Device Review: Blackphone BP1

Device Review: Blackphone BP1

When you hear about a phone that is secure and has the means to be give you control over your personal data, an Android device might not the first thing that comes to mind. Two companies, Geeksphone and Silent Circle, are working together to get you to associate PrivatOS (a customized version of Android 4.4.2) with security features. These are security features that you normally have to root your device in order to have.

It will be exciting to see what makes this phone more secure than a Nexus device.

Build

The Blackphone has a nice designed and is easy to hold in your hand.  There are no markings on the device other than the logo next to the Speaker on the back. I like the understated look of the Phone. The phone is only available in Black as the name would indicate.

Be used to using 5.5 and 5.7 inch devices on a daily basis made using the BP1 for this review a bit of an adjustment. Of course, after the first day I got used to the design. It works well and fits the pocket just fine.

Display

The display is a 4.7 inch display with a resolution of 720p. At first I was surprised that they would release a phone in 2014 with a 720p display with a quad core CPU under the hood.  Just wait until we talk about the battery to understand why the display is the perfect fit.

The formula that Blackphone used was simplicity, a device that looks good and performs great and still be able to last the day on a single charge. Personally, I agree with philosophy. All in all the display looks good and has decent viewing angles for your media consumption.

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Hardware

The quad core CPU is an NVidia T4i processor clocked at 2 GHz and 1GB of RAM help this device run all the apps that you need and most that you want. It would have been nice to have 2GB of RAM on to handle the services that you need to keep running in the background. For example, the phone and messaging apps.

The Blackphone comes with 16GB of internal storage available for consumption and you can expand the storage with a microSD card if your appetite for spaces gets too large. This is another area where more storage built in would be desirable. In today’s market apps have higher requirements for internal storage and 16GB is often not enough.

The back is removable and behind the Blackphone’s black back reveals the 2000 mAh removable battery, the microSD Card and SIM Card slots. Of course, the Device does come with your standard array of sensors including light sensors, and accelerometer.

Battery

As mentioned the battery is a 2000 mAh removable, and it helps this device last throughout the day on a single charge. The device is configured in such a way that you do not need a big battery to handle the hardware. From the screen to the CPU and the installed applications, you can see that the BP1 has considered the battery and the specs when they envision how the user will use the Blackphone.

Since we don’t get the power hungry systems installed, like Google Play Services nor any Google Apps, you have a device that has very good standby and screen on time. The fact that screen is not a 1080p or 2k display means the battery is just right for this device.

In my tests I was able to last 2 days on a single charge just using email and browsing the web. When I installed some apps and used navigation, I was still able to make it through the day with no issues

Camera

The Blackphone’s camera options include the main shooter at 8-megapixels with a LED flash. The front camera is 5-megapixels. The software for the camera is similar to, or is, the old stock Android camera. That means the camera app is functional but it would have been nice to add some software to help the camera performance.

The camera is just ok. If you use it in good light, the pictures come out acceptable, but the moment you lose the light, you get a lot of noise. The fact is, it will take ok pictures.  After all you would not get this phone for the camera you would for the security features.

Speakers

The speaker on this device is not very loud by at all. If you are in a quiet environment, the speaker will work just fine. The moment you get into a car or any kind of noisy pace you better use the earpiece.

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Software

The software is the raison d’etre of this device. The software is what makes it special.  The security modifications to the Android Open Source Project’s Android 4.4.2 KitKat is what makes the OS a ‘PrivatOS.’ From PrivatOS to the suite of apps installed, you get more control over your data.

PrivatOS  is Android 4.4.2 KitKat at its core but with some mods that lets the user control all information. You have Security Center, a tool similar to Xposed modules we have reviewed here on xda called Donkeyguard, installed into the OS. There are other changes, like there are no developer options to turn on USB Debugging.

The BP1 comes with the suite of applications listed below:

  • Silent Circle Apps
    • Silent Phone (A Secure VOIP Phone)
    • Silent Text (A Secure PGP messaging)
    • Silent Contacts (A Secure Contact manager for the other Silent Circle apps)
  • Blackphone-built OS Integrated Apps
    • Blackphone Firewall
    • Blackphone Activation Wizard (for setting up the device with Silent Circle apps)
    • Blackphone Remote Wipe
  • 3rd-party Apps
    • Disconnect Secure Wireless (A VPN wireless connection)
    • SpiderOak Blackphone Edition (A Secure Online Storage Option)
    • Kismet Smart Wi-Fi Manager (Location based WiFi Connection Manager)

As you can see it’s a very nice suite of apps that work together to give you control. You will find no trace of Google services on this device. Yet another layer the BP1 uses to keep you in control. During the review I installed the Amazon Appstore to test out games, navigation apps and other things.

Hackability

Here at XDA we like to assess the hackability of a phone when we review it. From that standpoint this device is limited. While root was achieved during a hackathon, the method for that is not available for public use to test.

Additionally, you’ve got to realized that rooting your device uses exploits, and exploits inhibit security. So a phone that dances in the streets screaming about security, would be impaired if you could hack it.

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Conclusion

The Blackphone BP1 is a device that has your security in the number 1 spot. From the moment you turn on the device to the point you finish setting it up, you see how many steps they add into the process to make sure that your information is secure.

Both Silent Circle and Geeksphone have done a great job in providing customizations on the operating system level as well as the great suite of security centric communication apps.

Initially I was not very impressed with the hardware specs for this device, but after using it, it started to make sense. They had to marry the right set of hardware and software with the right user experience for what they’re trying to do.

I would recommend this device if security is what you need from your phone. And you feel that Android today is not at the level you need. You get a good battery life, a decent camera and you’re able to expand the storage with a micro SD card. This package is well rounded and would be a really good daily driver for anybody looking for a simple phone that helps protect them.

[Thanks to GSMNation for providing us with the Blackphone BP1 to review. To get this device from GSMNation or check out their entire selection of phones, please go to GSMNation.com.]

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