Not even a week after its global unveiling, BlackBerry has announced the launch of its latest flagship smartphone in India. The BlackBerry Passport is an unusual squarish smartphone with an equally unique three-row QWERTY keypad. BlackBerry is hoping that it would attract its business customers, who’d prefer it to get their work done. I spent some time with the BlackBerry Passport and here are my first impressions. Also Read - Blackberry 5G smartphone 2021 comeback confirmed again, to bring physical keyboardsAlso Read - Blackberry is coming back once more, will debut in 2021 with a flagship keyboard phone
Bizarre, that’s what I thought when I first held the Passport in my hand. Even my medium-sized hands that feel at home holding a 5.5-inch smartphone were stretched out wide trying to hold the Passport in one hand. Though it has a 4.5-inch display, which is tinier diagonally than the 4.7-inch display on the new iPhone 6, the BlackBerry Passport is wider than even the Galaxy Note 4 that has a 5.7-inch display, thanks to its square 1,440×1,440 pixel display. This smartphone is meant to be used with both hands at all times.
BlackBerry says that this 1:1 aspect ratio is ideal for viewing spreadsheets and documents. The display can render as many as 60 characters in a row whereas most other smartphones manage around half of that number. This means you can have more information in one screen. However, it also means that playing videos in full screen will have those ugly thick black bands irrespective of the orientation.
The QWERTY keypad is more like a quirky keypad. The three-row keypad initially feels cramped and not really conducive to typing. But it seems that’s just a matter of getting used to it as one of the BlackBerry team members showed me how fast he could type on the Passport.
The keypad is also a trackpad so you can pan and scroll web pages by running your thumb over the keypad just like you’d do on a trackpad. You can flick auto-suggested words by flicking your fingers up on the keypad. Swiping from right to left deletes words while typing. You can bring on the number keypad by moving your finger downwards from the top of the keypad. You can even double tap and quickly select any word as well. I think it is just a matter of getting used to the keypad.
Another thing that strikes about the BlackBerry Passport is its build quality. With generous use of metal all over, it weighs at 194 grams and feels adequately sturdy. It reminded me of the Nokia E90 Communicator. Even with its massive footprint, the BlackBerry Passport fits comfortably in my somewhat baggy jeans and it fits perfectly in a shirt pocket.
In what should come as a refreshing surprise, BlackBerry has finally caught up with tier one Android smartphone makers when it comes to specifications. The BlackBerry Passport features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor clocked at 2.2GHz, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage along with a microSD card slot. During my brief usage, the Passport didn’t show any signs of noticeable lag.
The Passport has a 13-megapixel rear camera with optical image stabilization and a 2-megapixel front facing camera. I could not check the camera performance at the launch venue and we will have to wait till the review to get a sense of it.
BlackBerry has finally released BB 10.3 with the Passport that comes with a few visual updates as well as some new features. It comes with a BlackBerry Assistant, which is the Waterloo, Ontario-based smartphone maker’s take on Google Now, Siri and Cortana. It isn’t as smart as any of them and initial reviews suggest it is slower as well. BB 10.3 also comes preloaded with the Amazon app store that has more than 200,000 apps. However, many of these won’t work completely on the Passport, especially those that require access to Google services.
Another talking point of the BlackBerry Passport is its mammoth 3,450mAh battery, which the company claims should be good enough for 30 hours of mixed usage on a single charge.
Despite its hardware specifications, which are indeed top of the line, the BlackBerry Passport is unlikely to be a smartphone that would be on most people’s shopping list. Even if I consider all the improvements, BB10 is still light years away from Android and iOS. It still doesn’t figure in the priority list of most app developers. The wide footprint of the BlackBerry Passport, further makes it an unlikely candidate for your daily use smartphone.
Priced at Rs 49,990, it is a very niche product targeted at a specific use case – business users, especially enterprises that have apps and services developed for BB10. And for the Passport, BlackBerry is banking on an audience comprising of the senior management, whose company foots the bills for buying their new smartphones. If I were to stretch it further, I would also include die-hard BlackBerry users who are still unwilling to trade the brand for a better Android or iOS smartphone.