T-Mobile BlackBerry Priv: Second look reveals keyboard and Hub are compelling

It seems the BlackBerry Priv I tested in November had hardware issues. A new device from T-Mobile and software updates radically altered my view on BlackBerry's first Android smartphone.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

Back in November I had the chance to take the AT&T BlackBerry Priv for a spin and was very disappointed in the hardware quality and sub-par BlackBerry Hub experience.

T-Mobile just released the BlackBerry Priv and the enthusiastic Des Smith sent me one to test out for a couple weeks. Thanks to software updates over the last couple months, a deeper dive with the Priv serving as my primary smartphone for a week, and a much more solid piece of hardware, I'm considering a swap from my Passport to the Priv.

The BlackBerry Hub adds value

One of my biggest disappointments with the first Priv I tested was the functionality of the BlackBerry Hub. As I have stated many times in my Passport articles, the Hub is one of the primary reasons to use a BB10 OS device. I'm not sure if I had set it up incorrectly or if some of these software updates since the Priv release fixed the issues I saw back in November, but the BlackBerry Hub on the Priv is now functioning much like we see on BB10 and I couldn't be any happier.

If you recall, I couldn't even get my Gmail account added to the Hub on that first Priv so there were definitely issues back in November.

The BlackBerry Hub on Android serves as a fantastic central communications utility and I only found issues with Facebook and Twitter. These connections take you out to the apps with a couple back button presses needed to get back to the Hub. Other connections keep you in the Hub and it is wonderful to color code the different services and then quickly manage communications right from the Hub.

BlackBerry Priv screenshots

Nothing beats the BlackBerry Hub experience on a Passport, but the Priv is close and much better than the disjointed typical Android experience where one can be jumping into several applications in order to manage communications. BlackBerry succeeded here with the Hub on Android and I take back most of the bad things I wrote in my first take.

Must have had a lemon, hardware is compelling

The first Priv I tested in November had a hollow feeling back, movement in the left side rail, a lower right corner that bounced, and loose volume buttons. Thankfully, this new T-Mobile model has none of those hardware deficiencies, leading me to believe that maybe I had a defective Priv the first time.

Using this Priv as my daily driver also had me using the hardware keyboard much more than before, which led to faster adoption of the design and ability to enter text at a fast pace. I also realized the cool swipe to accept the suggested word works on the Priv and love the BlackBerry software keyboard.

While the Priv is quite long when the display is slid up to reveal the keyboard, the ability to swipe up and down on the keyboard to scroll through lists and pages is fantastic. I forgot that the Priv had this capability and encourage people to try it out the next time they are browsing the internet on the Priv.

I also didn't realize that you can start typing away on the hardware keyboard to initiate a Google search. The long press shortcut support is an amazing efficiency that I also discovered by using the Priv as a daily driver. The ability to press and hold letters to initiate text messages, launch my most used apps, speed dial family, and more is fantastic. If you haven't setup long press shortcuts, then slide up the display and get started now.

It's not perfect, but it's a great step forward for BlackBerry

I've been blessed with the opportunity to use the latest and greatest Android smartphones, such as the Nexus 6P, LG V10, and Samsung Galaxy Note 5 so have some high standards when it comes to Android phones. The Priv camera is not as good as we find on these phones, but it's nice to have a microSD card slot.

The battery life isn't as good as I hoped, especially give the size of 3,410 mAh. I can get through most of a long day, but hope the Marshmallow update with Doze support will improve the battery life. The back of the Priv heats up when charging and when performing intensive tasks.

I personally like the unique task switcher that presents live app thumbnails in a unique multi-sized format. It's nice to see a unique take on something like this and I find it both attractive and functional.

The BlackBerry Priv offers a fairly pure Google experience, is already seeing regular security updates, has an educational security app in DTEK, and offers something different than the standard black slab.

My bottom line has changed significantly since November and if you are looking for an Android smartphone with a focus on efficient communications and a unique hardware keyboard experience, then I recommend you seriously consider the BlackBerry Priv.

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