One of the lasting impacts of the Snowden revelations last year has been a renewed focus and interest in smartphones that can actually secure user data from various prying eyes. The Blackphone purports to be one such device with a custom Android fork, dubbed PrivOS, and a collection of default applications that give the user a great deal of control over how information is used. Many of the tools are available from the Amazon App Store or on Google Play, but the Blackphone includes a two year subscription to Silent Circle’s Friends and Family privacy services (Silent Circle is an encryption communication provider).
Ars Technica has a full review of the device and its capabilities, and they come back impressed — for a first-generation device, the Blackphone is well-secured and neatly buttoned up with only a minimal attack profile to begin with. The staff wasn’t able to hack the device or convince it to turn over any information that would enable them to do so — the only thing they were able to pick up was that the phone was connecting to Silent Circle’s servers.
What’s also interesting about the Blackphone is that it’s the first device (or one of the first, at least) to be based on Nvidia’s Tegra 4i. The Tegra 4i was announced 18 months ago, but was held up almost indefinitely due to manufacturing delays and then modem validation issues. Details have been extremely scarce regarding the fate of the product, so it’s interesting to finally see some shipping silicon.
According to the review, the Blackphone was limited to 3G support, though LTE is supposed to be ready by the time the Blackphone ships in volume. This issue was blamed on the relative newness of PrivOS rather than any underlying problem with the Tegra 4i’s unique, software-defined Icera modem. There were also issues with network switching while on a call, though again, the cause isn’t specified.
As for the Tegra 4i’s performance, benchmark results show it lagging well behind today’s high-end devices, but not absurdly so. Remember, this is a quad-core Cortex-A9 phone, not a modern Cortex-A15 class product — if put against other devices in its hardware division, these scores would be reasonable.
GPU performance is stronger in absolute terms, where the 60-core Tegra 4i GPU competes fairly well against other high-end phones. Either way, the experience looks reasonably good — the Tegra 4i may not compete with the Galaxy S5 or iPhone 5S, but it’d be a runaway victor if compared against phones from 2012 or so.
The Blackphone had no trouble meeting its preorder goals or fundraiser targets, so it’s clear that there’s a market for the product. The manufacturers have made it clear that this isn’t an NSA-proof phone — the idea is to give individuals more control over their own privacy and data settings rather than any attempt to go head-to-head with the national security infrastructure. Even so, it’ll be interesting to see if that market is strong enough to drive real interest in the platform over time — these are the kind of hooks that might motivate someone to jump ship for Android if future versions of the device clear up some of the rough edges and improve the final product.
Source : Extreme Tech