This year, Blackberry decided to go out on the longest limb in years, and gave us its first ever Android powered smartphone. The company aimed to reclaim its once dominant presence in the business sector of the mobile device market, and to some extent, it’s done a fine job. The device offers many of the same features as old devices which maximized productivity in the 90’s and early 2000’s, but just how functional are these components in the modern state of technology?
Sticking to the trend gripping most modern devices these days, Blackberry has packed a 5.4” 1440p AMOLED display into the device, which comes out to a pixel density of 540 pixels per inch. The phone features curved edges on the display similar to the of the Galaxy S6 Edge, and has beveled metal edges surrounding it. The screen on the device is bright and colourful, but for some strange reason it just felt.. muddy. There isn’t anything specific that would make me say that, but the icons and backdrop just seemed to bleed into each other a bit, sort of like watercolors on a canvas. It’s not a terrible thing by any means, but I preferred even the screen of the Nexus 6 over this device (save the brightness), which is traditionally not stellar by any means. With that said though, the touch screen was generally quick and responsive, and didn’t seem to have TOO much of a stutter issue throughout my time with the device. One caveat that bugged the hell out of me, though, is that due to the size of the device, you have to pull the screen up and down with your thumb or back of your hand. While pulling the device open to reveal the keyboard is decently intuitive and easy thanks to the sliding mechanism hidden within, closing it is a major pain. You essentially have the option of either reaching around to the top of the device to throw the screen closed over the keyboard, or attempt to pull the screen down with your thumb, which is harder to do than it should be, and would be even harder if you were wearing gloves of any variety. While the large screen is pretty decent for content consumption, I still would have preferred a smaller screen on a device like this, since the screen is already a decent height above the keyboard while slid open. Overall, the screen meets today’s standards, but doesn’t exactly give itself any definitive reason to stand out above the average.
I have so many mixed feelings about the body of this device. For one thing, it’s extremely grippy and easy to handle. If one thing is clear about the design choices here, it’s that Blackberry does not want you to use this phone with a case. The rubber they used feels pretty great in the hand, and the dual layer “screen-atop-keyboard” design adds enough bulk already.
While the holey rubber body feels nice and protective, it actually seemed to dent extremely easily. I didn’t even drop the phone, and I could already see little dents and nicks appearing in the body of the device. This is pretty disappointing, since cases are usually made to protect the body of a phone, and if Blackberry didn’t want you to use a case, they should have made the body itself a bit more sturdy. This isn’t to say the phone isn’t hefty though. It feels generally very solid and was much heavier than my Lumia device.
Another thing that bugged the hell out of me and ruined many of my photos I took of the device, is the absolutely absurd amount of dust it collects. Rubber is one of the most grippy materials we have, and while this is great for holding the phone and keeping it from slipping, simply keeping the device in your pocket for a few minutes will cause this thing to be covered in a fluffy mess when removed. (Exaggerating a bit, but you get the point.) The button placement is also terrible in my opinion, with 3 buttons on one side of the device; one which essentially does nothing at all.
The speakers are pretty stellar in this phone, and are hidden well in the holey rubber butt of the device. They sound pretty great, particularly shining with great treble and bass that isn’t overbearing but strong enough to make an impact.
With all that said, Blackberry did a pretty fantastic job with the sliding keyboard mechanism, which I will touch on now.
This is obviously the most drawing factor of the device, and aims to reclaim the days of rapid emailing and scheduling put forth by PDA’s (What are those??) and early cell phones. Blackberry has included some interesting features in the keyboard as well, in hopes of enhancing something almost forgotten in the modern state of the industry. The QUERTY keyboard features a nice backlight, and adds something new to such an old technology; capacitive touch. The user can slide his or her finger along the keyboard without pressing down to move the cursor on the device or select a portion of text. The downside of this feature, though, is the fact that you have to touch the area on the screen that you want to select in order to get the cursor moving. This doesn’t particularly make sense, as the user can simply slide the keyboard open and start typing to perform a quick search or page landing, but must tap the screen to activate the precision select feature. While the feature is absolutely useful, especially with the size of text on a screen in comparison to someone’s finger, the software should have had the functionality of immediate sliding text selection at launch. The touch-sensitive keyboard is also able to scroll in web pages and apps, but is still quite buggy and generally obscenely over-sensitive. In apps like “Relay for Reddit” and “Chrome Beta”, scrolling with the keyboard will cause the page to scroll downwards dramatically, causing the user to miss a significant amount of content. The keyboard is also absolutely too small for my liking, and I found my productivity actually significantly stumped whenever I attempted to use the keypad instead of the capacitive screen. This might be due to my big hands or possibly my mechanical keyboard hobby, but it just felt much, much too cramped for my hands. That being said, the actuation of the keys feels pretty great, and anyone with appropriately sized hands will most likely love typing on it.
The Blackberry Priv launched running Android 5.1.1 Lollipop, which, while not the newest version of Android, runs with a near stock experience out of the box. This is great for me, because in my opinion stock Android is the best due to it being the most customizable. What Blackberry did add though, is software the they say will keep your device safe and secure. Some of the software is a bit over the top on security, and recommends strongly against any sort of tinkering with the device, but the optional ability to keep your data safe is always a nice touch. I did notice a significant amount of lag when switching screens though, which seems a bit unacceptable for today’s standards. Surprisingly, I only noticed this on the home screen, which is pretty strange, but Lollipop is a bit of a buggy mess as it is, so optimisation may have been difficult on that end. Hopefully we will see some of these issues be addressed in future patches and updates, but for now this is pretty frustrating, especially with the 3GB of ram and Snapdragon 808 being utilized in the device.
If you need a good camera on your daily driver, don’t buy this device. Just don’t. Though the camera uses an 18 MP sensor with OIS and supports 2k video, photos on the device are horribly washed out and grainy. Blackberry apparently recently released a new software update to address these issues, but during my time with the device, it was absolutely horrible. While this may have come from the fact that I had just reviewed the Galaxy Note 5, which is considered to have the best camera of the year, Blackberry is asking a “flagship” price for this device, so I would expect every aspect of the phone to be flagship quality. Unfortunately I made a terrible mistake and wiped the device before backing up the photos I had taken, so I don’t have any of my own to show you, but I’ll link some here from online so that you can formulate your own opinion on the devices sensor and processing. Physically, the lens pops out of the device ever so slightly, which seems to be the trend as of late, and isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The sensor allows the phone to rest on a table without spinning, which is nice, and adds a bit of uniqueness to the look. It’s not obtrusive by any means, and in my opinion adds nicely to the “black and silver” theme of the device.
Photo Credit: Crackberry.com
The Battery Life:
I had a pretty great experience with the battery in this device. Spec-wise it’s rocking 3410 mAh of juice, which is pretty significant for today’s standards, especially since the screen is actually smaller than many other flagships. Again, I accidentally wiped the phone without backing up my gallery, which caused me to lose my battery life screenshots, but I distinctly remember getting almost 2 days of moderate use out of the phone, which is pretty great, especially for the demographic Blackberry is targeting; the business sector.
There is a micro-SD card slot in this device, which makes me particularly happy, especially since LG is essentially the only OEM remaining that still does those. No removable battery is a bummer, but it’s the way the market is moving and I can’t exactly be mad at them for that.
The Blackberry Priv is a great first attempt at Android from an OEM who has never done anything of the sort before, but it’s features and specifications fall short in today’s market, especially considering the high price tag. There is obviously a specific demographic being targeted with this device, which in particular makes the device more accessible to the consumer, but remains a bit too separated from the average consumer. While Blackberry in my opinion delivered a pretty disappointing product with the Priv this year, I’m extremely excited to see what they can do with next year’s flagship, which will hopefully address the issues and concerns brought by a device that has never seen this operating system before.
Huge shout-out to AT&T for the review unit!
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