Is form factor enough to attract smartphone users away from mainstream iOS and Android operating systems?
This idea has been tantamount to BlackBerry’s strategy over the years, both in its traditional keyboard-based devices, as well as its touchscreen-oriented Leap.
But a new security-oriented smartphone has arrived in Canada, albeit quietly, to try and take away some share of whatever enterprise niche BlackBerry has carved for itself, and while they’re at it, perhaps convince a few consumers to convert as well.
That device is called the Blackphone 2.
The second phone from aptly-named Swiss company Silent Circle combines a heavily modified Android OS with the traditional touchscreen smartphone form factor and a heaping of encryption services.
Among these is a custom Qualcomm chip that can be securely partitioned for work and personal use, allowing for multiple privacy, permission, and even storage settings to coexist and brought up depending on what the user is currently doing.
This is useful in the event that users want to branch out from apps offered by Silent Circle in its own Silent App store, all of which the company has designed or verified for security.
Among these proprietary apps is Silent Suite, which essentially encrypt basic phone functions including calls, texts and data. This also makes up some of the services that the company offers at a subscription and through the use of its own SIM card. In the US, subscriptions start at $12.95 per month for 100 encrypted minutes, up to $39.95 for 1,000 minutes.
The service is based on infrastructure out of Switzerland, according to TechRadar, and ideally works when both parties are using the Blackphone, although one phone is significantly better than none, the company said.
Silent Circle also takes carriers out of the equation. Its updates to the phone are not, for example, held up for verification by service providers. In use, this translates to security patches within hours and days as opposed to weeks and months.
Of course, there is also the much needed granular control over app permissions. The much-touted feature of Android 6.0 Marshmallow comes with the phone by default, but the Swiss company goes a step further. According to Wired, app developers can actually choose to show which permissions they are asking for upon a download. The Silent OS scans the code of an app, revealing additional permission settings for the user to control.
In terms of hardware, the device is what you might expect from mid-range gear. It comes with a large 5.5-inch 1920 x 1080 FHD display, 8-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of microSD-expandable storage, 13-megapixel rear and 5-megapixel front-facing camera, 3060mAh Quick Charge-enabled battery. Unlike high-end and increasingly mid-range devices, however, the device lacks a fingerprint sensor and USB Type-C ports.
So if you read all this and thought, “Take my money,” here is where it gets a bit complicated. For a consumer, Silent Circle sells directly on their website. For enterprise and governments that want to arm their employees, purchases must be made through a group called Defence Unlimited, a military and security consultancy, lobby group, and the exclusive distributors for Blackphone In Canada.
This applies to potential Canadian partners.
“For now, all bulk orders for resale can be purchased through us directly until we set up an online platform for Canadian buyers and distributors,” Laila Maiden, an associate with the group, told CDN in an email.
While she revealed that the group distributes to consumer, government and enterprise “client bases”, the organization is tight-lipped about how the partnership with Silent Circle came about and how long it has existed.
She promised over email that more news was coming soon. We will be following up for more information.
What are your thoughts on the Blackphone 2? How will it fare against the BlackBerry Priv? Leave us your comments below.