It was something that many felt the Canadian company that once bossed the business side of smartphones should have done a few years ago. And well, now it finally has. After cocking a snook at apps, then supporting Android apps on its BB OS, BlackBerry has finally come out with a device that runs Android – the Priv.
It is not just the presence of Android that makes the Priv special. The device also comes with a form factor that was made famous by the likes of Nokia in 2007 – the slider, in which the keyboard slides out from under the display. And it is curved touchscreen display (a la the Galaxy S6 Edge) too – a 5.4 inch AMOLED affair with a resolution of 1440 X 2560, giving it a very impressive pixel density of 540 ppi.
So in terms of “sticking out in a crowd” ability, the Priv is right up there with the Passport, although its slightly more conventional form factor will not make people notice it as immediately as they did the Passport. They will, however, notice it the moment you slide out the full QWERTY keyboard that lies beneath the display. We are impressed at the way in which the folks at BlackBerry have manage to cram a full QWERTY keyboard into a frame that is 9.4 mm thin. At a mere 147 mm in length (with the keyboard slid in), the Priv is also rather compact for a device with a relatively large display. At 192 grammes, it is no featherweight, but factor in that keyboard and the weight somehow does not feel THAT much.
What the Priv DOES feel is classy. Right from the curved display to the metal buttons on the side (the volume up and down on the right, with a mysterious button bang in between, whose only purpose is to mute the phone if it is noisy; and the display/ power button on the left), to the speaker grille on the ‘chin’ on the phone to the carbon fibre weave on the back (which we also saw on the Q10) to the thick metal ring, this is a phone that was made to stand out. The slide out mechanism is smooth and the keyboard although a trifle cramped by those spoiled by the Passport and Q10, has ridged keys which click away nicely. There is no D-pad or call receive or reject buttons here (and given the design, their absence is not as much of a hassle as say on the Q10 or the Passport), although you can use the keyboard also as a touchpad to navigate between displays. We did find the back a trifle flimsy though – press down on it and your finger sinks disturbingly deep, which is oddly cheap in a device that has such a premium pricing and feel to it.
It packs in some very premium hardware too. The display is a quad HD one and has an impressive pixel density and making everything tick within is the job of a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor, allied with 3 GB RAM, 32 GB storage (expandable to a staggering for 2 TB – provided you can find a memory card that spacious – using a memory card slot right on top of the device). The camera on the back is an 18.0-megapixel one with a Schnedier-Kreuznach sensor, dual LED flash, support for 4K video and optical image stabilisation (although the one in front is a rather surprisingly tame 2.0-megapixel one). Connectivity includes 4G, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS and NFC. A large-ish 3410 mAh battery is tasked with keeping things ticking over.
But the Priv is one of the rare devices in which very good hardware is eclipsed by the software that runs on it. As we stated before, the Priv is the first device from BlackBerry to be running Android. And it comes with version 5.1.1 out of the box, although BlackBerry claims to be delivering updates to make the device more efficient and secure every month. The company has also largely stuck to stock Android in terms of interface, and has added its own apps to it, including BlackBerry Hub, Content Transfer and of course, the iconic BlackBerry Messenger and that famous onscreen BlackBerry Keyboard that many consider to be the best in touch territory. There are Google goodies too – you have the default Gmail app, Chrome, Drive, Google Search, News and Weather and before you ask, the Priv comes with Google Play, allowing you to download Android apps from the official store for them, instead of having to depend on Amazon’s App Store in devices like the Passport and Q10. Mind you, there are some restrictions – you cannot install a launcher to change the look of your device. We will be taking a closer look at the BlackBerried version of Android in another article. Right now, suffice to say that it looks very much like the version you would get on a Moto or a Nexus – whether that is good or bad news depends on your preferences.
All said and done, the Priv is easily one of the most visually distinct phones out there, thanks to its form factor. But does it pack the sort of performance that will merit a price tag of Rs 62,990? And in so doing, offer a sliver of hope to BlackBerry? Keep your eyes peeled for our review.