BlackBerry Priv sold well last quarter and ‘quite positive’ so far, says CEO Chen

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

BlackBerry PRIV ReviewThe BlackBerry Priv was another one of the struggling Canadian company’s big gambles from earlier this year, as CEO John Chen continues to save the firm from the doldrums, if not restore its old glory, which, we’d say, is virtually impossible at this point.The latest flagship that is believed could bring back the company to some level of relevance in the existing smartphone segment is, however, priced way higher compared to the iPhone 6S.First shown at the 2015 Mobile World Congress back in March, it created quite a commotion even though no actual information was provided beyond a quick peek at a slider device.

Analysts’ estimates have been beaten up after when BlackBerry Ltd. announced its latest Q results – the company has shown progress in its strategy to widen up in terms of services sale and software. FRIDAY: The net loss as per company’s claims is US$ 89 million (17 cents/share) – in the fiscal 3Q ended on November 28 in comparison to last year’s record of US$ 148 million (28 cents). The latest results comprised of various items like pretax charges of US$ 38 million for restructuring and acquisition costs and amortization of intangibles of US$ 18 million. The 5.4 inch device runs on two main features compared to other Android devices – BlackBerry’s productivity, security and privacy features and a physical Qwerty Keyboard. This reflects $15 million of positive free cash flow, $636 million used in acquisition costs for AtHoc and Good Technology and $10 million used to repurchase 1.6 million shares. “I am pleased with our continued progress on BlackBerry’s strategic priorities, leading to 14 percent sequential growth in total revenue for Q3.

That’s 11.8 percent more revenue than the previous quarter, and the first time since 2013 that the company reported two straight quarterly increases in revenue. We delivered accelerating growth in enterprise software and higher revenue across all of our areas of focus,” said Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Chen. “Our new PRIV device has been well received since its launch in November, and we are expanding distribution to additional carriers around the world in the next several quarters. “BlackBerry has a solid financial foundation, and we are executing well.

But first, a word of warning for die-hard BlackBerry fans: the PRIV is very different from BB10 devices, trying to see it as one will only lead to disappointment. As for an insight in revenue, the rate depicted US$548 million – approx. 31% down from a year earlier – but still it came ahead of what was forecasted. Unfortunately for those dying to know about the Priv’s sales, Chen has chosen to be as tight-lipped as he could, not letting slip even the slightest clue at the phone’s numbers. “The initial 30 days of sales has been quite positive,” said Chen, keeping it as short and sweet as possible. “I don’t want to overhype things.

It is powered by DTEK – the BlackBerry app for Android that provides a single dashboard to monitor and control application access to your microphone, camera, location and personal information. “Priv is the first Android smartphone to combine the privilege of privacy with all of the most critical features users need to power through their day: a BlackBerry keyboard, large display, excellent battery life, BlackBerry productivity and security features, powerful specs and access to the world’s largest app ecosystem,” says Mike Al Mefleh, Product Management Director Middle East, BlackBerry. From the familiar logo at the top to the grippy material on the back and the stowed-away physical keyboard, there’s an elegant mix of black and silver elements that practically screams I’m a BlackBerry (in the most polite manner possible, of course). That’s a couple hundred thousand phones less than what some analysts forecasted, and a hundred thousand less than the number of phones it sold in the prior quarter.

It has an 18MP rear camera but falls short with a mere 2MP front facing camera, thereby offering very little for the current selfie loving generation. He is focusing on new mobile device-management software, new smartphones like BlackBerry’s first ever Android-powered device and acquisitions to generate better revenue rate. “To sustain our current direction, we are stepping up investments to drive continued software growth and the additional Priv launches.

On the plus side, BlackBerry did say that the average price of the smartphones sold in its last quarter was $315, a big year-over-year improvement from the November 2014 quarter’s figure of $240. Take the speaker grille, for example: it occupies the entire width of the device’s bottom part even though the actual speaker is just 1/3 of that and is positioned to the left. The company recently announced financial results for the three months ended November 28, 2015 and reported Non-GAAP total revenue of $557 million, up 14 per cent over Q2 FY16. Chen was almost as cagey when he was asked about how his turnaround schemes have been faring so far. “My first goal is to get us into a break-even position with the device business, because you really couldn’t do anything strategically with a business that continues to lose money,” he said. “We’re in that ballpark now.” Still, considering there’s an entire sliding mechanism and keyboard in there, it is rather impressive, especially if you look at how slim the display part is once you slide it up.

I’ll say it loud and clear: the build quality is lacking for a device that’s considered BlackBerry’s current flagship (and has the price tag to prove it). Keep in mind that the PRIV claimed that crown from the Passport, which fared significantly better in this respect, especially in its second “Silver Edition” incarnation called.

Because of that, the PRIV’s creaky sides and slightly wobbly screen (when slid up) were a total surprise, not to mention the flexible back side that has a visible give when pushed. Out of three PRIV units, all exhibited these “symptoms”, but one of them (model STV100-3) is creakier than the other two (model STV100-1), which indicates that in addition to being rather disappointing, build quality also varies between devices.

However, it is simpler than implementations like LG’s that allow for extra functionality like turning the screen off or setting secure unlock patterns (Knock Code). This behavior ranges from reduced responsiveness to ghost taps being generated, which is clearly visible when typing something on the touch-enabled keyboard (random characters show up, trying to delete them makes things even worse). Other things aren’t as great, like the Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 SoC you’ll typically find in mid-range devices like the Xiaomi Mi 4c or the more recent LG Nexus 5X. Scan the table below (or check the screenshots) for a comparison between the PRIV, two flagships (Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 edge+) and two mid-rangers (LG Nexus 5X and Xiaomi RedMi Note 2).

Lesson learned: Unlike the other benchmarked devices, the PRIV enforces Android’s “encrypted device” feature out of the box, which takes its toll on overall performance. This also happens every time the screen is on for longer periods of time (say you’re watching a video or catching up with the news for 15 minutes or so). There’s a bit of a sluggish feel while moving through the homescreens, menus and settings as well as opening up apps but it’s partially due to user interface animations. Coupled with the apps update that followed two weeks later, it provided the PRIV with a much-needed vitamin shot and indicates BlackBerry intends to continue improving the device’s performance and user experience from a software standpoint. Lesson learned: enforcing the PRIV to be an encrypted device should have prompted the choice of a faster hardware platform instead of the Qualcomm 808.

Still, Android 6.0 requires device manufacturers to enable encryption by default, so once it starts hitting the big league players currently on Android 5.x, the field will be leveled. They hoped this move would attract Android users and, at the same time, lure back some of the BlackBerry defectors with the promise of a rich app ecosystem. The effect on device sales is still unclear, as BlackBerry avoided the subject PRIV sales numbers during their recent financial call, but the signs so far aren’t too great.

The OS looks and feels like stock Android in most places, which some people might actually prefer over things like TouchWiz or Sense UI, but ultimately makes the PRIV feel like an Android with some tacked-on BB apps, instead of a full-blown BlackBerry device. First off, you’ll notice that some homescreen icons have three dots underneath, which means that swiping up on them will display their associated widget in a pop-up fashion. This feature is called “Pop-up widgets” and can be disabled on a per-app basis or completely, should you wish to do so (long press on an empty homescreen area and tap on Settings). Activating it (just swipe towards the center of the screen) will provide quick access to four areas of interest: upcoming calendar events, unread Hub messages, entries from the Tasks app that are due today and favorite contacts. Apart from emails, everything else that can be listed there (SMS, WhatsApp conversations, Facebook notifications and so on) is pretty much a shortcut to the actual apps.

Several other BlackBerry-exclusive apps are there (Contacts, Notes, Tasks, Password Keeper) but at the moment they’re little more than fan service for BB10 veterans, as Android users are likely to use existing, established alternatives. Well, small things like screenshots and images from other locations being tucked away in the app menu under “device folders” or the constant reminder (and icon overlay on each photo) that you have declined to upload all your photos to Google Drive. The same applies to file managers, but this time it’s not a question of liking/disliking the built-in app, it’s a necessity: there’s no file manager preinstalled on the PRIV, which is strange to say the least. Bottom line, the status quo isn’t great and there’s a lot to look forward to in future updates, but BlackBerry seems committed and initial results are encouraging. There is some hope though, as the camera app was included in this month’s batch of updates and added a few features and appears to have fixed performance issues that showed up intermittently in HDR mode.

The thin sliding screen, while helpful to keep the device on the slimmer side, was only able to house a 2MP digicam module (as revealed by BB staff during a reddit AMA). In real life, the keys are too small and too flat to provide a good typing experience, especially when your expectations have been set by the excellent keyboard on the Blackberry Passport. In all fairness, given the slider form factor of the PRIV, some compromises had to be made, but that doesn’t change the end result one bit: the touch-based keyboard is simply a better alternative. During testing, calls were never switched from HD to SD in the middle of the conversation, something that does still happen every now and then with other phones under the same conditions.

On the loudspeaker front, BlackBerry took a big step down and replaced the traditional stereo speakers found on the PRIV’s predecessors with a single one. Lesson learned: if seducing your favorite call-center operator hasn’t been working too well so far, the PRIV might be just the personality boost you need for a breakthrough.

One thing’s for sure: the PRIV doesn’t need charging during every day if it’s used for 1-2 hours of voice calls, 1-2 hours of web/news browsing, emails (hundreds), listening to music, instant messaging and the occasional YouTube video. Good news on the charging side though: the PRIV supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 tech, which lets it charge to 60% in around 30 minutes, but there’s a catch: the charger included in the sales package is of the “slow” variety.

Getting the battery from 5% to 100% takes just a bit over two hours (2h 8min) with the included charger while a QC 2.0 one needs around one hour and a half (1h 24min). It’s basically a green line that stretches to indicate the charge level and shows the actual percentage plus an estimation of the time left until the battery is full.

Furthermore, you can’t have a main lock method and a backup one, which can prove fatal if the “automatic wipe after 10 failed unlock attempts” option is enabled. The bad news is there’s no clue when the PRIV will get the upgrade, which leads us to the ironic conclusion that, at least for a while, there will be Android devices that are more secure than the PRIV. One of these leverages the monthly Android security update cycle and is supposed to be delivered OTA, but our experience showed this isn’t entirely correct when it comes to models other than STV100-1 used outside the USA, UK or Canada. Case in point, an unlocked STV100-3 device needed two more weeks and a support call in order to get the software update originally released on December 2nd.

This is the right path, but the Canadian manufacturer needs to stay on it and continue to deliver, not only for the PRIV but for its successors as well. Despite what the box says, coming from a BlackBerry Passport, iPhone 6 Plus and Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+, I felt rather underPRIVileged while using the PRIV. Updates, including those that concern security, are a problem if you’re unfortunate enough to own a non-US PRIV model (anything other than STV100-1).

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