Blackberry Priv Review: We review Blackberry’s first ever Android mobile, the Blackberry Priv, a beast of a slider phone with a strong emphasis on privacy.
The Blackberry Priv has finally arrived with a world of weight already lumped on its shoulders. After all, Blackberry has been in the spotlight for all of the wrong reasons in recent times, while the Blackberry Passport was a very quirky phone that wasn’t entirely successful thanks to its bloody weird shape.
It’s no surprise therefore that the Priv has attracted a lot of interest, especially as it’s Blackberry’s first Android handset and a slider phone to boot. The move to Android is one to be commended, a potential masterstroke that could well tempt old BB users back to the fold and win some new supporters.
Well, after using the Priv for a week, I’m definitely a massive fan – this is Blackberry’s best phone in years and one of the most impressive mobiles of 2015.
Blackberry seems determined to create interesting phones that really stand out from the crowd, something all too evident in the square-shaped Passport. The Blackberry Priv thankfully steers well clear of troublesome dimensions, instead bringing the classic slider functionality back from the dead.
In its natural state, the Priv appears to be your typical 5.4-inch smartphone. Blackberry’s usual all-black design is present and correct, complete with a full-width speaker grille beneath the screen and dual slots up top, one for your SIM card and one for a microSD memory card. Flip it over and you’ll find a rubbery back that really helps to give the phone extra grip, punctuated by Blackberry’s logo and a slightly jutting camera lens.
The Priv is quite bulky and enjoys a fair heft, but it’s not excessively big or heavy. It’s a little shorter than the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and only a wee bit wider than the Sony Xperia Z5, while the 192g weight won’t exactly snap your wrist. One-handed use is quite tricky, but certainly possible if you get your grip just right.
Push upwards on the screen and the entire front panel slides up around two and a half inches, revealing the physical QWERTY keyboard hidden beneath. It’s a smooth and satisfying action, just like those slider phones of yesteryear.
As for the keyboard, it’s another well-designed Blackberry panel with tactile, ‘bumpy’ keys. I personally found it a slower typing experience than BB’s virtual keyboard, but it’s perfectly comfortable to use and anyone who prefers a physical keyboard should be more than happy. The board is also touch-sensitive, responding to strokes and swipes like the Passport’s keyboard. That’s particularly handy when scrolling through documents and websites, keeping your thumb from obscuring the screen.
Check out our full Blackberry Priv keyboard review to see our thoughts after two months of use.
There’s sadly no fingerprint sensor to quickly and securely unlock the Priv, which is a shame given how many rivals now pack a print scanner. Still, you can use Android’s Trusted Devices feature to skip the lock screen if you so wish.
Screen and media
The Blackberry Passport was ill-suited to movies and games thanks to its weird square display, but the Blackberry Priv is the exact opposite. That spacious 5.4-inch screen is brilliantly sharp thanks to its Quad HD resolution and images look both crisp and colourful. Contrast levels are strong while viewing angles are as wide as you’d like.
Like the Galaxy S6 Edge before it, the Blackberry Priv’s panel also curves at the edges, although to a lesser degree. There’s no real advantage to the subtle curvature, but it looks pretty damn funky.
Beneath the screen you have a single speaker that stretches the width of the phone. It’s reasonably powerful for a mobile blaster and any bass-heavy songs will send vibrations up your arm on maximum volume. Remember to wear headphones when you’re on a bus or other means of public transport, kiddies.
If you want to carry around a hefty media collection, the Priv will more than satisfy. The 32GB of built-in storage space can be expanded up to a mighty 2TB via the microSD memory card slot, making this a seriously future-proofed phone.
OS and features
Boot up the Blackberry Priv and you’ll see what at first glance appears to be a reasonably vanilla version of Android Lollipop (to be updated to Marshmallow in Q1 2016). However, dive under the surface and you’ll find that Blackberry has added a bunch of really cool features that add to the Android experience without drowning it or making it unwieldy.
For instance, Like Cyanogen before it, BB’s take on Android gives you a more transparent overview of which apps can see your location and access your other smartphone features. The Priv also includes BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and BlackBerry Hub, one of the best parts of its own OS which collates all of your notifications into one handy place. You also have the DTEK app for added security, with encryption automatically activated to keep your data as safe as possible.
We’ve gone into plenty of detail in our feature on the Priv’s best Android improvements, so check that out for more info on the Priv’s Android OS, Blackberry Hub integration and everything else.
Performance and battery life
The Blackberry Priv is powered by a Snapdragon 808 processor, the same chipset found in the LG G4 and a few other mid-to-high-end smartphones. As a result, performance is generally solid. Occasionally the Priv will briefly pause when you tap an app, especially if you’re listening to music at the same time, but otherwise it’s a nippy mobile that can play the latest games without stumbling or stuttering.
A whopping 3410mAh battery is crammed inside the Blackberry Priv and it’s good enough for a solid 24 hours of use, or close to a day and a half with more restrained use. If you stream video non-stop, you’ll enjoy six to seven hours of battery life which is more than we usually get from a modern mobile.
Using Blackberry’s provided cable and charger, you can fully charge the Priv in about two hours. When you’re charging the phone, you get a handy meter running up the edge of the screen as it hibernates, telling you how long you need to wait until the battery is full. Sadly there’s no built-in support for wireless charging.
One of the Blackberry Passport’s best features was its excellent camera and the Priv doesn’t disappoint either, packing a versatile 18-megapixel snapper that’s a strong rival to the Xperia Z5 and Galaxy S6 cameras. There’s also a 2-megapixel front-facing camera for your selfie shots.
Check out our full Blackberry Priv camera review for our photo samples and impressions of both snappers.
The Blackberry Priv really is the best Blackberry phone of recent times, if not all time. By ditching its own OS for Android, Blackberry will hopefully tempt back lost followers and welcome fresh supporters to its fold, while the tweaks and bonus features such as Blackberry Hub and DTEK make for a solid user experience. Factor in the impressive hardware and this really is one of the best phones of 2015.