Black to Square One as I go Hands-On with the BlackBerry Passport
The BlackBerry Passport has been officially unveiled by BlackBerry. A Device that is instantly recognisable due to its square-form and is aimed at what BlackBerry calls the “Prosumer” which are the 30% of the market who are professionals and want a serious work phone. These are professionals who want security, functionality and being able to be productive wherever they are. Even the name Passport is meant to represent an important mobile document that you travel with and which grants you access to various locations around the world in a secure manor and still fits into your pocket. This is the BlackBerry Passport which runs on 2.2 GHz Quad Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor and has 3 GB RAM, 32 GB Flash, Hot Swappable microSD which supports up to 128 GB of additional storage.
So BlackBerry is sticking to its plan and going back to square one -- focusing on the professionals:
The Look & Feel of the Square-Phone
The BlackBerry Passport event had no secrets and no “leaked” photos were making their rounds on the internet as at previous BlackBerry events, the Passport was on display and even BlackBerry CEO, Mr. John Chen is often seen waving it around.
What did get the media spinning was the form factor.
The Passport measures at 128mm x 90.3mm x 9.3mm and is the first time we have seen a square screen which is obviously not the elongated rectangle shaped smartphone we are used to see. The display is a 453 PPI on a 4.5” sized screen, with In-cell IPS LCD Touch Display measuring at 1440x1400 resolution with a 1 to 1 aspect ratio. In other words, the screen is crystal clear even in direct sunlight and is 30% wider than an average 5” all-touch device. It has the ability to display 60 characters across compared to only 40 characters on a typical all-touch device in portrait orientation. This is important as the print industry has identified that 66 characters per line is the optimal reading experience so the Passport is the closest device to this standard.
So what does this practically mean ?
Having had the Passport for a while, I can attest that the form factor take a bit of getting used to which is to be expected after using the rectangle type of devices for years. It is obviously also not for the one-handed typing person. However, the change in thinking in display has moved the Passport away from a phone and more towards a PC experience. No longer is everything cramped on the screen and only now I realise that we have taught ourselves to make-do with the squished zoomed in panning left and right of the smartphone display. Documents, Web Browsing and Mapping take on a whole new meaning when you can see more “screen” real-estate as you do on a PC and even on a tablet -- and added to this is the screen being obscured by the keyboard. Information is no long squashed together to make it fit but rather like viewing it on the PC as everything is neatly laid out and human-readable.
Here are the same documents opened on the iPhone and Samsung compared to the BlackBerry Passport.
Carrying the Passport around is really a non-issue. It passes the “front jeans pocket” test and those who have carried a 5inch device and Phablets in the past will try work out why the anti-BlackBerry people made such a fuss about the size of the device. The BlackBerry Passport does weigh 196 grams which puts in on the heavier side of smartphones however even after prolonged use of I didn’t notice any need to put it down and take a break from the extra couple of grams.
At the bottom of the Passport is the Multiport which supports MicroUSB for charging and data transfer, microHDMI out so you can send the display to a TV or a projector and it supports USB Host Mode so you can plug in your external hard drive or keyboard or USB devices using the On The Go cable.
On the right of the device is the volume up/ down button and the Pause/Play voice assist button.
On the top of the device is Power button and the 3.5mm stereo headphone jack.
BlackBerry has put great emphasis into its Natural Sound system. There is a Quad-microphone array that together with the Acoustic Processing Engine dynamically adapts in real-time to the surroundings and the network signal so that you have less of the “can you hear me now ?” situation.
The BlackBerry Passport also has a unique feature called Active Leak Compensation, which automatically adjusts the call volume based on how close you hold the BlackBerry Passport smartphone to your ear. A microphone in the earpiece of the phone – part of the phone’s unique quad-microphone array – measures the sound pressure in your ear and adjusts the volume accordingly for consistent sound quality. This is helpful in situations such as when you are holding the phone to your ear with your shoulder.
The Passport also supports HD Voice although this is dependent on the cellular provider and also requires for both the caller and the receiver to have the HD Voice capability.
Using BBM Voice to make calls has incredible clarity and at times better than making voice phone calls. This feature is especially useful when travelling abroad and wanting to avoid those international roaming fees. Using the hotel’s WiFi I was able to speak to my family with no lag or distortion in sound. This has been my favourite feature in BBM since its inception.
Into this device, BlackBerry has put in a 3450mAh non-removable battery. I have frequently managed to get 2 days of usage out of the device before needing to recharge. This is of mixed usage between calls, social networking, emails, web browsing, games and music. This puts the device right up there with its predecessor, the BlackBerry Z30.
Physical and Soft Keyboard
BlackBerry are the keyboard people. There has been a move away from the physical key to a software based keyboard system and yet there are people who still miss the old days of the click-click feel of a key being pressed. BlackBerry has included a mixture of the physical keyboard and all the goodness and learning of their soft keyboard from the BlackBerry Z10 and Z30.
The keyboard on the Passport is touch sensitive and can be used like the keypad on the laptop. As you type the keyboard suggest the word and a simple swipe up on the keyboard selects that word. Swiping to the left deletes words and holding down the shift allow for selection of text much like a pc. Double tapping on the keys shows the cursor “target” so you can move it around to edit or copy/ paste. Swiping down shows more numbers, characters and punctuation.
But the absolute best part of this new keyboard is the scrolling. Simply swipe up or down anywhere on the keyboard and the website or document scrolls up or down. No longer do you have to move your fingers from the keyboard to the touchscreen to scroll mistakenly touching a hyperlink that opens an unwanted page.
The BlackBerry Passport smartphone features two cameras, each capable of capturing HD video. The rear facing camera is a 13MP camera that has autofocus and and an LED flash. The 2MP front facing camera does the selfie-thing and it great for BBM Video and Skype conversations.
Besides the Time-Shift option that allows you to zoom in on a face and move the camera back and forward until you find a frame where their eyes are open, the new feature allows you to do this AFTER you took the shot so you can edit the shots later.
The new Panorama mode is built in and now there is a suggestion mode that offers option when taking a shot so it would suggest Time Shift if a face is sensed in the shot, or HDR mode if there is a wide contrast between light and dark areas in the shot.
There is a self timer and a Burst option to take those fast 60 fps in 1080p video and shots for fat moving action.
The BlackBerry has great on camera editing software to spice up those shots and will automatically work out that a series of shots belong together and will create a StoryMaker video sequence for you. Makes sharing those moments with friends less boring then “here look at my pics”.
I took the BlackBerry Passport to the Kruger National Park to test its camera:
I am not much of fan of these voice activated or voice controlled apps, however I must admit that trying the BlackBerry Assistant is different. Whilst not 100% accurate all the time, the Assistant feels more natural. I can say things like “find latest email from XYZ” or “send email to XYZ saying this is very cool” or “book a meeting with XYZ on 25th September at 1pm”. I don’t have to speak like a humanoid-droid either and even in a loud room it seems to understand me pretty well. It recognises commands in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian.
The Assistant is also location aware and so asking “will I need an umbrella tomorrow” the Assistant knows that you are asking for the weather, knows the date today and knows the location. It then returns with the forecast.
10.3 Operating System
The Blackberry Passport has the new 10.3 operating system. This brings with it several function that were not around in the previous 10.2 OS on the other BlackBerry 10 devices. As in the past, the 10.3 will naturally roll out to old devices at a point in time.
Some of the notable 10.3 advancements are:
With BlackBerry Operating System you can install Android apps directly to your device. 10.3 comes with Amazon App Store pre-installed to make this task even simpler. Now simply log into the Amazon account, and you have full range of the Android app – both free and paid for apps are available as they are in the Google Play store. Note: that these Android apps are written for Android and therefore apps that rely on Google Play Service will not work, however most apps like FitBit, Standard Bank, SnapScan, Thor Game, PayPal, Shazam, British Airways all works perfectly well. Also worth noting that even though the Amazon App Store is pre-installed you can still install other app stores such as Snap or 1Mobile Market.
As Android apps are opened to BlackBerry users, security is of great concern and therefore before installing any Android app, the 10.3 system will automatically fire up BlackBerry Guardian which scans each app ensuring that it is safe.
There are now up to 8 Active application that can be opened simultaneously. These applications can also be moved around so that you can decide which app you want to have located where on the screen.
In the BlackBerry Hub, there is now Instant Action which allows you to mark emails as read/unread, file emails into folders, delete emails and accept/ reject meeting invites – all without having to open these items. Simply tap on the option.
(There are other 10.3 improvements however that is a subject for another post…)
This is the feature that I have been most excited about. Blend allows you to link your phone to your computer and tablet which means that anything you do on your Pc or Tablet is as if you are doing it on the phone. You can read/ reply to emails, BBM, Calendar, Manage Contacts etc.
The real power Blend resides in the following:
1. The connection between the Passport phone can be made to a PC or a Tablet (Android or iOS)
2. The connection can be made via WiFi, via Cable or even via the internet. So if you left your phone at home and need the One Time Password to your banking you can use Blend to read the SMS.
3. If you don’t want to have your work email on your laptop you can use Blend to access the work mail and as soon as it disconnects no personal/ work information is left on the device.
4. If your company doesn’t allow personal emails on work PC you can use Blend to keep an eye on your personal info without compromising IT security.
5. Blend allows you to use the keyboard and the large screen and you can even copy and paste between your pc and the phone.
6. Blend allows you copy files, photos, documents between your phone and the PC so you can continue to work on a document that you left behind.
7. Notifications from your phone now appear in Blend on your pc so you are not constantly distracted from your work by having to look at your phone every time it vibrates. You can even see incoming calls all on the screen.
8. Blend connection to the phone is encrypted and secure so no leakage of information can occur which make the BYOD a lot safer for both the company and the person.
BlackBerry Passport Availability
The BlackBerry Passport (unlocked) will be available through www.shopblackberry.com. for customers in Canada, France, Germany, the UK and the U.S. immediately following the launch at the special introductory rates below.
- Canada – $699
- France – €649
- Germany – €649
- UK – £529
- USA – $599
The BlackBerry Passport (unlocked) will be available through Amazon.com as well and they will be announcing their pricing soon.
In addition, we expect the carrier pricing on contract to be around the $249 price point, but it will vary by carrier and distributor partner. As an example, at TELUS in Canada: Passport price will be $250 for customers with a special rate until Oct 1st, at $200 on a Smartphone plan
Before the end of the year, the BlackBerry Passport will be available through our carrier and/or distributor partners in more than 30 countries including South Africa and the U.S., UK, Canada, Middle East, France, India, Singapore, Austria, Germany, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Netherlands, , Australia, Vietnam, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Mexico, Venezuela, Philippines, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Romania, and Colombia.
No price for South Africa is known at this stage.
So in Summary:
I break down my initial time with the Passport as follows:
- The shape will make you do a double-take. Look beyond it for a moment and hold the phone. Within seconds the shape-phobia melts away.
- I liked the Phablets when they launched as we are moving towards a much more reading/ typing/ video watching world and the larger screen is ideal for this.
- Just like the mocking look I got with the Phablet, prepare to get the same with the Passport. Some people are i-followers & there is nothing you can do.
- It is great to have back the physical keyboard but still have the soft add-ons.
- Using the keyboard as a track pad is very cool
- For non-techie having Amazon AppStore is great to make it easier to install Android Apps. Nice Move.
- I carry the Passport in my pocket and its a non-issue.
- Passport is solid and is a work tool.
If we take a look at the industry – there is no longer the “right size” for a phone. Phone became smaller and smaller, then we wanted bigger and bigger, then various companies swore that they will only have a 4inch device as who need alien-sized devices and that same company now has a 6inch device and followers love it.
BlackBerry was accused of not changing and missing the trend when apps became a “thing” but now they have certainly thought out of the mobile-box changing it up and continuing their vision of mobile-computing and not a mobile phone. This is another step in that journey. For a company that has been counted out so many times, they love to prove everyone everyone wrong and keep going and going and going and going…..
BlackBerry Passport Specs:
- Size: (L x W x D) 128mm x 90.3mm x 9.3mm
- Weight: 196g
- Display: 453 PPI, 4.5”, In-cell IPS LCD Touch Display, 1440x1400 resolution
- Keyboard: 3 row Touch-enabled QWERTY (recognizes touch gestures)
- Memory: 3 GB RAM, 32 GB Flash, Hot Swappable microSD slot supports up to 128 GB
- Processor: 2.2 GHz Quad Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
- Cameras: 13MP rear facing camera, Auto Focus, LED Flash, Image & Video Stabilization, 5x digital zoom, 1080p HD video recording up to 60 fps 2MP (720p) front facing camera, Image & Video Stabilization, 3x digital zoom 720p HD video recording
- GPS Assisted, Autonomous, and Simultaneous GPS
- Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy
- NFC-enabled to support mobile payments and file exchange
- Ports Multi-function Port (supports USB and microHDMI out )
- Advanced Sensors Accelerometer, Magnetometer, Time of Flight (ToF), Gyroscope, Ambient Light, Proximity
- Wi-Fi 2.4 GHz 802.11 b/g/n, 5Ghz a/n + ac, Mobile Hotspot, Wi-Fi Direct, Miracast, DLNA Server
- Network Connectivity FD- LTE, support for global roaming
- Battery* 3450 mAh (integrated); up to 25 hours of mixed use