BlackBerry PRIV review: BlackBerry goes Android

What's it like to use a BlackBerry that's not a BlackBerry?

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Quick Verdict
If the keyboard is important to you, then the PRIV is a decent but unremarkable Android phone.


  • That built-in keyboard
  • The full range of Android applications
  • Acceptable processor performance

Could be better

  • Lacklustre battery life
  • Pointer and keyboard woes
  • Security features are enterprise-level

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:

Blackberry PRIV
Screen size5.4in
ProcessorSnapdragon 808
Rear camera18MP
Front camera2MP
Display density540ppi

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:

    HandsetGeekbench 3 Single Core (higher is better)Geekbench 3 Multi Core (higher is better)
    Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge21696446
    Samsung Galaxy S721566240
    Google Nexus 6P12514597
    Samsung Galaxy Note 511113686
    BlackBerry PRIV11963396
    Apple iPhone 6S25404410
    Apple iPhone 6S Plus24914391
    Google Nexus 5X11883198

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:
    HandsetGeekbench 3 Battery Test DurationGeekbench 3 Battery Score
    Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge11:55:007150
    Samsung Galaxy S710:01:206013
    Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+8:24:105041
    Apple iPhone 6S Plus7:48:104681
    Samsung Galaxy S66:51:304115
    Google Nexus 5X7:14:204062
    Google Nexus 6P6:39:203754
    Sony Xperia Z55:41:303414
    LG G45:27:503224
    BlackBerry PRIV5:25:403256
    Huawei P8 Lite4:39:402768
    Apple iPhone 6s3:52:102321
    Alcatel OneTouch Idol 35:42:002276
  • 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?

Local retailers are no longer stocking the PRIV, and you won't find it on any current plans from Aussie telcos. You can still purchase import models from overseas and grey-market retailers, however.

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