Why BlackBerry PRIV is worth the Android galaxy

It brings the focus on privacy and security in the mainstream with aplomb.

 |  4-minute read |   16-02-2016

Android initially followed the open-source model, but Google made restrictions to its key components. It's implausible to debate its licensing nuances, but Android has become the dominant mobile ecosystem with relentless advertising and a rich app store (albeit with thousands of duplicates). When the BlackBerry 10 was launched, it was met with muted skepticism, but it went on to prove its mettle with rigorous compliance, top-notch certifications for regulated industries and a niche segment that BlackBerry called as prosumers. Having personally used various iterations of the BlackBerry 10 and their software, it is clear that these devices were designed to be productive from the word go without reliance on various applications.

It was with initial trepidation and hesitance that I welcomed the news of BlackBerry dipping its toes in Android land. However, after using the PRIV, my fears were laid to rest. The PRIV isn't just another product. It fuses excellence and security - ingrained in its DNA - which have translated into a top-notch device.

In the sea of sameness and few marketing gimmicks, Android devices are measured on hardware specifications since no one has innovated beyond the ubiquitous glass slab designs. BlackBerry broke this mould with a superlative carbon fiber design that protects its back, a curved screen and a slideout capacitive touch-enabled keyboard that comes with an excellent 18MP camera.

It's the secret sauce utilised to rejuvenate the Android operating system that takes the cake. In addition to encrypted hardware (which prevents device rooting) and full Google Play features, BlackBerry has added its own layer of intelligence by integrating email accounts, social networks and call logs into one interface known as the BlackBerry Hub. For the uninitiated, the Hub is inspired heavily by "lifestream concept" - brilliantly executed in mobile - which shows all social activity in one interface. This avoids the "app fatigue", allowing you to effectively deal with the deluge of emails and social networks. Integrated Google Play ensures instant push for security hotfixes without being held up for carrier reviews.

Also read: Why BlackBerry’s first Android phone is doomed to fail

It is indeed apparent that BlackBerry has made deep surgical incisions to the code base - one of the nifty changes it has brought in is out of box compatibility with MS Exchange (email protocols) with native CalDav/ CardDav support for calendars and contacts. I personally prefer to avoid application usage (that eats up background bandwidth) and pay for my email. While my work email is hosted, my personal email (using Fastmail and own domain) plays very well with IMAP Push, which gives near instantaneous delivery of email without polling and draining out battery life. Calendars and Contacts sync out of box.

How does PRIV, short for "Privacy" justify its name? It's because of the rapid threat assessments, hotfixes and updates that are delivered to your device. Android has become notorious for being a malware magnet. Free applications can easily be engineered to hijack your device, root it and access sensitive files. PRIV locks down everything in order to preserve the sanctity of your data. As mobile commerce gains mainstream acceptance, sensitive financial data on mobile devices is an attractive target for cyber criminals. Therefore, the incentive to secure devices becomes paramount.

BlackBerry pioneered granular application permission control in BlackBerry 10 - this is expected to be enhanced in the upcoming M update (which, as I write this article, is in its testing stages). Currently, it gives a strong snapshot of various device components that applications access through DTEK.

For example, the Flipkart app (for e-commerce) accesses my device's location repeatedly without any justification. Although they clarified during initial install, it personally leaves me uncomfortable with persistent tracking. If needed, I can easily use their web interface. Likewise, a popular chat client, WhatsApp accesses your contact lists thousands of times and your device's microphone, even when it is not being used. Most applications are replete with privacy violations. This brings the focus back to the user to make informed decisions. Further, DTEK gives a refreshed visual interface about the security parameters that need to be activated to ensure maximum safety.

Interestingly, a prominent Android OEM has been sued by the Dutch consumer group because of the lack of updates for its range of devices. BlackBerry, instead, has rolled out a stream of security-focused updates and has committed to do so consistently, essentially keeping the consumer as its focus. This is indeed commendable; a first in the industry to ensure that it doesn't leave its consumers in the lurch.

While PRIV is cheaper in other geographies, it has become a victim of local taxation laws in India, which have made it difficult for it to be priced competitively against Android "flagships". However, it is comparable in price to the recently unlocked 16GB iPhone 6S. I believe that a combination of current hardware specifications and locked down secured operating system justifies this long term investment.

PRIV matters. It brings the focus on privacy and security in the mainstream with aplomb!

Writer

Abhishek Puri Abhishek Puri

The author is a practicing Radation Oncologist.

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