.
It owes those plaudits to the premium hardware build quality RIM was always known for, coupled with a roll-out of Android so speedy it's in-line with Google's flagship Nexus phones.
Adding to are all the traditional BB 10 OS apps, as well as added security and features such as swiping up on apps to expose their widgets.
For us, the Priv would have been better if BlackBerry ditched the slide-out keyboard. But we've heard that a keyboard and touchscreen were top of customers' wishlist, so maybe we're in the minority there.
The proof will be in whether it returns BlackBerry to the top tier of manufacturers. In the interests of competition in the phone market, we hope it does.