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

Al Sacco | Dec. 4, 2015
CIO.com 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?

blackberry priv top bottom 
Credit: Brian Sacco

BlackBerry purposefully put the focus on privacy with the PRIV — it named the device using the first four letters of the word. However, DTek lacks teeth. For context, BES 12 customers can get some useful IT management features related to DTek, including the capability to receive notifications if a PRIV OS is compromised, then block off work resources or wipe a device, if necessary. But IT needs to use BES 12 for access to these advanced features. 

PRIV also does not have any sort of memory-card encryption feature, which is a potential privacy concern. (BlackBerry says microSD card encryption is "on the roadmap.") IT can enforce various policies to disable external memory, but then you get only 32GB of onboard storage, which isn't enough for many modern business folks. That limitation could point users toward the cloud for a solution — another potential security and privacy issue.

To sum this all up ...

BlackBerry PRIV Review: The decision 

PRIV is the best, and most capable, BlackBerry smartphone ever. It features top-of-the-line technical specifications. I love the BlackBerry Hub. The Android experience is similar to Google's stock Android, because BlackBerry didn't try to dress it up too much, and that's a very good thing. Google Play finally (finally) fills BlackBerry's longstanding "app gap." Battery life is solid. You can swap out memory cards for nearly limitless storage. And the U.S. version supports both leading wireless charging standards. 

BlackBerry has always put the enterprise first, unlike some of the other big guys in mobile. (I'm looking directly at you, Apple.) The company brought its security focus to Android with PRIV, and that should be music to IT's metaphorical ears.

However, BlackBerry failed to deliver on what might be the most important PRIV feature: The full QWERTY keyboard. It doesn't feel as comfortable in hand as other BlackBerrys, and the phone's design impedes fluid typing. It doesn't yet run Android v6.0. DTek is D-E-A-D on arrival. PRIV lacks a fingerprint reader for authentication. And its speakerphone is weak.

blackberry priv sim 
Credit: Brian Sacco

IT shops on Verizon or Sprint are out luck, because PRIV won't work on those networks. PRIV doesn't feel like it's built to last, and that's a red flag for the smart mobile admin. And despite a sharp focus on privacy, and the default disk encryption setting, PRIV users can't encrypt their microSD cards.

In summary, PRIV represents a leap in the right direction for BlackBerry, but the move to Android probably should have been made years ago. If it had, BlackBerry may have by now found a better mix of its trademark typing and productivity features, and Android's app selection and slick UI. As is, the PRIV doesn't know what it is, and it's trying too hard to be an Android phone, while compromising on core usability features that make a smartphone a genuine BlackBerry. 

 

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