Event Coverage

Hands-on: The BlackBerry Priv, the first BlackBerry smartphone to run on Android

By Bryan Chan & Liu Hongzuo - 1 Dec 2015

Hands-on: The BlackBerry Priv, the first BlackBerry smartphone to run on Android

The BlackBerry Priv.

BlackBerry never really went away. They've just decided to take a break and rethink their approach. To this end, they've decided to move with the times, and have come up with a great idea for a product – one that combines all their strengths, such as a physical keyboard, and heightened security features, into a smartphone that runs on the Android OS. That’s right, this is the BlackBerry Priv – the first Android OS smartphone by BlackBerry, and a pretty one to boot.

The BlackBerry Priv has a 5.4-inch LCD display with a resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 (Quad HD), and a pixel density of 550ppi. The apps and interface do appear clearly, but for some reason, the app logos do not look very sharp. That said, text on the BlackBerry Priv appears to be very clear, sharp, and clean, and that’s a huge plus given that BlackBerry builds its smartphones for the average businessperson who has emails, notes, and readings to do on the go. One additional feature is the curved screen, which is a nice visual touch, albeit with limited practical use (more on this later). The curved sides of the screen do not wrap as much of the sides, like how the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ does, probably because it is limited by its slide-up mechanism that hides a physical keyboard.

That’s right, what would a BlackBerry be without a physical keyboard? At a glance, the keyboard seems quite simple, but the keys have an intuitive layout – to get hold of numbers, simply hold on to the Alt button on the left and press away. Our first impressions with the physical keyboard was lukewarm – it is indeed handy, but it really takes a fair bit of getting used to, and the buttons are definitely too small for fat thumbs. Nonetheless, the accuracy and tactile feel of a physical keyboard present.

The BlackBerry Priv we had was loaded with Android 5.1.1 (Lollipop), and is powered by a hexa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 64-bit SoC – within it is a 600MHz Adreno 418 GPU. There's also 3GB of RAM, with 32GB of internal memory. The storage space is expandable by another 2TB via a microSD card. It has a nano-SIM slot; both card slots are located at the top of the phone.

Of course, it being an Android-based smartphone means it has access to the Google Play store, and it basically does all Android things you’re used to. But BlackBerry is big on productivity and security, so they also layered it with some of their fabled security measures under the hood. All data on your BlackBerry Priv is already encrypted by default, and it has BlackBerry’s DTEK for Android, which informs the user when their privacy or security is at risk of being compromised.

Here's a better look at the curved screen and the volume rockers. In the middle is a button to activate Silent Mode.

Similar to the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge and S6 edge+, sliding your finger from one of the curved sides to across the screen will give you access to a BlackBerry-sque productivity widget. It is a rather basic widget, as it only handles your events, unread emails, to-do list, and favorite contacts. It is however, a practical touch.

Adding to that, the BlackBerry Priv also comes pre-loaded with a host of Android applications, like Google Maps and Android Device Manager, in addition to the best of BlackBerry’s apps – like BBM, Content Transfer, and the productivity widget above.

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The BlackBerry Priv comes with an 18MP rear camera, with an f/2.2 aperture that uses six lens elements. It boasts many powerful photography features, such as Optical Image Stabilization – for less blurry photos, Phase Detect AutoFocus – for breakneck auto-focusing speeds, Back Side Illumination (BSI) stacked sensor – for better performance in low-light conditions. It also has four times the digital zoom, continuous or touch-to-focus, face detection, and 4K video recording at 30fps. The front camera is a 2MP shooter with f/2.8 aperture and is fixed focus. It comes with Wide Selfie Mode, and image stabilization. Our quick camera test showed some artefacts along the edges of the subject and background, but it is otherwise a very decent camera for a phone.

The 3,400mAh battery capacity is bigger than most 5.5-inch smartphones on the market, such as the Oppo R7s, and even the Apple iPhone 6s Plus. According to BlackBerry, the Priv is capable of up to 23.9 hours talk time, and averages out on 22.5 hours for mixed use. It uses a Micro-USB 2.0 port to charge and transfer files, which is the norm.

The Micro-USB port and 3.5 mm audio jack are found at the bottom.

Local pricing and availability of the BlackBerry Priv is yet to be confirmed, but you can expect more news about this sometime next week.