Blackphone 2…..Is it worth $800?
The header says it all. I have spent almost 3 weeks with this device and I can tell you the answer is a definitive Yes…well maybe a No. Depends on how you look at it.
Full disclosure, I am a long time user of the Silent Circle products. I will not be reviewing those, but I will be touching on them. However, this review is about the phone and how it functions versus the Silent Circle secure phone, text and video calling product. So let’s dive in.
First let’s get these out of the way right off the bat. Because everyone likes to know what the specs are on a phone.
Dimensions(mm) 152.40 x 76.40 x 7.90
Battery(non-removable) 3060 mAh
Display 5.5in 1920×1080
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 615
1.7 GHz octa-core
Internal Storage 32 GB
Expandable Yes – with microSD card up to 128 GB
Rear Camera(mp) 13
Operating System Silent OS 2.1
The Blackphone 2 is a world phone, so it will work on any major GSM network. It can utilize HSPA+, 3G, 4G/LTE worldwide. So that makes it a great phone to be able to do some SIM swapping if you need to.
The Blackphone 2 cost $799. It does come unlocked, but that is still a chunk of money. You do get one year’s service utilizing their Silent Circle suite. After the year is up then you will be paying at minimum $10/month for the service.
So now that we have the fluff out of the way, let’s talk about the phone. I spent almost 3 weeks using it as my daily driver and can tell you, I didn’t enjoy it.
The outside of the phone is nice and clean. It is understated and very well built. But, it is slicker than an ice cube on water. I had to make sure to grip it harder than I would normally grip a phone. This was due to fear of dropping it. I don’t mind holding a phone a bit harder, but, I definitely don’t want to get a cramp in my hand.
It has the same type of glass back that Sony likes and that makes it even worse. And because I couldn’t tell where I was grabbing the phone when pulling out of my pocket, I was constantly putting my fingers over the glass that was covering the camera. So I was constantly trying to clean the back so that when I needed to take a picture, it wasn’t smudgy from the oil on my fingers.
For a 5.5 inch screen the actual phone size is nice. I have a little bit bigger than the average hands and there were a lot of things that I was able to do one handed. This was solely due to the slipperiness of the phone. I could just slide it where I wanted to, and then I was able to use the one hand for just about everything. So this is a case of being super slick worked to the phone’s advantage. And that is the only positive thing you can say about that.
The speaker is just mehhh…It is just your average mid-range phone speaker. Nothing to shout out about. It does it’s job, but sometimes it was just a bit too quiet. Other than that, sounds were clear, just not loud enough.
The buttons were well placed, and easy to find. The only thing I didn’t like about them, was that I never got a satisfying “click” feel. Maybe it was just me, but I like to feel that I have done something, and sometimes I had to look to see if I was actually turning up the volume.
The Operating System
The Blackphone 2 uses Silent Circle’s own operating system dubbed SilentOS. It is an overlay based on the Android OS. One of the nice things about this system is that it does a lot to mirror the way the Android OS works. So things swype the same way. Or look about the same. So when I was going through everything it all seemed somewhat familiar. Even though it looks different, there was still a feeling of familiarity. Which is ALWAYS a good thing.
There are a lot of good things to say about SilentOS. It really does a great job of making sure that you know what you are doing and keeps it extremely simple.
They have Spaces, which allows you to have multiple users or accounts that are totally separated from each other at the chip level. This is a little different that what just about everyone else is doing. Having it separated that far down in the system means that your security for each space really can’t be compromised. If one section is compromised, then the others are safe. So you can have a work and personal profiles and never the two shall meet. And they are truly separate. The only things that “binds” them, and I use that term loosely, is that all utilize the same storage. Sof if you have 25GB of available space, then both profiles can only utilize that amount. So you won’t get 25 for each space.
Security is top notch. You can utilize specific apps to make sure your data isn’t being leaked. You can use VPN and also specify which apps are allowed specific permissions.
But the one thing that struck me as just funny. Or lazy, is the Silent Circle App store. This is a place you go that Silent Circle has vetted all the apps and say that they are secure enough for the user to use. But, in reality it is just a place that has a hyperlink to the Google Play app store. When I click on an app I was expecting to go to a secure page to download that app, but I was surprised when I just went to the Play Store. Not what I was expecting.
I know that they vet these apps, so downloading them from the Play store makes sense, but if you are going to have a store, then have a store. Not a link to another store. And on top of that, what struck me as even weirder, on the first Blackphone, you had Disconnect Browser and also SpiderOak backup storage. And neither are in the Silent Circle App store. Makes me wonder why.
All I’m going to say about the camera is this. Great for simple things, but you can tell it isn’t an $800 phone camera. It takes good enough pictures for documents or if you just want something to reference. It just isn’t good enough to try and think about using it for those great family photos. But, if you are buying this phone as a daily driver and want a super sharp camera, then I’m sorry to say that you will be disappointed. I literally carried around my Sony DSC-RX100 III for all the pictures I wanted to take of my family.
Silent Circle Suites
The biggest thing about the phone is the ability to make secure phone calls, video calls and secured texting. If you are in a world where secure calls and texting is super important, then this is the way to go. Each call, video call and text is secured peer to peer. And the way it is done pretty much gets rid of the dreaded Man-in-the-Middle attack.
Now having said that, do I need a $800 phone to do this? No, you can get these for any android or iOS phone for that said price of $10/month. They work exactly the same, just on a different phone.
For the best security with a phone, I think Silent Circle has nailed it. It does a great job of making sure that all your data and information is secure. It does a great job of making the SilentOS seem familiar and user friendly. It is a good looking phone. It is simple, and understated. Some won’t like that, because it isn’t metal or super shiny or fancy. But this phone isn’t trying to be those phone. So it fits right in where it is supposed to be.
Now having said that, it is a mid-range phone. It isn’t anywhere near worth the price of $800. This, in my opinion, should be priced around $400-$450. I had a lot of lag issues. I had a few reboots. And then I had times where the phone just stopped. I know those might be a single use case scenario and that is what I’m chalking it up to be. But, still what if it isn’t? Silent Circle has done a great job of adding all the security features you want. But, that still doesn’t make it worth the $800 in my mind.
We must remember that this isn’t targeted at your average user. This is a business level phone. Designed for business and their way of working. The average consumer won’t even blink an eye at this. But for the business person who wants that top level security, then this phone is right there at the top.
I like what Silent Circle is doing. I like what they are trying to accomplish, but spending $800 for the phone, and then another roughly $120 for the next year, makes this a $1000 phone for two years. And I just can’t see that as a viable solution. Cost wise that isn’t fun. Especially for what is essentially a decent mid-range phone.