BlackBerry's Priv Android Phone Earns Praise, Put-Downs

Early reviews for the BlackBerry Priv, the company's first Android smartphone, are all over the map, but most agree the keyboard is only so-so and the software is buggy.

Eric Zeman, Contributor

November 7, 2015

3 Min Read
<p align="left">(Image: BlackBerry)</p>

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The BlackBerry Priv went on sales Nov. 6 and early reviews are mixed. The Priv is BlackBerry's first Android smartphone -- and widely viewed as the company's last gasp at making handsets.

Voices from around the Web sounded off on the Priv and lauded its intentions, while also lambasting its execution. Here's what they said.

BlackBerry still knows how to design solid pieces of hardware, according to reviewers. The Priv's design was praised by most. "It has a curved 5.4-inch screen that feels nice and big without being unwieldy -- even with the slider open. The back is really grippy without being tacky, thanks to a 'glass-weave' finish that I really like," wrote The Verge's Dieter Bohn. "It feels solid and the slider opens and closes with a satisfying snick." But it's heavy. At 6.7 ounces, it outweighs most handsets on the market.

The phrase "they don't make 'em like they used to" apparently applies to the keyboard. The Priv has a slide-out keyboard that hides behind the screen. Precious few smartphones include keyboards these days, and BlackBerry was the undisputed keyboard-designing king. No so with the Priv.

"The four-row QWERTY keyboard ... is a little disappointing, I'm sorry to say. It's the smallest flagship BlackBerry keyboard in a while," complained PCMag's Sascha Segan. "The rows of keys are a little squatter and less sharply sculpted. The keys themselves are just about as clicky as the Classic's, which isn't as clicky as older BlackBerry devices' keys. The small, cramped keys aren't nearly as friendly to big or clumsy thumbs as older BlackBerry keyboards were."

Joanna Stern at The Wall Street Journal disagrees. "The sculpted plastic keys were great when I had to write a lengthy email and make edits to a story," said Stern, who also claimed to reach 60 words per minute on the hardware keys.

All three reviewers praised the customizable keyboard shortcuts and the ability to use it as a trackpad for controlling the screen.

User interface speed was roundly bashed by reviews. The Android 5.0 Lollipop operating system appears to be mostly stock, but BlackBerry made some necessary changes to ensure its services function properly. The code and the Snapdragon 808 processor don't get along. Bohn, Segan, and Stern all complained of laggy performance, app crashes, and lost tap-recognition. The camera, in particular, was derided for sluggish behavior.

The Priv earned praise for voice call quality and battery life, but BlackBerry's security measures are being questioned. BlackBerry has committed to monthly security updates for the Priv, and baked encryption keys into the hardware during manufacturing, but it still allows users to sign up for Google services. That means Google is getting all your data anyway.

[Read why VMware is telling BlackBerry users to "let it go."]

PCMag's Segan points out that Android 6.0 Marshmallow is much more secure thanks to device-wide encryption and fine-grain control over permissions. The Journal's Stern, however, suggests the Priv's DTEK software -- a security dashboard of sorts -- lets users revoke certain permissions (camera, etc.) at will.

One thing every review agrees on: The Priv is way too expensive. The handset retails for $699, which is more than the iPhone 6s, Samsung Galaxy S6, and myriad other flagship handsets. Even worse, many Android smartphones are priced in the $200 to $400 range that deliver good-enough performance.

Who is the BlackBerry Priv for? Not for consumers. Business execs who demand a physical keyboard and want good battery life may be pleased with the Priv, but the high price and sluggish performance may outweigh those benefits.

About the Author(s)

Eric Zeman


Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies.

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