The reviews are in: BlackBerry's first Android phone is in the hands of reviewers, and they've been (literally) coming to grips with it. The verdict? Considering the state of recent BlackBerrys, it's actually pretty good. But that may not be enough to turn the tide.
The Priv is a big moment for maker BlackBerry Ltd.: On Wednesday, it was revealed that BlackBerry OS is now fifth in the global smartphone rankings. The most recent quarterly earnings report spelled bad times ahead for the company, and CEO John Chen has previously hinted that if the Priv is not a success, the company could exit hardware altogether. No pressure.
Thankfully, the Priv has found some fans in the tech world. The Verge has not had enough time to write a full review due to a faulty initial device, but Dieter Bohn noted in his preview how grippy the back of the device is. The changes to Android were welcome, and the 18-megapixel camera is really nice, if a bit slow.
Top Marks For Design
Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal was quick to caution against this being the historic comeback of BlackBerry, saying the company really should have moved to Android back in 2010 to change its fortunes. But history aside, the keyboard impressed. Stern managed 60 words per minute, compared to 45 words per minute on the iPhone, thanks to the presence of a physical keyboard.
"For the first time in years, BlackBerry has a phone that can win back the hearts and dollars of people it lost years ago — at least enough that I’ll once again spot a BlackBerry owner or two among my friends and colleagues," Stern said.
Daniel Cooper of Engadget was less positive. The curved screen was praised, but the keyboard left something to be desired. The keyboard has touch gestures, and is not the same as the ones consumers will be used to from BlackBerry Classic devices. The keys are close together, and don't quite feel the same. Despite this, Cooper still praised the look and feel of the device overall. "The Priv is probably the best-looking BlackBerry device ever," he said.
Not The Savior
Mario Aguilar at Gizmodo was far less kind. Declaring it a phone "not even for my worst enemy," Aguilar said the keys are tiny, performance is slow despite the Snapdragon 808 processor, and the BlackBerry Hub custom software felt dated. The highly publicized privacy features, which the company says set it apart from the competition, failed to impress. "I got no indication that I was [more] secure on the Priv than I would be by exercising everyday common sense on any other phone," Aguilar said.
Mark Walton at Ars Technica was similarly negative. In what Walton describes as a "first review" (owing to the fact he got the device only two days ago), Walton pointed to the $700 price tag as simply too much to stomach for an Android phone that has its flaws. "Unfortunately for Blackberry, I don't think the Priv is the savior it so desperately needs," he said.
Tim Moynihan, in a Wired review that largely captured the overall sentiment, gave the Priv a 6 out of 10. BlackBerry veterans will be pleased to have a physical keyboard in a modern ecosystem, but Android and iPhone users will care more about having the best camera and better integration with the operating system. "Ultimately, how you feel about the BlackBerry Priv likely has a lot to do with your last phone," he said.
Time will tell if the Priv is a success. But as to whether it can turn the entire company around, BlackBerry may need more than a modest uptick in sales revenue to keep itself in the hardware game beyond the Priv.