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Blackberry Passport: first impressions

News by admin on Wednesday September 24, 2014.

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Blackberry Passport
Blackberry Passport

We have known about the device for some time, but Blackberry has today launched the Passport smartphone, a handset that instantly goes down as one of the most unique on the market. This is the smartphone with the square screen, the one Blackberry says will cement its reputation with the enterprise market and may even spring a few surprises with general consumers. Square, unique, QWERTY keyboard, company fighting back from the brink; the Passport has it all, but is it any good?

Obviously, the huge talking point about this handset its shape, but there is probably a question why Blackberry even made this device? Is the market crying out for this form factor in 2014? The smartphone market in general is not, but Blackberry's consumer base and fans are; the numbers back it up too. The company's older QWERTY packing handsets like the Bold and Curve still outsell the BB10 era offerings such as the Z10 and Z30. Blackberry (or RIM as it was back then) felt compelled to follow the all touchscreen revolution and the result almost killed the company.

The Passport is, then, Blackberry getting back to its roots, putting productivity and enterprise first and trend following firmly second, that's if this device considers trends at all. That means, for the first time since Blackberry strode atop the smartphone world several years ago, this is a handset from the Canadian company worth getting excited about. Luckily, that is not a shallow appreciation either, because the Passport is actually very good.

So, we know why Blackberry has pursued this form factor and gone "hip to be square" on us, but how does that ethos translate to aesthetics. Well, the Passport is a brute for sure, and to our trained candy bar design seeking eyes it throws you at first, but there is no denying it is an imposing device. It is elegant too, in that sort of professional and functional way that all Blackberry's are, while it feels premium in hand thanks to its stainless steel frame (visible on the sides) and soft touch rear plate.

As I said, the Passport is a hefty beast, 128mm tall and 9.3mm thick, and it's on the heavy side at 6.86 ounces (194g), while as you can probably guess, it is wide at 90.3mm. That makes this wider than just about anything out there, with such examples as the iPhone 6 Plus and the Galaxy Note 4 dwarfed by it, so the result is you will know you have this handset in your pocket.

The width is entirely on purpose to accommodate the square screen, a panel that was completely a conscience decision by Blackberry as the company says it is more productive. That's arguably true as 60 characters can be displayed on the screen left to right, making it ideal for those who do a lot of reading of emails, messages, or indeed books.

So, this is a good looking handset, but it is huge and all but throws the notion of using a device one handed out of the window, at least in portrait mode. However, the Passport also has a landscape mode, as odd and as pointless as that may seem on device with a square screen. You won't be changing ratio when you flip the Passport onto its side, but you will get to use the keyboard as a trackpad. It's a nice touch to be able to casually move your thumb around to navigate the screen, and the phone does indeed nestle against the little finger and can be used one handed. That said, I am not sure how long you could conceivably do this before the weight of the Passport starts to take hold.

The QWERTY board (flipped back to portrait now) is typically excellent. Blackberry has been in the physical keyboard market long enough now to know how to get this right, and so it has proved with the Passport. Typing is quick and easy and I found traction across the keys to be rapid and hassle free, although the typing experience and indeed the keyboard are not without their faults. There are no physical number buttons included, with Blackberry opting to offer a virtual strip on the screen instead. This strip is dynamic depending on what you're typing, offering symbols or numbers depending on your activity. Anyone used to typing on older QWERTY packing Blackberry?s will be put off by this and there is definitely a learning curve involved. Likewise, if you are coming to this handset from a touchscreen, switching between virtual and physical while typing is a little confusing. That said, once people get used to this I am sure it will be less of a problem, but at the moment it will likely be frustrating for many users.

The Passport is the first Blackberry device to come with BB10.3, the company's latest mobile operating system. I did not get to spend enough time with the device to make more than a passing judgment on the platform, so I will leave that until the full review. Apps have been a big bug bear for users, or should that be the lack of them on Blackberry devices, and it is still used as a reason not to move to the platform.

It is such a redundant point now that it shocks me that some people even comment on this. Blackberry has the Amazon Market on the device and these days you do not even have to side load apps, instead you are able to download Android apps directly onto the device. I would be lying if I said you can get any app or game you want because there are more available directly through Google's Play Store. However, just about everything you want is there and the perceived notion that there are no apps on Blackberry is nonsense, mainly because most of the apps that are not there are rubbish anyway. Avid mobile gamers may be a little more left out with the Passport, but I doubt many people considering this device are waiting for the latest big budget gaming release for mobile devices.

The device has respectable smartphone specs, such as 1440x1440 4.5-inch HD screen with a pixel per inch density of 453ppi. Elsewhere there is a 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 with 3GB of RAM, 32GB of on board storage, a 13MP camera, a microSD card slot, and a 3450 mAh battery.

I like the Passport, it is good looking, unique, powerful, and because it is reaching to a target audience it hits a lot of the sweet spots it wants to hit. Would I buy one? The truth is I probably won't, but Blackberry has created a love letter to its die-hard fans, the ones who want to stick with the company or come back to it. For them, this is the perfect handset and while it will not become a massive hit for the company, it should maintain its consumer base and may even add a few new faces too.

We will be getting our hands on the Passport for a full review, so we will be able to tell you more about the device then.

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