BlackBerry Priv hands-on: Things to know before you buy

by Brandon Russell | November 5, 2015

It’s here, the BlackBerry device longtime fans have been waiting for. Years after tragically disappearing into the Bermuda Triangle, it looks like BlackBerry may have finally found its way home, introducing an Android slider that emphasizes security and… privilege? That’s the whole spiel from BlackBerry’s executives this year; the company is releasing exactly what people have been asking for with a patented BlackBerry twist. But is it too little, too late? That’s hard to say, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The Priv represents a sea of change within the company, a quiet admission that whatever BlackBerry was doing with BB10 over the past few years just wasn’t working. Now it’s onboard with the most popular OS in the world, adding its hardware and security expertise to the mix. In all honestly, this is something BlackBerry should have done years ago. But the company said it’s only just now joining the Android army because it was able to make the Priv the most secure Android phone ever. That should sound like music to the ears of powerful businesses.

BlackBerry’s device is hitting at a curious time. Phones are more powerful and popular than ever, leaving little room for BlackBerry to nudge in. And even if people do take notice of the Priv, it lands on the more expensive side of the spectrum, making it less accessible than devices such as the Moto X Pure and Nexus 5X. And yet, our nostalgia for the bygone era of physical keyboards couldn’t be higher, which is what the Priv is pandering to.

We’re still formulating our thoughts on the Priv, which we’ll share with you soon. Until then, we’ve come up with some things you should know before you buy.

BlackBerry Priv-12

It’s really thin

This thing is thin—thinner than you’d expect a slider to be. In fact, if you didn’t know any better, you wouldn’t even realize there’s a hardware keyboard hiding under the screen. At just 9.4mm, it’s much thinner than something like the Moto X Pure, yet it still manages to pack in a 3410mAh battery, which is bigger than most high-end phones. It’s astonishing BlackBerry was able to fit so much inside of such a small frame.

Granted, it’s not the thinnest device on the market, but I actually consider that to be a good thing. There comes a point when a phone can be too thin, sacrificing specs for the sake of design. The Priv, however, strikes a beautiful balance, utilizing high-end specs inside of terrific hardware. BlackBerry has always been known for its solid designs, and the Priv is among the company’s best ever.

BlackBerry Priv-17

It’s near-stock Android

You’re getting near-stock Android with some smart tweaks—and it’s supposed to be much more secure than other Android phones. Rather than slathering Android in an unrecognizable skin, BlackBerry has mostly left the design untouched in favor of improving the experience. As such, taking a layered approach allows the OS to be lightweight, and give BlackBerry the flexibility to introduce timely updates. The Priv won’t be the first to get Marshmallow, but it shouldn’t be long until an update hits.

BlackBerry Priv-11

The keyboard is useful, but not for the reason you think

Typing on a touchscreen just isn’t the same—or at least that’s what a lot of old BlackBerry users will tell you. That’s what makes the Priv so exciting. There’s an on-screen keyboard if you want it, or you can slide out the hardware keyboard hiding under the screen. And while the physical keyboard is useful, it’s not for the reason you think.

Similar to older BlackBerry devices, the keyboard doubles as a touchpad, allowing you to pinpoint exactly where you want the onscreen cursor to land. This comes in handy when you want to highlight text or just go back in a long document. It feels much more natural and precise than touching the screen with your stubby fingers, too, so even if you don’t find yourself typing on the keyboard, it doubles as a really nice trackpad.

BlackBerry Priv-6

Curved display is utilized well

The curved screen isn’t just a gimmick. Unlike Samsung’s Galaxy S6 Edge, the Priv’s curved screen actually serves a purpose. At any point throughout the OS, there’s a small tab in the corner of the screen that can be grabbed, which invokes the BlackBerry Productivity Suite. This allows users to quickly get a look at their calendar, hub, tasks, contact lists and more—all right there with a quick swipe. We still think features like these can be introduced to non-curved phones, but it’s a much more thoughtful feature than anything we’ve seen from Samsung.

BlackBerry Priv-4

It gets warm

Even though the Priv uses a Snapdragon 808, the device gets warm with heavier use. Granted, we’ve only been using the device for the past few days, but it has been something that’s stuck out. Compared to some of today’s more popular flagships—and even devices running the Snapdragon 810—the Priv gets heated quicker, and even under less strenuous use. It’s by no means a deal-breaker, but it’s certainly worth noting after all of the Snapdragon 810 hoopla from earlier in the year.


This is one of the more difficult phones to review. For the most part we knew what to expect, and it’s not all the different from a lot of today’s top Android phones. But there are a lot of small touches here that make BlackBerry’s first Android phone different, things both good and bad. Check out the video above to hear some early thoughts on the experience, and stay tuned for a full review.

Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...