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Marshmallow is here for the BlackBerry Priv: Here's everything you need to know

After an interminably long wait for most — and a relatively short beta period for some — some Privs will be updated to Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow today. Curious about what's in the update? Here's everything you need to know, with the help of Michael Clewley, BlackBerry's Director of Software Product Management.

When is it available?

The Android 6.0.1 update will be available starting April 26 to BlackBerry models purchased directly from ShopBlackBerry. Those models include:

  • STV100-1 in the U.S. and Canada
  • STV100-4 in the UK, France

The update will roll out to STV100-2 and STV100-3 models (sold through carrier channels) beginning May 3.

What's the big deal?

Aside from the fact that it brings the Priv up to Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow and all it entails, there are some pretty nice features added to this build.

On a high level, BlackBerry has added improvements to security, to the Hub, to the keyboard, and to the camera. We'll get to specifics in a moment.

But more than that, after using the Priv on Marshmallow for about a week, it's clear that the phone's software has matured; already a fast device on Lollipop, the Priv now screams. Moreover, the UI's rough bits have been smoothed over, and the whole experience, from the Hub to the camera, feels just a little bit more cohesive.

About that security

"We are the world's most secure smartphone," says Clewley during an interview with CrackBerry. "We have all the native Marshmallow underpinnings from a security perspective on Priv, and we have only enhanced that now."

Clewley notes that BlackBerry spent a long time ensuring that its hardware-based security advantages — kernel hardening, including the application of Linux patches ignored by other OEMs and even Google itself; and on-device encryption — were equalled by improvements to Marshmallow.

Of particular note is the integration of DTEK, BlackBerry's app for overseeing the Priv's security status, with Marshmallow's new app permissions model. As in Lollipop, it's possible to see which apps requested access to specific parts of the hardware, but now, thanks to Google, users can actually disable those permissions.

Clewley points out that BlackBerry is practically the only OEM to keep up with Google's pace of monthly security updates. "I just don't think other OEMs care as much about security as much as we do," he says, pointing out that carriers more often than not make things too difficult for manufacturers to roll out regular updates, so they just don't bother.

"We've done a lot of work with carriers to make sure users get these security patches monthly, and many carriers welcomed that hands-on approach," he says. He also tacitly acknowledges that many of the bigger U.S. carriers have less incentive to push out regular updates, and that while the Priv is still the most frequent, getting a phone direct from the manufacturer is the best way to ensure regular updates.

On one hand, it's great to see BlackBerry so committed to regular software patches. On the other, though, given that Android N is only a few months away, its advantage over, say, a Nexus 6P with the latest version of Google's software may disappear overnight.

To that end, I ask Clewley whether, with Google releasing an N Developer Preview so early, we'll see the next version of Android more quickly on the Priv. He hedges, saying, "Updates are very complex for OEMs. They don't just have to wait for Google; they have to wait for chip manufacturers to certify their parts, generally after Google declares their latest software as gold."

In other words, "it would require bigger changes to how Android is effected."

More Hub to love

On the software side, BlackBerry has made the Hub even more impressive. Not only does it now support S/MIME email signing and encryption (you'll know if that's important to you), but for regular consumers there is now Instagram, Slack, Skype and Pinterest integration, along with the existing hooks for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

According to Clewley, many of these integrations came from direct user feedback (I begged for Slack integration on more than one occasion), but most were the logical continuation of the Hub as a platform.

Of course, unlike BlackBerry 10, the Hub is still a separate app that must be opened, and it still conflicts with Google's own Gmail app, but with Marshmallow is has become an indispensable part of my Priv life, and I wish it were usable on other Android devices.

Keyboard swiping

BlackBerry has added, for better or worse, swiping support on not only the virtual keyboard but the physical one.

What this means in practice is that if the Priv's width doesn't strain your thumb's reach while using it in one hand (I have stubby digits, so it doesn't quite work for me), it's now possible to enter text without lifting your finger. In practice, the swipe isn't nearly as accurate or reliable as Swype or SwiftKey, but BlackBerry has done an admirable job in its limited time.

More impressive, and equally strange, is the feeling of swiping on the Priv's physical keyboard, the act of which was previously reserved for moving the cursor around the screen while selecting text. It's likely not an everyday use case, but I can see it being used to impress friends — and occasionally enter a line or two of text.

But hardware and software keyboard lovers alike will appreciate the 200-odd new emoji, along with improved word prediction.

Can't fix a camera through software

Even when the Priv was released late last year, its 18MP camera, while good, didn't match up to the industry's leaders. Today that is even more pronounced as a new lineup of Android flagships, led by the Galaxy S7, show what is possible with a smartphone camera.

But BlackBerry has not stopped improving the software experience, adding two new video modes — 24fps capture at 4K, 1080p and 720p; and 120fps slow motion — to the phone's repertoire. The latter feature is found on nearly every device on the market, but the former, a so-called "cinematic" mode, according to Clewley, is relatively uncommon.

With Marshmallow, the Priv's shutter is slightly faster, but still below what you'd want from a flagship, while image quality seems to be about the same. As we've learned with many devices over the years, you can't fix a poor sensor through software.

A launcher to remember

BlackBerry's Priv launcher, with its support for custom icon packs, pop-up widgets and an array of app shortcuts, separated itself from the largely derivative feature sets found on most competitors' devices, when it launched last year.

With Marshmallow, that launcher has received a host of improvements, including better ways to organize apps into categories. They're small changes, but I still haven't reached Action Launcher, my go-to on most other devices — and that's saying something.

A longer-lasting conversation

As with all Marshmallow-based devices, the Priv benefits from Google's implementation of Doze and App Standby, which extends the uptime by around an hour in my findings. The 3,410mAh battery already lasted all day (and then some, most of the time) so it's a well-appreciated bonus that it gets better with Android 6.0.1.

While Clewley says that BlackBerry had to find the right balance between performance and battery optimization, he thinks that Google will continue to improve on Doze — as it has promised — and that there were some issues OEMs didn't take into account. Specifically, apps like BBM that rely on push notifications rely now more than ever on persistent notifications to ensure thats service doesn't get killed in the background.

Practice makes perfect

With BlackBerry poised to release at least two more Android-powered handsets in 2016, it's good to see the company iterating on its software in meaningful ways. Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow for the Priv is an example of a company taking its time to make sure everything is in its right place before pressing the big red button.

And while we're on the verge of yet another Android version, with its own set of user-facing security and privacy improvements, there's no question that on the face of things BlackBerry has a commitment few others OEMs have shown.

That said, questions still remain about just what changes BlackBerry has made to the Android kernel, with Clewley mentioning proprietary "special sauce" that, for competitive reasons, will remain private. And with most new Android 6.0-based shipping with encryption on by default, and companies like HTC and Samsung stepping up their monthly security update game, it's unclear just how much of an advantage, if at all, the Priv has over, say, the Galaxy S7 or HTC 10 when it comes to security.

BlackBerry would have you believe that the Priv's combination of hardware and software-level security improvements separate it from the pack, but many of these advantages are subjective rather than quantifiable.

In the end, the BlackBerry Priv is a great smartphone, made better by its latest software update.

More on the Priv's Marshmallow update at Inside BlackBerry

Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

33 Comments
  • Downloading now. So happy. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Any1 wants to swap. I'm giving Samsung s6 for this piece of junk...
    I really want to try this priv posted with nokia 3310
  • Welp time to fire up the Priv. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Cue angry Galaxy S6 owners on AT&T...
  • Nope, misfire sir. I'm the angry Galaxy Note 5 owner on AT&T. Good job BlackBerry!
    GO FRACK YOURSELF AT&T! Posted with my Note 5.
  • Hahahahaha
  • Thank for not rushing and giving us a bad update that could ruin our phones. That's what you meant.... Posted via the Android Central App
  • About time. My S5 has had Marshmallow for about a month now and it's way older. Posted via the AC App Flicked on the BlackBerry Keyboard with my S5.
  • Sounds like a really good upgrade. For some reason I thought Daniel's primary phone was an iPhone though. It sounds like the Priv is his daily driver. LG G3.. waiting for Marshmallow... Got it! :)
  • Privacy, ha ha ha....when you give your keys to LEA, I hardly call that secure. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Best secured phone. Best non Nexus phone to get monthly updates Beg to differ? I'll wait. Posted via the Android Central App
  • You don't have to wait long...
    http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/blackberry-john-chen-key-decryption/ Posted via the Android Central App
  • You didn't read the article did you? Posted via the Android Central App
  • He read the headline lol Posted via PRIV by BlackBerry
  • Too bad BlackBerry doesn't tell their consumer users that they shared Master Encryption Key with RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) so they can have wide-open access to any communication.
  • The RCMP only had access to pin to pin messages, which are only slightly better than a text message and use a universal encryption key... so really the criminal should have just been a bit smarter and used BBM, which until recently was one of the few truly secure methods of communication with end to end encryption. Also, the RCMP didn't actually have the encryption key, BB captured messages to/from specific pin's and gave them to the RCMP since all pin messages go through BB servers. In the end, I'm glad they helped the cops get all of those guns and drugs off the street rather than pull an Apple and help the terrorists keep messages secure.
  • People don't read, make assumptions, and live in a world where cookies fall out the sky. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Sounds like the editorial staff at Android Central.
  • People actually do read between the obfuscated lines of Blackberry's CEO and know that if he will hand over master keys for messaging, then others aren't far behind. If not for governments, Blackberry would be dead as a hammer, so quit being a fanboy and wake up. Posted via the Android Central App
  • So because I read through your BS your argument is I'm a fan boy. I'll stop talking to you right there. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Thank you, my brain can only handle so many sheeple. Posted via the Android Central App
  • "Sheeple" Hahahaha please tell me you're joking? Well the whole Canadian cops having the key thing isn't the end of the world, especially for those of us who aren't even on that continent haha Blackberry Priv
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  • Dang... have to wait till May. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Cant wait.. Keep hearing how much better battery performance is. :) *-* BBM Channel : Netflix Newsroom C003BA5E3 | Facebook.com/NetflixNewsroom *-*
  • I'm just excited for the bump in general performance. My Priv can have some crippling slowdowns :| Blackberry Priv
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  • Does anyone else find it a little rich that Dan Bader is writing for androidcentral??? The guy is a long standing iWad and defender of the crApple nation. I find it hard to take anything he says seriously, like in this article his comments about the camera are just plain wrong. Maybe a writer for this site should actually try the devices instead of reading other **** and regurgitating it using his iPad.
  • The camera does suck. Not even close to being ok. The FFC was the worse camera I ever used having green tint issues in certain like conditions. I don't even know if it was fixed cause I stopped using it. The back was mediocre at best. It's a business phone and the focus is business oriented. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I see no problem with its camera :| better than my Xperia Z2, and that one was good enough for me Blackberry Priv
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  • No, I don't agree. It is not class leading, but excellent overall. Worst thing I can say about it is that it is a TAD slow. But to each his own.
  • So it's not a phone for narcissists... I'm OK with that.
  • Lol. In all fairness this phone being used for video chat with clients is not the best options. The low light conditions for the back camera was horrible. Also the 808 rendered this phone crappy. The lag was horrible and constant SMS issues. The hardware is awesome despite the lack in camera. It's one of my favorite with the PKB. Hopefully MM improves on the software issue of this phone. I think the next gen will be dramatically better. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Other phones like the LG G4 and the Moto X Style run quite well on an 808 so that's lead me to believe that it's a software optimisation issue, not a hardware issue. The upside of that (assuming I'm right) is that it CAN be fixed. Whether it WILL be fixed is another thing entirely. Fingers crossed I guess. Blackberry Priv
    Nvidia Shield "Portable"
    Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact
  • Niceeee Posted via the Android Central App