The BlackBerry Passport’s looks may garner the most attention, but the unusually proportioned smartphone also packs some compelling functionality. The device is aimed squarely at the business market, and while it seems unlikely that it’ll be a huge commercial success, it’s easily the most interesting handset we’ve seen from the company in some time.
The Passport is one of the more unusual smartphones to hit the market in recent years. While we’ve seen the touchscreen and physical keyboard combination on a number of recent devices from the company, the Passport pays more attention to the display than the keyboard, providing a large 4.5-inch square with a resolution of 1,440 x 1,440. The display packs 453 pixels per inch (PPI), making it slightly sharper than the HTC’s One (M8)’s 441 PPI offering.
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Though the Passport may look like an oversized, contorted take on the classic BlackBerry form-factor, it’s actually got a lot more in common with touchscreen-only phablets, such as the Galaxy Note 4 or iPhone 6 Plus. The goal is to provide a large and conveniently proportioned space for working with documents and emails, browsing the web, looking at emails and more.
BlackBerry’s physical keyboards have always made for a great typing experience. But simply placing one on a device that would otherwise struggle to distinguish itself from a glut of formidable phablet rivals ... well, that's unlikely to amount to a strong enough case for the Passport.
Luckily, that squashed mass of QWERTY keys has another trick up its sleeve, with the handset packing the first ever touch-enabled physical keyboard. While the company claims that the error rate when using the device’s physical keyboard is 74 percent lower than with BlackBerry 10 virtual keyboards, the Passport’s ability to understand gestures and mimic mousepad functionality that stands out.
The keyboard lets the user scroll through emails and websites, similar to a laptop trackpad, by swiping up and down over the physical keys. It also features swipe-to-type functionality, that lets you speed up typing by swiping towards suggested words at the bottom of the display. Lastly, you can swipe across the keys from right to left to delete the last typed word, and you can double tap to enable a scrollable text curser.
This extra functionality, combined with the physical keys and touchscreen puts the Passport in an interesting, hybrid space between smartphone and PC. The keypad mimics some of the functions of a laptop trackpad, allowing the user to precisely interact with text without touching the display.
A bang or a whimper?
Whether or not the Passport proves to be a success for the company remains to be seen, but it’s certainly the most noteworthy smartphone we’ve seen from it in the last couple of years, and perhaps the only one that’s grabbed headlines.
While most of that attention can be attributed to its unusual form-factor, the device does pack some solid components. It’s powered by a quad core 2.2 GHz processor, with 3 GB RAM, 32 GB storage and a 13 MP rear camera.
Solid specs aren’t the only other compelling thing about the handset. The inclusion of a whopping 3,540 mAh battery should make for good uptimes – with BlackBerry claiming 30 hours of mixed use on a single charge. The Passport’s battery is significantly larger than even the Note 4’s 3,220 mAh offering, and while we’re used to smartphones making it through a full day, a (potentially) longer running time on BlackBerry’s new device makes it that little bit more enticing.
Additionally, the 10.3 OS update improves the fluidity of running Android apps on the platform, and the release ships with the Amazon App Store pre-installed, significantly upping the amount of software available to users.
The Passport, with its productivity-first design, is being aimed squarely at business customers. That alone means that it’s unlikely to be a huge success on the consumer side of the aisle. While it's certainly not right for everyone, it’s still by far the most ambitious smartphones we’ve seen from the company in years, and may well build itself an avid fanbase. The Passport is available for purchase right now in the US for $600 off-contract.
Check out the video below for a closer look at the Passport’s touch-enabled keyboard.