Paw through the sample images and you should be reasonably impressed at the quality of pictures this device can produce. I say "can" because there's no guarantee that the image that you see pop up on that AMOLED screen is the one you're going to find when viewing it on alternative display. In addition, there can be some inconsistency in the color between two shots taken at exactly the same location. Take a look at the last two shots in this gallery (the shot of the railway lines) and you'll see a pair of images snapped one after the other. Except one has a blueish tint and the other has more faithful reproduction.
"Claims of it being able to replace your DSLR are, as usual, bull."
The pictures taken at night (during a particularly foggy week) are a little nosier than I'd prefer, but a little tweaking of the on-screen exposure wheel can improve that slightly. There's at least a few shots in near pitch-darkness (in the woods close to my home) that I was expecting not to come out at all that had some measure of detail in them. Overall, while any claims of it being able to replace your DSLR are, as usual, bull, it's not a bad camera to have in your pocket.
Performance and battery life
In recent years, BlackBerry excused itself from the spec wars, preferring instead to rely upon outdated chipsets to run inside its smartphones. Part of that was because BB10 wasn't particularly resource-hungry and, you know, because it had to cut costs somewhere. By comparison, the Priv has been created with a "spare no expense" mantra that's worthy of the fictional creator of Jurassic Park, John Hammond. The device has a 1.8GHz hexa-core 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 chip paired with 3GB RAM and 32GB of built-in storage.
It's important to remember that while BlackBerry produces smartphones, it's never made a pure Android device before. As such, the device's staggeringly quick real-world performance is worthy of comment, given that it's produced it from a standing start. Naturally, this is partly due to the sledgehammer that is the chip-and-RAM combo here, but BlackBerry has clearly done some work behind the scenes as well. I much prefer to compare the real-world performance of the device, too, because if you went by its benchmarks alone, you'd think that the Priv was about as fast as an agricultural vehicle.
| ||BlackBerry Priv ||Sony Xperia Z5 ||Google Nexus 6P ||HTC One A9 ||Samsung Galaxy S6 |
|AndEBench Pro ||7,505 ||6,989 ||7,377 ||7,750 ||10,552 |
|Vellamo 3.2 ||3,461 ||5,204 ||5,105 ||2,585 ||3,677 |
|3DMark IS Unlimited ||19,200 ||23,190 ||21,847 ||9,076 ||21,632 |
|GFXBench 3.0 1080p Manhattan Offscreen (fps) ||15 ||23.3 ||25 ||6.6 ||25 |
|CF-Bench ||56,206 ||64,860 ||48,796 ||61,789 ||62,257 |
You see, at the time that I was reviewing the BlackBerry Priv, I was also testing Sony's Xperia Z5, and had assumed that the latter would probably stand ahead of the former in the real world. As such, I did some side-by-side loading tests to see which of the pair could crank demanding apps like Asphalt 8 and Dead Trigger 2 the fastest. As it turned out, both devices managed to load levels within a second of each other -- Sony winning the first heat, the Priv returning the favor in the second, and so forth. It's an unscientific test, sure, but you can rest assured that this device can stand side-by-side with the big boys.
One thing that BlackBerry 10 phones have historically struggled with is call quality, and the firm's much-hyped Paratek Adaptive aerial technology never really amounted to much. The company claims that the Priv is even more call-friendly, since it packs in 11 antennas inside its svelte frame. As such, I had a few long, romantic chats with my fellow Engadget editors on Three's network here in the UK. As far as they were concerned, my audio was tinny and somehow choked-off, as if the full gamut of my speech was being erased from the chat by the phone's secondary, sound-canceling microphones.
The Priv ships with a non-removable, 3,410mAh battery, which is more capacious than both the Galaxy Note 5 (3,000mAh) and the S6 Edge (2,600mAh). Despite this massive battery, the company only rated it for 22 hours of mixed use which, to me, felt a little suspect. In my experience of reviewing BlackBerry phones, you can normally divide that figure in half and get close to what it's going to get in test conditions. Thankfully here, I was surprised. In our standard rundown test, we loop a HD video with brightness set to 50 percent and the Priv managed to last 12 hours and 23 minutes.
If I'm honest, that surprised me, since it never seemed to be capable of lasting that long during my day-to-day use. For instance, the day I received the handset, I charged it fully and then began the setup process, which took about an hour. Unfortunately, just an hour of use managed to eat away 20 percent of the device's battery life, so while video playback will do for the duration of most long-haul flights, you'll struggle to achieve similar results day to day.
At this point it's probably safe to say that BlackBerry doesn't have a lot of competition, since no other major firm produces an Android smartphone with a keyboard. The only reasonably new device that comes close to the Priv's hardware would be a Galaxy S6 Edge paired with one of the Korean firm's bolt-on keyboards.
If you're looking for a secure Android phone, meanwhile, the only other mainstream alternative would be a Samsung Knox device -- again, leading you back to the Galaxy S6 Edge (amongst others). The only other device that readily comes to mind is Silent Circle's BlackPhone 2, which makes similar claims to be able to protect your privacy.
Otherwise, the field of competition is pretty barren, and if you're just looking for a physical keyboard, the only other option is BlackBerry 10 devices. Right now you have a choice of two: the wide-framed Passport or the Classic, both of which come with the firm's trademark frets.
BlackBerry is probably done as a phone manufacturer, and John Chen has pledged to shut down the division if it doesn't turn a profit by 2016. That's not going to be possible, not through any fault of BlackBerry, but because almost no Android manufacturer seems to be able to turn a decent profit on smartphones these days. As much as it makes sense that BlackBerry could, or should, have adopted Android four years ago, there's no guarantee that it would have prolonged its life much beyond now anyway.
The BlackBerry Priv, then, is one part hail Mary and one part fan service, and that $699 price tag is going to scare off fair-weather customers. Despite spending this time with the BlackBerry Priv, I'm still not sure if that's a good thing or not, because there are plenty of things that I like about it. I like how it looks, how it feels and how well-built it is. The tweaks to Android are sensible too, regardless of how you feel about BlackBerry Hub.
But then there's that slightly lackluster keyboard, which isn't bad, but isn't as glorious as what you'd expect from a BlackBerry device. Since a physical input mechanism is the phone's raison d'etre, surely the company would have been better off just cramming a full-sized one in, somehow? After all, if you've gone to the trouble of cleaving the phone in two and building a, frankly killer, sliding mechanism, better to go the whole hog, right?
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.
Photography by Chris Velazco