BlackBerry is ready to make a splash with an Android phone — here's what we know so far.
For a while there, it seemed as though BlackBerry had a good handle on keeping their upcoming slider under wraps but over the past few weeks, the device has been popping up seemingly everywhere. As expected, there was some sketchy rumors, then came some pretty spot on leaks of renders of the device and software, then came the typical blurry cam images, then some higher quality images and most recently a somewhat decent hands-on video.
Although it might seem as though everything possible has been leaked, when you look back at it all, there's still a lot to learn about the device that was once known as the BlackBerry Venice but is likely to launch as the BlackBerry Priv. With all of that in mind, we figured it would be a good idea to lay out what exactly is known about the device thanks to all the leaks thus far and point out a few things that remain a bit of a mystery.
Powered by Android
At this point, it should be pretty obvious that this device is coming, and it's running Android but to be more specific, it's running Android Lollipop 5.1.1. We've not yet seen it running Android Marshmallow in any sort of way, so hopefully no one has their hopes up for that just yet. Disappointing? Maybe. But Marshmallow isn't even official yet anyway and is likely to have a few kinks at launch. At least Lollipop is stable now. One thing about it running Android that has largely been overlooked, though, is the fact BlackBerry appears to of have taken their own path when it comes to the kernel being used. Although it's not entirely outside of the norm, BlackBerry has opted to implement grsecurity as a method of going a little 'above and beyond' when it comes to security on Android.
Grsecurity is an extensive security enhancement to the Linux kernel that defends against a wide range of security threats through intelligent access control, memory corruption-based exploit prevention, and a host of other system hardening that generally require no configuration. It has been actively developed and maintained for the past 14 years. Commercial support for grsecurity is available through Open Source Security, Inc.
On top of that, BlackBerry has also added their own security suite of apps to the device, better known as BlackBerry Safeguard, though the leaks thus far haven't laid out exactly what that all consists of. On BlackBerry, it's just a combination of safeguards built to the OS such as Picture Password, Password Keeper, BlackBerry Protect but BlackBerry may have built some additional tools now that they can make use of Android options.
So, that's the security side of things. What else has BlackBerry done to the software? After all, it does largely look like a stock Android device. Well, there's a few BlackBerry touches as well including preloading BBM as well as their own Calendar, Tasks, Notes apps and more. They've also adjusted how the launch screen works so instead of just being offered Google Search; you'll also have the option to use BlackBerry Device Search and access to the BlackBerry Hub.
Specs & Performance
When BlackBerry released the BlackBerry Passport (one year ago today!), it was the highest-specced device put out by BlackBerry. The BlackBerry Priv aims to keep that going with the rumored specs for the device having thus far proven to be pretty spot on. Need a reminder of what those specs are? We got you. No worries. Here's what you're looking at, the only thing still rather questionable is the actual display size ranging anywhere from 5.4-Inches to 5.6-Inches.
- Processor - Qualcomm Snapdragon 808
- RAM - 3GB
- Storage - 32GB, expandable
- Display - 5.4-Inch, 2560x1440, 537 ppi
- Camera - Rear: 18MP, Fast Focus, OIS, 4K video capable / Front: 5MP HD.
Arguably the biggest reason an Android customer might actually want to consider picking up the BlackBerry Priv, aside it from it being yet another black slab, is the slide-out physical keyboard. That fantastic BlackBerry keyboard that even the most touch-screen faithful individuals will admit to missing at times. For the Priv, BlackBerry has brought over their touch-sensitive keyboard from the BlackBerry Passport that allows you to navigate through pages, app screens and more just with a slide of your finger across the keys.
There's just one concern here that might be off-putting to some, and that's how the touch-sensitive keyboard will work within Android apps. As it stands right now, using the BlackBerry Passport as a base, the touch-sensitive keyboard does not work within all apps. Some still force you to use the screen like a filthy animal. That said, there's a good chance BlackBerry has changed this on the Priv with it being a dedicated Android device vs. running it through the Android Runtime found on BlackBerry 10 smartphones. Of course, there's also the chance it might not have been improved at all.
When the BlackBerry Priv slider (then just a dummy unit) was revealed during Mobile World Congress, there was a lot of talk about the dual-curve display BlackBerry decided to use including some speculation that it might be using the same display as the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge. On top of those rumors, which remain unconfirmed, there was also discussion about how the display would be used and whether or not BlackBerry would add any special features to it using the software, again, like those found on the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge.
As highlighted in the image, when the device is plugged in and charging, a battery meter appears on the edge of the screen indicating how much battery percentage is left and how much further the device has to go in order to be fully charged. Sure, it's nothing over the top and there's no way of telling as of yet if this will make it into the final software revisions, but it's a cool little tidbit of information that others seem to of have overlooked despite the device being caught in several photos and even a hands-on video. Will there be additional features added? We're not sure as of yet, and nothing has been shown off so, we'll have to wait and see.
It should go without saying that on the BlackBerry Priv, BlackBerry is going to have to deal with new camera software. Whether or not Android as an OS can help BlackBerry improve upon their often "good enough" cameras remains to be seen but it does seem as though, at the very least, they're making an attempt to up the ante here. As we know it, the BlackBerry Priv will be making use of an 18MP camera on the back and a 5MP up front for front facing photos, and it has all the fancy tricks. Fast Focus, OIS, and what else? A Schneider-Kreuznach lens otherwise known as Schneider Optics.
If you've never heard of Schneider Kreuznach or Schneider Optics before, you're probably not alone but they are a manufacturer of industrial and photographic optics and some of their achievements include supplying gear to NASA, as well as winning an Oscar for Technical Achievement for their Super-Cinelux motion picture lenses. They've also partnered up with folks such as LG and Oppo in the past to produce lenses for mobile devices as well as created their own iPhone add-ons called the iPro Lens System. The point here is, they know what they're doing when it comes to camera and lenses.
But as we all know, being a sought after brand name doesn't always equate to great real world results but in this case, it shows or at least appears to show, that BlackBerry is taking their camera hardware seriously for once or are making it seem that way. Hopefully, the results will be great for everyone.
Pricing and availability
The suggested launch date for the BlackBerry Priv has always been November throughout all of the rumors but despite all that, no one has nailed down a specific date for it. There could be a number of reasons for that, the most likely of which being that maybe no one knows as of yet exactly, including BlackBerry. There's a lot of stuff that goes into planning a device launch and if BlackBerry plans to go all out on the Priv announcement, maybe they haven't nailed it down just quite yet. That being said, there has been a lot of mentions November 20-ish popping up so that's maybe something to consider. In any case, the rumors are still calling for "November."
Also on the minds of many is which carriers will have the device and how much damage is it going to do to people's bank accounts. Based on the info above, it's expected to hit all the large U.S. carriers such as AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon. When it comes to Canadian carriers, I think it's a safe bet to expect much of the same in the fact it will hit all the large carriers such as Rogers, Bell, and Telus, though, there hasn't been much news leak wise in that regard, just a few mentions here and there in the CrackBerry Forums.
As for pricing, well, that's a hard one to peg at this point with no real carrier leaks having been presented. Clearly BlackBerry seems to be aiming high with this one and the price is expected to be higher as well. I hesitate to even mention a price here because I know some will treat it as fact and run with it even if I say it's not confirmed but personally speaking, I think my ideal pricing of $699 off-contract is a bit too optimistic.
Although I would HATE to see BlackBerry go higher than $699, I think they just might try to and if they do, well, that might be bad for their first foray into Android when you consider what else is out there — like the LG G4 and Galaxy Note 5 at the same price, or Moto X Pure Edition for $300 less. In other words, don't screw this one up BlackBerry. I get that you need to make a profit on hardware but if you price it well out of its league, no one will care and no one will buy it. You might not even have the BlackBerry hardcore to back you up. It's just that cut and dry.