[alert type=alert-blue]Technical details[/alert]

Price: £529.99

OS BlackBerry 10.3

Processor 2.2GHz quad-core

Screen 4.5 inches

Resolution 1440 x 1440-pixels

Memory 3GB RAM

Storage 32GB

Micro SD compatible? Yes

Camera 13MP rear-facing, 2MP front-facing

Video 1080p

Connectivity 4G

Dimensions 128 x 90.3 x 9.3 mm

Weight 194g

Battery 3,450 mAh

[alert type=alert-blue]Introduction[/alert]

The importance of the BlackBerry Passport cannot be downplayed. It comes at a tumultuous time for the Canadian manufacturer, which currently faces an uncertain future as its profits dwindle and its position in the smartphone market continues to decline.

A year after the release of the underwhelming Z30, the BlackBerry Passport sees it forging new ground aesthetically whilst also attempting to retain its core user base. The result is a premium device with a perfectly square display and the best specs ever for a BlackBerry handset. As usual, productivity comes first for the company, but will the BlackBerry Passport appeal to users beyond the boardroom?

[alert type=alert-blue]Design[/alert]

The first thing that most onlookers will be struck by is the square display and large dimensions of the BlackBerry Passport – it is approximately the size of an actual passport. These factors combine to make it heavy and virtually impossible to navigate with one hand. Although BlackBerry envisions its home as the office, we are still in the camp that believes that a mobile phone should offer mobility. After all, we have productivity-oriented tablets for the office now.

The BlackBerry Passport has a square screen, which measures 4.5 inches x 4.5 inches, making it 0.5 inches bigger than the iPhone 5S’ display in both its width and height. Underneath it you will find a classic, and compact, QWERTY keyboard. It may help it stand out from the crowd, but ultimately its form factor just looks odd – like a resizing exercise gone horribly wrong.

blackberry_passport

However, if it’s a premium device you want then the BlackBerry Passport delivers. Its stainless steel frame and matte black finish not only mean that it looks professional, but combine that with its bulky dimensions and you have a durable device. The Passport looks tough, we wouldn’t be surprised if it survived in the hands of even the clumsiest of users. Comparatively speaking, that sets it apart from some of its biggest rivals. We certainly can’t say the same about the iPhone 6 Plus, especially in light of the recent ‘bendgate’ controversy – which saw Apple on the back foot for once, as consumers took to online forums and social media to deride its easily bendable phablet. At 194g, the BlackBerry Passport won’t appeal to fans of lightweight handsets. Consequently, it is heavier than every major flagship smartphone on the market.

Despite containing a classic physical keyboard, which is easy and perfectly satisfying to use, you have to resort to touch controls when entering symbols and numbers. Additionally, users must also navigate the UI using touch controls on the screen. However, you can also swipe up and down on the keyboard to scroll through web pages and selected apps. This may sound problematic on paper but works relatively well on the device. Scrolling via the keyboard in particular is sensitive and easy-to-use. Once you get the hang of it, switching back and forth is not a hassle either.

[alert type=alert-blue]Performance[/alert]

ps-21

The Passport’s defining (and divisive) factor is its display. Depending on how you use the handset, you’ll either love it or hate it. Although it offers a solid resolution (1440 x1440), the blackBerry Passport is more useful for viewing documents than media. The latter, such as YouTube videos, suffer at the hands of its odd aspect ratio – videos consequently appear in a widescreen format with large black blocks on the top and bottom cutting off that extra space. The likes of Twitter and Facebook, on the other hand, have been optimised for the handset and benefit from the larger display. As too does web browsing.

Apps inevitably perform well considering the premium specs the BlackBerry Passport brings to the table. These include a 2.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB RAM and a 13MP camera. The display also offers a stunning 453 pixels per inch. The non-removable battery is extremely powerful and can last for up to 30 hours on a single charge. All of these specs are a first for BlackBerry and outdo every other device in its lineup.

[alert type=alert-blue]Software[/alert]

The BlackBerry Passport comes with an updated OS; BlackBerry 10.3. This finds the company playing catch up with the likes of Apple, Google and Windows by introducing its own BlackBerry Assistant – which is a useful feature on a bigger device like the BlackBerry Passport. It is accessible via the menu icon or by holding down a small physical button, located between the volume control buttons on the right hand side of the phone. You can either enter text or use voice commands to get the assistant to carry out tasks.

We asked the assistant a series of questions and found that it had no rouble detecting our queries. It also found answers to even the most obscure questions relatively quickly. Our series of questions included: “what movies are showing this week?”, “tell me about new Zealand?”, “what will the weather be like tomorrow?”, “what Japanese restaurants are nearby?” and “who directed Something Wild?”. The latter we thought was a particularly random question, but sure enough the blackBerry Assistant referred us to a Wikipedia page on Jonathan Demme – result! Additionally, you can ask the assistant about anything ranging from sports results to navigation queries. You can also dictate texts, BBM messages and emails.

To its credit, the BlackBerry Passport manages to cram in a lot of information on its display and is obsessed with notifications. The lock screen contains icons for email, events, Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. Additionally, it also displays your most recent alert. The larger display means that despite this information overload the screen still does not look even remotely cluttered.

The BlackBerry Hub is your one-stop shop for all your notifications. Simply swipe to center of the display from the right to access it. There you will find your emails, BBM messages and social network notifications all arranged in a single timeline. For those looking for some order to the chaos, it also allows you to archive messages in custom folders, search through the timeline for specific entries and filter results according to the type of notification you wish to view. You can also preview the calendar and upcoming events by swiping down from the top of the screen when in the Hub. Think of it as a more comprehensive version of the iOS Notification Center.

Taking that one step further, BlackBerry has also introduced a new standout feature called BlackBerry Blend, which allows you to access your notifications across devices and platforms. Once installed on one or more of those systems, Blend lets you get BBM messages, texts, and emails on that device, while also allowing you to access files, calendars and contacts on that platform. Furthermore, it works across operating systems including Mac OS, and Android and iOS tablets.

Blackberry-Blend

We found Blend relatively easy to set up on our work (Mac) desktop. Before starting make sure your BlackBerry Blend app is up to date. Open BlackBerry World, select ‘My apps & games’ and the update screen should appear. Click the icon arrow next to the blend app to begin the quick update.

When you first log in, you’re instructed to head to the Blend page on BlackBerry’s website. We chose to install it on our work Mac desktop. The program file was 117mb and took just over a minute to download. An additional minute was required to install the software, after which we were prompted to restart our Mac.

When you open BlackBerry Blend you must enter your BB ID details, you are then sent a passkey to your Passport which must match with the one on your third-party device. If it is indeed correct, then simply click yes on both devices and you’re good to go.

The desktop and tablet version of Blend is certainly more accessible than the Hub, as you have a bigger screen to view it on. It’s design is similar to most conventional email clients, but it also offers access to BBM and text messages via a side-bar. If you’ve got multiple email accounts set up on your device, it’s also a convenient place to access them all. In terms of tasks, you can compose, trash, mark unread, flag and file emails.

The options for BBM and text messages are far fewer, but at least you can still add emoticons. When using the search function you can filter results by sender or recipient, subject and message along with a few additional options as well.

Overall, BlackBerry Blend is a comprehensive offering. Apple has aimed for this type of synchronicity on its own devices and Android users can achieve it via third-party apps such as PushBullet, but – simply put – BlackBerry has outdone them both with the scale and breadth of Blend. We wouldn’t be surprised if the BlackBerry Passport is remembered for this feature alone when the hype finally settles.

Aside from the innovative keyboard, the BlackBerry Passport feature that casual users will appreciate the most is the Amazon Appstore. Although the BlackBerry World store is still intact, users now have access to an additional 200,000 apps thanks to the inclusion of Amazon’s app library. As a result, popular apps and games such as Pinterest, Candy Crush Saga and Minecraft have made it onto BlackBerry devices for the first time ever. The option to access two stores rather than one is definitely a plus, but even with their combined libraries they still do not offer the staggering amount of content available on the Google Play Store and iOS App Store – which boast around 1.3 million apps respectively.

[alert type=alert-blue]Camera[/alert]

Although BlackBerry boats this is the best camera for one of its devices, the functions and quality of the 13MP lens on the BlackBerry Passport doesn’t match the likes of the Nokia Lumia 930, Sony Xperia Z2 or LG G3.

Instead of nitpicking, let’s instead focus on what is available here. The camera app is accessible via the menu and a shortcut on the bottom right-hand side of the display. It opens quickly and has four main icons on the display, including the option to switch between the front and rear cameras, the large capture icon, video, and more options. Additionally, you can also reach your photo gallery from the main display.

In terms of functions, the camera on the BlackBerry Passport offers four self-explanatory modes or ‘scenes’ – auto, action, whiteboard, night, beach or snow. Other capture modes include normal, time shift, burst mode (for several photos at once), and panorama. Most of these don’t offer anything new. Time shift, however, is particularly useful when taking images of people as it captures several photos at a time and allows you to choose the exact moment you want to keep. It’s hard to describe in words, but basically means you can tinker with a photo of someone (via an on-screen dial) to change it to a better realisation if, for example, they have their eyes closed.

For photography enthusiasts, there is also the option to change aspect ratio, flash settings and to enable HDR and set a timer. Video recording is at 1080p and 60fps – you can also take photos whilst recording.

Most of these functions are available on other BlackBerry devices since the rollout of BlackBerry 10, so the major upgrade here is in terms of power.

[alert type=alert-blue]Usability[/alert]


blackberry-passport-3

The large width of the BlackBerry Passport means it is impractical to use on the go. Unless you have huge fingers, you will have a hard time navigating its large frame single-handed. Add to that its other dimensions and you have a bulky device that is better suited to the boardroom or office desk than the commute to work. It’s as though BlackBerry forgot the definition of mobile.

We expect that even the most ardent BlackBerry fans will be bemused by its appearance at first glance. Although we must admit that once you begin using the BlackBerry Passport it does grow on you – but that’s mainly due to its functionality.

Perhaps when you overcome the initial learning (and handling) curve you will never want to go back to rectangular-shaped phones again. Ultimately, it will boil down to preference. If the risk pays off, BlackBerry could build upon the Passport to create a better device (and maybe even a square range) or, if it is indeed a hit with its own cult fanbase, it may continue churning out – and improving – the BlackBerry Passport. Either way, we remain cautiously optimistic about its future. Design innovation often comes through risk-taking and learning from your mistakes. For now, however, we’ll take the conventional likes of the HTC One M8 and iPhone 6 over the BlackBerry Passport any day.

[alert type=alert-blue]Conclusion[/alert]

If you can overlook its odd design, the BlackBerry Passport is a premium device by anyone’s standards. It has the best specs the manufacturer has ever delivered and top-of-the-range materials that make up its metallic aesthetic. We have to admit that we’re not the biggest fans of its OS from a design perspective, but there’s so much on offer here and the BlackBerry Passport handles each and every task so well that even we were won over.

The focus on productivity, on the other hand, is less progressive and more of a bid toward its core enterprise crowd – which itself was under threat, seeing as productivity apps and features are now available on Android devices and iPhones, not to mention superior tablets such as the Microsoft Surface Pro 3.

When faced with the final product – and what is a weirdly distorted device –  the result becomes quite baffling rather than potentially great. We agree that BlackBerry urgently needed a change or some sort of catalyst to make it relevant again. The BlackBerry Passport won’t bring it the new fans it so desperately needs, but it could help retain the enterprise users that may have been swayed by the rival products mentioned above – meaning BlackBerry may live to fight another day.

[alert type=alert-blue]Verdict[/alert]

If you’re a business user, BlackBerry has just delivered the phone of your dreams in terms of functionality. For everyone else, the BlackBerry Passport is far too impractical and productivity-oriented to use on a daily basis.

Saqib Shah

Tech/gaming journalist for What Mobile magazine and website. Interests include film, digital media and foreign affairs.
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