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BlackBerry PRIV review: A new standard for Android in enterprise?

Al Sacco | Dec. 4, 2015 spent a month testing BlackBerry's first Android smartphone with a focus on the businesspeople and IT managers who will use and support it. The PRIV is the most capable BlackBerry ever, but does it deliver on what may be its most important promise?

Anyone who's used a BlackBerry 10 device will recognize the BlackBerry Hub inbox, which lets you see alerts for a variety of accounts, services and apps in one easily sortable inbox. It's one of the most effective productivity features in the BlackBerry 10 OS, which is surely why BlackBerry brought it over to its version of Android. And PRIV still has many of the traditional keyboard shortcuts that work in the Hub and in lists.

You can color-code many of the accounts you add to your Hub, using colorful tabs that display on the left side of messages in your inbox, and for some accounts you can add matching LED alerts. So, for example, your work messages show red tabs in the Hub, and the PRIV LED blinks red whenever new work mail arrives. Unfortunately, the Hub doesn’t support all app alerts, and the LED changes color based on your most recent notification, instead of blinking different colors in sequence to signify the different alerts.

BlackBerry's version of Android is clean and simple, unlike the software from other leading Android handset vendors that bulk it up with useless bells and whistles. Most of the customizations BlackBerry made to Android genuinely add value. BlackBerry Pop Up Widgets, for example, let you save valuable screen space by swiping up or down on app icons to view their widgets; a customizable "Recents" button, or app switcher, lets you access and close recently used apps in three different layouts; and "Quick Action" icons let you easily trigger common functions with a tap, including "Compose email," "Add event" and "Add contact."

Then there's the app selection, long BlackBerry's Achilles heel. The company's adoption of Android, and by extension, the Google Play store, resolved the issue, which was one of the major factors in BlackBerry fall from grace. 

As for hardware, PRIV's 5.4-inch, OLED display (2560 pixels by 1440 pixels, at 540ppi) is made of Corning Gorilla Glass 4, and it's one of the brightest, most vivid displays on any smartphone I've used. It makes the 5.5-inch "Retina" display on my iPhone 6s Plus (1920 pixels by 1080 pixels, at 401 ppi) look downright archaic in comparison. And its curved edges add a touch of  je ne sais quoi — though they don't really do much else beyond provide access to a "Productivity Tab," that's basically a quick glance at your Hub, and a battery charge indicator that moves along the curved edge as the battery fills.

blackberry priv charging curved display 
Credit: Brian Sacco

Battery life also shouldn't be an issue for most PRIV owners, thanks to a large 3,410mAh power pack. In my tests, the PRIV get about 21.5 hours of talk time on a strong T-Mobile signal, which is impressive.


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