Blackberry Passport 18 months after: ‘the phone as a work tool’

About 18 months ago, the Blackberry Passport was first reviewed here. The review was broken down in parts to achieve an in-depth understanding, while providing a holistic picture of the device; it was systematically put together. This might have been influenced by the uniqueness of the device. To know why exactly, you will have to ask Mister Mobility who reviewed the device initially.

Having used Blackberry’s flagship for 2014 some time now myself, it is easier to appreciate its unique position in a stream of contemporary devices which tend to look more alike – we are mainly pushed rectangular ‘slabs’ by manufacturers; differentiated by specs, operating systems and marketing strategies employed by these firms.

In my opinion, to appreciate Blackberry’s offering, one has to understand the meaning of the word ‘passport’. Blackberry claims to have named the device after the official document a government issues its citizens, which entitles them to travel under its protection, to and from foreign countries; the document that certifies the holders’ identity and citizenship. The dimensions of the device even match that of a country’s passport. However, I think that when viewed through the lens of the second definition of the word, according to Oxford dictionary, the phone’s uniqueness is extremely elucidated – a thorough utilitarian tool that facilitates the achievement of something for the user.

BlackBerry Passport

For me, this projects the efficiency driven smartphone Blackberry had intended for its users. Being that this article is intended to re-visit, it tends to answer questions like: how has the experience been owning the device? How has it aged over time? Being an almost 2 year old flagship, can I still recommend it to someone shopping for a device in 2016? I bet you catch the drift. A quick search with ‘passport review’ as keywords on this website will direct you to the original reviews.

Unique form factor: Large, touch sensitive keyboard and ‘square’ based screen

I started out this article by mentioning how rectangular touchscreen slabs populate the smartphone landscape; this is nothing new since the introduction of the first iPhone in 2007 – since then, even Blackberry has employed the form factor in devices such as the Z30, Z10, Z3 and even the Leap.

However the 2014 flagship from the Canadian manufacturers had them going back to their design roots – one which was based on physical QWERTY keyboards. This resulted in a truly unique looking device; even till now the form factor of the Passport is one you will find only with the Passport. Yes! I remember LG’s Optimus Vu, and its array of other devices built on the ‘squarish’ form factor, however these did not incorporate a physical keyboard – especially one which was touch sensitive and could serve as a touchpad as well.

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This genius keyboard, coupled with a square based 4.5 inch, 1080p, LCD screen makes for a device that will intrigue productivity insistent users. The additional functionality of the keyboard does a great job at reducing the reliance on the screen for inputting; even scrolling. The fact that it is widescreen also makes a big difference when viewing documents, e-mails, websites and the likes – genius, for an enterprise centric device.

The downside is that if you’re the kind of user who consumes a lot of video on your device, you have to be ready to bear the black borders that will exist above and below the videos as a result of the aspect ratio utilised by the device. Furthermore, in my experience with the Passport, the trackpad functionality of the keyboard can be inconsistent within the same app; sometimes being able to scroll, other times you’ll need the touchscreen.

The keyboard definitely takes some getting used to, as its not necessarily your conventional QWERTY. However I was comfortably up and running within 48 hours into my usage of the device. The update to Blackberry’s OS 10.3.2 introduced further functionality to the keyboard – like the ability to scroll through the home and app pages. To describe the keyboard of the passport in simple terms, I’ll say it is in between Blackberry’s touchscreen software keyboard and that of the Q10. You have the ability to swipe words into the body of texts like the former, however the word suggestions are limited to just three words like in the latter.

As mentioned earlier, another unique hardware feature of the Passport is its screen – one which is square and gives the illusion that it might be bigger than 4.5 inches. In my experience with it, I found it to be on the dimmer side of the spectrum – as a result I tend to use it just above or around the 50% mark. There is no auto brightness option. The positive is that in a dark room (or at night), you are not overwhelmed with brightness when compared to other flagships from that year.

Furthermore the screen produces deep blacks; not as saturated as those of an AMOLED panel, but deep enough for you to notice. The screen is slightly curved towards the edges and it appears there’s some kind of coating on it; these make swiping gestures feel more natural in addition to reducing fingerprint and scratch susceptibility. In about a year of use, my devices screen still looks pristine. The passport also manages decent viewing angles.

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Well built powerhouse, with mediocre cameras and superb speakers

Passport QWERTY
The Passport is well built. The metal frame which goes all the way round the device is not only pretty, but sturdy, and provides the user confidence in the premium nature of the device. SIM and micro SD expansion all go at the top of the device – in the only compartment which can be opened on the phone. After all this time of accessing it, the mechanism still works brilliantly. I found that this housing is actually easier to access than I had anticipated based on early video reviews I had seen.

There is a small indentation between the earphone jack and power button where you can place your finger to pull it open. Initially you might be scared of breaking it; but after a couple of times, you’ll start to appreciate how sturdy the build really is.

The back of the smartphone is home to the 13MP shooter and a Blackberry logo which in my opinion is beautifully engineered into the body of the phone. Volume keys and an action key reside on the right side, and the micro USB port is on the bottom of the device – next to one of the phone’s microphones and neatly machined speaker grills. Notification LED is up and front of the device, above the screen; in addition to the phones miserable 2MP front camera.

Photography is far from where the passport shines. In good lighting, one can achieve decent shots from the main shooter – yet it is still slow to focus and easily can result in noisy photos. The camera on the front of the device, in my opinion is just a joke. Sorry, selfie addicts.

The device is heavy for a 4.5 incher, however this makes it feel more solid, rather than bulky. The inbuilt speakers housed in the device are loud and can easily fill up a room when playing music or videos; they are top notch when on a call also – the Passport will make you want to answer all your calls using the loud speaker. All this hardware is powered by a 3,450 mAh battery which easily can stand a full day of heavy, intensive use. The Passport is truly a power champ, even at its age.

Good implementation of Blackberry OS 10

Blackberry’s OS 10 operating system properly integrates with the Passports hardware. Doing things efficiently is key here, and productivity is especially where the OS shines. I’m not going to go into details about the software as what makes it special has been touched numerous times during reviews of other devices running it. It constitutes the regulars like: the hub, ability to peek, active frames for running apps, top of the line browser and a truly integrated file management system.

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The Passport currently runs 10.3.2 and what that entails has been discussed in a previous article here. The arrangement of running apps (active frames) are back to normal – when an app is minimized they stay in their original position and no longer go to the start of the layout; apart from the last four frames – which still act that way.

Private browsing implementation is elaborate and closest to what you get on a PC from a mobile OS

Private mode opens in an entirely different window, making it possible to surf the web in normal and private mode simultaneously. However, for as advanced as the OS shows it is, in some cases, it also shows some clumsy weaknesses. For example, once rotation lock is removed as an option from quick settings, it turns off completely. Furthermore, I miss the auto on and off feature from legacy Blackberry OS – where I can simply set a time when my phone goes off at night and comes on in the morning, automatically. However this is not a unique issue with the Passport but generally all OS 10 running Blackberrys.

Verdict

In conclusion the Passport is a device that is truly designed for users who seek to achieve utilitarian values rather than hedonistic ones. It is a device that is productivity focused, with efficiency as the key thing driving it. It is truly unique, even when put against other devices which have a hardware keyboard, or a square screen. With the Passport, Blackberry achieved a rugged, reliable, productivity oriented powerhouse. Almost two years into its life span and I still won’t think twice about recommending it to a user who sees their phone as a tool for getting work done.

For app junkies, this isn’t the one. Yes, there’s the ability to run android apps. However, in my experience this takes away from the uniformity of the cascade based OS – which truly shines when using the productivity suite of apps that have been designed for OS 10.

IB Sam-Epelle

IB 'Hi Beezle' Sam-Epelle is passionate about smartphones and mobile technology; a solution provider; critical thinker; entrepreneur; the founder, Grand-Monumental Ink.

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