Review: BlackBerry Priv for AT&T
Jan 13, 2016, 4:30 PM by Eric M. Zeman
The Priv is the first BlackBerry to ship with Google's Android operating system rather than BlackBerry's own BBOS. BlackBerry opted for Android in order to expand the number of apps available to the phone, but it was sure to install its key messaging and security services to make the Priv more attractive to potential business users. The Priv also bears the distinction of being one of the only Android handsets in the market to include a physical keyboard. Here is Phone Scoop's in-depth report.
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Is It Your Type?
The Priv is for a very small group of people: those who want a physical keyboard and are willing to do almost anything to get one. It's also for BlackBerry die-hards who want a device more capable than those running BBOS. The Priv may come from BlackBerry, but it is one of the only Android handsets available with physical keys. This slider is a curiosity; part of a dying breed (and brand?) It's not your father's BlackBerry, that's for sure.
The Priv shows that Blackberry stills knows how to design decent hardware when it wants to. It is not the sveltest handset out there, but it still manages to be impressively thin and attractive thanks to its curvy design and high-quality materials.
The Priv is very close in size and appearance to the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+. The edges of the glass are rounded, as are the side edges themselves. The slider panel — which is the entire glass screen — has a metal frame that outlines its shape against the black materials surrounding it. The side buttons, camera module, and BlackBerry logo are all chrome to add some visual zing. The Priv is nothing if not classy looking.
The rear panel is formed by carbon fiber and it has a really pleasing texture. It's smooth, but still grippy; pliable, but still hard. Oddly — and a bit annoyingly — both the carbon fiber back and glass front are easily covered in unsightly fingerprints. The top and bottom edges are flat, but not flat enough for the Priv to stand on its own.
If you don't like phablets, the Priv may not be for you. It's a wide phone that some may not be able to hold or use comfortably in one hand. I don't mind the size. It fits into pockets without much trouble, but you'll know it is there. The slider mechanism is quite solid and satisfying. There's no real ledge at the bottom to help open or close the the slider, so most of the time you'll end up pressing up directly on the screen. I found the Priv to be well balanced with the slider extended, which means BlackBerry paid attention to its center of gravity. Build quality is quite good; the materials are strong and assembled tightly.
The smooth black face of the Priv is broken up only by the metal frame that traverses the bottom edge of the glass. A small plastic chin rests below the glass and it is drilled with holes for the speakerphone. The user-facing camera is hardly visible at all.
BlackBerry placed the screen lock button on the left edge of the phone. This bucks trends. Most phone makers position this button on the top or right edge. The button's profile is just ok, and I wish the key were a bit bigger. Travel and feedback is acceptable. BlackBerry slapped its traditional trio of controls on the right edge. The volume buttons are separated by a user-programmable action key. I didn't have any trouble finding and using these buttons. The action key is slightly smaller and has a thinner profile, which helps distinguish it from the volume buttons. All three have good travel and feedback.
The top edge is where you'll find trays for SIM and memory cards. A paper clip will eject them with ease. The USB port and headphone jack are tucked into the bottom edge of the phone.
I'm not sold on the keyboard. The quality is fine, but the keys are a bit flat to me, They have BlackBerry's signature scalloped shape, but each individual key's profile could be more defined. Travel and feedback are solid enough. I pulled out the BlackBerry Classic (late 2014) and can tell you I like that keyboard much better. The Priv's keyboard feels a bit cramped and offers no benefit to me over the excellent software keyboard. Hardware keyboard purists, however, may find that the Priv's keys are just what they need to more effectively tap out emails on the go.
The rear panel is sealed up tight, which means the battery cannot be swapped. That's a big risk for BlackBerry. The company has long touted removeable batteries as a core consumer demand. The camera module is rather large. It is joined by two LED flashes close to the top edge of the phone.
The Priv is mostly excellent. BlackBerry did a commendable job designing it and putting it together. It's not for everyone, but if you absolutely must have a physical keyboard the Priv is a decent option.
The display measures 5.4 inches across the diagonal and offers 2560 by 1440 (quad HD) resolution. You can't ask for a display with more pixel density. It's quite impressive. Everything on the screen is silky smooth and razor sharp. I do have a couple of complaints. First, it's not quite bright enough. I found I had to keep it at 50% or higher even when indoors. Going outside necessitated full brightness, and even then it wasn't enough. Second, the curved edges of the screen introduce some viewing angle trickery, which turns whites to blue (Samsung's Galaxy S6 edge+ has this issue, too). The curved portions of glass turn white screens blue, in this case along the Priv's edges. As you tilt the screen, you can see these areas whiten up as the viewing angle changes. The issue isn't as prevalent on the Priv as it is on the edge+, but it's there.
I tested the Priv on AT&T's network in the greater New York area. It mostly performed on par with other devices I've tested in the same area. The device held onto LTE signal throughout my review period and did not drop or miss any calls. I was able to maintain calls when traveling in a car at highway speeds with no problem. Data speeds were quick and the Priv never felt sluggish as it was sending/receiving bits over the air. The cellular radio did its job well.
The Priv is a good voice phone. The earpiece delivers conversations loudly and clearly to your ear. I could hold a conversation most places I took the phone, which provides enough oomph to hear calls no matter what's going on around you. You can keep the volume at 50% or 60% most of the time and have no problem using the Priv at home or work. Others said I sounded clear when I called via the Priv. The speakerphone is incredibly loud, but loses some clarity thanks to distortion. It's certainly loud enough to use in a car or busy office. Ringers and alerts are plenty loud and always managed to get my attention. The vibrate alert is pretty good, too.
The Priv packs a massive 3,410 mAh battery. It easily delivers a full day of use with plenty of power to spare. The Priv routinely provided 1.5 or more days of battery life even with extensive use. BlackBerry has always prioritized battery life and I'm glad to see that's still the case on the Priv. The excellent battery life makes up for the fact that the battery itself cannot be replaced. The phone has only the Android system-level battery saver tool.
The Priv supports QuickCharge 2.0 for rapid charging. I found it could take a full charge (from dead to 100%) in about two hours. Moreover, it supports both Qi and Rezence charging standards, so it's compatible with most wireless charging pads.
Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, WiFi
The Priv's Bluetooth radio supports the expected set of profiles for connecting to various other devices, such as speakers, headsets, cars, and other phones. BlackBerry didn't do anything to dress up the pairing app, which is the stock Android tool. It works well enough and let me connect the phone without trouble. Calls sounded excellent through a standard headset, and good via my car's hands-free system. I was pleased enough with the quality of music through a good set of headphones, but I've heard better.
The Priv has an NFC radio and it worked well. First, it can be use to aid pairing with Bluetooth gear. Second, it works with Google's Android Pay for mobile payments.
Google Maps worked well with the Priv's GPS radio, which was swift to locate me and accurate to within about 25 feet. The Priv had no trouble navigating between points.
The WiFi radio performed as expected.
The Priv is BlackBerry's new flagship phone, but it's also much more than that. As the company's first phone to use Google's Android instead of a BlackBerry OS, it represents a major new strategic direction.
Dec 15, 2017
BlackBerry said this week that it will no longer provide monthly system and security updates to its BlackBerry Priv smartphone. The company originally committed to providing updates for a period of two years.
Sep 29, 2015
BlackBerry today posted some official images of the forthcoming Priv smartphone. The Priv is a vertical slider that runs Android.
Oct 23, 2015
BlackBerry today made the Priv, its first Android smartphone, available for preorder. The device is a vertical slider that includes a touchscreen and a physical QWERTY keyboard.
Sep 8, 2016
BlackBerry today made its BlackBerry Hub+ suite of enterprise applications available to a wider range of devices. At the same time, it added five more apps to the suite.