BlackBerry has produced the smartphone to save its Canadian (turkey) bacon – the security conscious, beautifully designed Priv. Or at least it would have if it had launched three years ago, and wasn’t so expensive.
Launching now, (next month in the UAE), the company’s first Android phone is good enough to retain the loyalty of the now really very small BlackBerry faithful, who now have a proper choice of apps to play with.
The problem is that at Dh2,899, the Priv, as just another Android phone, has to perform as well as, if not better than the likes of the Galaxy S6 Edge to win people over. And if you’re not fussed by its keyboard or its privacy features, the Priv can’t match its similarly priced rivals.
First, the good stuff. The Priv is a beautifully designed device, with a curved edge, 5.4-inch Amoled display with a 540 ppi resolution (in line with the LG G4 and just behind the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge), offset by a unique “glass weave” back that gives it a real premium feel.
The Priv’s standout design feature is its well engineered, slide out physical keyboard. But while many BlackBerry enthusiasts will welcome such a feature – and will buy the Priv for no other reason – using it to type feels fiddly and alien after so many years of using an iPhone, especially compared with last year’s wider-keyboard BlackBerry Passport.
Even if you like the keyboard, there are a few small omissions that put the Priv behind the iPhone and S6 Edge.
Most noticeable is the absence of a fingerprint reader. While BlackBerry claims such mechanisms are too easy to hack, much of the Priv’s premium feel is lost by having to unlock it with a pattern on the screen, just as you would on a Dh300 device.
The Priv’s 18 megapixel camera takes great images, but takes its time doing so, with a very irritating shutter lag. And they’d probably rather we didn’t mention the rather weedy 2MP selfie camera.
I care about privacy a lot more than selfies, and I hear BlackBerry does too!
You’d be right. BlackBerry has promised to keep the Priv (short for “privacy”) constantly updated with Android’s monthly patch updates, and has established a hot desk system for serious bugs, which has the potential to make the device a whole lot more secure than the vast majority of Android devices.
How effective will all this be? And is it worth buying just for these features?
Only time will tell if it will significantly reduce the risk from malware, but it’s likely to win approval from security conscious IT departments. Whether they can convince the finance department to shell out Dh2,899 a pop for a company phone however is another matter.
What about the BlackBerry Hub?
Message aggregator BlackBerry Hub is present and correct. It’s a feature that’s enjoyed by many, enabling the easy snoozing of emails. In its current iteration it still falls short, in that it doesn’t work with Facebook Messenger or, more importantly, Google Hangouts.
It still sounds like a perfectly good phone, why shouldn’t I buy one?
I have no hesitation in recommending the Priv to BlackBerry enthusiasts. For everyone else though, it’s just not quite up there with the similarly priced iPhone 6S and S6 Edge.