Blackphone 2, world’s first secure smartphone to send encrypted messages, launches in Hong Kong

Advanced 4G smartphone offers consumers the means “to take back control of their privacy”

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 September, 2015, 1:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 September, 2015, 8:21pm

Blackphone 2, the new model of the world’s first smartphone specifically designed to deliver privacy and security, is available from today in selected markets around the world, including Hong Kong.

This advanced 4G smartphone marks a big departure within the Android market as it eschews candy colours, emoji keyboards and fancy curved displays to focus on enterprise-class security.

“Most of the Android [ecosystem] focus has been clearly on the consumer,” Bill Conner, the president and chief executive at Blackphone 2 maker Silent Circle, told the South China Morning Post. “What we’re trying to take a leadership role for Android is in the enterprise space.”

Conner said Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea represent the initial markets in Asia where Silent Circle will push for Blackphone 2 enterprise deployments.

Blackphone 2 runs Silent OS - an enhanced version of Google’s Android operating system — to provide full encryption by default. That means even selfies taken and sent by a user through this device are encrypted.

Conner said Blackphone 2 offers both enterprises and consumers the means “to take back control of their privacy” amid the current environment where it is often at risk.

“Today our privacy is increasingly threatened by governments, businesses and individuals”, Conner said. “In addition, the growing number of companies where employees work on their own devices in and out of the office means that it is ever more vital to build smartphones that deliver on privacy.”

Silent Circle, which is based in Switzerland, has not provided information on its local distributor or mobile network partner in Hong Kong.

With a recommended global retail price of US$799, the Blackphone 2 improves upon the critically lauded, first-generation Blackphone released early last year.

The new “Spaces” function provides users with the ability to build separate, secure environments for their critical business data, personal information and even social applications, such as WhatsApp, within Blackphone 2.

It [Hong Kong] will be a very good hub for us [in Asia-Pacific] because it is a market that is very keen on innovation
Silent Circle chief scientist Javier Aguera

It comes pre-loaded with Silent Phone - Silent Circle’s private communications mobile app - that offers encrypted voice calls, teleconferencing and video conferencing, as well as secure text and file transfers.

Blackphone 2’s Security Centre setup enables users to easily manage their privacy and security settings in one place. A user can fine-tune the individual app permissions and the data the apps have access to. The “remote wipe” setting allows a user to erase all the content of the smartphone if it is lost or stolen.

By default, Blackphone 2 only allows installation of new apps from Silent Circle’s own app store and Google Play.

The device features the Snapdragon octa-core processor from Qualcomm, 3 gigabytes of random access memory, 32GB of internal storage, a removable Micro SD card slot to boost storage capacity up to 128GB, a 5.5-inch Gorilla Glass touch screen, and a 13-megapixel back camera and 5MP front camera. It supports 11 languages, including simplified and traditional Chinese.

Conner said Blackphone 2 is ready for enterprise deployment, with support for Google’s “Android For Work” program and seamless integration with Google’s suite of online applications.

The first iteration of Blackphone was launched early last year by SGP Technologies amid much fanfare as the first smartphone with tools to counter unauthorised surveillance, commercial exploitation of activity data, and the loss of privacy. It was honoured by Time magazine as one of the “Best 25 Inventions of 2014”.

That model, which cost upwards of US$629, had pre-installed privacy tools, all of which are fully enabled for at least two years of usage.

In an interview in July, Silent Circle chief scientist Javier Aguera said Hong Kong’s role as an international business centre and reputation as one of the more advanced mobile markets worldwide made it a prime target for introducing the new-generation Blackphone.

“Hong Kong has tight links with the financial sector, and we already have many financial institutions working with our solutions,” Aguera said. “It will be a very good hub for us [in Asia-Pacific] because it is a market that is very keen on innovation.”