Phone

BlackBerry Priv a union of operating systems

The Priv has a backlit Qwerty keyboard that reveals itself when you slide the screen up.
The Priv has a backlit Qwerty keyboard that reveals itself when you slide the screen up.PHOTO: BLACKBERRY

Canadian maker adopts Android for new handset but retains some familiar features

If you have long wondered what past mobile stalwarts like Nokia and BlackBerry might have done had they embraced Google's Android operating system (OS), the BlackBerry Priv provides a good answer.

Having failed to garner much traction with its current BlackBerry 10 OS, the Canadian company has decided to adopt Android for its new Priv handset.

Now, this is not just a firm slapping an OS onto some hardware and selling it. BlackBerry already has experience with allowing Android apps on BlackBerry 10, so the Priv looks to be a marriage of both OSes.

Only slightly thicker than your average 5.4-inch smartphone, the Priv has a backlit Qwerty keyboard that reveals itself when you slide the screen up.

Here is what I find ironic though: When I gave up my classic BlackBerry device for Android years ago, the biggest loss I felt was the keyboard. But now that it is back, I find myself preferring the touchscreen keyboard more. While it took me just a while to relearn BlackBerry's keyboard layout, I was not enthused about using it as I am already very accustomed to the layout of a touchscreen one.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: $1,098

    PROCESSOR: 1.44GHz hexa core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808

    DISPLAY: 5.4-inch Amoled 1,440 x 2,560 pixels. (540 ppi pixel density), Corning Gorilla Glass 4

    CAMERA: (Rear) 18MP, 4,896 x 3,672 pixels, optical image stabilisation, phase detection autofocus, dual-LED flash, (Front) 2MP

    OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 5.1.1 (Lollipop)

    MEMORY: 32GB (expandable microSD up to 200GB), 3GB RAM

    BATTERY: Non-removable 3,410 mAh


    RATING

    DESIGN: 4/5

    FEATURES: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

The firm has also introduced its touchscreen keyboard gestures to Android. This is where the software anticipates the word you are typing and provides suggested words before you complete your typing. You can then accept the suggestion by swiping upwards from letters.

This works a little better than predictive text, which introduces only three words on a pop-up window above the on-screen keyboard.

It has also brought the BlackBerry Hub to Android. This one-stop notification hub consolidates your incoming notifications. This saves you the hassle of having to fire up individual apps to check and respond.

But with the surfeit of apps in Android that employ notifications, not everything has been coded to appear in the Hub.

Incoming messages from Google Hangouts and Facebook Messenger are just two among others that have not been integrated into the Hub.

The screen has curved edges. If you think it looks like Samsung's Galaxy S6 edge, that is because the Korean company is making these displays for BlackBerry.

A swipe inwards from the edge displays the calendar, tasks, hub and favourite contacts menu. When you are charging the device, an indicator running along the edge shows how much of the battery has been filled.

The 18-megapixel (MP) camera on the Priv is BlackBerry's best camera to date. But that does not mean much, given that Samsung, LG and Apple have basically dominated the phone camera space. I found the shades of red, blue and purple for photos taken by the rear camera not as deep, compared to the real thing.

The 2MP front cameramakes indoor photos look as if they have been heavily filtered.

A huge part of the Priv has to do with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) security software, which I was unable to test.

This is where firms can set IT policies on the phone, and grant users access to some features. This allows a phone to have two profiles with two sets of identical apps. For instance, you can have two sets of Google Play, Drive and inboxes running.

Data for these secured apps sits on a firm's BES account and can be remotely wiped should a staff member leave the firm. But personal accounts and items are left untouched.

• Verdict: The BlackBerry Priv offers great hardware and introduces new features to Android. If you want a Qwerty keyboard, it is the phone to get.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2015, with the headline 'BlackBerry Priv a union of operating systems'. Print Edition | Subscribe