I have been a loyal BlackBerry (BB) user for years and because of that I’ve been made fun of by many people who think that their phone of choice is superior.
But really, folks, it’s all about personal choice and for me, the BB is what I will keep on using because it’s the only smartphone today that still comes with a physical keypad.
Laugh all you want but this is a really important factor for people who are more tactile and simply can’t stand (or are just unable) to type on virtual keyboards.
BlackBerry (formerly Research In Motion) has come up with a brand new phone that runs on Android – I admit to panicking ever so slightly with the thought of my then two-year-old BBQ10 breaking down and me having to finally succumb to typing on a glass panel.
Thankfully, the company decided to keep its BB legacy and retain the all-important physical keyboard – albeit complemented by a virtual one – for its first Android device, the Priv.
Android meets BB
Priv stands for “privacy and privilege” which basically means the phone has all the wonderful security features (privacy) that BB is well known for and that it’s a premium smartphone (it really is a privilege to own it as RM3,599 a pop).
The Priv runs on Android Lollipop (5.1.1) – it’s not the latest version but even a lot of Androids still run on the older operating system. In any case, the Priv is expected to receive the update to Android Marshmallow sometime this year.
What I did find a little difficult to get used to was the merging of features from both operating systems in a single phone. Although the Priv runs on Android, there are some remnants of the BB10 OS tacked onto its system.
While it seems like a good idea in theory, there are some overlapping functions on the phone such as the BB Hub and Android’s notification system. A staple in the BB world, the hub is a wonderful workflow management tool that houses all your messages, reminders and notifications.
What’s great about the Hub is that it allows you to filter your messages, whether by priority, type (e-mail, social media, etc) or contacts. You can personalise the Hub and choose what you want to see or see first and how often you want to be notified. You can also choose if you want to delete messages only from the Hub or the server, too.
The Hub exists on the Priv but somehow I feel like it has become a hidden feature and therefore does not work as effectively, especially because it clashes with Android’s own notification system.
The Android notification system can be a headache, especially when you get more than five alerts at one time. There is an option to clear all the alerts with a single tap, and when you do that, you will find that everything is in the Hub anyway.
So why the need for two notification systems that do basically the same thing?
Moving on, the Productivity Tab on the Priv is an extended version of what you get on the BB10. The tab is sort of hidden except for a thin vertical bar on the right (which you can customise in terms of size and transparency). The curved screen – yes, just like the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge – makes it easy to swipe open the bar.
It expands into a folder, resting on top of everything, including all apps that are open.
The Productivity Tab is very useful for people who rely heavily on their phones for work and daily schedules/tasks. It gives you a quick look at your calendar, task list, the Hub and your contacts list with a single swipe.
BB is well known for its security features and the Priv comes with an app called DTEK that alerts you on security issues. If something on your phone is misbehaving or if one of your apps is compromised, you will be notified. If you choose not to use a lockscreen feature for your phone, DTEK will tell you that your security rating is low and that you should change that.
Speaking of lockscreens, the Priv has a picture lock that seems to be a favourite of many reviewers. Instead of using a pin or a pattern to lock your phone, the picture lock shows a grid of numbers on the screen and you are supposed to find the combination of numbers that you’ve chosen earlier and match it to a pre-selected location on the picture. This is so that the person sitting next to or behind you can’t easily figure out your password just by looking at what you’re doing.
The downside to using the picture lock is that it can get a little difficult to unlock your screen in a jiffy. You do get a total of 10 tries before your phone automatically wipes out and resets, though. I learnt that the hard way.
Zits and all
When it comes to hardware, BB is known for its hardy sets (I’ve dropped my BBQ10 20 times, and counting, without damaging it). The Priv is made of mostly plastic with the screen protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 4. The back of the phone has a non-slip surface that allows the user to grip the phone properly.
The speaker is under the screen which has a metal trim – place your thumb right below the trim and push the screen up to reveal the physical keyboard.
The keyboard has a capacitive touch sensor that’s akin to the old BB trackball/trackpad so you can swipe your thumb or finger over the keyboard to take actions displayed on screen.
For example, when you’re typing an e-mail, the phone will display suggested words on screen. Instead of touching the screen, you just need to swipe up on the part of the keyboard that’s nearest to that word.
You can also scroll through your Facebook or Twitter newsfeeds by swiping the keyboard instead of the screen, thus keeping your screen clear of fingerprints and smudges.
There are a ton of other keyboard shortcuts and gestures available on the Priv – some are new though the majority is stuff that BB users have always enjoyed.
Apart from the physical keyboard, one of the best hardware features of the Priv is the camera.
The 18-megapixel rear camera takes such good pictures I had to delete so many selfies because my zits, fine lines and even beads of sweat could be seen!
I had the chance to take the Priv with me while on holiday and was very happy with almost all the pictures and videos I took with the phone. Plus, watching Netflix shows on the Priv was quite enjoyable as the speaker provides crisp and clear audio.
Overall, I do like the Priv as I feel it is easy to use and it is the best device for a BB user like myself to wean off the BB OS.
It is a “serious” phone that’s great for work but at the same time, you can have tons of apps that let you while away your spare time, too.
Also, you can customise the phone and use it to the best of your advantage – there are tons of tips and tricks for you to do that.
Right now, the only thing that stops me from putting in an order for a set is the price.
Pros: The physical keyboard, of course; great battery life.
Cons: Camera’s a little slow and the front-facing camera is weak; pricey.
Operating system: Android 5.1.1 Lollipop with DTEK security suite
Display: 5.43in QHD (2,560 x 1,440 pixels)
Camera: 18-megapixel rear camera; 2 megapixel front-facing camera
Processor: Qualcomm MSM8992 Snapdragon 808
Connectivity: MicroUSB, Bluetooth 4.1, WiFi, NFC
Memory: 32GB internal storage
Expansion slot: MicroSD (up to 200GB supported)
Dimensions (W x D x H): 147 x 77.2 x 9.4mm
Price: RM3,559 (inclusive of GST)
RATING: Three and a half stars
Review unit courtesy of BlackBerry Malaysia