Blackberry Passport: Australian Hands On

It’s not every day you see a smartphone with a square 1:1 display ratio, but that’s exactly what Blackberry is bringing to the table with the curiously retro Passport. We got own hands on the device during the official launch event in London. Here are our first impressions.

Chris Jager attended Blackberry’s press event in London as a guest of the company.

"Working wide." That's the opening gambit BlackBerry is using to sell the Passport: AKA the least conventional smartphone design it has ever proffered on the public. For better or worse, the Passport ditches the tried-and-tested mobile display for a blocky alternative that keeps the width and height on equal footing. The result is a 4.5-inch square screen that is quite unlike anything else on the market.

The Passport display has a native resolution of 1440×1440 pixels (453 dpi) and is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3. The square screen is supposed to make day-to-day mobility tasks easier, such as reading and writing emails, web browsing and editing documents. This is due to the wider footprint which is capable of displaying 60 characters per line.

Here's a side by side comparison of Twitter on the Passport and a Samsung Galaxy S5:

As you can see, the BlackBerry Passport manages to squeeze a couple of extra Tweets onscreen by having more words per line than a conventional smartphone. Decreasing Twitter's font size on the Galaxy S5 didn't change this.

We also found emails easier to read on the Passport; particularly Microsoft Outlook. Even busy newsletters designed for desktop viewing could be easily viewed without pinching-to-zoom. Based on our brief hands-on time, it would appear a square smartphone display isn't as batshit crazy as it sounds; at least when it comes to business applications.

Unfortunately, media consumption isn't quite so rosy. For all BlackBerry's fanfare about going wider, the Passport's screen has obvious limitations when it comes to media playback.

Because the vast majority of video is shot at 16:9, you're left with two ugly back borders on the screen, as demonstrated in the above photo. It almost feels like you're watching a letter-boxed movie in the 1980s; albeit at a better resolution.

Unlike conventional phone screens, you can't flip the screen horizontally to get a better view of the action as all sides are the same length. Annoyingly, the display doesn't even auto-rotate to point the right way up when you turn it. Tch.

We quizzed BlackBerry COO Marty Beard about this rather significant drawback at yesterday's launch event. He acknowledged that the Passport's screen was less than ideal for watching movies other than the odd YouTube clip.

However, he also noted that close to 70 per cent of mobile professionals currently own a tablet. In other words, BlackBerry is banking on its customers adopting a "right tool for the right job" approach (i.e. — if you want to watch the latest episode of Game Of Thrones, whip out your iPad.) On the plus side, the square screen is going to be fantastic for Instagram, which is expected to hit the Amazon BlackBerry store in the months to come.

The BlackBerry Passport also comes with a miniature touch-enabled QWERTY keyboard. According to the company, the keyboard has an error rate 74 per cent lower than BlackBerry 10 virtual keyboards. The physical keyboard is for letters only; numbers and punctuation are handled by a floating window on the touch screen.

We imagine that the smaller keyboard might take some getting used to for old-school BlackBerry users, although the gesture controls certainly help. Check out the below video to see a few of these navigation tricks in action:

Otherwise, the Passport sports a pretty typical design for a BlackBerry product: it's sleek and black with lots of silver detailing. The back of the phone is actually vaguely reminiscent of a passport if you stand ten metres away and kind of squint a bit.

The Passport is slightly thicker than the average high-end smartphone, although it's also surprisingly light. In terms of battery life, the Passport is packing a massive 3450 mAh battery which should be more than enough for a full day of use. If BlackBerry can be believed, the battery is capable of providing up to 30 hours of “mixed” use between charges.

Under the hood is a 2.2GHz quad-core processor, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage (expandable up to 128GB via microSD card). You also get a 13-megapixel camera. Curiously, the camera shoots square photos by default, although this can be adjusted to a more conventional image ratio by diving into the settings. The camera can also shoot 1080p HD video recording at 60 frames per second.

We were pretty impressed with the overall built quality with the exception of the SD/SIM cover which pulls off with a worrying snap. This feels a wee bit cheap and the fact it detaches completely means it runs the risk of getting lost.

The Passport runs on the new BlackBerry 10.3 and comes preloaded with BlackBerry Blend, the Siri-style BlackBerry Assistant, the BlackBerry World storefront and the new Amazon Appstore. We've yet to put these features through the wringer, but first impressions are pretty solid. The newly struck deal with Amazon’s Appstore is particularly alluring, as it means we should be getting a stack of decent third-party apps.

All in all, we're not entirely convinced by the BlackBerry Passport after our brief playtime. But we're also kind of excited by it. We're currently filing it in the "so-crazy-it-might-just-work" category. If nothing else, the Passport is sure to be remembered as a smartphone that dared to be different.

The BlackBerry Passport is expected to launch in Australia sometime in 2014. You can currently buy it outright in the US for $US599, but how much it will cost over here is anyone's guess. We’ll update with availability and pricing as soon as the information becomes available.


Comments

    Pro-tip: take the plastic cover off the camera.

    "We’ve yet to put these features through the whinger"

    Is that the new Giz title for reviewers?

    Good god. Are Blackberry trying to go out of business? PEOPLE DON'T WANT A PHYSICAL KEYBOARD. It's like they've given up and just going "fuck it. no point trying anymore"

      Some of us Dinosaurs still like a physical keyboard. I'm sick of all these ouch screens not working. This gives the best of both worlds and is still RIMs point of differentiation.
      Where do I get one?

        If your screen is hurting you, you're doing it wrong :P

      Yeah, I would love a physical keyboard. The biggest mistake in consumerism is mistaking what YOU want with what EVERYONE wants :)

        Tell me again how well phones with physical keyboards vs virtual keyboard are doing...?

          For one, I never stated statistics on your question in the first place, so it is a misnomer to ask me to do so "again". Secondly, let me ask 3 out of 4 of my business associates who each own 3-5 devices with keyboards.

          Just because it doesn't appeal to YOU, or even to the biggest market segment, doesn't mean it's not a viable product.

      I would buy an equivalent of a moto g with a physical keyboard in a heartbeat, no one buys phones with physical keyboards anymore because THERE AREN'T ANY!

        > because THERE AREN'T ANY!

        Said on an article about a phone with a physical keyboard.

          if you dont know the difference between android and blackberry it's probably not worth you replying

    I would love a physical keyboard like my old htc jasjam and would buy a phone immediately if it had a screen as big as my note3

    I want the benefits of a physical keyboard but definitely not the drawbacks. Being able to touch type would be great. Not having the screen taken up with a keyboard would be great.
    Having a real keyboard takes up space anyway or doubles the thickness of the device so it's not the best solution for me right now. If the hopes for haptic feedback ever materialise maybe there'll be some sort of solution??

    Did anyone notice the lack of numerals on the keyboard? Are BB owners expected to write out numbers? This is one dumb shit phone.

      interesting.. same goes for any sort of punctuation

        Did you read the article?
        "The physical keyboard is for letters only; numbers and punctuation are handled by a floating window on the touch screen."

          Yeah i did read the article, must have missed that line. Thanks for the condescending heads up though. In any case, whats the point of the physical keyboard that only has letters, and a touchscreen for everything else. Typing (especially in a professional world) requires proper punctuation. Going from physical to touch to physical breaks workflow and makes this phone seem like a dumb idea, to me.

    They are dead already. It's just their ghost that Pops up now and then.

    God Damn that thing is ugly... and who thought that form factor was a good idea?

    If they're going to leave numbers and punctuation off the keyboard, why not just go all out and create one like the Optimus Maximus Keyboard?

    It looks like the phone has been stretched horizontally. It's as if they thought "rather than rotating the screen to get a bigger keyboard for typing, how bout we just put the rotated keyboard on an un-rotated phone?" That makes sense, right?...

    Blackberry need to just release an Android phone made for enterprise, how can they not see that is a cash cow?

      Because Android is not for Enterprises... There is a lot of tacked on stuff for Android to try to make it for enterprises but in the end, it's an OS designed with teenage consumers in mind. iOS is not for Enterprises. The only real Enterprise OS is windows and BB, and I'm not talking about the Windows phone crap. Unfortunately, enterprise users are also end consumers, so it needs to be friendly to both sides, and that's what BB was slow to respond to.

      WSJ had a much better review of the BB Passport:
      http://blogs.wsj.com/personal-technology/2014/09/24/why-there-wont-be-an-android-blackberry-hint-security/

      I would buy it if it was a little bit more friendly with consumer aspects as well. But all I need 95% of the time is, GREAT - Documents (PPT, DOC, XLS, PDF), Emails, Calendars, Browser, Lync Support, Camera that supports auto format of documents (like pan and zoom like some of the apps), Contacts, Business Cards management, and support from major banks just to manage finance. If an enterprise company rolled this out and built all their enterprise apps to support BB, it would be a great alternative.

      Whats the point? It already supports Android apps.

        What do you mean what's the point? The point is native Android is magnitudes better than what Blackberry are trying to do with their OS. Blackberry Hardware, with Blackberry services for enterprise with native Android would be a great business phone.

          I have to say that you're wrong in that regard. BB10 is a far more superior OS when it comes to enterprise, as they have better security solutions, while having the same app availability as Android. Android is also very inefficient when it comes to resources compared to any other OS out there, so it makes sense that they are sticking to BB10.

            Granted on paper BB10 is great, the fact however remains that Android has the lion's share of the market. Blackberry would do well to build their own enterprise version of Android in my opinion. It would be a very credible Android platform that business and defence(defense) alike would likely use.

    blackberry really really need to switch to Android if they are to survive. Maybe keep some of their software as blackberry exclusive, they actually make really good hardware that I would consider buying.

    Do I like qwerty keyboards, No. But do I hate that the keyboard covers half the screen more?
    Do I hate having to turn my phone landscape to read across a page, or to watch video,
    Have I eve wished for a mouse or trackpad on iPad or phone, yes.
    Is this the craziest thing I've seen in years? Hell Yes. But it answers a lot of questions. Even some
    I had never known I needed answered, till now.
    The only thing is watching videos in letterbox.
    Very strange blackberry Z10 is the best one handed phone I've ever used. I get a new phone almost every 21mth, never had the same brand in a row. Nokia, Htc, Blackberry, Samsung, Apple and back to blackberry.
    I do not like keyboards, but I may try this one, first time in 7yrs I'll have a same brand in a row since Nokia navigator and the 5500 sports.

    I just wish that people who made bad reviews, just dont write them. What about, "if you have something bad tosay, just don't say it at all" approach?

    As a business owner, email security and security in doing business is very relevant. I will not hesitate to get one.

      Really?

      Only point out the positives of every product, not what the reviewer sees as negatives? You're trolling, right?

    Kind of defeats the point of a real keyboard but yes, you are most probably correct

    For all who don't understand the need for a physical keyboard or why Blackberry persists with it's own platform, clearly you aren't business people. This isn't a toy like your iPhone, or Samsung created to take endless 'selfies' and play Candy Crush whilst mindlessly uttering "Like, oh my god!" Blackberry makes phones for business, end of story. Now run back to your toy phone, I'm sure Kim Kardashian has done something you need to know about.

    Last edited 26/09/14 10:35 pm

    This is a productivity tool for business men and women, not your every day consumer.
    The device makes a lot of sense, way too much actually. It's basically a laptop with the keyboard and trackpad, which will soon bring many new opportunities. This is their first device like this, Blackberry will learn and evolve, and the future updated devices to replace the Passport will bring much more functionality.
    I currently own a Blackberry Z30 and am really enjoying the experience, I couldn't go back to android or iOS after using BB10.

    The haters are going to hate, and, if you do not have anything good to say and if this phone is not for you, why reading this article at all? Blackberry is one of the best tool in the world for productivity, it might not appeal to some but it appeals to others.
    Reviewers should stop their so called 'reviews' if they can't keep an open mind of what BlackBerry stands for. Stick to your game playing devices.
    As a business owner, I will definitely get one, given BlackBerry data security is important and a crucial component for me.

    The best moby physical keyboard for me was a Nokia. Worst one was a BB. Currently using iPhone 6+.

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