Recently a colleague asked my advice on a smartphone he wanted to buy. But he had a specific request: the phone should have a full keyboard like his BlackBerry 8520 which was well past its prime. That was exactly a week before BlackBerry announced the launch of Priv in India. I would not have suggested this premium phone to my colleague anyway, but his specific requirement might just be what makes the BlackBerry Priv and the next generation of devices that follow it the redeemer for the beleaguered Canadian smartphone maker.
I have used this new phone for a week and will tell you why I love this new phone from Waterloo. I will also tell you what I don’t love about the Priv in the next part of this review.
Before you start comparing it to QWERTY old BlackBerry, let me tell you that this is not a phone for everyone. It is clearly meant for top management, which has for many years been BlackBerry’s favourite clientele. It is priced to take on the top-end flagships like the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+. The price means even BlackBerry does not expect it to be a mass product.
Specs: 5.4-inch WQHD AMOLED display (2560 x 1440 pixels) | Snapdragon 808 processor | 3GB RAM | 32GB storage space (expandable to 200GB) | 18MP rear camera with OIS + 2MP front camera | 3410 mAh battery | Android 5.1 Lollipop
Price: Rs 62,999
What I love about the BlackBerry Priv
It’s different: All the buzz so far about this phone has centred around how this is the first Android phone from BlackBerry which has been pushing its own operating system for many years. I choose to look at this phone differently. For me, this is the best Android phone with a keyboard at the moment and that is a pretty place to be in for BlackBerry, a very lonely place too. I am very adept at typing really fast for long durations on the smartphone and tablet. But I’m still in a minority. There are lots of people who do it because they don’t have an option and the handful of Android devices with keyboards are low-end devices not really meant for power users. With BlackBerry stating that it’s going to roll out more Android devices that play to its strength of keyboards and security, this could be a niche the company can really tap into.
Who has better keyboards: The keyboard is clearly the USP of this phone. It is both functional and practical like any BlackBerry QWERTY. But it also gives you full options to use just the virtual keyboard and not slide out the physical keys. I have used a BlackBerry phone for a few years, moving on from a Nokia E series business phone. So I am very used to physical keyboards on phones and have been filing and editing copies on phones for close to a decade. But the last BlackBerry phone I used was well over a year back and I now realise that I’m more comfortable using the virtual keyboard instead of the physical keys. So BlackBerry will have a challenge getting people who have moved on from physical keys to adjust them again. However, it will be able to cash in on the thousands who have not been able to adjust to virtual keyboards. And yes, like in the BlackBerry Passport, the surface of the keypad can be used as a trackpad too.
The right tweaks: BlackBerry has been good enough to retain most natural elements of Android while adding their bits as add-ons and not as a wrap like other manufacturers have tried. I found the BlackBerry hub to be a great productivity app given that it plugs all my incoming messages into a single app with fewer chances of missing out on stuff. The gestures from BB10 OS have been added in a way to conjure what you need when you need it. Smart widgets work a bit like 3D Touch and are innovative, helping keep the home screens clean and clutter-free. I loved the shortcuts on the home screen to things you need the most like battery percentage, compose mail and so on. You will need to curate them a bit, but these are again very practical.
Design: The design is nothing revolutionary, certainly not for BlackBerry. But it seems to be the most natural way to add physical keys without making them look like an appendage. The overall size of the phone is very handy and if no one told you, there is no way to figure out that this phone has a slide out keyboard.
Call quality: One BlackBerry goodness that people take for granted is the overall call quality. If you are the sort that value your business then these calls are important enough for you to be able to communicate effectively in the traditional ways too. This phone has one of the best call quality I have experienced in recent times, both on the handset and on speaker phone.
Before you think I have sold out to BlackBerry, please read tomorrow’s piece on what I hate about the Priv.