When the original iPhone was announced 9 years ago, the smartphone market landscape was very different. One of the pre-iPhone champions, of course, was BlackBerry. Its physical QWERTY-equipped devices were fast, efficient and productive. Next to the iPhone, they looked old within a few weeks of Apple’s first smartphone launch.
After that came Android, and with it, the slow-demise of the once-giants of the mobile world. The Canadian company had to try and reinvent itself after years of trying to bring its own platform back to life.
As iPhone went from strength to strength, BlackBerry has had to start again with its very first Android handset. But just how does the company’s first Google-powered phone compare with what many regard to be the best phablet around?
Last time I compared an Android device with an iPhone 6s Plus, it was Motorola’s flagship Moto X Style which — although besting the iPhone in a number of spec departments — is nowhere near as expensive. With the PRIV, the iPhone has a competitor which costs near the same amount. At $699 unlocked, it’s only $50 cheaper than the lowest storage 6s Plus. With that said, it’s worth noting that the PRIV offers 32GB internal storage, and can be expanded up to an impressive 2TB if needed.
Design-wise, it’s hard to think of two more different flagship phones than the iPhone 6s Plus and the BlackBerry PRIV. But then again, you could say that about any phone in comparison to the QWERTY-equipped portrait slider from Waterloo. While the iPhone is a single, seamless piece of 7000 series Aluminum with rounded edges, the BlackBerry has a soft-touch carbon fiber effect plastic back panel.
Sadly, although the pattern looks great, the rear shell does have some give in it when you press down. That’s not to say the phone is weak, it actually feels pretty solid overall. The sliding mechanism is smooth and isn’t loose, and the display which slides up is given a sense of durability and class by a metal frame and back panel.
Size-wise, with the PRIV shut, the iPhone is a few milimeters taller than the BlackBerry. Slide open to reveal the keyboard and, understandably, the PRIV is much longer. What I did appreciate however, is that even when open, the PRIV is well-balanced. Unlike older slide-up phones, it’s not top-heavy at all.
On the design front, I think for most users, the iPhone is going to appear the better option. Clearly, there are fewer moving parts, and its sturdy aluminum frame is very durable. Likewise, it’s apparent from market trends that most consumers aren’t as hot on physical keyboards as they once were.
With that said, utmost respect must go to BlackBerry. There are so many wrong ways to do a sliding smartphone. Getting the sliding mechanism right, making it balanced in hand, and ensuring that it still feels good takes a lot of consideration and thoughtful design. I’m pretty impressed. The curved glass on the edges shows BlackBerry still knows how to build good hardware.
The iPhone, however, is still an example in how to make an elegant, beautiful and solid smartphone.
With displays, both the phones have their upsides. BlackBerry has equipped its first Android phone with a dual-curved 5.4-inch Quad HD resolution display. It’s impressive on many fronts.
Because it’s AMOLED, you get deep blacks you won’t see on the iPhone’s display. Colors are full of life, and content appears to float on the surface. There is the tiny issue that whites tend to distort and alter color when looking at them from an acute angle, sometimes appearing yellow or blue. But like I say, that’s a very minor issue.
Screen tech purists might say the iPhone’s display is better. It’s a clean, sharp and accurate display panel and, considering it’s uses LCD tech, blacks are remarkably dark.
Despite the quality of Apple’s display, I still prefer the BlackBerry overall. Even though you can’t really tell the difference between the full HD and quad HD panels in terms of sharpness, the curves do add an aesthetically pleasing element. As you swipe through content, it appears to curl around the edges, which is very neat. That’s the kind of added feature that makes the user experience just a little better, and fun.
Looking at the technical specifications of the two devices, you’d think the performance and battery life was vastly better on the BlackBerry. But that’s where looking at specs on paper can be misleading. While its battery boasts 3410mAh versus the iPhone’s 2750mAh, I consistently got better battery performance from the iPhone.
In real life, every day use, the iPhone can get me through two days. It’s almost always at 50% by the end of the first day. With the BlackBerry, I’d often have less than 40%. If I’d leave it on overnight, I’d have to start my second day with just 30% battery.
Despite every day performance being better on the iPhone, I was still impressed that I sometimes managed more than 5 hours of screen-on time with the PRIV from a full charge. What’s more, it has Quick-Charge 2.0 support, meaning you can charge back up to around 70%, from zero, in the space of an hour.
Overall speed and smoothness is generally good on both phones too. I had a few moments of lag and stutter on the PRIV, but the hexa-core Snapdragon 808 does a pretty good job at rendering most animations. Having seen how Marshmallow has impacted lower end devices, I predict the BlackBerry will be even better when Android 6.0 drops for the PRIV.
Meanwhile, the iPhone’s A9 processor was about as buttery smooth as you can expect. I saw very little delay or frame-rate dropping. It wasn’t perfect, but it gave the general impressions of effortlessness.
Apple’s iPhone camera is great. There are no two ways about it. If you want a phone that takes good pictures easily, first time, you won’t find many handsets better apart from maybe the Z5, Note 5 and Nexus 6P. The BlackBerry PRIV’s 16MP Schneider Kreuznach snapper isn’t quite up there, but it’s a decent enough camera. In good daylight, the PRIV’s camera can take some really great shots that are sharp. I particularly liked the exposure compensation bar on the bottom of the screen that lets you alter brightness levels during shooting. In lowlight, things aren’t so hot. As light fades, fairly heavy noise and distortion creep in.
Although both can take good pictures in daylight, I think the one thing that stood out for me when comparing results was the dynamic range. While the iPhone seems to cope well with contrasting light levels, and balances them out, BlackBerry’s gives a much harsher distinction between light and dark areas.
As a takeaway, both phones have their advantages. Both are big, fast devices with good battery life and great design. Thanks to BlackBerry’s security software, it’s easy to ensure you keep your device protected from potential hacks. For most consumers, the iPhone is going to be the better option. But, for me, the PRIV is one of the best smartphones ever made. At last, we have a good physical keyboard in a device which isn’t big and bulky, and isn’t a mid-range phone. What’s more, the software features I mentioned in a previous video make Android better by adding useful features like the Hub and quick action shortcuts.