What's it like to use a BlackBerry that's not a BlackBerry?
A decade ago, when BlackBerry was a major player in the smartphone market, three key features stood out: its excellent email integration, its highly customisable security, and the fact that it had a built-in actual keyboard that worked surprisingly well with two thumbs. Every smartphone platform can deal with email these days, so BlackBerry's hopes of remaining relevant with the PRIV, its first-ever device to run entirely on Android, draw heavily on those other two strengths: the keyboard and the security.
The BlackBerry PRIV debuted in 2015, but has only seen an official Australian release in 2016. Only Optus is offering the PRIV on contract down under, a far cry from the era when every telco would range it. How does it fare in a market where Android dominates but buyers have plenty of other choices? Is this the phone that former BlackBerry lovers should migrate to?
Here are the essential specifications for the BlackBerry Priv:
Upsides: Why you'd want the BlackBerry Priv
- That built-in keyboard: While manufacturers have experimented with slide-out keyboards for Android devices in the past, most have now abandoned them. If you want a premium Android phone with a physical keyboard, right now the PRIV is the only game in town. Like its many BlackBerry predecessors, the PRIV keyboard is well-designed and easy to type with, and a definite boon if you're regularly churning through large amounts of text on your phone.
- The full range of Android applications: For years BlackBerry promised that its QNX platform would enable BlackBerry devices running BlackBerryOS to also run Android apps, but it never got there properly (there was an option to run some Amazon App Store apps, but that was fiddly and annoying). No such problem with the PRIV, which can run any Android app, including the Android ports of BlackBerry staples such as BBM.
- Acceptable processor performance: BlackBerry isn't selling the PRIV as a high-performance device, and that shows in its benchmarks. It runs at about the same level as the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, which makes sense: both are phones promoted largely because of other design features.
Here's how the PRIV compares to a range of popular premium handsets on our standard benchmarks:
Handset Geekbench 3 Single Core (higher is better) Geekbench 3 Multi Core (higher is better) Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 2169 6446 Samsung Galaxy S7 2156 6240 Google Nexus 6P 1251 4597 Samsung Galaxy Note 5 1111 3686 BlackBerry PRIV 1196 3396 Apple iPhone 6S 2540 4410 Apple iPhone 6S Plus 2491 4391 Google Nexus 5X 1188 3198
Downsides: Why you might not want the Samsung Note 5
- Lacklustre battery life: The PRIV doesn't pull up well on battery benchmarks, which will be a disappointment to former BlackBerry owners, since all-day operation was always a key selling point for BlackBerry. While it does better than the iPhone 6s, it's well and truly whipped by more recent Samsung models. Here's how it rated using Geekbench's inbuilt battery test with the screen dimmed:
Handset Geekbench 3 Battery Test Duration Geekbench 3 Battery Score Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 11:55:00 7150 Samsung Galaxy S7 10:01:20 6013 Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ 8:24:10 5041 Apple iPhone 6S Plus 7:48:10 4681 Samsung Galaxy S6 6:51:30 4115 Google Nexus 5X 7:14:20 4062 Google Nexus 6P 6:39:20 3754 Sony Xperia Z5 5:41:30 3414 LG G4 5:27:50 3224 BlackBerry PRIV 5:25:40 3256 Huawei P8 Lite 4:39:40 2768 Apple iPhone 6s 3:52:10 2321 Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 5:42:00 2276
- Pointer and keyboard woes: When the keyboard slides out, there's a notable hollow behind it, which feels cheap compared to the solid build of the BlackBerry Bold and Q10 models. And while the keyboard retains the familiar BlackBerry design, it doesn't include the "berry" trackpoint for making selections on screen, so you often find yourself having to take your hands off the keyboard anyway.
- Security features are enterprise-level: The security options available with the PRIV will doubtless appeal to corporates, but individual users aren't likely to take advantage of it.
Who is it best suited for? What are my other options?
If the keyboard is important to you, then the PRIV is a decent but unremarkable Android phone. However, for the kind of money it asks, almost any other Android phone will offer better performance overall.
Where can I get it?
Optus is selling the PRIV on contract, and you can see the available plans below.