More often than not, when a manufacturer decides to mess with software, adding its own ‘valuable’ take on what we should have on our phones, it ends up being a laggy mess of unused features. Whether its LG with its inefficient launcher, or Samsung with its TouchWiz, no Android OEM gets it right. With BlackBerry’s PRIV, although there are undoubtedly a couple of things I’d change, most of the custom software is very useful and is — dare I say it — better than stock Android…
If you’re not familiar with BlackBerry software, you won’t know that the BlackBerry Hub is one of the best methods of managing notifications ever developed for mobile. At least it is in my opinion. It’s just a shame it was initially launched on a platform with no long-term consumer-focussed future.
BlackBerry Hub combines notifications from multiple apps, sources, and services, in to one inbox. You can color code individual accounts and fine tune any settings for any of them, including which you receive notifications for etc.
Now, while unmanaged, the Hub can seem a daunting mess upon first try. Once you’re used to it, and you’ve customized it, it can save you valuable time and make your communication a little more efficient. If anything, it means you no longer have to go in to individual apps to catch up on all your important messages or triage your email. You can do it all from the Hub. What’s more, if you pull down on the main inbox, any current or upcoming calendar events show up on top of the screen.
One of the other super-useful features is the custom app drawer. Unlike most launchers, it doesn’t just have a collection of apps. It also has your entire selection of available widgets as well as a catalogue of smart shortcuts. When placed on the home screen, you can use these shortcuts to quickly check your battery level, schedule a meeting, send a message, create a note, plus a whole lot more. It reminds me a lot of the action widgets from Nova Launcher, except that they’re already created for you, and include most of the functions I find most useful. They’re essentially quick-action shortcuts placed on your home screen, rather than in your quick settings drawer.
Like the Galaxy S6 Edge and S6 Edge+, the PRIV’s display is curved on both sides. And, while it’s visually very attractive seeing content scroll around the edge when swiping across, there are also a couple of great edge-specific features.
First up is the quick peek screen which shows you the most recent notifications, any calendar appointments, favorite contacts, or any tasks due today. Second is a really cool UI for when the phone is plugged in to a charger. Instead of having a large battery icon taking up the entire screen, it uses the entire length of one edge to show you the current battery level, and tell you how long until it’s fully charged.
The other important software feature, of course, is the superb software keyboard I went over in my first piece highlighting the hardware/software keyboard combo. Its ability to predict words and take the pain out of typing is so refreshing. Like the Hub, it’s another feature BlackBerry kept to its own platform for years.
Lastly, there’s Device Search. You can launch it by pressing and holding the home button and selecting the search option, or by launching it directly from the app drawer. It’s essentially BlackBerry’s version of Apple’s Spotlight search. You can search for apps, messages or content on your device, or launch an instant action like calling a specific contact, sending a message or browsing the web.
As far as other bloatware goes, BlackBerry has done a great job of not including too many duplicate apps. There’s no BlackBerry browser, or messages app (except BBM, which isn’t a direct text message app replacement). It has a notes app, a calendar app a password keeper app and its DTEK app which shows how secure your device is. Since both Notes and Calendar tie in to the entire software experience, you could argue those are necessary. Leaving just a couple that you could argue are true bloatware.
For my own personal use, the added user interface elements and the notification management improve Android, rather than make it worse. Somehow, BlackBerry has done the impossible. Bloatware normally ruins a phone. BlackBerry’s has made it better.