When the year ends, I start to look back at products that I really liked and really hated. The BlackBerry PRIV fell into the former group and showcases how you can blend a business focus with a consumer OS and get a decent result. I’ve been using the PRIV as my primary phone for well over a month now and I’m impressed. Apparently, I’m not alone, because the phone has sold out and really upped BlackBerry’s stock. Here are some of my thoughts.
The keyboard is the feature that clearly makes this phone stand out. What surprised me was how long it took for me to get back to using a physical keyboard, particularly because I’ve always hated screen keyboards with a passion. Even with the physical keyboard a simple slide away, I would, out of pure habit, use the screen keyboard before suddenly realizing I could just slide the physical keyboard out and use it instead. The result was always far faster typing and far fewer missed keystrokes. But the skill I had years ago mastered did not come back easily. Once I learned to use a screen keyboard, even though I hated using it, it was as if I rebelled against relearning the physical keyboard.
It reminded me of the old joke of the kid walking his bicycle to school. Upon being asked why, he said he was late and didn’t have time to get on it. Yes, from a cognitive standpoint, I know I should constantly force myself to use the much better keyboard, but change comes hard. I’m guessing part of this is because I’m switching between tablets that don’t have the keyboard and the phone and I’m naturally sticking with the common interface. But it’s making me rather annoyed with myself.
I’ve never liked to have the same stuff as everyone else. When I was in private school, I regularly got in trouble because I wasn’t willing to wear the school blazer. Instead, I wore a Navy pea coat (granted, in my defense, the temperature was often in the 30s and the blazer wasn’t very warm). In any case, I like to be different. In an iPhone and iPhone clone world, the PRIV does look very different, particularly when you drop the keyboard. Folks do notice (there is even a post on how to show this phone off to your friends). In my head, I think it makes me seem more professional. You do run into a lot of old BlackBerry fans with this phone, though, and you’d be surprised at how many also seem to miss this keyboard.
What I Love
Because I like to be different, I often have to deal with the fact that my phone doesn’t run common apps. The apps that control the security system, doors, gate and automation systems either don’t run or don’t run well on my phones, typically. But the PRIV runs Android so all of that stuff is running just fine now (well, as fine as it does on an iOS or Android device). But the ability to actually use the phone with all my technology is wonderful and it really drives home the point that Steve Ballmer recently made with regard to Android and Windows: That maybe Microsoft should just embrace the Android eco-system. That has made the difference between phones that don’t sell and phones that sell out.
What I Miss
I miss two features with the BlackBerry PRIV: inductive Charging and biometric login. The first I don’t miss a lot because it often took three to five attempts to place the phone just the right way to get the charger to work and I often ended up with a dead battery anyway. We have resonant inductive coupling coming next year, which allows for far easier placement. Biometrics has been kind of a mixed blessing in most of the current technology, but the new Qualcomm Snapdragon Sense ID 3D ultrasonic technology is supposed to be much better. There are also some other alternatives that are far more accurate, with fewer false positives and negatives. So I’d rather not have it than have it work badly and, I expect, the next version of this phone will have this feature.
I don’t often get really excited about a device, but the BlackBerry PRIV really surprised me on how good it is. The phone gets it mostly right as it blends the technology I missed from the past (the keyboard) with cutting-edge screen and processor tech (Qualcomm Snapdragon 808), a good implementation of Gorilla Glass, and an elegant design to create what is, for me at the moment, the perfect smartphone. I can hardly wait to see what BlackBerry does with the next version.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+