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The Blackberry Priv – a quick review – UPDATED 01/29/16 November 8, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in Tech.
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Blackberry Priv

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A few months ago, had you told me that I would be writing a review about a Blackberry phone that I actually like more than my iPhone 6s Plus, I would have said your crazy. I am a Apple fanboy, always have been, and always will be. But I am also a loather of the onscreen digital keyboard which instantly crashed my 85 wpm on my Blackberry in 2007 to a measly 25 wpm on the iPhone even after 8 years of using iPhones.

In comes the Blackberry Priv smartphone, released in November in the US, and which instantly became my go-to phone. So much so that I bid goodbye to my iPhone.

Haven’t heard of the Priv? Then you haven’t opened a newspaper, magazine, or watched network news in a few months. The Blackberry Android Priv was released in early November in the US. It has become Blackberry’s hottest seller, and is turning their fortunes around. Let me just say I love Blackberry, and I will support them if I can. Fortunately, its quickly catching on and people are walking into phone stores asking for Blackberry again.

In Summary: it’s a gorgeous phone with a great slider keyboard. It runs a stable version of Android Lollipop (it will be upgraded to Marshmallow operating system sometime in 2016), and it is fully loaded with the security you expect of Blackberry. The phone is an Android device, with Blackberry hardware and communications and security software built into the system. If you love Blackberry messenger or Blackberry Hub, its built around those programs – but if you don’t like them you can simply disable them and run standard Android.

What I love:

  • The hardware is fantastic — it just works. The slider keyboard is awesome, has a satisfying “clic” when you open it, and feels great to type on. I rapidly went from my 35 wpm on my iPhone back to 85 wpm with about 20 minutes of practice on the Priv. It’s a typer’s delight. The screen is bright, and feels great. It’s slightly curved edges look great and feel great in the hand. There is a nifty curved edge design that lights up as you charge your phone. You can double tap the screen to wake it, or slide up the screen to reveal the keyboard and it turns on.
  • The security features are top notch. All phones should have this level of security, and right now Blackberry remains the front runner in security, particularly on Android devices which have plentiful malware and virus problems. Their security features are called DTec and are easy to configure and use. You can set it to monitor your system as deeply as you wish, of just set a password or swipe code and go. For the first time in 8 years, I can carry my client’s files in my phone without fear, as it is securely locked down.
  • The feel in the cargo pants pocket — it feels lighter than the iPhone (though in reality it is not), but because of its shape and size it rides comfortably in a cargo pants pocket and doesn’t bang against my leg. There are plentiful cases available for the phone from Amazon, eBay, and other distributors, including folios and snap on backs. I found a gorgeous Tetded leather snap on case that rivals anything available for Apple phones.
  • Did I mention that amazing keyboard? For those of us who love physical keyboards, there isn’t another modern-day version of an Android phone anywhere with that keyboard. For some, this alone will make all the difference in the world. I am typing on it right now, in fact, something I could NEVER have done on an iPhone or a Galaxy with the on-screen crapola keyboards. You’ll be a bit amazed when you find you don’t need to use autocorrect to fix your typing (or more likely, the time you spend fixing the absolutely appalling autocorrect that the iPhone “corrects” for you) because you type it correctly on the keyboard the first time.
  • There is a 18-mp camera but only a 2 mp front-facing “selfie” camera. This isn’t a phone for selfie enthusiasts. With the most recent update of the camera software, the shots are as clear and color saturated as the iPhone 6s Plus. In direct comparison you can not tell the difference as to which shots came from which camera. The Priv takes better neon-lit photos at night. Want a photo of the castle at the Magic Kingdom? Try that with an iPhone and all you get is a white washed out blob. The Priv instantly focuses in on that shot, for example. Daytime shots are superior with the Priv. People photos at night are way better on the iPhone, no comparison. But I don’t take photos of people so I’m thrilled with this camera on the Priv.  Studies have shown that the camera is one of the best on any smartphone out there, besting all popular phone models except the Samsung Note 5.
  • The high resolution AMOLed screen is amazing — far clearer with more colors than the iPhone. High Def looks truly High Def. I’d go so far as to say that this is one of the finest screens available on a smartphone right now. Movies and tv look great on the phone. Its also generally the same size as the iPhone 6s Plus, minus the top and bottom borders found on that phone.
  • For anyone who has used Android phones before, you simply can not overstate how awesome the back/home/and clear buttons are on Android phones. Once you get used to flipping back and forth instantly from program to program, screen to screen, you quickly recognize how simplified and feature-missing the iPhone is in comparison.

Some caveats:

  • There is no biometric finger-unlock security feature, now standard on Samsung and Apple phones. Its a security thing, so it makes sense on a security based phone.
  • Picture Password did not work on my unit — maybe it was a glitch but it almost wiped my phone when after 8 attempts it still did not unlock the phone. I turned that off and stuck with number-security from that point on and I would suggest you do the same.
  • It runs slower compared to the iPhone — anyone using a Galaxy 6, Edge6 , Note 5, Nexus 6 or iPhone 6S will find that there is a slight lag opening almost any program, and that things seem to take a moment of time to “think” — My golden standard is Facebook. When I open Facebook on my iPhone, it is there instantly — on the Priv, it takes a few moments to open, and a few more to load up the first few posts…well, you get the picture. But in real life application you will not notice any difference at all. By sim swapping, I became aware of the slower speed in comparison.
  • Like all Androids, nothing works out of the box. Android’s are tinkerer’s dreams — and gadget lovers dreams. But if you are an Android novice, just be warned that nothing works like an iPhone right out of the box. You have to pick which software you want to use for photos, texts, weather, etc. You can see from the photo on the top of the page which programs I like the best. The built-in programs are generally crap, but there are great programs on Google Play which is as robust as the Apple App Store. The only program that I have not been able to duplicate on Android is Clear (the list making program that I used on my iPhone) though there is a not-fully featured knockoff. Just note that it takes tinkering to make things work the way you want. Apple users who like the simplicity of turning it on and everything just being there will be sorely disappointed.
  • Notifications become annoying, since you get notified of EVERYTHING — while this is a bit customizable, some of it is not. I do not need to know each time a new program has been updated in the background, but there it is nagging me until I clear it from notification center. You need to turn these off one by one manually. The first time you hear that eBay “cha-ching” sound when someone places a bid on your item, you’ll see what I mean.
  • The Blackberry Hub is only a bit customizable, and it is a mess — not familiar with the hub? It is one application that lists (in order) all of your text messages, emails, phone calls in and out, etc. After a day of use, it is cluttered and awful – it also doesn’t keep records of messages you have sent out in text, only those that come in. I ended up removing this from my dock, but Blackberry keeps nagging me with popup messages to re-enable it. I did finally find a way to turn this off, but it wasn’t easy and novices would not be able to do so. My recommendation: immediately disable the hub and use standalone email and messaging apps.
  • The battery lasts nowhere as long as they say (22 hours!) With moderate use I found it was down to 15% by late afternoon — and all I had done was check email, Facebook, upload and dowload photos, check safari, listen to music in the car through Sync. I had’t even watched a movie or listened to radio or things like that. My iPhone is maybe at 70% still on a typical day by that time. Its easy enough to top off the battery, and with quick charge you get another half hour with only a few minutes of charging. There is also a battery saving mode when you hit that 15%.  On the plus side, the Priv supports wireless charging. I just drop it on the dock in its case and its charged wirelessly within an hour.
  • Pay-with-device is limited, but it works in more places than Apple Pay. Unless you have a credit card from one of 8 companies that currently offer them (none from the great lakes/Michigan area except for TCF), you can not use the touch-to-pay features. Apple Pay is lightyears beyond Android pay. None of the major providers has enabled their cards to work with Android pay: Citi, Chase, Key Bank, Comerica, Capital One are all missing. If you have a Wells Fargo credit card you are in luck.
  • Screen protectors are next to impossible to apply because of the curved screen. I bought a 10-pack of screen protectors on eBay, and used of 8 of them to get one to go on without dust, bubbles, or scratches. It looks great, but feels like a cheap slice of rubber on top of my glass screen. Since the screen is gorilla-glass, it isn’t prone to scratching unless you keep it in the same pocket as keys – but I like protection on that screen anyway and this isn’t something that is good right now. Maybe this will improve with time. Also, if you are a fan of those glass screen protectors for the iPhone, you are out of luck here.

There are some other annoyances, but nothing major to complain about. All of my Android software from Google Play runs just fine — and faster than it did on a Galaxy S5 that I tried for awhile a year ago. Games work fine and look excellent. Productivity software works fine (with a bit of lag).

I didn’t think I would say it, but the Priv has absolutely won me over, and the iPhone is history, at least for now. For me, I have to say that the feature that is the killer is the physical keyboard. It simply works, and it can not be beaten for productivity.

 

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