For the first time ever, BlackBerry is straying away from its comfort zone.

Instead of running the company's in-house BlackBerry mobile OS, its newest phone, the Priv, is the first device from the company to run Android.

Don't be fooled though. The Priv is still distinctly BlackBerry. There's the dark classy look, the robust security, BlackBerry apps like BBM and Hub, and the company's signature physical keyboard.

But BlackBerry loyalists (yes, they still exist) aren't numerous enough to save the company's dwindling smartphone business and keep the company relevant. 

But thankfully for BlackBerry, the Priv will please Android lovers too if they can swallow the $700 price tag when it goes on sale this week. It's the first time in several years BlackBerry has made a device with broad appeal outside corporations or government organizations.

Look and feel

At first glance, you'd never be able to guess the Priv has a slide-out keyboard.

The phone isn't excessively large, wide, or thick considering its 5.4-inch screen. It might be slightly heavier than some phones, but it's surprisingly light despite the keyboard and the sliding mechanism hiding behind the screen.

With its dark aesthetics, silver accents, and slightly curved screen at the edges, the Priv is as handsome as phones get, but it doesn't feel quite as solid or well built as the HTC One A9. Still, it feels premium and comfortable to hold, and the rubbery back gives the Priv the most grip I've experienced on a smartphone. The extra grip also helps with sliding the keyboard up and down with one hand.

blackberry priv backAntonio Villas-Boas/Tech Insider

Keyboard and security

If a phone's going to have a physical keyboard these days, the slide-out design is clearly the way to go. It gives you the option to use the physical keyboard for when you might need it, like writing long emails, while allowing the Priv to don a large touchscreen. Previous BlackBerry phones with keyboards had relatively small screens because the keyboard took up half the phone, which looked sad next to phones with bigger screens. 

The Priv gives you the best of both worlds. It's a modern smartphone with a large, vibrant touchscreen for most tasks and a classic keyboard for more accurate typing.

BlackBerry Priv android keyboard physicalAntonio Villas-Boas/Tech Insider

The best part of it all is that it just doesn't feel like there's a physical keyboard hiding under the screen. You could theoretically use the Priv without ever needing to slide the keyboard out.

I'm personally much more comfortable typing with touchscreen keyboards than with a tiny physical keyboard, but it's something I could get used to. It's nice to reply to a text, chat, or email with the entire screen available to me instead of cutting off some content because of the on-screen virtual keyboard.

Blackberry priv android phone keyboard slide outAntonio Villas-Boas/Tech Insider

In terms of security, BlackBerry can't be matched. But the same can't be said about Android, which has a shaky track record when it comes to bugs and hacks. Thankfully, everything on the Priv is locked down with BlackBerry's robust proprietary encryption. The Priv will also receive monthly security updates from Google much quicker than most Android phones, as the updates won't need to go through your carrier's software approval process.

The Priv also comes with an app called DTEK that is great for identifying apps with questionable behavior. For example, it can alert you if one of your apps is tracking your location without permission and send you an alert. At the same time, as long as you download apps straight from the official Google Play app store, you'll probably be fine and never need to use DTEK.

blackberry priv android dtek security appAntonio Villas-Boas/Tech Insider

Android and performance

The good news: Unlike most Android phones out there, BlackBerry didn't make heavy modifications to Android on the Priv. It looks and functions just like the "pure" version of Android Google uses on its own excellent Nexus phones.

The bad news: The Priv runs an outdated version of Android called Lollipop, but BlackBerry says a software update to the current version, called Marshmallow, is coming soon. 

Along with Google's apps, BlackBerry added some of its own software, like the aforementioned DTEK, good ol' BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), and BlackBerry Hub, an app that manages alerts and updates for standard services like mail, calendar, and social networks. I thought that having all of my communications, including emails, texts, and social media notifications all in one place on BlackBerry Hub would be overwhelming, but it's great, and I can see myself using it more often.

blackberry priv blackberry hub shortcut sliderAntonio Villas-Boas/Tech Insider

The Priv isn't quite as snappy as the new Nexus phones, and it had a mini meltdown while I was using Spotify and trying to get directions using Google Maps. Otherwise, it's been smooth sailing with a few stutters here and there ever since I started using it.

The 18-megapixel camera is excellent. From my test shots, the Priv took well-exposed pictures with good sharpness, but not as much as the Google's new Nexus 6P. The colors are rich and accurate, too, and I'd be happy to use the Priv as my main shooter.blackberry priv camera testAntonio Villas-Boas/Tech Insider

Is it a winner?

The BlackBerry Priv is a solid performer with good looks, unique and robust features, and a great camera. The only thing that lets it down is the $700 price tag.

That's pricey for an Android phone, especially when others like Google's new Nexus phones, Motorola's Moto X Pure, and HTC One A9 offer an overall similar experience for under $500. You'd essentially be spending an extra $200 or so for the slide-out keyboard and the promise of BlackBerry's security.

Still, Apple, Samsung, LG, and HTC have shown that people are willing to spend $650+ for smartphones, so there's always a chance people will pony up.

And if you find yourself longing for a phone with a physical keyboard that can still run all your favorite apps, the Priv is pretty much your only option.