Testing the BlackBerry Priv convinced me to buy another Passport

BlackBerry released its first Android smartphone, but if you want a true BlackBerry experience then buy a device that runs the BlackBerry 10 OS.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer
ZDNet's Zack Whittaker posted his full BlackBerry Priv review a couple weeks ago and after seeing the low 5.7/10 rating I knew I had to test it myself since I just couldn't believe it was really that bad. It turns out I really do not like the AT&T BlackBerry Priv either.

While Zack was mainly disappointed with the privacy and security features, I find the hardware quality lacking and the implementation of 'BlackBerry Hub' a bit blasphemous.

Regular readers know I've been a fan of the BlackBerry Passport, but sold mine a few months ago to try out some other new smartphones. As a result of testing out the BlackBerry Priv, I actually went to Swappa and picked up another Passport.

I am convinced that the BlackBerry Passport is the best smartphone ever made by BlackBerry and that BlackBerry 10 OS is the best OS for BlackBerry fans.

BlackBerry Priv hardware thoughts

The first thing I noticed about the hardware of the Priv is that the power button barely protrudes from the right side and has no texture to it. It's actually a shiny slick material so there is no tactile feel to it. The center mute button between the volume buttons is basically useless as you can only use it to mute yourself during a call. It serves no other function.

After picking up the Priv, I was surprised how cheap it felt in the hand. This was primarily due to the 'hollow' feel of the back, play in the left side rail, and movement of the lower part of the display when the display was slid up. I'm used to rock solid metal, glass, and plastic used on the latest smartphones, especially those priced at $700.

The back has a carbon fiber weave material that does serve to make the phone easier to hold and less likely to slide out of your hand. However, it feels like there is an air gap between the back casing material and the internal components. Some people may be fine with it, but I personally hate it.

In a couple places on the side, I can feel the side material move when I press in on it. With the display slid up, I can feel, see, and hear the lower right corner move up and down when I tap this area of the display. There is also some movement of the display in the slider track and I honestly don't have a lot of confidence in its long term durability and performance.

One of the only reasons to consider the BlackBerry Priv over much better, lower priced Android devices is the physical QWERTY keyboard. Unfortunately, it's not as good as the one on the BlackBerry Passport or Classic. The Passport has the luxury of being wider thanks to a much wider form factor, but looking beyond the width we find that the Priv suffers from shorter key travel (shallower) and less height making the keys fairly small.

It's hilarious to read so many articles discussing the touch sensitivity of the physical keyboard as if it is new to BlackBerry. The Passport has this functionality and it is indeed one of the many useful features of these keyboards. That is one aspect of the Priv keyboard that pleases me.

It is great to see such extensive keyboard shortcut support on the Priv, something that surprised me given it must have taken serious work to implement this in Android. I'm sure hardware QWERTY fans will adapt over time and learn to like the Priv keyboard.

Hands-on with the BlackBerry Priv: in pictures

BlackBerry Hub disappointment on the Priv

BlackBerry devices have a long history of serving as amazing communications tools and the BlackBerry Hub found in BB 10 OS can't be beat. Back in March of this year, BlackBerry announced it would be launching the BlackBerry Experience Suite for iOS, Android, and Windows OS. This never happened so I was excited to hear that BlackBerry Hub would be present on the Priv.

My hopes for the Hub on Android were quickly dashed when I realized it was simply a viewer with limited functionality. If you tap on a Tweet, Facebook notification, text message, email, or other item in the Hub list then you are taken to the applicable application. If you then want to go back to the Hub, it can take a few presses of the back button or a jump to the task switcher and back to the Hub.

In BB 10, you can view these details within the Hub, for most apps, and use the Hub as the central primary application for just about all of your communications, thus having a much more efficient communications experience. The Hub on BB10 is truly the central communications tool while on the Priv it is an afterthought and another app to check out if you remember.

For apps like Twitter, I will go into the BlackBerry Hub on a Passport and mark all items as read a couple times a day. There is no quick way to clear the queue on the Priv so you end up with a ton of unread/bold items unless you spend a lot of time swiping each and every notification. This is called inefficiency, not efficiency.

The pinch to filter/view unread items gesture is also very useful on the Passport, yet another efficiency offered by BlackBerry on a true BlackBerry.

I was never able to get my Gmail account added to the Hub on the Priv for some odd reason. I kept getting a settings error and the Priv prompted me to manually setup my account. With my Exchange account though, I was bothered that filed emails continued to appear in the Hub. They do not appear on BB 10 after they have been filed.

Android has a decent method of notifications with the top shade found in the OS. With the native notifications you also don't need to go into each app to read the details. I guess the Priv offers choices, but the Hub is definitely not as good here as it is on BB 10. It's likely that BlackBerry will improve the Hub experience on Android, but there are limitations working with an OS that is not under its full control so nothing will ever match the BlackBerry 10 OS Hub experience.

Buy a Passport if you want a BlackBerry

The BlackBerry Passport is available on the BlackBerry and Amazon websites for as low as $469.99. I just picked up a mint white one on Swappa for $350. Even the new Passport is a couple hundred dollars less than the BlackBerry Priv. The white model looks and feels great too.

In addition to the BlackBerry Hub, another way the Passport makes my daily work life better is BlackBerry Blend. BlackBerry Blend seamlessly integrates your BlackBerry device with your table or PC. I understand that Blend may eventually come to the Priv, but it's not yet available and with services like Pushbullet now charging a fee for similar functionality BlackBerry Blend is even more valuable to BlackBerry users.

For those who load up hundreds of apps, there are far fewer apps for BB 10 in BlackBerry World. However, the core OS provides you with just about everything you need to get work done and the essentials are present in BlackBerry World. If there are gaps, then you can still easily fill them with apps from the Amazon Appstore or by simply side-loading a Google Play Store conduit and then installing Android apps directly from Google Play.

I'm thankful for the time spent with the BlackBerry Priv since I now won't make the mistake of buying one. There are plenty of better Android smartphones available for less, including the Nexus 6P, Note 5, LG V10, and LG G4. If you want an Android phone, then buy one of these instead. If you want a BlackBerry, then pick up a Passport or even a BlackBerry Classic.

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