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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?

The device is available only with 32GB of built-in storage, but it supports microSD memory cards up to 2TB — good luck finding one, though; the highest capacity card I could find was 200GB. The 18MP camera doesn't disappoint, though it seems to struggle with light balance in dim environments (like most smarphone cameras), and it records 4K video.

Finally, the PRIV has NFC for payments using Android Pay and other services. And though the review unit I received doesn't support wireless charging, BlackBerry says the versions sold in the United States via AT&T and on its official online store work with both PMA and Qi wireless power. 

Mobile admins should appreciate many of the aforementioned PRIV strengths, but the device packs a handful of noteworthy IT-specific features, as well.

Why IT will love BlackBerry PRIV 

Security always has been a top concern for CIOs, IT managers, mobile admins and their teams. The same can be said for BlackBerry, which has catered first and foremost to the enterprise — for better and for worse. 

BlackBerry took Android security to new level with PRIV.

Its "hardware root of trust" process builds cryptographic keys directly into the PRIV hardware, which then work with its "verified boot and secure bootchain" to authenticate the various hardware and software components and ensure they haven't been modified. PRIV is set to encrypt all user data stored on the device memory by default, and the encryption process is FIPS 140-2 compliant.

PRIV supports Google's Android for Work features, which let organizations separate work and personal data, similar to the BlackBerry Balance features in the older BlackBerry 10 OS.

BlackBerry also created a unique new "Android vulnerability patch program" that in essence lets the company circumvent carriers and directly apply critical security updates as quickly as possible. BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) 12 customers get even more control over which software updates are applied to whose devices, and when. Some of this is par for the course for BlackBerry; however, it's new territory for Android. 

blackberry priv wireless charging 
Credit: Brian Sacco

BlackBerry CSO David Kleidermacher said this in a recent blog post on why its version of Android is more secure than any other Android implementation:

"Today, there are lots of small companies offering 'hardened' Android implementations that purport to offer enhanced security and privacy. Unfortunately for buyers, there does not exist today an independent means to evaluate vendor security claims in any scientific way. It comes down to: whom do you trust?"

BlackBerry is doing a good job explaining why IT should trust the company, via an ongoing series of blogs posts on the subject. And its recent decision to pull out of Pakistan and lose business at a time when it clearly cannot afford to push customers away, also serves to demonstrate its commitment to security and privacy.


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