Very gutsy, BlackBerry, very gutsy indeed. Just when the world thought the company from Waterloo had no chance of reviving its handset business, BlackBerry has come up with the Passport. And it is a huge gamble, given that this phone has a very unique form factor and is not meant to sell in volumes. However, BlackBerry is convinced that this phone will help it retain its core clientele and maybe even win some new fans. I am tempted to agree.
Quick Tech Specs: 4.5-inch IPS display (1440 x 1440 pixels, 453 ppi) | 2.26 GHz Krait 400 quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor | 3GB RAM | 32 GB storage + microSD slot up to 128 GB | 13MP rear camera, 2MP front camera, 1080p Full HD video | 3G, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 | 3450mAh battery | BlackBerry OS 10.3
Price: Rs 49,990
Design: I actually saw a couple of reports calling this a square phone, which it is not. In fact, it is the same size as any passport. It has a square display and a three-row keypad below it, which means it cannot be square. It is a large phone. So much so that the phone that comes closest to this size is the LG Optimus Vu. But despite being large the phone fits into your pocket, and that seems to have been a conscious design decision. You can easily grip the phone in one hand, but this is not made for single-handed operation. After all, there is no rulebook that says a phone must. Anyway, BlackBerry is on a rule-breaking spree here.
Just below the display is the large keypad that lets you type better than on any keypad seen in a phone before, older BlackBerry’s included. But then there are no physical number keys and you have to use the touch screen to make a call. There is a reinforced stainless steel frame that at the core of this phone, giving it a very solid feel. You don’t have to worry if this phone will bend, though you will have to take good care of the extra-large screen. The design is minimalist and there is just the power button on top and the volume keys on the right flanking the voice assist key. The nano-SIM and SD card go behind the flap, but the battery is not removable.
Display: Yes, this is a very different display size. But that means you will never have to flip the orientation of the phone to do anything. It gives more than 60 characters in a line and Excel sheets don’t need to be pinched in to be viewed. This is what BlackBerry calls work wide and the concept works. The 1440 x 1440 pixels display is sharp and is clear even under the sun.
Performance: The Passport is a work horse. It has been made for people who make money with every second they spend on the phone. So there is no question of the not being able to perform a task. It is also a great multi-tasking and I could work simultaneously on up to six apps at the same time. Interestingly, the apps on the background are not frozen and you can see even Twitter updates on the minimised screen. The phone does heat up at times, but that is not usually when you are doing something. I found this phenomena when the phone restarts, which is strange. I tried the GT Racing 2 game and there were no issues. But this is not a phone made for serious gamers as the screen is not at your fingertips.
Memory: The phone has 32GB internal memory which should keep most user happy. But I strongly suggest you add at least 16GB more, so that you can pack this one with songs and photographs.
Software: BlackBerry lost a lot of loyal users because it was not able to satiate their demand for the latest apps that were all the rage on iOS and Android. BlackBerry has been fixing this for the past few months by letting users sideload Android apps. With the 10.3 update, now available only on the Passport, users get the Amazon app store pre-loaded. That means they have access to almost all the top apps. I say almost, for you still need to download an APK to install Instagram. Plus, apps that need a Google signature, like Docs and Analytics, download but don’t load. BlackBerry is working on fixing this, but they need to do it fast. The new BlackBerry Blend feature lets you amplify your phone on a tablet or laptop like the BlackBerry Link. It also lets you manage media from that device easily.
Camera: The Passport comes with a big bonus, its 13MP rear camera. We doubt if anyone would buy a BlackBerry phone for the camera, but this is a stunner of a clicker. I was trying out a couple of casual clicks, hoping a passing mention in the review would suffice. But a couple of clicks later, I was looking at the camera more seriously. The camera is fast and the images are sharp and full of detail. BB 10.3 still does not have Instagram, but the photos are by default in a square 1:1 ratio. You can change the ratio to 4:3 or 16:9. The camera app also support Time Shift and burst modes.
Battery: The 3450 mAh battery in the Passport is good to last around 30 hours. If you use this as your primary phone after charging it one morning, you will be able to stretch the battery till next noon. But to be on the safe side, charge it every morning.
Connectivity: This is never an issue with a BlackBerry, especially not a top end one. However, I had issued connecting to other devices over Bluetooth and also in scanning some Wi-Fi networks.
Keypad: This is the hero of the device. BlackBerry deserves some kudos for rethinking the keypad and adding a touch layer on top of it. So the surface of the keypad can be used to flick words on to the screen like in the Z10 and Z3, as well as to navigate on a page while you are browsing. A swipe left deletes a word while a double tap opens an edit bubble that lets you easily select the position where you want to intervene. When you are typing on the physical keys, a fourth virtual row appears just above. This row is intuitive and shows characters that you will need with what you are typing at any point of time. This row can expand too, showing special characters and numbers, but needs a bit of prodding at times.
Audio quality: We tend to forget that the smartphone is supposed to be a good phone at first. BlackBerry still has the best voice quality around and now adds multi-directional microphones that work wonders when use use the device as a speaker phone.
Assist: Yes, the Passport has a Siri-like Assistant. It works quite well and gives you the option to shift to a text search on the app itself. It understands commands, though a bit slowly at times. Use this app as your search hub and you will be happy.
Verdict: As I said earlier, it is a big gamble from BlackBerry. But the Passport might just be a gamble that works. It is the most innovative phone in recent times and packs loads of new features that are not gimmicky and adds to the functionality of the device. All this makes the BlackBerry Passport the closest you can get to a full fledged pocket computer, one that lets you leave the laptop at home if needed. The high price tag will keep this phone away from the masses, but the top management users who will pick up this phone will be happy. Let’s hope the device also makes BlackBerry happy in the end.
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