BlackBerry Priv review: The smartphone BlackBerry should have made years ago
So the keyboard is a bit of a mixed bag. How about the software? It’s Android, of course, in this case Android 5.1.1, and that means you can install any app or game on it from Google Play. And this is no cut-down Android experience. You get the full gamut of official Google apps, including Gmail, Calendar, Maps, Drive, Music and Movies & TV.
What BlackBerry has done here is to introduce its own skin. This doesn’t look vastly different from stock Android, but it does bring with it a host of extra features and customisations. The first thing you’ll notice, once you start receiving messages and notifications, will be the famous BlackBerry “splat”, used to indicate anything new, which appears at the top-right corner of apps on your homescreen and app drawer. There’s also a row of notification icons that appear at the top of the pull-down notifications menu that indicate which core apps have unread items.
There’s the BlackBerry Hub, brought across its BlackBerry OS smartphones, which aggregates messages from all sorts of different messaging services into one, homogenous list.
And you get a whole host of other ingenious features to play around with: pop-up widgets generate app previews directly on the homescreen with a quick flick up of a finger; holding the homescreen button down generates a couple of extra, customisable shortcuts in addition to the usual Google Now; and delving into the settings menu reveals a scattering of useful extras, including the ability to mute the phone and save power by flipping it over, and keep the screen on longer when you’re holding it.
What makes the Priv the Priv, though, are the extra security features. In an attempt to keep business users and privacy-obsessives on side, full device encryption is activated by default, while the pre-loaded DTEK app monitors and provides advice on your security status. Within the DTEK app, it’s also possible to see which apps are accessing which features on your phone, so you can see if a game is accessing your location when it shouldn’t be, and even drill down to look at when and where that information was accessed. What you can’t do is revoke permissions on an individual basis – if you don’t like what an app is doing, you’ll have to uninstall it.
The BlackBerry software team has clearly been very hard at work here, and some of the features are genuinely useful. The BlackBerry Hub’s snooze feature is brilliant: don’t want to deal with an email right now? You can schedule it to go away and reappear in 30 minutes, or tomorrow. You can also set it to pop up once you get to a certain location, or even when you connect to a preset Wi-Fi network. And, since it’s the BlackBerry Hub, you can apply that across all your messaging accounts.
Mostly, that’s good, but the irritating thing is that there’s almost too much going on here. Extra dots, icons and tabs litter the homescreen, the icons at the top of the notifications menu just look wrong, and when you add this to all of Android’s usual notifications, it’s a bit of a mess.