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article imageThe BlackBerry Priv Android phone with a keyboard is now on sale

By James Walker     Nov 6, 2015 in Technology
BlackBerry has officially launched its Priv Android smartphone in the U.S. and UK. The device features a slide-out keyboard and curved display and has proved to be a hit with many reviewers, although it still needs to save BlackBerry's devices division.
BlackBerry sold just 800,000 handsets in the last quarter. In comparison, Apple shipped 13 million brand-new iPhone 6S units in their first weekend of availability. BlackBerry CEO John Chen is aiming for more modest targets, hoping to see five million Privs sold in a year.
The phone has a 5.4-inch 2560x1440 display topped with Corning Gorilla Glass 4. Underneath lies a hexa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of expandable storage. There's an 18-megapixel rear-facing camera and 2-megapixel one on the front. The handset's body houses a keyboard which adds a little to its weight and size, although it isn't likely to be noticeable. It is 9.4mm thick and has a weight of 192g.
However, the most important component of the phone is a relatively uncommon characteristic to single out these days: the software. The Priv runs Android 5.1.1 Lollipop, making it the first BlackBerry device to use an operating system not developed in-house by its own developers.
That isn't to say that BlackBerry has left Android completely stock as Google makes it. The company has imbued a sense of itself by adding a strong emphasis on security, implementing a system called DTEK that gives the user real-time monitoring of any potentially privacy-invasive action taken by apps.
DTEK makes it possible to get an alert whenever an app unexpectedly accesses the Priv's sensitive hardware such as the microphone, camera or precise GPS location. It enables the user to feel more secure by giving them a warning if an app begins to show any signs of suspicious activities.
The phone also includes a guard that prevents it from being rooted. It verifies the software it loads at boot-up is genuine and unmodified, preventing malware forms that are capable of automatically loading at start-up from operating.
BlackBerry is keen to again appeal to its old key audience of business users. To this end, it allows system administrators to control the management of employee devices, preventing them from installing certain apps or software updates that could introduce compatibility issues or malware.
The combination of a large touchscreen and full keyboard is likely to be popular in this field too. The keyboard is capacitive and can also double up as a touchpad for more precise input control.
BlackBerry Priv
BlackBerry Priv
Reviews of the Priv published today have generally been very positive. WIRED said it "feels like a first step toward a device that could bridge the work-play gap" but noted that BlackBerry should have begun treading this path "years ago" to be in a better position today.
CNET's verdict is that Priv "delivers strong performance in a sleek, solid package" but noted the omission of a fingerprint sensor or iris scanner is strange given the phone's focus on security. TechRadar described it as "the best BlackBerry in years" but warned it sometimes lacked performance and build quality can be an issue.
Android Central came away with a more positive opinion, saying Priv is "a thoroughly enjoyable piece of hardware" that forms into "one hell of an Android phone." It commended the phone's "amazing" battery life, "decent" camera and "fantastic" front-facing speaker as its best points and singled out the keyboard as the "best ever".
However, not everyone is impressed. Ars Technica said "this is (currently) not a very good phone" in its early impressions review, subtitling the article "Poor camera, battery life and build: Welcome to BlackBerry's first Android phone." Interestingly, the first two points listed are areas that Android Central came away impressed with, suggesting there may be some disparity between the early review units or the usage of each reviewer. Ars concluded "the Priv needs to better," adding "unfortunately for BlackBerry, I don't think Priv is the saviour it so desperately needs."
The general consensus seems to be that the BlackBerry Priv is a decent phone but one that should be priced more aggressively if it is to make the splash it needs to. The QWERTY keyboard and touchpad are likely to appeal to business and power users but with pricing straying towards iPhone territory it remains to be seen how many people will actually even consider it. The phone will cost $700 SIM-free in the U.S. or £579.99 in the UK.
Regardless, it's likely to be a much more attractive proposition than anything BlackBerry has built recently as owners will be able to take full advantage of the millions of apps in the Google Play Store. BlackBerry is keen to stress it is also remaining committed to its own software and intends to release a new update to BlackBerry 10 early next year.
More about Blackberry, blackberry priv, blackberry venice, Android, Phone
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