Reviewed: BlackBerry Passport – All Square?

BlackBerry squares off against the smartphone and tablet market

BlackBerry has endured a tough few years recently, as the company looks to keep pace with an ever-changing and evolving mobile device market. In an attempt to better support its classic keyboard-equipped smartphones, the company has turned to the past for the release of the BlackBerry Passport, a square-shaped device looking to be the ideal solution for both business and consumer customers. But how does the Passport shape up?

BlackBerry_Passport_unboxingFirst Impressions

It’s fair to say that among all other things, the BlackBerry Passport is an eye-catching device, with very little like it around on the market right now.

At first glance, it does look a little odd. Neither smartphone nor tablet, the Passport very loosely fits into the ‘phablet’ category. The 4.5inch screen sits above the now-classic BlackBerry QWERTY keyboard, which now comes equipped with a touch function as well, which lets you scroll and swipe by moving your fingers over the top of the keys.

Designed to fit into the inside pocket of a suit jacket, this is not really a device to be carried around in your trouser pocket. It’s a slightly unusual form factor, but within an hour of use, it does become oddly natural. Those familiar with BlackBerry’s classic handsets will doubtless slip right back in to typing, whereas those of us more used to touchscreen devices can use a mixture of the two interfaces.

The Specs

For a business-focused device, the Passport comes equipped with pretty much everything a worker on the go needs.

It packs a fair bit of power, with Qualcomm’s 2.2GHz Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor and 3GB RAM providing the juice, alongside 32GB of internal memory. This helps light up the Passport’s 1440×1440 HD display, the 453ppi resolution of which is higher than Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus, and also includes Corning Gorilla Glass 3 for added strength.

The Passport is running the latest version of BlackBerry’s BB10.3 operating system (more on which later) and also features a 13 MP OIS rear camera. While not up to scratch compared to the likes of the iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy S5 or the HTC One M8, the camera is perfectly serviceable for everyday photos, and comes with HDR, time shift and panorama functions to capture images when you’re out and about.

Finally, the battery life is strong – lasting over a day’s usage on our tests, which included heaving Wi-Fi access both at home and abroad. BlackBerry says that the 3450 mAh battery is the largest among the top selling smartphones and phablets currently available, and can provide up to 30 hours of use.

The Usabilitiy

As mentioned above, the Passport runs BES 10.3, which comes packed with a raft of improvements which BlackBerry says should make it ideal for working on the go.  Voice recognition tool BlackBerry Assistant, while not carrying the bells and whistles of Siri or Cortana, was able to recognise a range commands or instructions, pulling up answers from the web or the device itself.

All the classic BlackBerry apps are also in place, meaning you can BBM to your heart’s content, including the ability to send messages to friends on other operating systems following prior releases for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. The newly-expanded AppWorld app store provides access to over 240,000 specially-designed apps, meaning you should be able to get everything you need for work and play.

As for the form factor of the phone, this is where the Passport really earns its salt. The wider screen allows 60 characters on just one line, compared to a standard iPhone, which shows around 33 characters, meaning that you have a much clearer view of pages. This makes reading and composing emails much easier than on a smaller-screen device, and also makes accessing web pages, documents and spreadsheets much kinder on the eye.

The VerdictBlackBerry Passport_Group

Having used the Passport for about two weeks, I have to say it’s one of the most interesting devices. It certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste (a quick straw poll in the TechWeekEurope office found no potential future takers) but BlackBerry seems to have pinpointed a target audience, and has done everything possible to make the Passport appeal to them.

This is definitely a device for the worker on the go, someone who spends little time in the office and a lot of time on the road or in meetings. The latest incarnation of BES also means that setting up separate public and private profiles is easier than ever before, allowing you to split your work and home lives easily as BlackBerry looks to have the Passport replace your smartphone.

If nothing else, the Passport is a brave move from BlackBerry as it looks to re-establish itself as a central player in the enterprise mobility market. And if you find smartphones too small to work on, but don’t have the space to carry around a tablet, this could well be the device for you.

Think you know all about BlackBerry? Take our quiz!