BlackBerry Passport

BlackBerry Passport

Back in June, new BlackBerry CEO John Chen openly showed off the BlackBerry Classic and the intriguingly square BlackBerry Passport. BlackBerry has kept to its promise and announced the unique-shaped phablet flagship globally last Wednesday, 25 September 2014. Surprisingly, it’s made its entry into Malaysian airspace just a day after.

The BlackBerry Passport, codenamed “Windmere” brings several new things to the plate. Firstly, it features the first 1:1 ratio square screen. This is BlackBerry thinking out of the box, literally, challenging your perception of what a smartphone should look and feel like.

Next is its touch-enabled keyboard, a technology and feature unique to the Passport. Thirdly, it’s the first BlackBerry device to run the latest BlackBerry 10.3 OS.

At the launch in Kuala Lumpur, Ben Quirin, Managing Director of Indochina at BlackBerry said, “We are excited to mark a new milestone here at BlackBerry by introducing the first square screen design and touch-enabled keyboard smartphone – the BlackBerry Passport. Aimed at the mobile professionals, this ground breaking device equipped with the new BlackBerry 10.3 OS, will allow users to elevate their productivity and collaborate more effectively. The BlackBerry Passport will definitely be the talk of the town, breaking through the sea of rectangular-screen, all-touch devices.”

BlackBerry's Ben Quinn
BlackBerry’s Ben Quinn

Made for the true mobile professional

So how on earth did a BlackBerry become square? Apparently, the flagship device was indeed inspired by actual passports – a universal symbol of mobility. While it optimises viewing area, it doesn’t sacrifice pocketability and portability.

Made from premium, highly durable materials like forged stainless steel for the body and Gorilla Glass 3 for the display, the Passport is as hardy and durable as they come.

The large 4.5-inch square display offers 1440×1440 Full HD resolution (453PPI), offering plenty of screen space for viewing and creating content. Emails, web browsing, editing documents and spreadsheets as well as navigating maps will never be better.

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BlackBerry Passport

A killer new feature is the touch-enabled keyboard that supports gestures. The keyboard can double up as a trackpad, making typing, editing and navigating more efficient and convenient. BlackBerry is renowned for their physical, tactile keyboards and the Passport is no different.

According to an internal study, the Passport’s new QWERTY keyboard is four times more accurate than BlackBerry 10 virtual keyboards.

In terms of hardware, the Passport doesn’t skimp. It packs a top-of-the-line quad-core Snapdragon 801 chip running at 2.2Ghz, 3GB of RAM, 13MP OIS rear camera and 32GB storage (upgradeable further via microSD). It has 4G LTE Cat4, WiFi, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 and also powerful speakers and quad-mic system that works with BlackBerry Natural Sound Technology.

For power hungry users, the inclusion of a massive 3,450mAh battery should keep them satisfied – for up to 30 hours of mixed used, actually. This is one of the biggest battery ever for a smartphone today.

As you know, BlackBerry 10 OS has an Android runtime built-in, so you’ll be able to run Android apps on a BlackBerry 10 device. With the latest 10.3 update, the Amazon Appstore is preloaded on the Passport giving you access to over 200,000 apps and games. This is in addition to native BlackBerry apps found in BlackBerry World.

Apple has Siri, Google has Google Now and Windows Phone has Cortana. BlackBerry, in turn, has BlackBerry Assistant – BlackBerry’s first digital assistant who can help users manage work and personal email, contacts, calendar and other native BB10 applications, via voice or text commands.

BlackBerry Passport

Will it Blend?

BlackBerry Blend is a software that you can download to your PC or Mac that seamlessly brings messaging and content on your BlackBerry device to your computer and tablet. Users can take advantage of the secure BlackBerry network to ‘blend’ your personal and work content, and conversations together using the device of your choice – be it Mac or PC, iOS or Android tablets.

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Check out how BlackBerry Blend works:

Pricing and availability

BlackBerry Passport will be available exclusively from Celcom starting 10 October, and subsequently through other telcos and retail channels from 1 November. The new device retails at RM2,399.00 (US$736), available in black only. A white version will be made available later.

Initial thoughts

I’ll be first to admit that I thought the square form factor was weird. But once you’ve held it in your hands, viewed and touched the display and typed on the keyboard, you’ll see all preconceptions change. It’s a solidly built device, feels premium and every bit a BlackBerry. BB10’s gesture-driven UI is slick and fluid. And the hardware is rock solid too.

The keyboard is neat but does need getting used to. For raw feel, I still prefer the keyboard on the Q10.

BlackBerry openly says this device isn’t for everyone, a sign of new focus on enterprise and business, and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If there’s one device that could appeal to business users and the mobile executive, then the Passport could certainly be it. Backed by BlackBerry’s solid track record in security and mobile device management, this flagship will appeal to BlackBerry fans and business users, and those who want to challenge the status quo.

IMHO, BlackBerry has delivered in all fronts with the Passport, and hopefully this translates in terms of sales numbers. Early reports have quoted over 200,000 already pre-ordered, and that is indeed a positive indication.

Stay tuned for a quick hands-on review.

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