BlackBerry Launches The Passport Smartphone: Hip To Be Square?

Today marks the official launch of BlackBerry's latest flagship smartphone; the swankily named Passport. Boasting an unusual square touch screen and a miniaturized QWERTY keyboard, the Passport is aimed at business professionals who are bold enough — or crazy enough — to try something different. Read on for the specs rundown.

As previously reported, the BlackBerry Passport is a bit of a departure from the company’s previous hardware products. Its distinguishing feature is that 4.5-inch square screen which goes against the grain of pretty much every smartphone that's come before it.

The display has a native resolution of 1440×1440 pixels (453 dpi) and is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3. Speaking at the official Passport launch event in London, BlackBerry COO Marty Beard claimed that the new "disruptive" device was specifically designed to improve productivity and communication among mobile professionals.

According to Beard, the square screen is supposed to make reading and writing emails, reviewing and editing documents, web browsing, and map navigation more comfortable and effortless: it displays 60 characters per line, which is closer to print standards and results in less zooming-to-read from the user. The icons have also been given an overhaul to take advantage of the square screen.

Passport display compared to Samsung Galaxy S5.

Nestled beneath the square display is a physical QWERTY keyboard that purports to boast faster typing and navigation thanks to the inclusion of touch-enabled gesture controls. According to BlackBerry, the Passport’s keyboard has an error rate 74 per cent lower than BlackBerry 10 virtual keyboards as found on devices like the Z10.

Core specifications include a 2.2GHZ Quad Core CPU, 3GB RAM, a 13-megapixel OIS camera. This is a significant step up from BlackBerry's current flagships such as the Porsche Design P’9983, which came with a dual-core processor, 2GB of RAM and an eight-megapixel camera.

Currently, the Passport is only offered with 32GB of inbuilt memory. We imagine this will fill up pretty quickly, especially for frequent video shooters (the device records 1080p video at 60 frames per second). Thankfully, a Micro SD card slot is included for those that need it.

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.

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.

BlackBerry is also touting the audio clarity of the Passport so you can actually use it to make phone calls. According to BlackBerry, the Passport's quad microphone system is 350 per cent louder than the Samsung Galaxy S5. The 10.3 OS update also automatically adjust volume on the fly depending on background noise — in other words, it could be the first smartphone in while where you don't need to max out the volume at all times.

Nobody can accuse Blackberry of playing it safe during this critical turnaround period, but will a square screen be enough to reverse the company’s fortunes? On the one hand, this could be the kind of pièce de résistance needed to entice new customers into the fold. On the other hand, it might scare away the BlackBerry faithful. Stay tuned for our hands-on coverage, coming soon.

The BlackBerry Passport is available in select regions from today, although Australia has been left out of the initial launch. Wider distribution is set to follow in the months to come. We'll update with availability and pricing as soon as the information becomes available.

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

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