- Amazing quad HD display
- microSD card slot
- Slideout keyboard with haptic scrolling
- Snappy performance
- Good speaker
- Solid battery life
- Keyboard performance inconsistent
- Randomly rebooted several times during testing
- Slow camera with inconsistent quality
- So much AT&T bloatware
While the BlackBerry Priv's excellent screen, grippy back and versatile slide out keyboard come together in an Android-toting package, random reboots, inconsistent features and a slow camera highlight BlackBerry's newcomer status to Google's operating system. However, its quick update to fix these bugs highlights the Canadian company’s longevity in the smartphone field.
Hardware keyboards adorned early smartphones because of one name: BlackBerry. The Canadian company, then known as RIM, dominated the market with secure phones that sported keyboards, letting people hammer out emails at lightning speeds. Phones like the Sidekick, Nokia N900, HTC G1 and the Motorola Droid all followed the course set out by BlackBerry, but none of their keyboards could compare.
Now, it’s 2016 and BlackBerry has less global market share then Samsung’s Tizen OS, and software keyboards reign supreme. While BlackBerry 10 (BB10) devices offer quick speeds and innovative features like the BlackBerry Hub, they suffer from a lack of apps and shrinking developer support.
The BlackBerry Priv marks a big change for the Canadian company: Android. Nixing its in-house OS grants it access to thousands of apps and games from the Google Play Store. So how does it stack up with the rest of the pack? Read on to find out.
Build & Design
This phone just looks like a BlackBerry. And that’s a good thing. While the Priv may appear big at first glance, it actually sits right in the middle of the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus, measuring 5.79 x 3.04 x 0.37 inches, and just a hair shorter and narrower than the Motorola Droid Turbo 2. It weighs in on the heavier side of other flagships at 6.77 ounes, making it feel solid and substantial in the hand without being taxing to hold.
The Priv is a cohesive blend of two distinct pieces: the soft touch plastic back, and the glass and metal front. The left and right edges of the 5.4-inch Quad HD display curve slightly, but not as much as the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. The sleek build makes it narrower in the hand than its dimensions convey. The display meets the plastic at the speaker grill, which spans the chin of the device.
The flat top and bottom contrast pleasantly with the rounded sides. The top houses the microSD (which accepts up to 2TB capacity) and SIM card trays, while the microUSB 2.0 with SlimPort and the 3.5mm audio jack sit on the bottom of the device. The power button is centered on the left side of the device, and the volume buttons sit a bit higher up on the right side. An unnecessary button in between the up and down volume keys silences incoming calls and notifications; the same functionality exists by pressing the volume down button during an incoming call.
The soft-touch weave material on the back of the device, previously found on the Q10 and Z30, provides excellent grip, making using this large phone fairly easy with one hand. The large 18-megapixel camera protrudes above the center-mounted BlackBerry logo.
Pushing the aluminum ridge above the speaker up reveals the Priv’s most unique feature: the hardware keyboard. The keys don’t have as must travel as the BlackBerry Classic or older BB7 devices. They look and feel exactly like the keys found on the Passport, a bit shallow with two raised edges on each key. And just like the Passport, you can scroll through emails, webpages and home screens by running your fingers over the touch-sensitive keys.
Strangely enough, scrolling is the best part of the physical keyboard, and, for the most part, it will make fans of the old BlackBerry trackball happy. However, its functionality is inconsistent. For example, scrolling through the email list in Outlook works great, but scrolling in an actual email or email thread doesn’t work. Scrolling both vertically and horizontally works great in the BlackBerry Calendar, but scrolling horizontally doesn’t work in Google Calendar.
Using the keyboard as an actual keyboard is just as inconsistent. Most of the time, it works great, with each key press resulting in a reassuring click. Since finding the symbols on the keyboard definitely slows you down, you can swipe down on the keyboard to reveal a symbols keyboard onscreen. While this is a great shortcut, it initially displays the less used symbols first, requiring another swipe down to reveal commonly used symbols like “?” and “@”.
Quickly pressing the same key twice sometimes only registered one key press. Even though the physical keyboard does benefit from auto correction, the team at NotebookReview found that it didn’t correct many of those missed key presses unless one goes into the keyboard settings and changes the auto correct to the strong setting. Even then, ‘wel’ wouldn’t be corrected to “well’ and “i” to “I”.
The combinations of amazing word predictive and keyboard technologies like Swype have made software keyboards fast and reliable, making it a physical keyboard less necessary. BlackBerry (somewhat unsuccessfully) has tried to give users the best of both worlds by utilizing the touch-sensitive nature of the keys. First off, word predictions appear above the keyboard like you’d find on a regular software keyboard. In order to access these three predictions, you can swipe up on the physical keyboard below the corresponding word.
Unfortunately, this action proves too unreliable, so you’ll probably just take your fingers off the keyboard and press one of the three predictions. However, the predictions awkwardly sit above the three software keys. Plus, you lose time trying to reposition your fingers to start typing again.
You can also program keys access shortcuts when long-pressed. However, this only work on the homescreen, making pressing the home button, opening the keyboard and long-pressing a key slower than just pressing the home button and clicking an icon on the homescreen.
Inconsistencies like these turn great features into pain points. If you can’t rely on something to work all the time, you end up just not using it or getting frustrated every time you do.
Thankfully, the 5.4 inch Quad HD AMOLED display doesn’t suffer the same inconsistencies as the keyboard. With 540 PPI, text is super crisp, blacks are deep and colors pop, while not suffering from the over-saturated settings that come standard on Samsung Galaxy phones. Some of the team at NotebookReview found the colors a tad bit warm, but that can be easily fixed in the color adjust settings.
As mentioned previously, the left and right edges of the display curve ever-so slightly, while the bezel is actually what curves the most. This makes using the touch screen easier since the curve makes it feel narrower in the hand. It should also be safe from everyday scratches and short drops due to its use of Corning Gorilla Glass 4.