BlackBerry Passport Review
Six months ago I was asked by The Emerald Group to test the BlackBerry Passport as they know that I am a BlackBerry fan. This is the fifth device using the new BlackBerry 10 operating system. I had previously been using full touchscreen BlackBerry Z10.
What is inescapable is that the Passport is big. Not just long, but wide too. In fact, Work Wide is one of the taglines used by BlackBerry to promote the device. The large size, 13 x 9 x 0.9cm is to accommodate a large screen and a physical keyboard. The square 1:1 ratio screen, which is 4.5 inches on the diagonal, really does make a difference to viewing web pages and documents or reading a book. In metric, it is about 8cm square. You do not have to squint or move the page and can have larger text. The screen is razor sharp with a resolution of 453ppi – more than the Apple iPhone 6 and 6s – and great colour. The only downside of the screen size is that although total area is large, it is not as long as other devices. This means that watching videos, YouTube, Netflix etc. you will not get as large an image as you on do on other devices.
The size also allows room for bigger loudspeakers, and, whilst no phone will ever be great for listening to music or the radio, the Passport is better than most.
Big too, is the battery. It is 1.9 times the size of the iPhone 6. I have never run out of power, or suffered from battery anxiety with the Passport, not even when I have forgotten to charge it overnight. When the monitor reports less than 20%, this is nearly 40% of an iPhone, so no need to panic. A fully charged battery could last 40 hours, much longer than most users will need
You can see from this screenshot, that after 34 hours without a charge I still had 14% remaining.
The Qwerty keyboard is split between three rows of physical keys, back space and enter. Other keys appear just above on the screen in a context sensitive way. If you are in an email address field, the @ sign will be there. If you are in a numeric field, the numbers appear and so forth.
As with everything in life, you will need to get used to using a physical keyboard if you haven’t had one for a while. The Passport is best used with two hand typing, or rather, two thumb typing. The keys are not flat, but shaped to minimize the likelihood of pressing the wrong one, or two at a time by mistake. Predictive texting is excellent and it very quickly learns the words you use most. You select the word you want with a flick of your thumb. Often you don’t even have to begin to type your next word before it appears as a suggestion, which you might find a little spooky. I type a lot in Spanish as well as English, and the Passport will seamlessly change language without you having to do anything. You can set up to three default languages from a long list in the settings and flit between them, just type.
The whole of the keypad is also a trackpad is also that you scroll by running your finger over it, or to position the curser where exactly where you want it.
The camera is good. With general shots, portraits, mid-range shots it does very well. Larger panoramas, low light conditions where you don’t want to use the flash it is not so good. It has a very useful feature called HDR. If it detects that you are taking a picture with high contrast, say a building against the sky, it can, in effect, take two pictures at different exposure settings and combine them to give you a better shot, something that I have used a lot.
Apps & Other Features
Using the Passport is not just about the phone, you also get to use the larger BlackBerry experience. This is a bunch of tools that come as part of the BB10 software, other apps and programmes.
The Hub is a very useful feature which lists all your messages, emails, texts in one easily accessible place, available whether you are in an app, writing an email, or updating Facebook. To access the Hub, you swipe the screen up and to the right (BB10 interface is gesture based, there is no home button for example) and your emails, texts, Facebook alerts, call log etc. appear in a list in date order, so no searching though different apps to find them. You can apply filters such as unread, email accounts or replies to your messages.
The BlackBerry Blend app is available for Windows, Android and iOS and. It replicates your messaging on your Blackberry device on your computers, laptops, iPads etc. So, for example, you can send and receive text messages or emails on the phone without having to touch is up as you sit at your computer. It works if your devices are connected on the same Wi-Fi network, via a cable or Bluetooth.
BlackBerry Messenger, is still there, though WhatsApp and the like have overtaken it, and can be used for text messages, voice and video calls over the internet, if you can find someone who has BBM installed (now available for Android and iOS too) and if your company is all BlackBerry, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Of major interest to businesses is the security of BlackBerry and the BB10 software has a feature called Balance. This allows you to use the Blackberry Enterprise Software to divide work space from personal space with a firewall between the two. Emails, documents sent to the work environment cannot be transferred to the personal environment. This means that an employee cannot leak information by sending it from a personal email account if it is received on a work on. This kind of security has kept BlackBerry the choice of many government departments such as the Environment Agency, (where my sister works) and where this feature is employed.
BlackBerry Assistant is the equivalent of Siri, and works almost as well. You can ask anything. If you are seeing a veteran comedian perform you might ask How old is Ken Dodd? 88 years and 2 months comes back the answer in a flash.
This brings me on to what is often perceived as the biggest downside of BlackBerry devices – the lack of apps. The Passport does come loaded with a range of apps for business use like Adobe Acrobat, an office suite, cloud storage etc., but it also comes with the Amazon App Store. This is because most Android apps will work on BB10 OS. Amongst others I use Sonos, Spotify, Netflix and the HSBC app. There is the Blackberry World app store too, where you can find native a large number of native apps and I use Skype, Dropbox, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Evernote.
I am not much of a games player, but there are loads to choose from, including Angry Birds and Candy Crush. What you cannot do, though, is run apps that need Google Play Services, or which have Google maps integral to them. So, no Google Maps app, Strava or Uber for example. But you can access all these through web based version and, of course, with the bigger screen you will have a better experience using them too. But there is no denying that it can be a little frustrating.
Making and Receiving Calls.
Finally, how does it function as a phone? For speaking, it is the best one I have ever used. Sound quality is crystal clear and the mic picks up well too. The physical keyboard makes speed dialing easier than on other phones. You can assign each key to a contact number (or another function such as launch browser, open Facebook). So all you have to do is press and hold H to call home, for example with no need to open contacts or call history.
The only annoyance is that when dialing a number by actually keying it in. You cannot turn off the keysounds unless you are in silent mode so it will beep every time you press a number.
So what is the good, the bad and the stuff you will love?
Well, it is unlikely that you will ever get used to the size of the Passport, it will always surprise you when you pick it up and it will not fit in your jeans pockets so easily. Nor will it fit in the drinks holder on the treadmill in the gym or one of those arm bands if you go jogging. But the large screen and better sound you will love. The App Gap is small but there. The absence of Google Play Service will annoy - even with the web version workaround for most of them.
You will really like BB10. It is a great OS and you will find it very intuitive if you give yourself time to learn it, there is lots packed into it. Features like blend and, especially, the Hub will use all the time and find indispensable. If you type in more than one language you will love this phone. The physical keyboard is accurate and quick and the predictive texting means that you will outstrip your friends in typing speed. It has 26 speed dial keys and it functions well as a phone too. The battery life is phenomenal and lead to a much less stressful life.
In short, the BlackBerry Passport is a really good piece of kit, but it is a bit of an oddity. I really like it, but it won’t be for all.