Let’s talk about the comeback of a “once upon a time” hero – BlackBerry with the BlackBerry Passport.
Pros: powerful hardware, clever keyboard which brings great experience for editing and reading.
Cons: the awkward square shape, lack of several key apps which can be easily found on Play Store of Google.
Bottom Line: BlackBerry focuses on making a great physical keyboard for the product but forgets to make a comfortable-to-use device.
The BlackBerry Passport plainly is an efficient product, which is the symbolic feature of the BlackBerry: professional and business-focused. With a powerful hardware, some smart features and a great operating system BlackBerry OS 10.3, the device is surely a strong competitor in the elite smartphone range.
The BlackBerry Passport shall be on sale with the price of $599 for the US market, €649 for the France and Germany market, £529 for UK market and CND$699 for the Canada market. For Australia market, the Passport is brought to customers exclusively by Optus with the price of AU$899.
Design and Specs
The BlackBerry Passport is featuring with a distinctive square shape – which is nearly the same as the US passport. This shape shall immediately draw attention from everyone when you are holding the device. The phone is 3.5 inches wide, which is wider than many big-sizes smartphone such as the IPhone 6 Plus and the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. However, both these 2 competitor devices offer larger screen displays than the one on BlackBerry Passport (BlackBerry Passport has 4.5-inch screen, iPhone 6 Plus has 5.5-inch screen and the Note 3 has 5.7-inch screen).
But be aware that the BlackBerry’s targeting customers are totally different from the market-niche of these 2 abovementioned products: the BlackBerry Passport is created mainly for nebulous “professional” consumer. If you still fall into a physical keyboard – which has been forgotten for so long nowadays, the BlackBerry Passport is definitely a go-to for you.
Previously, there were several devices attempting the full-QWERTY keyboard with the somewhat odd square shape such as Acer BeTouch E210 or the HTC ChaCha, but the effect was not strong. However, things are totally different with the BlackBerry Passport. The device looks really sharp with stainless-steel frame, which brings a premium feeling for customers when holding the phone. Also, the Passport can comfortably sit in the pocket.
The square screen display of the BlackBerry Passport is in 4.5-inch size with resolution at 1440 x 1440 pixel and 453 ppi pixel density. The screen is gorgeous, and with such width, it can display around 60 characters on each line. This is nearly close to the print industry standard, where 66 characters each line is considered optimal. Thus, the Passport brings great reading experience to the readers.
The display quality is good with crispy text, vivid and true-to-life colors. The screen can also be very viewable under both indoor and outdoor as it is a glossy IPS LCD. Of course, under direct sunlight, this level shall go down a bit.
Physical keyboard is somewhat inseparable with the BlackBerry device. With the BlackBerry Passport, BlackBerry has brought things up to a higher level. The familiar 4-row keyboard (which was seen on the BlackBerry Bold/BlackBerry Q10) is now replaced by the new 3-row keyboard. This means a mix of virtual and physical keyboard, with context-sensitive row located on the display’s bottom edge.
The physical keyboard of the BlackBerry Passport has been “enriched” with some smart gestures and features. Firstly, this keyboard is touch-enabled, which works pretty well. Predictive text is also a useful feature for faster typing, though it requires some practice to get used to. When it comes to document editing, my experience is very satisfying. The magnifying glass shall immediately appear just by slightly double-tapping on the keyboard. Then, the keyboard can be used as a touchpad or a cursor. All functions are smoothly and precisely operated. However, please be noticed that you still need to use 2 hands to manage things with this Passport due to its abnormal width.
Software and features
The operating system being shipped with the BlackBerry Passport is the BlackBerry OS 10.3. This system is really strong and powerful, except the limited app selection. However, good news is that some Android apps can also run on this BlackBerry OS. Amazon Appstore is pre-installed on the phone, and users can download apps they need as what they often do with Android handset. Unfortunately, Google Play Store is not available and thus, users are blocked to an ocean of applications provided on this market. For me, it’s a true sadness as all my favorit Android games and apps cannot be found. Luckily, as mentioned before, as some Android apps can run on the Passport, if you have APK file of the app, problems are solved!
BlackBerry already offered their native mail and calendar applications for the Passport. The only Google service can be found on Amazon Appstore is the Google Talk. But it lacks many new features such as free SMS and free voice calls. Of course, BlackBerry’s BBM is available and it welcomes the join of users from Android, iOS and Windows Phone.
The square display may not optimize with some apps, and in this case, this will look quite odd (such as the Angry Birds).
The BlackBerry 10.3 OS
If you are happy enough for the BlackBerry’s ecosystem, the BlackBerry 10.3 OS surely shall not disappoint you. The handset does a great job on emailing and messaging, which has been the strong point of BlackBerry from the beginning.
Users can be able to rapidly respond to many frequently-used actions such as messaging, emailing or file managing by Instant Actions – the sidebar on the right of the hub. The Priority Hub, which is similar to priority inbox of Gmail, shall let you quickly access your important messages as you flag them.
Other useful gestures to mention are: swiping down with 1 finger from the screen top to access app setting, swiping down with 2 fingers from the screen top to access general phone settings and swiping up from the screen bottom to minimize an app or access multitasking screen.
Similar to Siri for Apple iPhone, Google Now for Android phones and Cortana for Windows Phones, the BlackBerry Assistant is for BlackBerry phones. Users can call for their assistant by pressing on the voice assist button then start talking with it. With the help from this assistant, they can order the phone create calendar events, send text message/ emails or dictate notes. Users can even order their assistant to activate some hardware functions such as turning on flashlight. However, it requires quite a long time to handle the orders with the Assistant: around 10 seconds.
The hardware of the BlackBerry Passport is also a spotlight as it is equipped with a quad-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 CPU processor and a 3GB RAM. This kind of CPU is the same as what you can find in the Samsung Galaxy S5. The processor helps the phone handle flawlessly even with graphics-intensive games.
Internal storage being offered on the Passport is 32GB and it can be expanded up to 128GB more by microSD cards.
As my test for call quality on AT&T network and in San Francisco, everything was great. My calling partner sounded clear and loud, and they feel the same about my end.
Premium phone trimmings such as NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, 802.11 b/g/n+ac Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi direct and Miracast are all supported on the Passport.
A clever feature can be noted on the Passport is the microphone in earpiece of the phone – which measures sound pressure inside user’s ear to dynamically adjust volume, which shall very helpful in enhancing conversation experience.
The speakerphone of the BlackBerry passport is also very good. Though it’s a little light on bass, the conversations come through clear and loud. However, I would not recommend this one for music.
Regarding battery life, the device is powered with a 3,450mAh battery, which can last up to 12 hours of video streaming and 18 hours of talking time. According to the real results of or battery drain test, the Passport lasted impressively up to 26 hours and 41 mins of non-stop talking time.
Actually, I did not expect a good camera on the Passport. But I was pleasantly surprised with the camera here as the autofocus is not sluggish and the taken shots are fairly nice. The phone also will suggest some tricks to enhance the quality the captured products. For example, it will suggest the “Time Shift” mode to take continuous shots of faces so as to capture the right face when the cam detects one.
However, the annoying thing may be due to the shutter sound since we have no way to disable it.
I didn’t think that I will like the BlackBerry Passport this much as it is truly a fantastic phone for me. The sturdy outlook brings me the feeling of a proper professional and the clever keyboard helps me much on easy handling with text-heavy tasks. With this device, my response time to emails or texts is dramatically increased and this surprises many of my friends and colleagues. The BlackBerry’s ecosystem is not bothering me as I can access enough good apps here, no need for the further expansion from Google Play Store.
The only one thing that annoys me is the ridiculous width of the phone, which is not comfortable to hold or manage.