Blackberry Priv: This isn’t the Blackberry you’re looking for…

BY Steve Litchfield

Published 5 Mar 2016

Blackberry has produced some stunningly good designs in the past and some stunningly bad compromises. And the Priv probably ranks among the latter, I’m afraid. It’s the company’s first foray into Android, which is why you’re reading this here on AndroidBeat. Don’t get me wrong, the Priv is a supremely powerful computing device, but it’s also unnecessarily overpriced and overcomplicated. Blackberry is absolutely right to give up on BB OS 10 and head for Android, but this isn’t the beachhead that we wanted.

Blackberry Priv

Blackberry’s core idea is in making QWERTY keyboards still available in the modern age and I’m all for that, if they’re good enough and relevant enough. The tech world loved the one-piece, solid Passport, such an original form factor and vision – except that Blackberry OS 10 was as much a hindrance as a help. So when Blackberry finally turned to Android, every QWERTY fan was salivating at the thought of a variant of the Passport – and we got the Priv instead.

Blackberry Priv

It’s well made, very Galaxy S6 edge-like, with the edge of the screen used for both a charging indicator and a visual clue for slide-out productivity views of your Android content. At the Priv’s heart is, essentially, a Nexus 6 – so Snapdragon 808, 3GB of RAM, plus a 5.4” AMOLED QHD display, a 18MP camera with OIS and a 3410mAh battery, charged via microUSB with Quick Charge 2.0 – even the software’s virtually stock Android, albeit currently stuck on 5.1.1, we’re still waiting for Marshmallow. 32GB of internal space is expandable via microSD too, and there’s a typically good Blackberry speaker, front mounted on the bottom.

Blackberry Priv

Plus the Unique Selling Point, a QWERTY keyboard, accessed by sliding the screen section up. The keys are a little fiddly by necessity – the keyboard’s done well and they keytops are capacitive, as on the Passport, so you can swipe over the keys to scroll down in lists, though it doesn’t work in all applications, so it’s not quite a virtual trackpad either. The big problem is that going back to pinching away at a physical keyboard this tiny after years of enjoying rather sensationally good predictive touchscreen keyboards is a shock.

Think about how you normally write on smartphones in 2016. Take any word and then picture the gestures or thumb movements you make in the general direction of each on-screen character. Chances are that you hit comparatively few of these, yet the software works out which words you meant and all is well. Go back to a physical keyboard and, while you can still get away with missing letters by a few millimetres, i.e. hitting the wrong key sometimes, since there’s still auto-correct at work, your mind will be happy but your fingers won’t. The unique physical feedback of hitting keys precisely is broken – your fingers will tell you that something went wrong even if the right word appeared on the screen. And I found this a tricky disconnect to get over, fixable only by slowing right down to 2006 input speeds, which kind of foils the point.

Admittedly, there is still the advantage that you don’t lose screen real estate while typing, which is a plus point, but on the Priv it’s not enough to swing the deal. In contrast, on the Passport gets away with QWERTY because the keys are large enough to all hit correctly first time. Not so much with the Priv. Which is a shame, since it’s an Android powerhouse, the camera’s great, the screen’s gorgeous, the Blackberry Hub application does a good job of integrating email and social messaging, there are customisable keyboard shortcuts for particular applications or actions, there’s a lot to like here. But almost 200g of weight and £550 SIM-free is a high price to pay for all this.

Blackberry Priv

I can absolutely see the Blackberry Priv gaining some hard core fans, for some people it’s everything they ever wanted, all in the one Android-powered smartphone. But for most users this probably isn’t the Blackberry you’re looking for.

You – and I – will be wanting the much-rumoured Android version of the Passport that I still think Blackberry would be crazy not to announce in the first half of 2016. It will be solid, better-conceived and cheaper than the Priv – and will make you more productive than you ever imagined. Really. And I’ll be at the front of the queue to review it.

Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube Channel for more videos.