The BlackBerry Priv is one of the most unique (and perhaps unusual) smartphones released this year, and is now available for pre-order in Malaysia. At RM3.559, this is one of the most expensive smartphones around. Does it warrant the high asking price? Depending on who you ask, it’s a tough question to answer.
As can be seen immediately, BlackBerry is aiming to reintroduce a form factor that hasn’t been seen in modern smartphones today: a slide-out physical keyboard. Like that on the BlackBerry Passport, it is a smart keyboard, where it is also touch-sensitive for scrolling and swiping. The slide out mechanism also feels solid – and looks great in action.
The Priv again attempts to differentiate itself in the software. It may run on Android (Lollipop out of the box), but BlackBerry has included several additions that makes the Android experience different.
The first is – obviously – the addition of the BlackBerry Hub. The Google Now gesture on Android now offers three options on the Priv, which are the Hub, Search and of course, Google Now. Within the Hub, users will see all messages, emails and a swipe down while at the top of the Hub lets the user “peek” at calendar entries – really useful when going through appointments.
On the Hub, emails shown can be deleted with a swipe to the left, and “snoozed” when swiped to the right; there’ll be an option to remind the user based on time, location and even WiFi connection.
Working in tandem with the Hub is a new Productivity Tab. Living in a similar location (and gesture activation) as another dual-curve smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge, the Productivity Tab provides an “at a glance” view of the most important info for the user. Whether it is calendar appointments, texts, contacts and upcoming tasks, the Productivity Tab makes everything accessible in one centralised location. Keen eyes will also notice that the Productivity Tab is similar to one of the features in Sailfish 2.0.
Another software addition unique to the Priv is DTEK by BlackBerry. This app works similarly to other security apps that are part of several Chinese Android ROMs, offering app-specific permissions, and providing an overview of how secure the Priv is. These app permissions will be a standard feature on Android Marshmallow, but the Priv also goes one step further, by offering to drop a notification whenever an installed accesses a certain function of the device, such as the camera or microphone. It will also log these activities down, letting you view them later.
Finally, there’s also Pop Up Widgets. Apps on the home screen with three dots underneath the app icon indicates that it supports Pop Up Widgets, which can be activated by a flick-up gesture starting from the app icon. This way, BlackBerry claims the user will save home screen real estate, while still enjoying the benefits of Android widgets.
Interestingly, these new additons, in particular the Hub and Productivity Tab, appear to be well thought-out additions on the Priv. They certainly makes things a lot easier to view the things that matter: the emails, the notifications, and perhaps more importantly, the upcoming events.
And, after spending some time with the device at the experience zone, there appears to be little to no lag, nor any software issues that disrupt the software experience. Perhaps, like other devices, they will crop up over time, but in all the first impressions of the Priv is a surprisingly positive one.
However, BlackBerry is taking quite a risk with the pricing for the Priv. At a retail price of RM3,559, BlackBerry states that the Priv is targeted at those looking for a flagship smartphone with renowned security features.
At that price, it is close to RM1,000 higher than virtually all of the flagship Android smartphones available today, such as the RM2,699 Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and the RM2,698 Nexus 6P by Huawei. The Priv is just slightly more affordable than a 64GB iPhone 6s or a 16GB iPhone 6s Plus, and virtually the same as the other “secure smartphone” around, the RM3,599 Blackphone 2.
While BlackBerry will see some sales of the Priv via the usual security-conscious crowd in government and private agencies, it remains to be seen whether this blend of Android and a slide-out keyboard in a BlackBerry device will have the same pulling power as BlackBerry devices of old.