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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?

If nothing else, CIOs and mobile admins should appreciate the fact that IT concerns don't take a backseat to fancy new features and slick software interfaces in the PRIV.

Though BlackBerry isn't the only Android OEM focused on security these days — Samsung's KNOX deserves a nod for blazing that trail — the other players simply don't have BlackBerry's established history of proven enterprise security.

That's a lot to like, but the PRIV is far from perfect. Here's what business users and IT managers won't love about BlackBerry PRIV.

BlackBerry PRIV Review: The bad

Why business users might not love BlackBerry PRIV

For many smartphones users, BlackBerry is synonymous with the word keyboard. For years, BlackBerry made the best physical, full QWERTY keypads in the business — it still does. But the PRIV does not have one of them. The keyboard is supposed to be PRIV's crown jewel, but it lacks luster.

PRIV's keyboard slides out from underneath its large, curved display, and when it's fully extended, the bottom edge of the screen creates a sort of elevated ridge that sits just 5 millimeters above the top row of keys. The result is a less than ideal typing experience, because your thumbs hit the ridge when you tap the top row of keys.

blackberry priv keyboard 
Credit: Brian Sacco

I like to "get on top" of the keys when I type, and even after a month, I'm still not used to the ridge; it's distracting and leads me to make typing errors. The PRIV Slide-Out Hard Shell case, made by BlackBerry, exacerbates the problem, because it makes the ridge stick out even more.

The keyboard's buttons have a more pronounced downward slant on top than the BlackBerry Classic, and they don't stick out as much as the Passport's keys, which makes the PRIV keypad feel unfamiliar. 

When the keypad is open, PRIV is long, and though BlackBerry did a good job weighting and balancing the phone, so it's not too top-heavy, it's still awkward. The PRIV is long and thin, and the display ridge gets in the way.

I like BlackBerry's Android implementation, because it didn't try to do too much. However, the company missed a big opportunity to grab attention by not shipping it with the newer Android v6.0 "Marshmallow" software. (BlackBerry tells me it will eventually roll out Android v6.0 for PRIV, and it should have some specific information to share in January at CES.) 

A new privacy oriented feature, called DTek, aims to give users insight into the apps and services that regularly access potentially sensitive device resources and user information. And though the idea is a novel one, it mostly misses its mark. For example, I created a number of alerts for apps I use frequently, to let me know when they access my camera or location. But the info I received didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. Yes, Instagram accesses my camera frequently, and Swarm checks on my location often. So what? 


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