BlackBerry Priv: Do Early Reviews Spell Doom for BBRY?

The BlackBerry Ltd (BBRY) Priv probably has more riding it than any other smartphone released. This device is make-or-break when it comes to the company’s future as a smartphone manufacturer — literally. CEO John Chen has said that the handset will need to sell at least 5 million units to keep the business alive.

BlackBerry Priv: Early Reviews Aren't Pretty (BBRY)
Source: BlackBerry

Naturally, with the smartphone going up for pre-order today, early BlackBerry Priv reviews have begun landing, and all eyes are waiting to see what the tech world thinks.

So far … not great.

Android Is a Win

The big win for BlackBerry here is that it dropped its BB10 operating system in favor of Android. The Priv is the first BlackBerry to run someone else’s OS, and reviewers are applauding the move.

BB10 never won over a lot of fans, and going to Android means Blackberry’s lack-of-apps nightmare is finally over.

Running the familiar Android also makes the BlackBerry Priv a smartphone that could potentially appeal to any consumer — not just hardcore BBRY fans or enterprise customers.

Some Poor Choices

BlackBerry has a tradition of making some odd choices, particularly around using older hardware that sabotages its devices. It appears to have done that again with the BlackBerry Priv. The Qualcomm (QCOM) Snapdragon 808 CPU is more than a year old, and that spells performance trouble.

The Wall Street Journal’s review says that at times “the phone was inexcusably slow.” In a particularly harsh review, Gizmodo says it offers “laggy performance” and calls out the use of a curved display that doesn’t add functionality — as in the case of Samsung’s (SSNLF) Edge smartphones — but instead “just makes text at each edge hard to read.”

It’s also worth noting that the BlackBerry Priv ships with Android Lollipop, while competing Android smartphones like Alphabet’s (GOOG,GOOGL) Google Nexus run the newer Android Marshmallow.

As CNET notes, the BlackBerry Priv also lacks modern security features that are expected in flagship phones, such as a fingerprint reader. This seems like an odd omission in a smartphone that’s so focused on security.

Slider Keyboard

Reviewers have mixed feelings about the Priv’s unique sliding keyboard. It makes the phone thicker and heavier than the competition, and using it makes the Priv top-heavy.

While some reviewers love the keyboard, others don’t. CrackBerry likes it, saying “there’s no mistaking the Priv keyboard for anything but a BlackBerry keyboard and that’s just how it should be.”

Gizmodo doesn’t like the small keys, saying using it is “more the sensation of button mashing than elegantly typing.” Wired’s take on the BlackBerry Priv keyboard is that it’s an interesting design, “But the physical keys feel really cramped for bigger thumbs. Surprisingly, it’s much slower going than typing on the phone’s excellent touchscreen keyboard.”

Flagship Price

One of the biggest complaints in BlackBerry Priv reviews is the price, which BBRY has set at $699. The problem is that there are many Android flagship devices available that outperform the Priv for hundreds of dollars less. Google’s excellent Nexus 6P, for example, goes for $499.

BBRY claims the Priv has better security than other Android smartphones, but for the general public — the people who have to buy the BlackBerry Priv if BBRY is going to hit the kind of numbers needed to stay in the smartphone game — will see the sliding keyboard as its primary distinguishing feature. Engadget sums up the likelihood of success based on that factor:

“I just can’t imagine anyone who has become inured to using an on-screen keyboard will consider dropping seven hundred big ones to go back to how it was.”

In general, BlackBerry Priv reviews paint a mixed picture, and that’s probably not good for BBRY’s prospects.

In one extreme, CrackBerry says: ”Should you buy it? Absolutely.”

From the opposite end of the spectrum, Gizmodo declares: “Nope, Not For Me—Not Even For My Worst Enemy.”

CNET’s take is more representative of the middle ground: “Slick Android slider with niche appeal.”

And there’s the problem. Unfortunately for BBRY, a BlackBerry Priv with niche appeal won’t help much if it wants to stay in the smartphone game.

As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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