For years now, BlackBerry has been struggling to maintain some semblance of relevancy in a smartphone market that seemingly passed them by in an instant. BlackBerry, a brand which once ruled the smartphone market with an iron fast, is now almost an afterthought in a market dominated by the iPhone and an assortment of Android devices from a variety of manufacturers.
Down but not out, BlackBerry is going for broke in a last-ditch effort to keep its handset business alive. And the product BlackBerry CEO John Chen is betting the farm on is the BlackBerry Priv. Available today in select markets, Chen recently said that BlackBerry might exit the handset business altogether if the Priv can’t move 5 million units a year. Clearly, the pressure for the Priv to perform is immense.
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That said, the Priv is unquestionably an interesting device. For starters, it runs Android; as the old adage goes, if you can’t beat em’, join em’. Furthermore, BlackBerry set out to create a user experience that blends the best aspects of Android with traditional BlackBerry security, privacy, and productivity features. And lastly, because this is BlackBerry after all, the Priv features a full slide-out physical keyboard.
On paper, the BlackBerry Priv seems far less compelling than, say, the Motorola Droid Turbo 2. Nonetheless, the Priv, with it being BlackBerry’s final Hail Mary pass, will be a lot more interesting to keep a close eye on.
Late on Thursday, the first BlackBerry Priv reviews began rolling in and we’ve compiled some of the best excerpts to help give you an idea as to how seriously the Priv will fare in a competitive smartphone market. Priced at $699.99 without a contract, BlackBerry is positioning the Priv as a premium product. Now, it’s finally time to see if the device can live up to the hype and actually keep the company afloat.
The Wall Street Journal
First up, we have Joanna Stern of The Wall Street Journal. Before delving into the substance of her review, her opening sentence is worth highlighting. “I don’t know anyone who owns a BlackBerry anymore,” Stern writes. “Not a single person.”
As for the device itself, Stern’s a fan, noting that it’s the first BlackBerry device she’s used in years that she would recommend.
Typing on real keys with a phablet-sized 5.4-inch screen towering over them is odd at first, but once I found my acrobatic balance, my fingers were scurrying around at up to 60 words per minute. That’s about 20% faster than I type on my iPhone (though still 15% slower than on the BlackBerry Classic’s larger, wider, backlit keyboard).
Stern also came away impressed with the device’s camera and battery life.
She did have a few usability complaints, however, which seem to call the entire user experience into question.
But despite its quad-core processor and 3GB of RAM, there were spots where the phone was inexcusably slow. There’s a one-second camera delay between the shutter button press and the photo being taken; taps on the screen don’t always register; some apps would slow down or even stop responding. (I experienced these issues on two Priv units I tested.) Updates to apps and the operating system improved some of the performance glitches and bugs but more are needed. BlackBerry says it is planning another software and OS update for later this month.
Given how frequently most people use their smartphones, these aforementioned issues strike me as deal-breakers for most users.
Writing for Engadget, Daniel Cooper’s review relays that the Priv is the best looking BlackBerry device ever released. But to compete in the smartphone market, you need a little bit more than good looks. So while Cooper did find a lot to like with the Priv, he ultimately came away thinking that the device falls neatly into the ‘too little, too late’ category.
I guess the final test is to ask myself if I could, with a straight face, recommend this to my friends and loved ones. The only person who I know would like this is the one that scours eBay whenever his Motorola Pro+ breaks, which it does, frequently. The fact that a company in 2015 is making a pretty decent Android smartphone with a keyboard deserves plenty of praise, because people do still crave them. I just can’t imagine anyone who has become inured to using an on-screen keyboard will consider dropping seven hundred big ones to go back to how it was.
Ah Gizmodo. Not a site to mince words, Gizmodo had no shortage of negative things to say about the BlackBerry Priv. It’s keyboard? “Useless.” Reception? Mario Aguilar writes that it’s “worse than any other phone I’ve used recently.”
Aguilar’s review falls on the harsh side of the fence and concludes with him saying that he wouldn’t recommend the device to anyone.
I wouldn’t, for myself, my friends, or even my worst enemy. I suppose there is a kind of person who might want a flagship quality phone that has a keyboard, even if the keyboard isn’t totally useful. Some people might feel more comfortable with a dumbed down security app that’s not doing much.
But there’s nobody who wants to pay top dollar when there’s a cheaper option that’s much, much, much better. Get the Nexus 6P instead.
Seemingly echoing a sentiment voiced by most reviewers (Gizmodo excluded), Steve O’Hear of TechCrunch was impressed by the effort BlackBerry put into the Priv. Nonetheless, he too found the Priv’s physical keyboard to be nothing more than a distraction.
And in one sweep, by switching to Android, BlackBerry has solved the company’s notorious ‘app problem’ — the lack of apps on BlackBerry 10 being the number one complaint from existing and past customers, myself included. But the company has gone further, tweaking Android to be more secure and privacy-minded out of the box and has brought over some of the best apps and software features from BlackBerry 10 or at least re-interpreted them for Android. Both aspects are to be applauded.
However, as gallant as BlackBerry’s first Android effort is, the fact that I found the Priv’s physical keyboard to be almost entirely redundant means there are almost certainly better options if I find myself in the market for a premium phone running Google’s mobile OS.
Wired’s review reads in part:
Ultimately, how you feel about the BlackBerry Priv likely has a lot to do with your last phone. If you’re a longtime BlackBerry user who’s looking for something that finally—finally—gives you a hardware keyboard with a legitimate app ecosystem and some of the manufacturer’s legacy features, this is your phone. But Android and iPhone users will be looking for a better camera, better integration between BlackBerry and Android, a better feeling when you’re typing on the bottom of that touchscreen. The Priv feels like a first step toward a device that could bridge the work-play gap—a promising first step, but one the company really should have taken years ago.
Android Central’s review is by far the most in-depth review you’re likely to see on the web. If you’re seriously considering the Priv and are a BlackBerry fan at heart, you’ll be well served by poring over an extensive and detail-oriented review penned by Russell Holly.
Holly’s final takeaway? The Priv is a bona-fide winner.
Should you buy it? Absolutely.
This may not be the experience for everyone, and that’s ok. Some folks are limited by cost, while others are perfectly happy with Google’s Nexus 6P (as well you should, it’s an amazing phone in its own right). Anyone looking for something a little different, or anyone interested in returning to a world where physical keyboards are a thing need to give the BlackBerry Priv a serious look.
This is absolutely one of the best phones to be released this year, and while BlackBerry still has to demonstrate it can keep its promises when it comes to software updates this is already an exceptional experience. It’s only going to get better from here.