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BlackBerry Priv Review: Missed Opportunity

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We review BlackBerry’s Priv!

It’s finally happened: BlackBerry has gone and ditched BlackBerry OS (if temporarily) for Android. We’re honestly not surprised, even as many people say that Android is the most unsecure OS ever, putting it at odds with BlackBerry’s security-focused needs, it’s still one of the most flexible and most popular mobile operating systems in the market today. If it wants its devices business to survive, BlackBerry has to cater to a platform that’s used by millions and millions of people. That’s why the Priv was born.

It’s no secret that the Priv will make or break the company’s device fortune. It’s the yardstick that’ll determine if the Canadian firm makes more devices or does something else entirely. And in that regard, the Priv may sell quite a bit, at least more than their previous offerings, though many people in the PH may avoid buying BlackBerry’s first ever Android phone because of pricing missteps.

BlackBerry Priv specs

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 hexa-core processor
  • 3GB of RAM
  • 5.4-inch curved QHD AMOLED display with Gorilla Glass 4, 2560 x 1440 resolution
  • 32GB of storage, expandable via microSD up to 2TB
  • 18-megapixel rear camera, OIS, PDAF, 6-element f/2.2 lens, dual LED flash
  • 2-megapixel fixed focus camera, f/2.8 lens, 1.75um pixel size
  • 3G, LTE
  • WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, A-GPS, NFC
  • 3410mAh battery
  • Android 5.1 Lollipop

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The return of the slider, but at what cost

BlackBerry’s first Android flagship re-introduces an old feature that we haven’t seen in a long time – a slide-out keyboard. While bodging in a sliding keyboard into a frame is a recipe for a
chunky device, BlackBerry’s managed to do this while still retaining a relatively thin 9.4mm profile in its device. The keyboard slides out positively into place and stays securely up when it’s deployed. With the keyboard down, the Priv is a relatively short phone, comparable to most 5.5-inch Android devices in the market. With the keyboard up however, it becomes rather tall, which is understandable, though that also means it becomes a little unwieldy.

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The keys on the keyboard itself are a little small, though fans of BlackBerry will probably take to it without too much effort. For the rest of us, the keys are a bit squishy, requires quite a
bit of effort to press. The keyboard also pulls double duty as a trackpad, which is useful if you’re reading through a website or a particularly long document. BlackBerry’s predictive text
feature is back, and works on both the physical keyboard and the virtual one, though we still prefer our longtime favorite Swiftkey for typing.

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The front of the phone is dominated by the 5.4-inch AMOLED display that sports dual-curved edges much like the one on the Galaxy S6 Edge. The screen has Gorilla Glass 4 protection against
scratches, and uses on-screen Android navigation keys. Right on the bottom of the keyboard is the front-facing speaker. The 3.5mm jack and USB port are both located on the bottom of the phone.
The power button is on the left side of the phone, while the volume rocker is on the right. The SIM card and microSD slots are located on the top of the phone, connected to the lower part of the sliding mechanism.

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Once you turn the phone over, you’ll see the 18-meagpixel camera with Schneider-Kreuznach’s lens. The back of the Priv uses a material that’s made to look a little like carbon fiber yet feels soft to the touch, in an attempt to make the phone easier to use in the hands.

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While BlackBerry’s overall design of the Priv is excellent, there are serious build quality issues that we need to address. Pressing down from the middle of the backside of the phone, you
definitely notice a lot of flex. That’s not all, there’s audible creaks as you do this as well, which is upsetting, to be perfectly frank. We’ve come to expect only the best from BlackBerry’s devices as far as build quality goes, and considering how much BlackBerry is asking for the Priv (we’ll get to that a little later), the build quality issues are unacceptable.

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Anyway, moving on to the display quality. The 5.4-inch, QHD AMOLED display of the Priv is nice and bright, and isn’t as oversaturated as we thought considering that it’s an AMOLED display. Colors are punchy and vibrant, and outdoor visibility is good. The right side of the curved display allows you to pull up additional notifications and features when you need it. Overall the display of the Priv is more than enough for a flagship device.

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Snapdragon 808 keeps everything running smoothly

BlackBerry has elected to go with a Snapdragon 808 processor instead of the more powerful (and thermally troublesome) 810 processor from Qualcomm. That’s paired with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, which can further be expanded up to 200GB via microSD card.

As far as performance goes, the Snapdragon 808 processor performs well enough for most tasks and for graphically intense games. We did run into some bugs and stutters, but we’re more than willing to pin that on how BlackBerry optimized Android for this device, this being their first Android smartphone and all.

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Even if it Android, BlackBerry has put in a couple of new features into the device that makes it one of the most secure Android phones in the market today. Chief of which is DTEK, a security software tool that monitors apps in the phone and provides users a detailed report on what those apps are doing. It also tells you when your personal data is being accessed, how often and how long.

The Priv also uses BlackBerry’s Hub notification center. From the BlackBerry Hub you’ll be able to see all the relevant notifications from your Gmail, Twitter, Instagram and more. The
notification bar on Android already does this of course, but at least you’ll be able to access a central location to see everything right away once you dismiss them from the notification bar
instead of going through each app that sent you notifications in the first place.

Call performance is stellar, with no dropped calls whatsoever.

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Excellent camera, but the app is lackluster

BlackBerry’s devices aren’t known for stellar image quality, but they’re trying to change that with the Priv. For starters, they’ve put in an 18-megapixel camera with Schneider-Kreuznach optics, along with OIS, a f/2.2 aperture and phase detection AF. Clearly BlackBerry isn’t leaving anything to chance when it comes to the camera experience on the Priv.

Screenshot_2015-12-16-15-38-17

At least, on the hardware side. The software side is a little different. The camera app is a little rudimentary, which is a big contrast to the offerings of other companies. We were hoping for a comprehensive manual mode for the Priv given the excellent optics in the thing but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

That doesn’t detract from the fact that the Priv is completely capable of taking really good shots however. We found that the Priv manages to shoot rather decent photos with good colors and detail. Low light performance is also good, though noise will become a problem when you’re shooting in darker than normal environs.

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Overall good battery performance

Despite its slim frame, the Priv sports a large, 3410mAh battery. We were curious to see just how far that battery would go, and PCMark’s Battery Benchmark reported back a score of 7 hours and 17 minutes. That’s more than enough for a day’s worth of use, with a little left over for the next day.

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Verdict: Would have been a great flagship, but its price lets it down

The BlackBerry Priv is a great effort from the Canadian company, especially since it’s their first romp with Android. Unfortunately, the Priv is priced in the PH at Php 45,000, which is rather steep. If it were priced at around 35K, we would be willing to overlook the build quality issues that we pointed out earlier, but if a phone is priced that much, it needs to be absolutely perfect for it to stand a chance, which the BlackBerry Priv isn’t.

If BlackBerry had just priced the Priv at close to the SRP it was offered in the US, it may have had a fighting chance, but as it is, it’s a missed opportunity from the Canadian company.

The BlackBerry Priv retails in the PH for Php 45,000.

John Nieves

John is a veteran technology and gadget journalist with more than 10 years of experience both in print and online. When not writing about technology, he frequently gets lost in the boonies playing soldier.

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4 Comments

  1. If that’s the case with blackberry, Getting a Nexus will be more worth or if you’re willing to pay more for a galaxy, lg or sony. (Talking flagships here)

  2. @john_nieves your BB Priv review is perfect! Perfect form of a #presstitute. So perfect that your headline alone misleads your own review.

    It seem to appear that your review is a copy of other presstitute tech sites’ earlier biased reviews. And after receiving the series of Priv updates, those biased tech sites were forced to redo their earlier reviews. Funny aint it?

    You bitch about the price and yet people in the Philippines rave about the more expensive iDevice/s. When talking about features and functionality, Priv can go at par or beyond with your favorite Android Nexus 6P. Are you being fair with your article? Certainly not.

    I’m not a fan of duopoly if you’re trying to push for it. I wanted more OS’s to flourish so people have some choice.

    1. No software update will solve the fact that the Priv has serious build quality issues when it came from the box. I assure you that all of the reviews written by me are all written from scratch, and are based on the time I had with the device and not based on anything else.There are certainly better phones that can be bought for the money that BlackBerry is asking for for the Priv.

      As far as your comment of the duopoly on the OS, the Priv is running Android, not BlackBerry OS. I don’t get that particular comment.

      1. Very nice review @John_Nieves 🙂 dont mind ironhyde since he’s just a troll working for the decepticons. and the darkside of the force is strong upon him. Cautious you must be! HAHA!

        But seriously, 45k? I would just opt to choose the iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus 🙂

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