BlackBerry Priv review: The smartphone BlackBerry should have made years ago

Price when reviewed

The keyboard

There is a reason for the Priv’s bulk, of course, and that’s the hardware keyboard, which slides out from beneath the screen with a satisfying thwack. The design of this is classic BlackBerry: asymmetrical sculpted keys help you locate each one with the tip of your thumb, ridges embedded between each horizontal row keep typos to a minimum and the key action is a nice, positive click. It’s backlit, too, so you can see what you’re typing in the dark.

I’ve always admired BlackBerry’s keyboard designs and I like this one, too, but I wonder if it’s entirely needed on a phone this large. BlackBerry’s excellent touchscreen keyboard (which first featured on the BlackBerry Z10 and is just as good here), which appears as an alternative when you have the hardware keyboard tucked away, actually has larger keys and I found it easier to type on. I particularly like the word prediction system: it’s uncannily accurate, and the system of swiping up on the keyboard to complete words works beautifully.  

And the placement of the hardware keyboard is all wrong. With so many of Android’s text fields located at the top of the screen, I found it a terribly uncomfortable stretch to reach up and tap to locate the cursor and then back down to the keyboard at the bottom. It’s about 13cm to reach up from a comfortable typing position on the hardware keyboard up to Google’s search box, which means this is a phone for people with really long fingers.

Still, the keyboard does come into its own in some situations. If you’re editing a long email or document, for instance, it’s nice to be able to see a whole screen of text all at once without a great slab of keyboard obscuring most of the text. And the Priv’s keyboard has a hidden talent: just like the Passport before it, it’s able to double as a touchpad.

Swipe your finger up or down, and you can use it to scroll through documents, emails and web pages. Swipe left and right and you can switch between homescreens or pan around zoomed web pages.

But there are problems here. The scrolling and panning doesn’t work absolutely everywhere: it would be useful in Google Maps and Photos, but doesn’t function in either. And you need to be careful about leaving your finger resting on the keyboard while you tap and manipulate the touchscreen above it. Occasionally, I found the touchscreen would lock up until I removed my fingers from both the keyboard and screen.

It should be something fixable in software, but BlackBerry needs to sort it out sooner rather than later.

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