Privacy is pricey

The BlackBerry Priv.
PHOTO: BlackBerry

BlackBerry Priv

BlackBerry never really went away. Moving with the times, they've come up with a great idea for a product - by combining all their strengths, such as their hallmark physical keyboard, and heightened smartphone security features that they're renowned for, but pairing all that with a smartphone running on an Android OS.

The BlackBerry Priv has a huge (compared to most BlackBerry devices) 5.4-inch QHD (2,560 x 1,440 pixels) resolution display, resulting in a reasonably high pixel density of 550ppi. The phone's interface and apps are clearly rendered, though app logos do not look very sharp. However, text appears sharp and clear, a huge plus given that the Priv is still targeted at business-minded users.

The screen is actually curved at the edges, which gives it a nice visual feel but has limited practical use and does not wrap the rim like how Samsung's Galaxy S6 Edge+ does. The Priv doesn't compromise screen real estate for a physical keyboard too, as large screen actually hides a sliding keyboard.

At a glance, the keyboard seems like a simplified version of the old BlackBerry keyboards. Our experience with it though was cramped with buttons that were too small for our thumbs; this observation made in comparison with the BlackBerry Bold 9900. Nonetheless, the accuracy and tactile feel turned out well on for the Priv once you get past this (re-)learning curve.

The Priv is loaded with Android 5.1.1 (Lollipop) and powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 808 64-bit processor. It is accompanied by 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. We had no issues with its performance, as it is one of the smoothest and fastest BlackBerry phones we've encountered so far. Storage space is further expandable by another 2TB via microSD.

Of course, being an Android smartphone now means the Priv has typical Android features and access to all Google Play store and apps. But BlackBerry being BlackBerry, they've layered it with some of their fabled security measures under-the-hood. All data on the Priv is encrypted by default, and it has BlackBerry'

TEK for Android, which gives users an overview of what apps are using phone resources. For example, a simple torchlight app that tries to access the phone's mic or camera can be singled out as a breach in security.

The curved side offers a BlackBerry-sque productivity widget when you slide it across the screen. It's quite simple, handling your events, unread emails, to-do list and favourite contacts.

On the rear, the Priv comes with an 18-megapixel rear camera, with an f/2.2 aperture using a six-element lens confi guration. It boasts many powerful photography features, such as Optical Image Stabilization - for less blurry photos, phase detect autofocus - for breakneck autofocus speeds, Back Side Illumination stacked sensor - for better performance in low-light conditions. Our quick rear camera test proved that the photos taken have some artifacts along the edges of the subject and background, but it is otherwise a very decent camera for a modern smartphone.

The 3,400mAh battery capacity is larger than some other 5.5-inch smartphones on the market, such as the Oppo R7s, and even the Apple iPhone 6s Plus. According to BlackBerry, the Priv is capable of up to 23.9 hours of talk time, and averages about 22.5 hours for mixed use. It uses a micro-USB 2.0 port to charge and transfer fi les, which is the norm for most other phones.

The Priv works like a decent Android smartphone through and through. It is a solid effort by BlackBerry on their first Android device. However, it still has much room for improvement if BlackBerry wants to woo back the average consumer. At $1,098, there is a sea of Android devices that offer more for less.

Our informal poll around the offi ce show that the return of the physical keyboard isn't as highly regarded anymore. Not only is the keyboard on the Priv a little pinched, touchscreen keyboards and technologies have vastly improved since BlackBerry was in its prime. However, we can't argue with the satisfaction of sliding open the keyboard. Security, as the main component of the Priv is a strong argument in its favour, though the lack of fingerprint sensor integration is telling. BlackBerry however, claims biometrics is not actually that secure and it was a conscious decision to leave out of the Priv.

CONCLUSION

The first Android smartphone by BlackBerry is quite impressive, but needs more convincing.

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AT A GLANCE

Display

5.4-inch LCD2,560 x 1,440 pixels(540 ppi)

Processor

Qualcomm Snapdragon 808

Weight

192g

Dimensions

147 x 77.2 x 9.4mm

Price

$1,098

Tested and Rated: 8.0/10

[[{"fid":"529622","view_mode":"original_image","type":"media","attributes":{"height":202,"width":150,"border":"0","class":"media-element file-original-image"},"link_text":null}]]This article first appeared in the Jan, 2016 issue of HWM.  HWM, Singapore's #1 tech magazine is available in both print and digital. Subscribe atwww.hardwaremag.com.

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