Hardware and design
Slider phones have their ancestry in the two-way pager era, and slider smartphones with physical QWERTY keyboards were pretty common in 2010 and 2011. Even Dell made one. But the market moved faster than the designers, as the public rapidly got used to typing on glass.
The Priv borrows the premium curved glass screen introduced on Samsung’s Edge phones this year, which not only looks terrific, but is practical. It's allowed BlackBerry to make a slider device much slimmer and more comfortable than the sliders of yore, which were basically two fat slabs stapled together. When you close the device, the guts of the Priv appear to disappear inside the display. It’s a very clever and understated bit of design.
The slide action is superb, the bottom edge of the display forms a ridge, which can be flicked up with the thumb to reveal a four row QWERTY keyboard. This is a touch-sensitive design unique to BlackBerry, and made its debut on the Passport. The QWERTY doubles up as a trackpad for precise cursor positioning, or scrolling through text, or back swiping to delete a word at a time.
For the first day or so of using the Priv, you’re wondering why it’s a slider at all. The Blackberry virtual keyboard is in a class of its own, while typing on tiny keys is a habit many of us have “unlearned". After a while, though, you start to pocket the winnings. Snap open the slider and start typing, and it performs a universal search, like the iPhone's Spotlight, but with a few tricks up its sleeve. Or, you can configure each alphabetical key to remember two shortcuts – apps or actions. I quickly got to associate the snap with a search.
The device resembles an Edge+, it's nicely weighted, and never felt cumbersome. BlackBerry said it could have made a slimmer device but wanted to include a hefty 3410mAh battery for all-day use. The radius glass curves are host to a permanent overlay – which I’ll cover in a bit – which invokes an app BlackBerry calls the “Productivity Bar”. This gives two touch access to unread messages, favourite contacts, tasks and your calendar agenda. In this first iteration of the software, the curves aren’t used for much else. I expect as the software matures, it will find more uses, as Samsung has. And I’d expect the Bar to get richer, too.
Reception and call quality are solid for a ‘droid, although I found the front-facing speaker delivered less than it promised. Perhaps I’m used to the booming depth and volume of the HTC One series, and BlackBerry’s own Passport and Z30, but the Priv speaker should be louder. The audio on video playback was also a little too quiet.
BlackBerry phones have never been renowned for their imaging. Back in the distant past, RIM would say that cameras on phones were a security liability that enterprises would never accept. The 18MP main camera was excellent, and its low-light video particularly good. The 2MP selfie cam falls short of flagship standards, but I doubt anyone attracted to the Priv belongs to the selfie demographic.
I did find the side volume and power buttons a tad sensitive, turning the volume down when I didn’t want it. The only significant hardware shortcomings here are the absence of a fingerprint sensor – which is a huge convenience and surely a must on a “security focussed” device – and on European SKUs, there’s no Qi wireless charging. That’s a bit annoying, as Qi is more established in Europe than in the US, where you’ll be able to buy an identical but Qi-enabled Priv. IKEA sell Qi-enabled furniture.
However, the software is the real story here. Let's see what BlackBerry has just bombed Android with.