It’s not often that I geek out about a phone, but the Blackphone with Silent Circle technology is definitely worth getting excited about. As the Chief Architect, Mike Kershaw, put it: “This is the first phone built from the ground up with security in mind”. The Blackphone is a product of a joint venture by Silent Circle, which provides many of the apps on the device, and GeeksPhone, which specializes in the development of open source phones
Previously, having a secure device meant installing apps post-purchase. Everything on the Blackphone, from SMS to calls, is encrypted. The only catch is that the person you are texting or calling must also have Silent Circle technology on their phone to fully encrypt the data. For now, Blackphone is being marketed with two years of Silent Circle technology and a complimentary three passes for one-year usage that you can give to friends or family, thus extending the reach of the Silent Circle technology and securing your data more completely.
The device runs on a modified Android OS. For now, it’s unclear which version of Android it will run on, as 4.4.2 stripped many of the permissions controls that previous versions of Android included. So Blackphone will have to decide what version can best support the encryption services they offer. The Silent Circle apps can be described in one word: encrypted. The text, storage by SpiderOak, and VPN by Disconnect are all encrypted, as are all of the native apps. The Silent Contacts functionality encrypts your contacts and stores them independently of the native Android contacts application, again with the aim of protecting your information from the prying eyes of data collectors.
Two of the apps that Mike showed off were the Security Dashboard and Smarter Wi-Fi. The Security Dashboard scans your phone and tells you which apps are requesting which data from your phone, including access to contacts, geolocation, etc. It might make sense for Google Maps to have your geolocation, but not for games like Angry Birds. So, with a swipe, you can disallow access to personal information that isn’t relevant to your usage of that app. Smarter Wi-Fi starts to learn when and where you use Wi-Fi to access the web. When you’re not in range of a particular network, it shuts down the connection, which prevents your data from being unexpectedly collected by any networks that you may be near. Once your data has been collected, it can be used for any purpose. So, Smarter Wi-Fi aims to stem the leakage of data.
What makes the phone extra cool is that it’s unlocked, from the start. There are no software or hardware blocks that will impede end users from using the device out of the box. It’s unclear what bands are in the phone, as that information is not listed on the site, but the representatives at the Blackphone booth assured me that it should be accessible to end users around the globe. It’s being marketed as having HSPA+ and LTE capabilities.
The phone comes with solid basic specs, including a 4.7″ HD IPS display, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, 8 MP+ rear camera, 16 GB on-board storage (expandable with SD), and 2 GB RAM. You can pre-order the device on Blackphone’s website, but it won’t ship until June. If you order now, the device costs $629 USD. It’s a bit steep considering the specs but the you pay the premium for the security.
You can check out the entire gallery of the pictures of the Blackphone stall from the MWC 2014 in Barcelona below!