When I was in high school, BlackBerry was still an up-and-comer in the US cell phone market. The sleepy suburb I grew up in really had no widespread knowledge of them until after I had left for college. And when you start college in 2006, a year before the first iPhone (released at the end of my freshman year), it’s probably not surprising to learn that shiny-new-MacBook toting shiny-new-adults at a big state school turned up their noses at something as staid and “establishment” as a BlackBerry. Everyone who was into “cell-phone-as-status-symbol” knew it was the iPhone that was changing everything. BlackBerries, on the other hand, were for serious people who wore serious clothes while doing serious things often with a serious face - rather the opposite of college life.

But let’s rewind back to high school again. I did not have a BlackBerry. Most kids did not have BlackBerries. Most kids had flip phones or, if you were especially well-to-do, a Moto RAZR, easily the coolest thing this side of an iPod Mini in our Verizon CDMA-bathed city. Broken RAZR stories were shared like campfire tales. Sure, there was the occasional Sidekick, but those were expensive novelties only for the most devoted and often part-time employed adolescent textaholics. If you had a Sidekick, you were using it in class constantly, it was being taken from you by teachers at least once a week, and you cherished it. I did not have a Sidekick because A.) I was lazy and didn’t want a job to be able to afford one in the first place, and B.) I had no interest in texting anyone.

DSC00658

BlackBerry, then, was never on my cultural radar. Not for a moment. I went to high school with a cheap Kyocera flip phone, I went to college with a slightly less cheap Sony-Ericsson flip phone (with Java!!!), and my first smartphone was a Nexus One that I purchased with far too much of my already limited college student money. A BlackBerry, though? I think I checked out a Storm 2 at a carrier store once, but it didn’t really intrigue me in any particular way. At that point, I also knew basically nothing about smartphones, so I didn’t really have thoughts about them to begin with.

Fast-forward through 5 years of living with Android, and I’m a bit disappointed I didn’t pay closer attention to what many of the now-dead smartphone OSes of my youth were doing. This brings us to the BlackBerry Priv and my reason for this whole thing prefacing our review: I want you to know that I am bringing in absolutely none of the historical baggage of the BlackBerry brand into this review. I don’t know what made the Pearl great, nor do I have any particular cringe stories to share about the Storm, and I don’t really care about BBOS… at all. I used a Z10 for a while about two-and-a-half years ago - that is my entire BlackBerry experience. As a thing I hadn’t used before, it was intriguing. As something you’d want to use every day? No.

So, this review is not about how BlackBerry is using Android compared to how BlackBerry used BlackBerry OS. It is not about how this new physical keyboard compares to BlackBerries of yore. I don’t know how it compares, and I have no easy way to give you a particularly well-informed opinion on it even if I did want to go through the trouble of sourcing an old BB like the Torch with a similar hardware style. This review is a clean slate. But you’re on an Android site, so that should be kind of a given.

The Good

Display A top-of-the-line QHD Super AMOLED panel likely sourced from Samsung. It looks great.
Battery life Definitely above-average. I found the 3410mAh of capacity easily got me through any day.
Camera BlackBerry's post-processing and HDR quality really make photos in challenging conditions shine, even if they look a bit artificial at times.
Stock Android feel BlackBerry didn't really mess with Android for the sake of messing with it. Most modifications are strictly functional or come in the form of apps.

The Not So Good

Performance Unpredictable, sometimes slow, sometimes fast, sometimes in-between. Lollipop RAM management doesn't help.
Camera noise Absolutely obnoxious touch-to-focus and shutter sound effects that can only be disabled by muting the phone.
Mute button Given how BlackBerry has implemented it, it's useless. It ends up just being something you'll hit accidentally.
Pricey BlackBerry has never been about "cheap," but $700 isn't exactly going to turn the heads of anyone but keyboard junkies.

Design and build quality

Vertical slider phones are weird. On the one hand, the ergonomics are slightly sensible… I guess. Because you can fling open the keyboard and use it with one hand while also having a large display in a normally-sized package when you aren’t using the keyboard, it’s like a two-phones-for-one deal. Typical touchslab when closed, tappy-typey email machine when opened.

DSC00660

But time for some real talk about those keys, in respect to my particular tapping of them. I am awful at these tiny little keyboards. Like, your grandpa trying to use an ATM when 6 other people are in line behind him and all of them are clearly in a rush awful. It’s just not my thing, it never has been, and it never will be. To me, this is mind-bendingly unintuitive and would take me months to master in anything approaching a respectable way. I’m not going to be using the Priv for months. I cannot give you a good evaluation of the keyboard on the merits. Sorry. I can show you what it looks like, though! Also, it's backlit.

My thoughts without getting into the related software bits are as follows: the keys are really small. They depress and feel clicky. They are keys. Again, I am sorry. I really, really, can’t get into this keyboard-for-ants thing, even as I have forced myself to use it on the Priv.

DSC00657

Moving on, let’s talk about the actual slider mechanism. Once you realize that you need to direct all of your fingerly force directly upward on the display glass to do that trick one-handed slide, it’s super easy. And because sliding it open automatically illuminates the display, it’s a handy wake feature. The issue for me is then closing it. You pretty much have to be touching an active part of the display to slide the phone closed with one hand. If you don’t want to touch the display or drop the phone, you need a second hand. Or, you need to turn the display off first. Oddly, there is no option for closing the keyboard to also turn off the display. I can see why it’s not a default, but I feel like some people would want this maybe?

DSC00550

The quality of the screen portion of the phone seems good, probably as it’s encased in an aluminum surround frame. The quality of the lower portion which houses the keyboard, camera, and likely several other components, is a bit flimsy. I realize that without the glass display acting as a giant stiffening brace, it’s hard to make a big plastic rectangle feel especially solid. But there’s a lot of depression flex in the back of this phone. In the closed position, you can feel the display portion pressing into the back portion, which then flexes, if you touch with more than moderate force on the screen. The whole plastic back portion is easily pulled off its hinges by hand, and my review unit even has a slightly uneven gap where those hinges meet on the right side versus the left. I can all but guarantee this basically comes down to the “g” word: grams. The Priv is heavy (192g). Reinforcing the back portion for the sake of “solid” feeling would make it even heavier yet. For people who really want a physical keyboard, the tradeoff here is probably nothing to worry about. But given the weight and slightly flimsy feel, I certainly wouldn’t consider this worth the girth if you don’t plan on using that keyboard extensively - if you’re happy with just a touchscreen, this phone is not going to be some kind of text input enlightenment from on high. Stick with the touchscreen.

DSC00604

On the left of the Priv is a power button, it’s fine, and on the right you have three keys - volume up, mute, and volume down. “Oh, a mute switch!” you say with surprised joy. If only. BlackBerry’s mute button is basically just going to make identifying the volume keys harder, because it is objectively useless. So, let’s say the display is off. You hit the mute button. Can you guess what happens? Is it A.) nothing, B.) the phone mutes, or C.) the phone goes into vibrate mode? Well, it’s not B or C (i.e., it’s A). What about when the display is turned on? Surely it must do something then… like mute the phone. Nope. It just brings up the Android volume UI. That’s it. Tapping it repeatedly, holding it down, and any combination thereof just does the same thing. I have spoken to BlackBerry - this is the intended behavior.

So why in the hell is this button a thing? Because it will mute incoming calls or currently playing media audio. I would like to point out that the former is already accomplished with volume down in Android, and that the latter is easily accomplished by… holding volume down for a second.

The mute button is dumb. You’re just going to accidentally mute your music sometimes and wonder just what BlackBerry was smoking when they decided to implement it this way.

DSC00591

Display

The Priv’s curved QHD Super AMOLED panel appears to be a recent Samsung part, likely similar to the display in the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge. While not quite as bright in high ambient light as those on the Note 5 and S6 edge+, it’s still extremely crisp, colorful, and enjoyable to look at. Viewing angles are superb. Overall, it’s a great screen.

DSC00574

As to the whole “curved” aspect, I’m going to call it a very gentle curve. It’s not as pronounced as the S6 edge or edge+’s, so you get a fair bit less of the edge distortion, which I am 100% OK with.

BlackBerry could have done much worse here, and they’d struggle to do better. If you’re looking for a weakness with the Priv, the display is definitely not the place to start - this is a top-of-the-line screen that competes with the very best phones on the market. And with that $699 MSRP, I’d hope for as much.

Battery life

The Priv’s girthy 3410mAh battery sounds like a recipe for exceptional battery life on paper, but in practice, I found that it generally just tends to make it good. 4 hours screen-on, an amount I generally consider above-average in high-end phones I test for my usage patterns, was what I usually managed on mixed Wi-Fi and LTE. Standby life was really where the Priv shone for me, losing only small amounts of extended periods sitting idle off the charger.

DSC00589

I think the battery life comes down to a couple of things. The Snapdragon 808 processor does not hesitate to get toasty in your hand. It’s not needs-a-warning-label hot, but it clearly generates some heat, and therefore, consumes some power, too. And despite AMOLED’s efficiencies, a QHD version at full brightness (with adaptive mode enabled) is still going to drink down the electrons fairly rapidly. I think for a more judicious settings tweaker the Priv could last quite a while. Perhaps a more aggressive implementation of adaptive brightness could help here, too, as I really dislike manually adjusting the brightness myself, so I just leave the slider maxed pretty much all day.

Charging times are usually fast with a good charger. It’s not the fastest Quick Charge 2.0 device I’ve seen, though the Priv does meet the 2.0 spec. I found actual charging speeds were around 11-12W, not the full 14-15W you’ll see on some other devices from Samsung and Motorola. One thing to note is that BlackBerry does not include a quick charger with the phone, which is a bit lame considering the MSRP. The charging speed also seems rather variable - sometimes it’ll go at 11-12W, sometimes at 10, sometimes at 7-8W. It’s likely varying based on the battery temperature or something, but it seemed a bit erratic even by that standard. It also would occasionally flash up to 14-15W of charge throughput, but would always immediately throttle back down again to 11-12W or less.

Speakers and audio

The Priv’s single front-facing speaker is thoroughly average. But the fact that it’s front-facing does mean it is quite effective in directing sound in the right direction (which is to say, toward your ears) and doesn’t necessarily need to be a powerhouse. While it’s nowhere near as powerful as the Nexus 6’s stereo setup, or even quite as loud as Samsung’s speakers on more recent phones, the quality is respectable and you won’t feel shortchanged.

Sound from the headphone jack is very good, generally what you’d expect from a top-tier Qualcomm chipset.

DSC00572

Storage and wireless

The Priv comes with 32GB of internal storage, with around 24GB available to you. There’s a microSD slot for expanding that, though you won’t be getting full use of it until the Priv gets Marshmallow, which will happen… at some point.

The wireless feature set of all current Snapdragon 808 devices is in tow, with extensive LTE band support, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac at 2.4 and 5GHz, Bluetooth 4.1, and NFC. I’ve not had any particular issues with any of these things, though Wi-Fi signal on the Priv seems a bit weaker anecdotally than some other devices I’ve tested recently.

On the mobile network side, the phone has been working pretty much fine with AT&T’s LTE and I’ve not had any signal issues or otherwise abnormal behavior.

Camera

It is legitimately good. BlackBerry sought out help from Schneider-Kreuznach to tune the Priv’s camera, and the result is a mobile imaging system that is highly competitive, especially in challenging light. BlackBerry kind of lost the plot on cameras as competition from iOS and Android really began to heat up, so it’s good to see them taking this seriously on their newest phone.

DSC00578

I was genuinely surprised at just how well set up this camera seems out of the box. I’m not sure how it’s going to stack up against the Nexus 6P or 5X, or the new Moto X Pure Edition, but the results I’m getting so far are encouraging. There are some caveats, though.

First, the shutter and focus sounds cannot be muted selectively. You either have to mute system volume when you shoot or live with the shutter and focus sound. I really don’t like phones without a shutter noise toggle (I’m looking at you, Google). What’s even more annoying is that when HDR is set to auto and it does multiple exposures, you get three shutter noises in a row (and it’s a click-click-click noise). This helps in terms of letting you know to hold the camera still, I suppose, but it gets annoying fast when you’re taking multiple photos.

DSC00667

Also, the night captures, while impressive, are doing a lot of creative extrapolation. The camera on this phone reminds me a lot of the LG G4’s in that it’s quite hard to take a legitimately bad photo with it, but in some situations the post-processing is very obvious and can give photos an artificial quality. Still, BlackBerry did good here.

The camera app itself is pretty much barren of configurability. You do get an exposure value slider, but that’s really it. You can adjust the flash, HDR mode, set a timer delay, and adjust the aspect ratio from 4:3 to 1:1 (there is no widescreen aspect, you’ll have to crop it yourself). Resolution is locked at 18MP (unless you switch to 1:1 ratio), with the difference in capture quality just being the level of JPEG compression applied. You can choose fine or standard quality compression, with the former being the default. Oh, and you can apply filters to your photos. For The Instagram.

Video capture is supported at 4K/30FPS, with 1080p and 720p both offering 60FPS (along with 30) modes for more buttery moving pictures. There are no slow-motion or ultra-high frame rate capture modes. An enhanced video stabilization feature is available for 720p and 1080p 30FPS capture, but not for 4K or higher frame rates.

Performance

The Snapdragon 808 in the Priv generally behaves itself just fine. But like the LG G4 released earlier this year, it does occasionally experience random performance hiccups and stutters out of nowhere. It just has that feeling of a phone that hasn’t been laser-focused on providing excellent performance, something that was common to almost every Lollipop device this year. Multitasking performance is definitely better than what I recall on the G4, though you still get the standard Lollipop out-of-memory UI reflows a lot of the time.

The 808’s robust GPU also means that you won’t be hitting any major graphical bottlenecks, and animations rarely skip frames or cause odd lockups. Still, it generally doesn’t benchmark any better than a Snapdragon 805, and compared to a Nexus 6 on Marshmallow, the Priv is very noticeably slower.

DSC00648

Even for something with a Snapdragon 808, it should probably be a bit quicker yet, and it just doesn’t feel like it’s there. Android 5.0 and 5.1 have both proven to be absolutely bears to tune for performance, and BlackBerry is about as inexperienced as they come among major OEMs in terms of developing an Android device. I really think Android 6.0 could smooth out what issues the Priv does have, since HTC is making the A9 with its meager Snapdragon 617 feel downright snappy in Marshmallow.

Additionally, the Priv’s encryption performance is far from mind-blowing. Even a Nexus 6, a device notoriously saddled with low encryption performance, beats it in SQLite benchmarks without trouble. Read and write performance are respectable, but still easily blown away by the latest phones from Samsung.

Software

Aside from the keyboard itself, this is really where the story is at, isn’t it? For one, you’ll be pleased to know that BlackBerry hasn’t seen fit to make any major aesthetic changes to Android itself. They’ve only modified it functionally, so the Priv by and large looks like an unskinned Lollipop device. But don’t be fooled - there are a lot of changes lurking just slightly below the surface, some good, some not so good.

Keyboard

Let’s start with the obvious thing: how does the hardware keyboard interact with the software? In my experience, it is pretty hit or miss. So, with the BlackBerry hardware keyboard is also an associated BlackBerry software keyboard. In order to get things like word suggestions and auto-correct and gestures and pretty much anything aside from the keys themselves working on the hardware keyboard, the BlackBerry software keyboard must be selected as the default. If you’re strictly planning on using the chiclets, this isn’t an issue, and BlackBerry does provide a warning if you attempt to switch to a different software keyboard in the phone settings.

DSC00608

When you select a non-BlackBerry software keyboard, you lose the word suggestions and auto-correct / replacement gestures on the hardware keyboard, so you’ll want to have the BB software board selected at pretty much all times, which most people will have no reason to change. The one downside here is going to be for users who prefer a specific software keyboard for their given language for special characters, and those people will likely have to switch back and forth as needed unless they want a gimped hardware keyboard experience.

DSC00650

The features of the keyboard itself are, I find, quite helpful when they do work. You get three suggested words in the suggestion bar at the bottom of the screen. You can either tap on the suggested word to use it, or you can swipe up on the third of the physical keyboard under the area the suggestion appears. It’s a bit slow for me, but when you’re one-handing the phone, it does feel a bit more stable than reaching up to the screen. You can also swipe left or right across the keyboard when the selector is active to precisely hone in on a character for correction, and it’s a hell of a lot easier than using your finger on the screen. There’s a swipe left gesture to delete the last word you entered, too. Additional symbols are retrieved by hitting the “sym” key, and they then pop up on the screen.

DSC00641

The software keyboard itself is very similar to the one BlackBerry shipped on the likes of the Z10. You get hover-over word suggestions on the keys which you can then swipe up on to choose a given suggestion. It’s nice, and I have no particular issues with it, but I’d prefer the Google Keyboard or SwiftKey for my software input method.

The keyboard also acts as a rudimentary scroll pad, and in most apps swiping up or down on it will scroll through a list UI. It can be kind of janky and unpredictable, so I don't really recommend using this feature unless you really find it comfortable. That about rounds out the keyboard features.

Settings

With a new OEM software layer comes all kinds of new settings and tweaks. Let's take a look.

In display, BlackBerry has a few items of note.

  • Double-tap to wake (which works).
  • A "screen wakes to" option, which when your device is unlocked, allows you to wake either directly to the home screen or to the lock screen.
  • The ability to select an interface style for the recent apps UI. There are three - rolodex (like stock Android), tiles, and masonry.
  • Color adjustment allows you to set the white balance and saturation of the display to your liking with two sliders (presets would be nice, too).
  • Lift-to-wake toggle, so that the screen turns on when the phone has been sitting and you pick it up. This only works sometimes - I'm not really happy with the consistency.
  • Ambient display, which turns on the display in low-power mode to display notifications a la Nexus and Motorola devices. This works pretty much never in my experience.
  • A toggle for something called the battery edge, which gives you a green bar on the edge of the display while the phone is charging to let you know how full the battery is. Kind of neat, kind of gimmicky.
  • Menus to launch specific apps when headphones or video-out is connected to the phone.

DSC00664

Being Android Lollipop, the Priv also still has the hold-home-and-swipe gesture to launch Google now, which BlackBerry has customized. Along with the Now launch gesture, you can swipe up to the left or right to launch an app or initiate one of dozens of actions, like compose an SMS or email, open the dial pad, or start navigation. BlackBerry has always been pretty hip on gestures, and this is actually kind of neat. It'll be interesting to see how BlackBerry does this when they update to Marshmallow (perhaps swiping up will launch Now On Tap instead of Now).

DSC00662

In the sound and notification UI, you've got your basic settings, but BlackBerry has added a few extras. First, there is a toggle to enable notification sounds while you're on a phone call. Because you're a BlackBerry user, and that means business, and business means knowing you received A Very Important Email while you're on A Very Important Call with A Very Important Person. I kid, but the feature is nice. There are also options for the notification light in here, which you turn on, off, or only on when the display is off. That's nice.

You've got a few advanced gesture controls, and I'm unsure why they have their own settings menu entry, but they're there. There are toggles to flip the phone while muted, turn off the screen when you put the phone face-down, and to keep the screen awake while you're holding the phone.

Going to the security menu, you'd expect to find a whole slew of new, advanced security settings for your super-secure BlackBerry phone, right? Wrong! It's basically the exact same set of options as stock Android. You do get a new lockscreen style called picture lock, which requires you to select a picture, then pick a number on a grid, and slide that number to a specific spot of your choosing on the image, which then unlocks the phone. It is absurdly difficult to use. Whatever security benefit you derive from it, I don't really think it's worth the trouble - it's super picky about accuracy and I almost locked myself out of the phone trying to use it. No thanks.

The one new toggle you get is auto-wipe: after 10 failed lock screen attempts, the phone will erase itself. This is enabled by default. I guess I'm lucky I didn't wipe my phone with the damn picture lock.

Homescreen and other UI

There's really nothing worth saying about the launcher. It's a launcher. The only thing I can find that's really different about it is that it has a built-in selector for icon packs, which is nice, but that's about the extent of features worth talking about. It appears to be built on the standard AOSP launcher with some very, very minor theming added in for things like the uninstall / remove UI when dragging an icon.

DSC00665

The notification bar is themed, with a battery % indicator (yay), up/down traffic indicators for Wi-Fi and mobile data, and icons for Bluetooth and NFC (boo). As you can see, my review unit also has an AT&T logo in the top left and a stylized AT&T data icon, because the phone does that once you put in an AT&T SIM. It also loads the AT&T bootloader animation, which to me, is just a big "fuck you." If I bought this phone unlocked (which this review unit is) and it suddenly loaded the AT&T dunk-doo-dunk-doo loud-as-hell bootloader animation once I put in an AT&T SIM, I would be rightly pissed off. I have no idea what AT&T is paying you for this, BlackBerry, but that money is a flat insult to your customers.

The quick settings area is pretty much stock Android, though, and if you put the app switcher in 'rolodex' mode, that looks stock as well.

The one UI difference you will find that is persistent throughout your time using the Priv is the edge display. Now, Samsung has this on the GS6 edge and edge+, and I find it completely and utterly useless. I find the Priv's pretty useless as well, but I think it's marginally less useless than Samsung's implementation, because it does more.

DSC00629

You get a layout of your day in the calendar, unread messages from the BlackBerry Hub, tasks, and your favorite contacts. Would I actually ever use this? Almost definitely not. Could I imagine a universe in which someone does? If you're constantly peeking at your calendar and incoming messages in Hub (which BB users tend to be famous for), this edge display could be useful to you. Maybe. It really depends on how you use your device, because you can't actually do anything from the edge display, merely look at things and then choose to launch said activities in their native applications. It's interesting if nothing else, and if you really don't like it, it's easily disabled.

Stock apps

For the BlackBerry faithful (what few are left), this section is going to be important. Sadly, I am unable to provide you any comparative perspective as to what BlackBerry is doing on Android with its software versus what it did or does on BB OS. And I'm going to be taking a pretty flyover look at them for the sake of brevity here.

Of most interest is the Hub app. BlackBerry Hub serves as a central message repository for emails, texts, social network notifications, BBMs, and phone calls. Kind of neat, right? Well, if you use anything other than BBM or SMS for texting, those won't show up. Which is kind of a lot of potential holes (Hangouts, WhatsApp, LINE, Skype, Facebook Messenger, Viber, etc). And if you use Gmail for your email, especially if you used tabbed inbox, managing your email in Hub is basically not doable. I get around 200-400 emails per day at my Android Police account. About 20-40 of those (10%) are actual emails to me from human beings, as opposed to being automated notifications or press releases or various other things that I only read under certain circumstances. Because I use tabs to manage this in Gmail, there's no way in the BlackBerry Hub to separate the wheat from the chaff, so I basically can't use Hub for work email. Could I use folders instead? Yes. Am I about to change the entire way I do email for an app? Of course not. That's not to mention the lack of flagging / starring or even an archive button.

DSC00644

But these won't be concerns for everyone. For those undeterred, BlackBerry Hub is a very simple way to just tear through your various emails and social notifications in a giant list. The only things that open natively in the app are emails and BBMs, while SMS messages and social network items will open the respective app to the item.

The other big thing about Hub is the ability to micromanage your notifications. You can drill down notification rules for emails to an almost silly extent, but many people lived for this functionality on BB OS as I understand it. You could make a rule as follows, if you want to take it to an extreme:

Those rules can, obviously, be applied to individual accounts and be enabled and disabled at will. You can also set up custom "views" for hub, which only show a predetermined set of accounts. So, if you want a "personal" hub view that only shows your personal email, texts, and call logs, for example, you can do that, while having a separate work view that shows only work-related items. Hub is a pretty powerful app, there's no doubt about that, though I can't help but feel that this kind of workflow is increasingly an anachronism as we compartmentalize our communications more and more. Even in the enterprise space, BYOD obviates the need for such actively managed work/life data separation, but I'm sure there are some people out there still looking for this sort of fine-grain email management.

Then there's BBM, which is the same as BBM's ever been on Android, so I'm not going to talk about it. It's for messaging people on BBM. And no, BlackBerry hasn't added any kind of SMS functionality to it for its new phone - you'll be using the Google Messenger app for that by default, which is preloaded on the Priv.

The BlackBerry Calendar app does boast some interesting features, allowing you to set working hours (presumably, this just highlights the area of the calendar during those hours), set a "meeting mode" that mutes the phone during certain events, adjust the calendar time zone if you want it different from device time, and shows you if one event conflicts with another. I'm guessing some 3rd party calendar apps offer similar functionality, though, and I'm not claiming BlackBerry's is exceptional or anything.

There's also the DTEK security app, which has received some buzz leading up to the phone's launch. I'm inclined to say it's mostly hype. What DTEK is, essentially, is a feel-goody list of green, yellow, and red checkmarks remarking on your device's security. Have developer settings enabled? Uh-oh, yellow checkmark for you! Sideloading apps is enabled? Yellow again. Basically, DTEK's purpose is to show average users how they can best secure their device by following simple rules. Simple rules like disabling developer options and app sideloading, using a strong lock screen, downloading Android Device Manager, and not running a custom ROM or rooting (which should be very hard to do on this phone anyway).

DSC00636

It also has some thoroughly useless checks like "you're using a BlackBerry device." Which, oh boy! That means something. Something that gets you a green checkmark. Taken together, if you have all green checkmarks - you overachiever, you - you get a maxed-out green dial that says your device security status is "EXCELLENT." Gold stars for everybody!

DSC00640

One thing DTEK does that is useful is show you when apps are accessing parts of Android that require special permissions, like your location or contacts. You get a full list of apps and how often they've asked for a given piece of information. For example, if I open Uber in the DTEK app list, I can see it has accessed my location 198 times in the last 7 days, which sounds like a lot. DTEK rates this 4 blue squares out of 5 for frequency, which isn't exactly a useful metric, but whatever. It's a neat feature. The DTEK app goes further yet, though - you can request that any time an app attempts to access your camera, contacts, location, microphone, text messages, or videos, that you will get a notification that it is attempting to do so (you can pick and choose from that list, as well). System apps aren't included, since they're trusted software, which will likely upset somebody or something. But that's pretty much DTEK.

There are apps for notetaking, tasks, and password storage, but these are so overshadowed by dozens of third-party solutions I really don't think it's a good use of time getting into them. But that about wraps out any discussion of BlackBerry Priv-specific software.

Conclusion

The Priv isn't the sort of phone I'd ever buy - I have no real interest in physical keyboard phones. And it's hard for me to judge in a meaningful way how the Priv compares to slider phones of the past in that regard (or present, counting current BlackBerry devices). While I certainly didn't note any major faults in the keyboard, I'll leave it to the keyboard lovers to draw their own conclusions. I simply don't have the experience with them to be definitive here.

As to the rest of the phone? BlackBerry did a solid job, absolutely. A great screen, very good camera, solid battery life, and a stock-ish Android experience that never seeks to take away from what makes Android great. BlackBerry really did just listen to what Android and BlackBerry fans alike probably told them to do: build a good Android phone, and don't muck it up with a bunch of theming and unnecessary garbage.

It's not perfect, though. The noisy camera (this really grates on me), the utterly useless mute switch, less than reliably good performance, a complete unknown on how BlackBerry will be with OS updates, and a design that clearly does make some quality compromises to accommodate the slider mechanism (given, that's true of most any slider phone). These are all things to consider.

There's also the price. At $700, the 32GB Priv with its Snapdragon 808 costs as much as a 128GB Nexus 6P with a Snapdragon 810. But the Nexus 6P doesn't have a keyboard! Listen, I get it: no other major Android phone has a keyboard. That doesn't mean the Priv is beyond compare simply because it has a feature no other phone does. And unless you consider that keyboard worth $200, a $500 Nexus 6P with equivalent storage clearly smokes this thing. But, for those people who deeply desire a keyboard, that may not matter. And that's what makes reviewing this phone difficult.

For those of us who are perfectly happy with software keyboards on our phones, there really is no reason to give the Priv serious consideration unless you're truly just curious. But to those who have been waiting years for BlackBerry to build this device, any faults that aren't device-breaking may well be easy to overlook. There is nothing truly terrible about this phone, aside from the fact that I really don't think any phone being released in November 2015 should run Lollipop, but some people simply may not care about that.

If you've been waiting for this phone and are only trying to make sure it's not seriously compromised? Go for it. I think you'll be happy. If you were expecting BlackBerry to try and convince you to ditch a software keyboard you were happy with, there's nothing here for you, really. It's a very normal high-end Android phone, and as such phones go, there are better and cheaper ones to be had.

As for the future of BlackBerry? The Priv is almost exactly what I think most people were advising the company to build. Price aside, if this phone doesn't work, I don't know that there's anything BlackBerry can do that will. I guess we'll just have to see what happens.

DSC00654