Meet the Blackberry Priv. And in case you’re curious, that stands for “Privilege of Privacy” thanks to its super strength data encryption. What makes this phone unique though comes from a couple of places. First off, it’s a BlackBerry phone running Android 5.1.1 Lollipop and second, that physical keyboard. But before you instantly dismiss this new smartphone, let’s take a look under the hood…

As far as specifications go, the Priv is rocking a 5.4-inch AMOLED display with a resolution of 2560 x 1440 covered in Gorilla Glass 4 with curved edges that give it a rather appealing look. It’s packing a Snapdragon 808 processor, 3GB of RAM, and 32GB of internal storage with a Micro SD card expansion slot opposite of its Nano SIM tray.

Design

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The design of the Priv is very interesting. There’s a cool metal frame that surrounds the display, while the backside features a carbon fiber weave look that’s coated in some kind of rubber, giving it the award for “grippiest” smartphone of the year. Seriously, this thing has a stupid amount of grip. There’s an LED notification light along the top, and you’ll find the lock button on one side, while the volume and specialty mute button is on the other.

Along the bottom edge, you’ll fine a large speaker grille, but only half of it is actually a speaker, a mediocre one at that. Above the speaker, there’s a small lip that will allow you to easily slide up the display to reveal the physical keyboard, which aside from the different design is one of the more important things to cover in this video, but we’ll get into that in a little bit. Overall, the build seems decently solid aside from a few creaks in the body and a small area on the backside that depresses beneath the BlackBerry logo.

Check out our BlackBerry Priv unboxing & review video below:

Software

As far as software goes, there’s not much crazy happening here. This is, for the most part, stock Android with a few minor BlackBerry options mixed in. Aside from a few glitches and the occasional hiccup, software has been fairly smooth, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a couple of performance driven updates. The phone did get a bit warm under pressure, but nothing that worried me.

There are some software features like a double-tap to wake the screen, which is pretty common in phones these days, but there is some awesome BlackBerry customization baked in as well. Pop-up widgets, when enabled, will allow you to swipe up or down on an icon to pull up a floating widget for that app.

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Speaking of icons, the home screen settings actually allow you to select custom icon packs, which is a fantastic addition to the stock launcher. The app switcher is a bit odd with its unique and somewhat confusing layout, but that’s not too big of a deal to me. There are also a good amount of widgets available and even some app specific shortcuts tucked away in the launcher. There’s also a section in the notification center that will allow you to easily focus on one app’s notifications by tapping on an icon above the list, which will hide other unrelated notifications.

Along with all of that, there’s what BlackBerry calls the Productivity Tab off to the side, which can be accessed with a quick swipe across the curved glass. This little area contains quick access to calendar events, unread messages, tasks, and favorite contacts. In line with software, BlackBerry has also implemented some software features that are controlled by the physical keyboard.

Keyboard

I haven’t used a physical keyboard since the OG Motorola Droid. That being said, there’s a HUGE learning curve here. I got used to it after a while, but it’s just plain weird to have in 2015. With the keyboard there are some neat features though. You can use the entire keyboard as a touchpad to swipe through websites, messages, documents and other stuff.

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Along with that you can easily make corrections to your typing by tapping once on the keyboard and swiping to the letter or word you’d like to correct, or you can easily delete words by quickly swiping across the keyboard. With the auto-correct functionality built in, you can easily swipe up on the keyboard from beneath a word to select it.

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If you need a virtual keyboard for a moment, you can swipe down on the physical keyboard to activate it. They keyboard is pretty nice, but I’m just not a huge fan of it, at least not yet. If physical keyboards aren’t your thing, you can always leave it tucked away and type on the virtual keyboard, which is pretty nice, but defeats the point of buying this phone in the first place.

Camera

Around the backside, you’ll find an 18-megapixel camera packing optical image stabilization and to my surprise, the camera was actually pretty good. I was pleasantly surprised by the photo quality here. The pictures are crispy, color reproduction seems fairly accurate and the saturation levels seem pretty normal. Highlights get blown out occasionally, but man I was expecting MUCH worse, so this was a breath of fresh air.

Low light photos aren’t fantastic, but passable. Noise tends to get a little high in dim conditions, which tends to be the camera’s weakest point. I’d give the camera quality a B+ as far as ratings go, but video quality is a different story…

4K video recording is smooth thanks to optical image stabilization. This camera shoots 4K video at 30 frames per second, which is pretty typical these days, but the quality wasn’t fantastic as I found some artifacts throughout the recordings and it was just alright I guess.

Around the front, you’ll find a 2-megapixel shooter, which in 2015 is absolutely embarrassing. It’s not horrible, but given the premium pricing of this phone and the other killer specs packed in, going with a 2-megapixel front-facing camera is totally laughable.

Battery life

Inside of the Priv, you’ll find a 3,410 mAh battery which performed pretty good in my testing. It features Quick Charge 2.0 and even wireless charging, so you’ll have no issues in that area. The first day I used it, I got a solid 4 hours of screen-on time, but that ended up averaging around 4.5 hours each day, which is pretty good in my book. Either way, I don’t think you’ll have any problem making it through the day with the Priv.

Verdict

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So what have we learned here? Well, in 2015 physical keyboards are very weird, BlackBerry’s first shot at an Android phone is alright, camera performance is worthy of a little praise, and battery life is on point. That about sums it up. Unfortunately, in order to give this fading company’s last shot at a revival a chance, you’ll have to dish out $700, which is a bit of a risk for anyone on the fence about this phone or the company behind it. Because of this, I doubt this will be the phone that saves BlackBerry, but at least they didn’t go down without a fight.

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