It seems like a long time since BBM was a common phrase in tech vernacular. It has since been replaced by selfies, apps and android as key terminology relating to smartphones. And yet, the Canadian firm clings onto life. Blackberry intends for the Passport to bring the company back on the map and to some extent it has done that – early sales have indicated that the company have at least made profit on the new handset – but will it translate to mass success like the Blackberry Curve or Bold of yesteryear?
The Blackberry Passport is an intimidating looking phone on first look, its design suggests at unbroken ground between a phone a tablet that even phablets have failed to reach as yet. The huge square screen and wide keyboard design have been built to reflect an actual passport, a size the company feels is ideal for carrying comfortably in your pocket, and surprisingly, they’re quite right. The phone is actually a perfect size when you get it in your hands (and it will always be hands, one handed usage is pretty much impossible). Typing is a dream, unlike most modern smartphones (including the new iPhone 6 Plus which is the best typing experience on a touch screen yet) and takes almost no time to get down to as quick as on a full sized keyboard.
As ever though, once you start trying to use the phone for functions other than basic messaging and browsing it becomes a real task. The Passport has an in built “Hub” which is like a notification centre but it can be difficult to navigate and even worse to actually set up. There is a lot of faff in the early stages of setup which mean that the phone can quickly frustrate you before you’ve even begun using it; a stark contrast to the pick up and go type setups of Android phones or iPhones. Having said that, there are handy tips which pop up (surprisingly not a nuisance) to suggest speedier ways of doing tasks like holding a key for caps, swiping the screen up to get to the main menu or tips to use the touch sensitive keyboard
For the first time since the Curve it feels like Blackberry are finally innovating in some way. The touch sensitive keyboard is a real step forward because it intelligently combines what could be an archaic mode of data entry with intuitive add ons to help speed the process. If you don’t want predictive text on you can ignore it or if the word is predicted for you, simply swipe up towards it on the keyboard and it inputs it straight away. If you’re frustrated by poking at a sentence to drag the cursor before that pesky comma then you can double tap the keyboard for a cursor to pop up which can move along character by character to make the process a lot less frustrating. There are some really ingenious methods of dealing with text and documents which are so so frustrating on the average smartphone.
The battery life – a common qualm among smartphone users – is incredible. Despite running apps, video, messaging, 4G internet and that huge display for two days now, the Passport is still going strong (it actually still has 25% battery!). It’s easy to forget how useful this actually is when you’re using it because it just doesn’t give in, as it shouldn’t. It’s undoubtedly one of its best features behind the keyboard. Having said this, the battery does have a tendency to cause the handset to become quite warm if you’re holding it for a long period of time, although it’s not a problem if you have a case, it can lead to an uncomfortable experience (and potentially lead to further issues down the line).
The most egregious problem becomes when you start investigating other aspects of the Operating System. Fancy Snapchatting your friends? Looking through the news? Playing Candy Crush like your friends? Well, it just isn’t going to happen. The Passport is a clear move away from a smartphone in the sense we now know it and the configuration of Apps shows it. The BBC news app is just a link to the Mobile Site, games are pretty much all costly, even the Twitter and Facebook apps look like they haven’t been updated in years. They’re usable of course, but they just don’t feel right if you’ve used anything other than a Blackberry recently. In short, Blackberry OS is a graveyard of a place for anything other than accessing documents and emails. It is frustrating if you want your phone to be truly “smart”.
To the average user the Passport can be a difficult phone to get your head (and hands) around. The unusual design is strangely alluring and actually intelligently made. The innovative keyboard is a wonderful way of tackling the Physical vs Touchscreen debate and makes it perfect for those who are regularly messaging or typing on the move. It’s ingenious. The problem is the OS, Blackberry clings onto its clunky and old fashioned Blackberry OS despite Android, iOS and Windows all being far superior. It’s confusing to set the phone up and impossible to use it for any truly modern ways. It leaves the innovative hardware flailing to make itself useful.
In short, The Passport is a fantastic phone but because it is on Blackberry it becomes mediocre and only really good for business users wanting to only work on documents on the move (which it is undeniably fantastic at). It’s a shame because it was so close to being a rejuvenation of the failing brand.