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

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?

1 2 3 4 Page 3
Page 3 of 4

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 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? 

I'm certainly not going to set alerts for every app I download, so my inbox is inundated with DTek notifications. The average user probably won't even take the time to experiment with DTek, and even if they learn that their favorite apps request access to their camera or microphone regularly, and they don't know why, they still won't stop using them. Some apps legitimately need access to sensitive information to function, and it's not always clear why. So despite all of the alerts and associated information DTek provides, it doesn't make it easy for users to know when to worry.

blackberry priv rear camera Brian Sacco

BlackBerry built in a number of methods to password-protect PRIV, including a unique image-based system that lets you drag a specific photo into place on your display to unlock the phone, but it lacks a fingerprint reader. I've used my fingerprint to unlock iPhones and Galaxy devices for years, and it feels like a real regression to have to use a password. (CIO.com's IT department enforces a policy that blocks PRIV's image unlock.)

Though PRIV supports expandable memory, it doesn't have a removable battery. Despite its impressive battery life, there's really no replacement for the comfort of knowing you have an extra battery if you can't get to a power source while traveling, or if your electricity goes out during a winter storm.

BlackBerry smartphones traditionally have high-quality speakerphones, as well, but PRIV's speaker falls short when it comes to volume and sound quality. It isn't as loud as the iPhone 6s Plus, for example, and it's significantly more tinny and raspy-sounding.

These concerns apply to both users and mobile admins, but IT should take particular note of the following shortcomings before embracing PRIV.

Why IT might not love BlackBerry PRIV

If your organization has contracts or commitments with Verizon Wireless or Sprint in the United States, PRIV is not for you. It's not compatible with either or these two "Big Four" U.S. wireless carriers. U.S. Cellular customers are also out of luck.

The build quality of the device is questionable. It feels plastic-y, and somewhat flimsy. The sliding-hinge mechanism and thin bezel around the display are made of metal, but the rest of the device is composed of hard plastic, and it doesn't feel durable. The back panel on my PRIV is loose, as well, and if I press on it, I can feel space between the fiber layer and the internal components, which adds to the "cheap" feeling. And though the curved edges on the display look nice, they make the phone somewhat slippery, which could lead to more drops and damaged phones.

blackberry priv top bottom 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 ...

1 2 3 4 Page 3
Page 3 of 4
Survey says! Share your insights in our 2020 CIO Tech Poll.