For the first time in its history, Canadian smartphone maker BlackBerry has launched a device running an operating system other than its own.
Banking on the popularity of Google’s Android operating system, and a nostalgic design featuring its famous QWERTY keyboard, the company has officially launched the BlackBerry Priv.
But the stakes are high for the Waterloo, Ont.-based company – if the Priv is a flop, it’s almost certain BlackBerry will pull the plug on designing phones after a series of failed device launches. CEO John Chen said the company needs to sell at least five million devices this year to stay in the handset business – if they fail to reach that goal the company will turn focus attention on its software licensing and services division.
Releasing an Android-powered smartphone is intended to resolve one of BlackBerry’s biggest criticisms – a lack of apps. Handfuls of popular apps, from dating service Tinder to Candy Crush, were unavailable for years.
But the company isn’t ready to shed its identity entirely.
Aside from unique design features – including the slide-out QWERTY keyboard and flashing LED notification light that BlackBerry has become well-known for – the company’s developers have modified the operating system to add some of BlackBerry’s strengths.
BlackBerry is hyping the phone as the most secure Android device on the market, thanks to privacy-focused software features.
The Priv – which stands for privacy and privilege – helps users learn who is accessing their information by monitoring the legitimacy of apps and outlining how many times services like Facebook access things like the device’s GPS co-ordinates, image files, microphone, or contacts.
Users can monitor and access their privacy information through an app dubbed “DTEK by BlackBerry,” which provides an overall security rating of the device based on things like its screen lock and the security of installed apps.
To further enhance security, BlackBerry has promised monthly security updates through its Android vulnerability patch program. That includes “hotfix” patching, which allows BlackBerry to push security updates for critical Android vulnerabilities directly to customers when needed.
One thing the Priv lacks from its competitors? Biometric security, such as a fingerprint scanner found on many Android devices and Apple’s iPhone.
It’s important to note, however, that the device currently runs Android Lollipop – the company is working on support for Google’s latest version, Android Marshmallow, but has not provided a timeline of when it will be ready.
So how does the hardware compare to other phones on the market?
Well, the Priv weighs about the same as an iPhone 6S Plus, with roughly the same-sized screen (the Priv measures 5.43 inches, compared to the iPhone’s 5.5 inch display). The screen also features Gorilla Glass 4 to protect from scratches; however, the Priv has a distinct curved design along both sides of the device.
The device does get bonus points for its camera. The back-facing camera has 18-megapixels and 4K video shooting capabilities – by comparison, Google’s new Nexus 6P and Apple’s iPhone 6S both have 12-megapixel back-facing cameras.
BlackBerry has said advance orders for the Priv have been higher than those for the Passport, Classic and Leap devices, though it hasn’t provided presales figures.
The Priv is available Friday from carriers including Bell, Rogers, Telus, Wind Mobile, and Sasktel, and on BlackBerry’s website, unlocked, for $899.
– With files from The Canadian Press