A third opinion of the BlackBerry Priv

We've talked a lot about the BlackBerry Priv here lately because we find it pretty interesting. BlackBerry is struggling, and it looks like the way they plan to reinvent themselves is by releasing phones running Android. We think that's both pretty cool and way overdue.

I've been using the Priv since the week before its official launch, both because I had to and because I wanted to. After more than a month with the Priv in one of my hands, I figured it was time to sit down and write a few words about what I thought.

That's what you're reading now, a third Android Central editor giving the Priv of a little bit of a review.

I'm Android nerd and I love my Android phones, but I also spend a lot of time at a computer or laptop, and I have a couple of tablets here that I use for my entertainment time. Phones and tablets are the tools I use to do my job, the same way wrenches are the tools a mechanic needs. I'm not exactly sure what a power user is, but I know I need a smartphone so I can keep track of who needs to get in touch with me and all the different ways they can get in touch with me. Email, social media, instant messaging and group chat are the things that I use my smartphone for the most. I still play a game from time to time, and I've been known to watch a movie or listen to some music on my phone. But mostly I use my phone as a tool to keep me in contact with the people I need keep in contact with.

BlackBerry Priv

All this means that my needs might be different from yours. Hopefully, you can take my experiences and see how they would apply to the way you need to use your phone. I'll be honest, this means the Priv isn't going to work for everyone. It can handle multimedia and different types of entertainment pretty well, but there are other phones that do this better. If that's how you like to use your phone and the type of power user that you are, you would probably be better off buying one of them instead of the Priv.

On the other hand, if you are like me, boring and use your smartphone as a productivity tool, then you might like the Priv a lot.

BlackBerry Priv

The sliding mechanism works really well and seems to be built very solidly

I really dig the form factor of the BlackBerry Priv. It's one I've wanted on Android for a long time. I'm sure that makes me a little bit biased, but what can I say — it's something that I've been wanting. You've got a big bright screen (seriously, it's pretty good) that can slide up and out of the way to expose a decent physical keyboard. You've also got buttons and a speaker and a camera and a USB port. These are things an Android phone has to have, and there are really only so many different ways they can be done. There's no cool buttons on the back like an LG product, and BlackBerry pretty much kept everything safe and familiar. Anyone who's ever used a smartphone, whether it was a BlackBerry or an Android, will know how and where to find all the controls and how to use them. There's nothing wrong with that, and it's a formula that has worked well for years.

The sliding mechanism works really well and seems to be built very solidly. When you have the screen extended there's very little wiggle and nothing feels like it's going to fly apart. Making sliders is pretty difficult, and you can ask anybody who used a Palm Pre about that. BlackBerry did a really good job building a phone with plenty of moving parts that's still feels solid while you're using it.

The materials used for the construction are nothing special. You've got a little bit of metal and a little bit of plastic and a whole lot of glass. The curved edges of the screen are a nice touch, though BlackBerry isn't doing a lot of "special" things with them like Samsung does.

BlackBerry says they didn't have enough room to put a high quality camera in the front and it shows

The camera is fair, at least the one on the back. There are other phones with better cameras, but there are also other phones with worse cameras. I'll say the camera on the Priv is as good or better than what we've seen on the Nexus 6 or the Motorola Moto G. Does it match what we see from Samsung or LG? Nope. But very few smart phone cameras do. The front facing camera on the other hand, is like a step backwards in time. BlackBerry says they didn't have enough room to put a high quality HD camera in the front and it shows. If you love to take selfies, look for a different phone.

BlackBerry Priv

The functionality of the Priv is fine for the way I use it. Calls sound good on both T-Mobile and AT&T, T-Mobile's Wifi calling works just fine as does their HD voice, and I'm not noticed any weirdness with any data connections anywhere.

Bluetooth works well, Wifi works well and the location services work well. I connected my Priv to handfull different things like Bluetooth headsets or smart watches, and haven't had any issues. I know some folks are reporting issues, but I've not seen any. Weird bugs that some people can't reproduce come along with any smartphone launch.

One problem being reported that I have seen is that the phone can get hot. I notice it mostly when I'm trying to download a lot of information at one time whether it's on Wifi or through the cellular network. When I'm done it goes away, and it doesn't seem to be affecting anything. People playing hard-core 3-D games are probably seeing more heat issues than I am, and this is probably a real issue. Hopefully one that can get fixed through software.

BlackBerry Priv

Speaking of software, BlackBerry has some of their own that they built into the operating system on the Priv. I understand some of it works really well, while some still needs a little work. That's probably something we should've expected from a company's very first Android phone. In any case, I'm not particularly interested in using any of it and shutting it down and getting it out of my face was easy. The BlackBerry way of doing things doesn't work well for me. I'm sure it works great for a lot of people, and I'm glad BlackBerry is giving them what they need. I do know the folks in Waterloo are working hard to iron out all the kinks and fix all the little bugs that exist today. That's pretty much all you can ask for, and as long as they keep pushing out fixes they get pass from me on minor bugs. Software is hard, guys.

So by now you're probably thinking "the Priv sounds like a pretty mediocre phone that Jerry is okay with using, But doesn't really love." You're half right. There are two things that make me really like the BlackBerry Priv.

The keyboard

If you've read a few of the words I've written over the years or listened to me on one of our podcasts, you may know that I was a longtime BlackBerry user. Again this probably causes a little bit of bias, especially towards a physical keyboard. I can't help that, we all like what we like.

Having said that, this isn't the best keyboard BlackBerry has ever turned out. But it is the best keyboard to ever grace an Android phone.

The software that drives it is really cool, providing things like swipe areas across the keys themselves, custom keyboard shortcuts for those often typed words, a neat row of symbols on the screen above and more. There's no denying that BlackBerry spent a lot of time on this and they did a really good job. But that's not what I love about the keyboard period

Don't buy the Priv if you don't want a physical keyboard

If you've spent any time with the BlackBerry before you're going to understand exactly what I'm going to say here. Slide up the screen to take a look at the keyboard itself focusing on the D key. You'll see a tiny raised dot. Believe it or not after a little bit of practice that dot combined with your muscle memory let's you bang out replies to emails or messages with one hand, and quickly. You need to spend more than five minutes playing with it to understand, and even if you know what I'm talking about you may not care. But some of us do care, and now we can have a phone that does all the things Android can do, and have a keyboard that we are comfortable using.

I'm not going to ask you to like the keyboard on the BlackBerry Priv. Hell, I'm not going to ask you like a physical keyboard on any phone at all. But some of us do. I'm one of those people, and I'm glad somebody built an Android phone that gives me the opportunity to use one.

One final thought about the keyboard. You'll see people online telling you if you don't want to use the keyboard just don't slide the screen up. Those people are wrong. Having a physical keyboard means the phone is heavier, has more moving parts that may break one day and likely added a good bit to the cost of the device itself. If you have no desire to use a physical keyboard on your Android phone, don't buy the Priv. There are plenty of other great Android phones out there that would love to be in your pocket.


BlackBerry Priv

Security is the second thing I love about the BlackBerry Priv. No I'm not going to sit here and talk about how BlackBerry does security right and blah-this and blah-that. BlackBerry certainly does their own thing in the kernel and the core of the operating system, but what I'm most concerned about are the monthly security patches from Google and how quickly they're made available.

We hear about so-called security scares every week here Android Central. If they're important we share them with you. Usually though, the security scares involved something like connecting your phone with a wire or downloading something you shouldn't have been downloading. Or even disabling the security features that were on your phone out-of-the-box.

The stagefright exploit changed that though. This was a legitimate bug in the Android code that could get you and your phone in trouble simply by getting a text message or an email or an instant message. That's real stuff, and we need to treat it seriously.

So far BlackBerry has been quick with security updates

Google certainly took it seriously and it was a key reason they started a monthly security update program. This is nothing to do with your platform version and whether or not you're on Marshmallow — it's all about updating core parts of the operating system. And that's where BlackBerry gets security right with the Priv.

They've also done plenty of other changes that we don't get to know about because they don't share the changes they made. I'm going to assume that these are all good changes and make the Priv more secure. But I know being current with the monthly security patch level makes the Priv more secure, and to me that's what counts.

The Priv is new and there's plenty time for BlackBerry to screw up, but so far they've been on point with keeping the things updated as soon as it was able to be updated to the latest security patch level. I know this doesn't get you any new features or any of the cool stuff that you see in Marshmallow, but it does help keep you safe when you're using your phone to do the things you need a smartphone for.

Some final thoughts

BlackBerry priv

The BlackBerry Priv is not my favorite Android phone, even though it has the physical keyboard I've long been wanting. It is my second favorite Android phone though, and one I keep in my pocket anytime I leave the house. Sometimes – not when I'm driving – you really need to be able to use your phone well with just one hand. For me the BlackBerry Priv does this better than any other Android phone.

You've read what I have to say, and of any of it sounds like you, give the Priv a look. It's not the most powerful phone in the world or the phone with the best screen in the world or the phone that with the best camera in the world, but it is secure, and the keyboard makes it easy to be productive with.

I'd buy one with my own money if I didn't have this work-issued one.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.