I know that the norm is to say “24 hours with…”, but it isn’t 24 hours yet, and I do have to write this now. Bear with me. I had seen a pre-production Passport in action months earlier at The Twitter Premiere League. A staff of one of the GSM networks had one for network testing purposes. Despite my initial dislike of the shape of the Passport (from early photos), seeing it live, it did look good and piqued my interest the more. The gentleman however wouldn’t let me touch it, so that was all I got: a glimpse.
Yesterday, I was one of the select few invited to an exclusive launch event by BlackBerry, and I have had a Passport with me since then. It really is difficult to put my impressions of the device into words. But I am supposed to be a wordsmith, so here I go.
The Passport is a head turner, for starters. You will not be able to hold such a device in your hands and not attract attention. That shape is unmistakable. Secondly, it is a beautiful device built with top notch materials. Every line, curve and edge screams premium.Despite the 4.5 x 4.5 inch display, it does not feel as heavy as one would expect. At 196g, it is lighter than the Lumia 1520 (209g), HTC One Max (217g), but heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (176g) and Apple iPhone 6 Plus (172g). So, the Passport strikes a middle ground in terms of heft in phablet territory.
Size-wise, the Passport is no taller than its Z10 sibling, and so shorter than all the other phablets. However, it is wider. Wider than each and every one of them. That is what makes the 4.5 x 4.5 inch display possible. And that display is gorgeous. At 453 ppi pixel density, it is bested in that rating only by the Note 4’s 515 ppi pixel density when compared with the set of phablets that I listed earlier.
It may be initial euphoria, but I haven’t found the Passport unwieldy to carry. It really is the size of an international passport, and I have never had a problem with carrying that around. It fits well into both my shirt and trouser pockets as well. My initial fears about its size seem to have disappeared. Still, this is just less than a day with the device. I will revisit the issue in my proper review coming up much later. Perhaps after using it for a month or two, my impressions would have changed again? Who knows?
All Keyboards are not the same
Now, the Passport’s keyboard is truly revolutionary, because touch sensitivity is built into it. By sliding your thumb over it like you would use a trackpad or trackball, you can move the cursor around and scroll webpages, Twitter timeline and more on the display. Expect a video demonstration from me.
Typing on the Passport is taking a wee bit of getting used to, perhaps because of that width, but maybe also because I haven’t used a hardware QWERTY keyboard in ages. It isn’t a steep curve, as I am already feeling more comfortable with it.
Apps and Stuff
You know how I roll when I have a new toy to play with: I have had the Passport set up and been throwing everything at it since yesterday afternoon. In use, it is super fluid. The 3GB of RAM does a good job keeping things running. The large display presents much more information than the regular shaped smartphone does. All apps that I have installed and run on it work well on the square display with the exception of Neatly (a Twitter app) which doesn’t seem to have received the memo and is still squeezing itself into a corner and leaving lots of blank space unoccupied:
Perhaps there are some other apps like this one that are yet to be optimised for the square display? Very likely. But good for me, all my standard apps have been installed and all of them adapt to the display very well.
Amazon’s appstore is pre-installed on the Passport. I will be hunting down my Amazon account login details sometime today, so I can get in there and see what is on offer.
Finally, BBM on PC!
One of the most exciting developments that came with OS 10.3 and the Passport is that now I can use BBM on my PC. Yay! Have a look at BBM on my PC:
Blackberry has provided a software called Blend that provides seamless connection between your BlackBerry smartphone and your PC. There’s an app on the phone and an app that you install on the PC to make the connection. Those familiar with how the BlackBerry PlayBook will understand that this is a development that sprung from that device. One could link up the PlayBook with a BlackBerry smartphone and have all messages, including BBM be managed from the PlayBook.
It sure is nice not to have to pause what I am doing on my laptop to respond to a BBM message. Blend also lets you access the Hub, SMS, Email, Calendar, Contacts and files on your phone from your PC:
BlackBerry Blend is available on BlackBerry Passport and Porsche Design P’9983 smartphones for now. It will be available with OS10.3 update for other BlackBerry devices. The PC client is available for both Mac OS X 10.7 + and Windows® 7 + computers. Tablets are not left out either: those running iOS 7 + and Android™ 4.4 + have BB Blend available for them. So, you can get to use BBM on your iPad or Android tablet too. Talk of cross platform.
This is a huge productivity boost for BlackBerry. One does not have to switch between PC (or tablet) and smartphone to attend to messages, schedule and files anymore.
BlackBerry has drawn a lot of attention to the camera on the Passport. It is a 13 megapixel unit with LED flash and Optical Image Stabilisation. A lot has been said about its low light capabilities. You know how it is with me and phone cameras. One of the first things I did yesterday was conduct a quick shootout between the Lumia 930 and Passport. Scenario: indoor mid-afternoon with not so good lighting. Flash active on both devices. The Lumia produced much better shots. That doesn’t mean the Passport’s camera is bad. That was just one scenario, and you can be sure that I will bring you photo samples and comparisons over time here on MOBILITY.
BlackBerry has touted this camera to the moon and back. It better perform because I will be throwing everything at it. Honestly, it will be good to have a great camera on a BlackBerry smartphone for once. Photography hasn’t a strong forte for the Canadian brand.
I am a huge fan of stereo speakers on smartphones. The BlackBerry Z30 blew my mind away. The HTC Desire 816 warmed itself into my heart. The Passport has stereo speakers too and they sound lovely. However, they are not front-facing, but at the bottom of the device. I get that this compromise had to be made to maximise productivity on the front of the device, so its cool. Does it produce good quality audio? Yes; distinctly better than what mono speakers do.
In the box are: a pass-port-style black, classy quick guide, USB cable, charging plug, 3.5mm audio headset, and a pamphlet with more information to help the user get going.
The Passport is equipped with a 3450 mAh battery. That is a bit more than what MOBILITY’s current battery life champ, the Lumia 1520, has. It is more than what any of the other phablets that I listed earlier have. I am a sucker for smartphones with superb battery life, so I am clearly excited and waiting to see how the Passport will perform in this area. I really do weary of carrying power banks around.
However you look at it, the Passport is an intriguing device, extremely powerful under the hood, and a show-stopper at any occasion, formal or informal. The unique shape, the tasteful lines and materials, the glorious display, the uber-keyboard and the nifty software improvements all put together represent a bold attempt at innovation by BlackBerry.
This is just an account of my first impressions of the device. The next few weeks and months will see me firming up my position on the Passport. As I put it to use, I will share my experiences with this iconic device week after week. Come ride with me.