BlackBerry’s first Android is a flop, and we’re not surprised

BlackBerry Priv

Priv could have been a great phone. Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Android

It seems not even Android can save BlackBerry’s falling hardware business.

The Canadian company has confirmed that it sold just 600,000 smartphones during its fourth fiscal quarter, despite the launch of Priv last November. The new handset clearly hasn’t been the savior many fans were hoping for, then — but we’re not surprised.

Until now, BlackBerry has been coy about Priv’s reception. CEO John Chen said during interviews that sales were “quite positive” and “so far, so good,” but it clearly hasn’t been the big seller BlackBerry desperately needed.

Not only did sales fall short of Wall Street’s expectations of 850,000, but they couldn’t even match last quarter’s sales of 700,000. Chen still remains optimistic, though, and said during BlackBerry’s investor call on Friday that “the path to profitability looks reasonable.”

But this is incredibly worrying for fans of BlackBerry hardware.

Priv is the company’s main focus for 2016 — Chen has said it may only launch one other device this year — and if it doesn’t sell, BlackBerry’s smartphone business simply isn’t worth clinging onto. The company is already transforming itself into a software and services provider.

What’s really disappointing is that the Priv isn’t a terrible smartphone. It has a very good curved display and a capable camera, and it’s the only decent Android device you can buy with a physical keyboard. I picked one up when it made its debut, and I’ve really enjoyed using it.

The problem is, when BlackBerry decided to adopt Android, it put Priv in direct competition with Samsung, LG, Motorola, HTC, Huawei, and a whole host of other smartphone makers that choose to use Google’s platform. And Priv just doesn’t cut it.

Spend five minutes on the CrackBerry forum and you’ll find countless threads from Priv owners who have received faulty devices. The device doesn’t offer the build quality fans have come to expect from handsets like the Passport, the Z30, and the Bold series.

Many also find the devices gets unusually warm when gaming and performing intensive tasks, that battery life is inconsistent and unreliable, and that the software is buggy. Then there’s the fact that BlackBerry only built wireless charging into certain models. Why?!

I know these problems all too well. The first Priv I picked up had a whole host of issues; it got incredibly warm, two of its physical keys were stuck, and the handset’s non-removable back cover popped away from the chassis at the sides when pressure was applied to it.

Fortunately, the second model I received doesn’t have these problems, and it seems earlier units are much better. But some Priv owners have received more than one device with similar issues. Others have given up trying to find a good unit, and turned to another smartphone instead.

What makes these complaints even worse is Priv’s price tag. At $699 off-contract, it should be up there with the very best — Samsung’s new Galaxy S7 series, the iPhone 6s, and other flagship devices that command that price tag. But it just isn’t.

Perhaps if Priv was cheaper, BlackBerry could sell more units and rebuild its brand. As things stand, the company seems happy to just drive its smartphone business into the ground.