Silent Circle Launches Security-Focused Blackphone 2 Ahead Of Blackberry Priv

Silent Circle announced the Blackphone 2. The new model comes with a 64-bit octa-core processor, the "Spaces" feature to create up to four isolated environments, and access to the Google Play Store.

Security And Updates

Silent Circle created the Blackphone in a time when Android phones weren't getting too many security updates, or the updates came too late to be effective for a phone that's supposed to protect the privacy and security of activists or enterprise users. Things have changed a little since then, with the discovery of the Stagefright vulnerabilities, but not significantly more.

The Blackphone's primary focus is strong security and privacy through secure communications applications, but also by having an OS that better protects against hacking and can be patched up as soon as a new vulnerability is discovered and before it can affect too many users. This makes it much better suited for activists and journalists, but also for enterprise customers where data security is critical.

Specs And Price

The Blackphone 2 comes with a premium flagship price tag of $799, but its processor doesn't seem to jibe much with that cost. The device uses an octa-core Snapdragon 615, which utilizes the lower-end Cortex-A53 CPU cores (although clocked at up to 1.7 GHz). This is a strange choice considering that this is a device that's supposed to deal with so much encryption and with multiple isolated domains at the chip level and thus should have as much performance as possible.

Other features include a 5.5" 1080p display protected by Gorilla Glass 3, 32 GB of storage, microSD support for another 128 GB, 3 GB of RAM, a 13MP camera on the back, and a 5MP camera on the front. The phone also has a 3,060 mAh battery and LTE support.

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Header Cell - Column 0 Silent Circle Blackphone 2
SoC64-bit Snapdragon 615 1.7 GHz octa-core
Screen5.5" IPS
Resolution1920 x 1080
Storage32 GB
microSD supportYes (up to 128 GB)
LTE supportYes
Battery3,060 mAh
OSSilent OS (Android 5.1.1-based)

Blackphone 2 vs BlackBerry Priv

The Blackphone 2 may not be the only game in town anymore when it comes to easily accessible sub-$1,000 security-focused smartphones, as BlackBerry plans to introduce its own secure phone soon, called the BlackBerry Priv. Not much is officially known about it yet, but one way in which the Priv one-ups the Blackphone 2 is by using a hardened kernel by applying the well known and highly-effective Grsecurity suite of exploit mitigations.

Blackphone 2's isolated "Spaces" is a strong security feature in its own right as well, because it can keep personal stuff and work completely separated from each other, so if you get infected in one environment, the malware can't cross into the other environment. However, not having a well protected kernel can also lead to serious vulnerabilities and exploits, and each environment could get hacked more easily. This is why we have competition, though, and both companies can learn from each other as they build their next-generation devices and operating systems.

Blackphone 2 also continues to have better support for end-to-end encrypted calls and texts by default, although now that the BlackBerry Priv is based on Android, it could also get access to either the Silent Phone app from the Play Store or the open source TextSecure and RedPhone apps made by Open Whisper Systems.

The competition for security-focused devices seems to be heating up, and this should ultimately bring more security enhancements to the mainstream Android operating system, especially if companies such as Silent Circle and BlackBerry contribute back to the community and open source their code.

Silent Circle's Blackphone 2 can now be purchased in North America from the company's web store for $799.

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Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.