BlackBerry Priv review

The BlackBerry Priv is the Android phone from BlackBerry with a hardware keyboard. It is a stylish phone that is a top performer, but the cost of entry is high. Here is our BlackBerry Priv review. Also see: Best smartphones 2015/2016.

BlackBerry Priv review: what it is, why it matters

The BlackBerry Priv is a BlackBerry phone that runs the Android OS. As such it is both a sign of BlackBerry's desperation to find a market, but also another interesting smartphone from the company formally known as RIM. BlackBerry may be struggling for relevance as a phone maker in the post-iPhone world, but since it relaunched with the Z10 it has been continually making high quality and useful devices.

The recent BlackBerry Passport may not be your idea of fun, but it is unique, useful and high quality. The same could be said of the BlackBerry Classic - certainly not an iPhone clone, well made, well specced. BlackBerry makes only good quality hardware, and its software support remains excellent - albeit usually on the BlackBerry OS.

So whatever the existance of the BlackBerry Priv says about BlackBerry, Android and the current smartphone market, it is an interesting product. BlackBerry really doesn't do anything else, and the first non-BlackBerry OS BlackBerry handset has to be worth a look. Especially as it is the only Android worth your consideration that has a hardware qwerty keyboard. See all BlackBerry phone reviews.

BlackBerry Priv review: price and value

The BlackBerry Priv is saddled with a SIM-free RRP of £569 in the UK, and $699 in the US. That puts it firmly in the upper echelons of flagship smartphones. Here in the UK you can pick it up from Selfridges for £579, or on contract from Carphone Warehouse for £54 a month with a £19 up front cost. Head over to Amazon UK and the Priv will set you back a whopping £669, currently.

That's what it costs, but what about value? Well, the BlackBerry Priv's wrapparound screen most closely resembles that of the Galaxy S6 Edge, which retails for around £650 to £700. Even the super expensive iPhone 6S retails from between £459 and £619. If the Priv wants to compete at this top level of the pool, it needs to be good. Is it good enough? See all smartphone reviews.

BlackBerry Priv review: build and design

BlackBerry Priv review

BlackBerrys are generally well built. Solid build quality was never the problem for BlackBerry, and nor is it now. The Priv is a big black slab of a smartphone. At 147 x 77.2 x 9.4mm with the display closed it is not by any means discreet, and it feels hefty in the hand. But that doesn't make it inelegant or poorly designed. Just big. It doesn't feel all that thick, either. Which is good because it is so big.

Big, and unique. Because that bulk is there to disguise the fact that the Priv is the Android phone that has a hardware qwerty keyboard. Yup, it is a BlackBerry. It is also a slider phone. So if you want to engage your inner Neo, this is the handset for you. But be prepared for a phone that when fully extended is all of 184 mm high, and weighs 192g. See all Android phone reviews.

If ever you had a slider phone in a previous life, you will love the whoosh as you slide up the BlackBerry Priv's display to reveal the keyboard. There is a slight ridge above the speaker beneath the sizeable display which just begs you to slide it up. It moves easily, and slots into place with a satisfying click. In fact, if you are anything like your author you may find yourself slip sliding away all day long - fortunately the Priv seems able to stand up to such abuse.

The display wraps around the front of the BlackBerry Priv in a similar way to that of the Galaxy S6 Edge. And as an all black, glass-fronted smartphone with silver metal trim the Priv looks the part of a high-end phone. Around the back we find the traditional patterned BlackBerry finish with B'Berry logo in the middle. There is a protruding Schneider-Kreuznach camera sensor that stops the Priv lying flat on its back.

Along the top are trays for both the nanoSIM and microSD card. These pop up in a way that is simultaneously practical, as well as a little old school and somewhat flimsy feeling. Down the bottom we find a microUSB port and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Overall the BlackBerry Priv is something of a curate's egg, design wise. Good looking and well put together, with some mildly disappointing elements that feel less than premium. Also see: Best Android phones 2015/2016.

BlackBerry Priv review: display

BlackBerry Priv review

The display is not one of those elements. It is a 5.4-inch QHD dual-curved display, that wraps around the front of the Priv. It looks sharp as a tack, something that is borne out by the 2560 x 1440 resolution, a spec that makes for a pixel density of around 540 ppi. It is an AMOLED screen, so expect the bright and colourful tones of a Samsung, rather than the subtle shadings of an LG or Apple phone.

Photos look great: vibrant, bright and detailed. Video too, is lovely on the BlackBerry Priv. And the way the display curves around the front of the Priv is both satisfying and cool. It sounds like a minor thing, but it is a really nice touch. Makes going back to a boring old flat display feel like a real chore.

The BlackBerry Priv's display is a real strong point. It befits a premium phone.

BlackBerry Priv review: keyboard

BlackBerry Priv review

And what of that keyboard? Well, I can't say that I have ever hankered for a hardware keyboard on my Android phones, but there are times when it is useful. And if you are going to have a hardware keyboard, it might as well be a BlackBerry keyboard.

I find the Android onscreen keyboard sufficiently usable that in my use of the Priv I rarely selected the hardware pad. But there are times when thumb typing makes sense. Long emails or reports, are good examples, because although the keys are by neccessity small and close together, they are sculpted in such a way that typing is a tactile experience. The keys have a satisfying response and travel. With a little practice it is actually pretty easy to type quickly and accurately. And if you are typing for a long period of time the hardware keyboard is definitely more comfortable than smearing up the display.

I wouldn't choose the Priv just because it has a hardware keyboard, but if you like having actual keys to press you might. You wouldn't be disapointed.

BlackBerry Priv review: specification, benchmarks, performance

With a Snapdragon 808 processor and 3GB of RAM the BlackBerry Priv is a flagship phone in terms of specification, right up there with the big dog Androids such as the LG G4. The built-in GPU offers Adreno 418 graphics, and there is 32GB of storage. On our BlackBerry Priv we could see only 23GB of that storage, but that MicroSD slot does allow for another 200GB of storage.

In use we found the BlackBerry Priv to be pretty good. In general, it is excellent: responsive and sharp, and able to handle anything you throw at it. Unfortunately there were the odd weird glitches, which felt like a throwback to earlier Android times. Maybe it was just my handset.

Although you should always take synthetic benchmarks with a pinch of salt, the BlackBerry Priv benchmarks pretty well. We ran the GeekBench 3 benchmark and got an average multicore score of 3423, putting the Priv right between the LG G4 and the Moto X Style - in the upper echelons of smartphone performers. We tested graphics performance using the GFXBench tool, and in the T-Rex onscreen test got an average result of 25fps, which is the same as the LG G4 and Samsung's Galaxy Note Edge.

In the more strenous Manhatten onscreen test we could achieve only 10fps. This is a similar result to that of the Galaxy Note Edge and the OnePlus X. Whilst in the SunSpider javascript benchmark, our BlackBerry Priv turned in a pretty nifty average score of 646ms.

Overall then, benchmark results suggest that the BlackBerry Priv is a solid high-end performer, rather than an out and out superstar. And this is exactly what we felt subjectively when using it.

You can compare the BlackBerry Priv's performance to all the phones we've recently benchmarked in our article: What's the fastest smartphone 2015?

BlackBerry Priv review: battery life

You get a hefty 3,410mAh non-removable battery in the BlackBerry Priv, which BlackBerry claims will give you 22.5 hours of 'mixed usage' on a single charge. As always, such manufacturer figures are never to be trusted.

We found that we could use the BlackBerry Priv for a full day, from 5- or 6am up until 10pm. This would involve lots of email and social media, listening to podcasts and surfing the web. At the end of the day the Priv would be on its uppers, but that is to be expected. It does take a while to charge, though. Around two hours from flat when using the provided USB charger, in our experience. On that last point, the BlackBerry Priv does come with Quick Charge, enabling you to get seven hours of usage from a half-hour charge. But you need the Quick Charge-enabled plug adaptor to take advantage of this feature.

We used the GeekBench 3 battery test to benchmark the BlackBerry Priv's charge, and achieved a result of 2869 (04:47:40) on a full charge. This is a middle of the road result, again on a par with the LG G4. So battery life is not a reason to avoid the BlackBerry Priv, but this is not the phone that has solved the battery life conundrum. Also see: Best power banks 2015/2016.

BlackBerry Priv review: camera

The main camera is an 18Mp snapper with optical image stabilization, phase detection autofocus, and a dual-LED flash. You can capture 2160p video at 30fps, and 1080p at 60fps, and camera features include geo-tagging, touch focus, face detection, HDR, and panorama. Around the front is a 2Mp selfie camera that captures 720p video. Also see: Best phone camera 2015.

I am no camera expert, but I found the BlackBerry Priv's main camera performed well. Both detailed close-ups and postcard-style landscapes looked good and were easy to capture. And low-light shots worked well. Here are some test shots so you can decide.

Video was less successful, in my view. Still images were sharp and clearly defined, even when zoomed in. But perhaps because of that sharpness, movement looks blurry and jerky.

BlackBerry Priv review: test shots

 BlackBerry Priv test shot

BlackBerry Priv test shot

BlackBerry Priv test shot

BlackBerry Priv test shot

BlackBerry Priv test shot

BlackBerry Priv test video

BlackBerry Priv review: Android

So the BlackBerry Priv is the Android BlackBerry. It runs the stable and uncluttered Android 5.1.1 Lollipop, and will be updated to Android Marshmallow in 2016. It's full Android, so you get all of Google's tools and full access to the Google Play store. The apps issue has been solved, for this BlackBerry at least.

It is BlackBerry's version of Android, however. There are a handful of (easily ignorable) BlackBerry apps, as well as BBM. More interestingly we also find the Productivity Tab. This is a nice touch that takes advantage of the curved screen. It gives you super quick access to calender events, emails and so on, wherever you are within the OS. You can adjust it or turn it off, but I found it to be more useful than the similar feature on the Samsung Galaxy Edge phones. Cool, too.

One other noticeable difference from standard Android is the way you are notified about incoming messages and alerts. As with a traditional BlackBerry, the app icon gets a red and white icon in the top lefthand corner, when there is an alert to which you need to be notified. BlackBerry fans will also appreciate the blinking LED at the top, which changes colour in order to notify you of incoming emails, texts and so on.

There is also a focus on pop-up widgets, via which you can slide up over an app icon and view any available widgets associated with it. Finally, swiping up from the Home button on the BlackBerry Priv will not only launch Google Now, but also shortcuts to the Blackberry Hub and Device Search. Honestly, I don't use the BlackBerry Hub, preferring to stick to standard email and SMS apps, but long-time BlackBerry users may find this useful. And none of these amendments is annoying to the Android user, which is a big tick in the box for the BlackBerry Priv.

Read next: Best new phones coming in 2016.

BlackBerry Priv: Specs

  • 147 x 77.2 x 9.4 mm
  • 192 g
  • Nano-SIM
  • AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
  • 5.4 inches
  • 1440 x 2560 pixels (~540 ppi pixel density)
  • Android OS, v5.1.1 (Lollipop)
  • Qualcomm MSM8992 Snapdragon 808
  • Dual-core 1.8 GHz Cortex-A57 & quad-core 1.44 GHz Cortex-A53
  • Adreno 418
  • microSD, up to 200 GB
  • 32 GB, 3 GB RAM
  • 18 MP, Schneider-Kreuznach optics, optical image stabilization, phase detection autofocus, dual-LED (dual tone) flash
  • 2 MP
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot
  • Bluetooth 4.1, A2DP, EDR, LE
  • GPS
  • NFC
  • microUSB v2.0 (SlimPort 4K)
  • Accelerometer, altimeter, gyro, ToF proximity, compass
  • Li-Ion 3410 mAh battery
  • 147 x 77.2 x 9.4 mm
  • 192 g
  • Nano-SIM
  • AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
  • 5.4 inches
  • 1440 x 2560 pixels (~540 ppi pixel density)
  • Android OS, v5.1.1 (Lollipop)
  • Qualcomm MSM8992 Snapdragon 808
  • Dual-core 1.8 GHz Cortex-A57 & quad-core 1.44 GHz Cortex-A53
  • Adreno 418
  • microSD, up to 200 GB
  • 32 GB, 3 GB RAM
  • 18 MP, Schneider-Kreuznach optics, optical image stabilization, phase detection autofocus, dual-LED (dual tone) flash
  • 2 MP
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot
  • Bluetooth 4.1, A2DP, EDR, LE
  • GPS
  • NFC
  • microUSB v2.0 (SlimPort 4K)
  • Accelerometer, altimeter, gyro, ToF proximity, compass
  • Li-Ion 3410 mAh battery

OUR VERDICT

The BlackBerry Priv is a well-made Android phone with a unique feature set. We commend BlackBerry for turning its hand to being an Android OEM, and the result is a fast smartphone with a great display, hardware keyboard and solid build and design. Battery life could be better, but our main quibble is with the price: at this price the Priv needs to be a world beater. And as good as it is, it isn't that. Still, if you want an Android with a hardware keyboard and some BlackBerry features, this is the phone for you.

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