TECH

BlackBerry Priv Review: Paranoid Android

18/11/2015 16:07 GMT | Updated 18/11/2015 16:59 GMT

The BlackBerry Priv shouldn't really exist. BlackBerry's bold but ill-fated decision to steer clear of Android for its smartphones may have ultimately cost the company its future as a smartphone maker.

blackberry priv

Against all the odds though the company has seemingly conceded that it was a terrible idea and finally launched a flagship smartphone that runs Android.

Lets get one thing out of the way now, nostalgia is all well and good but when a phone costs £559 SIM-Free you're going to want to expect something more than a tiny keyboard that goes click and makes you feel like you work in 'the city'.

Priv thankfully does do more than that, much more.

Firstly there's the design. It's hard not to be spellbound by BlackBerry's new phone the first time you pick it up. This is partly because it's enormous, but also because it's a slider.

blackberry priv

Behind that massive 5.4-inch Quad HD display hides a full QWERTY keyboard, revealed when you slide the screen up. It's a satisfying movement, one that reassuringly locks into place when opened. It's also extremely well-balanced, something you would pray considering it lengthens to the phone to an almost comical level.

The phone is predominantly made out of plastic and some 'carbon fibre' like material on the back. We're not sure who's telling BlackBerry to do this but exposed carbon fibre should only be found in the depths of F1 cars and on the frames of sunglasses worn by idiots. It's not attractive. Maybe that's just us.

blackberry priv

We'll forgive them though because on the front is an utterly stunning curved display. Taking cues from Samsung's Galaxy S6 Edge, the Priv's massive screen is gently curved on either side. It's a great design element that's only improved by the fact that the display is excellent.

blackberry priv

The overall design of the Priv is on of classic BlackBerry understatement. The size is going to be a problem for some, this phone is a hulking mass of plastic and the corners are annoyingly sharp. This is a two-handed phone through and through.

BlackBerry have made the very wise decision of leaving the appearance of Google's software well alone. Instead BlackBerry's influence shines through via the dedicated apps and a couple of UI features that make use of that curved screen.

blackberry priv

The Priv comes with a range of apps that'll recognise if you've used a BlackBerry before, this include BlackBerry Hub, Calendar, Email and BBM. All are impressively ported over and perform admirably.

Hub remains one of the best content aggregators we've seen, combining your emails, messages, WhatsApps and BBMs into one stream that's endlessly customisable. For anyone but a hardcore 'power user' it's going to be a terrifying sight but we know that BB's hardcore fanbase will love it.

All seems very normal, except that BlackBerry does have one ace card. On the home screen is a unassuming little app called DTEK. It doesn't look like much but it is, if nothing else, a visual indicator that this phone is a little different.

blackberry dtek

Priv, stand for Privacy. It's an awful name, but it's one that is admittedly well chosen due to the fact Priv is one of the most secure Android smartphones ever made.

From the way the hardware is physically put together all the way up to the apps BlackBerry has made sure that the Priv is a Fort Knox of mobile security.

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All of this hardware and software is then summarised via the DTEK app. With a handy indicator at the top, the app gives you a rating of not only how secure your phone is but also how secure your apps are.

Like your own personal bodyguard Priv analyses and cracks open every app you download from Google Play and then clearly lists the services that it wants to use.

The first time you open it you're likely to be in for a shock because while Android now provides clear permissions lists, DTEK shows you everything. DTEK won't just show you that your new torch app has been using your location, it'll show you the exact locations that it has stored and then sent to god knows where.

It's a terrifying eye-opener at first but one that ultimately leads to genuine peace of mind, when you start seeing just how much of your life is being tracked it becomes hugely empowering to take it all back.

blackberry priv

BlackBerry's biggest feature has long been the keyboard, and yet rather ironically, DTEK seems like the new product that could replace the keyboard.

The BlackBerry touchscreen keyboard is probably one of the best out there, and if we're honest we've barely used the physical one. If we have, it's usually out of sheer nostalgia.

Sadly though the keyboard is there and it massively affects how the phone looks and feels. It's thicker than others out there, it's heavier too.

Verdict:

The Priv has an outstanding display, an on-screen keyboard that's joyful to use and so much security built in that it feels like the productivity tool that many executives will have been waiting for.

It's also a great Android phone. Where the Priv falters is in its desirability. While the Classic lacked many things, it was a stylish, smart-looking phone that was pocketable and fitted in with the lifestyle of many who used it.

The Priv isn't a particularly good-looking or 'flashy' phone, and if it's trying to compete with the likes of the 6s and the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge it really needed to be.