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Blackphone: First impressions of the encrypted Android handset

We take a tour of Silent Circle and Geeksphones' privacy focused smartphone
Wed Feb 26 2014, 15:56

BARCELONA: SILENT CIRCLE has collaborated with Geeksphone to make the Blackphone, a smartphone running the firm's custom PrivatOS, which it is touting as "the phone no-one has dared to make yet".

The Blackphone is centered around privacy, and the company is keen to point out that while Google's Android mobile operating system is at its core, it's much more secure than the present influx of smartphones running Android. This is fortunate, based on the latest Android security statistics, which reveal that it is the target for 98 percent of all mobile malware.

We caught some time with the Blackphone at Mobile World Congress (MWC), where Silent Circle COO Victor Hyder explained to The INQUIRER just how secure the device really is.

Of course, the first things we got to grips with were the handset's security features. Silent Circle's custom PrivatOS dresses the device, equipping it with proprietary security features designed to protect a user's privacy and keep information on the smartphone secure. These include, to name a few, anonymous search, automatic disabling of non-trusted WiFi hotspots, and private texting, calling and file transfer capabilities. 

Silent Circle said it also bundles around $700 of additional security features with Blackphone, which are subscription-free for 24 months. These include Silent Circle's own application suite, including three subscriptions to give away to friends and family, Spideroak encrypted data backup with 2GB of free storage each month, and 1GB per month of free Disconnect storage.

Blackphone runs PrivatOS

While this all sounds quite complex and like there's a lot of setting up to do, we quickly managed to get to grips with the Blackphone, which seems to work just as smoothly - if not more so - than other Android smartphones on the market. What's more, Hyder said that upon switching on the device for the first time, a setup wizard will take a user through the registration process for each app, with these "just working" once this is finished.

These features will no doubt be a massive selling point for those looking for a phone that will truly allow them to manage their privacy, and thanks to the handset's easy setup process and clean user interface, it's likely that anybody will be able to get to grips with the device.

The phone, beyond its dedicated security features, ships with very few apps installed, but Hyder told The INQUIRER that the one's that are there arrive fully secured. There's the usual slew of Android apps you'd expect to find, such as Camera, Calendar and Music, but you won't find any of the other bloatware often found on other devices. Of course, more apps can be downloaded, and Silent Circle promised that it will fully secure these.

Blackphone apps

On the hardware side of things, the Blackphone is nothing to shout home about, but for those in the market for an 'NSA-proof' phone that likely will not matter much. The device is crafted from a toughened plastic material, with a glossy plastic dressing the front of the phone. It's a very simple looking phone, but looks are not what the Blackphone is about.

The Blackphone touts a 4.7in HD IPS touchscreen at its front, which is plenty crisp and vibrant enough, while there's a quad-core 2GHz chip under the bonnet, 2GB RAM and 16GB of internal storage. There's also an 8MP camera on its rear, but we have yet to put this to the test.

Blackphone design

Overall, while it's hard to get excited about the design and features of the Blackphone, that is not what this device is about. Those after a phone that will fully protect their privacy should be interested, however, as what Silent Circle is promising is something that has yet to be done in the smartphone market.

While it's quite pricey at $629, Silent Circle might point to the $700 worth of applications that are included free, a deal that you won't find on another Android based smartphone. µ


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