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Sunday, January 18, 2015

BlackBerry Passport review: 10 things to know before buying

In a world dominated by Android and iOS, BlackBerrys have been
relegated to secondary “work phone” status, if they are even used at

The BlackBerry Passport has provided a mini revival for the Canadian
smartphone maker since its launch. Below we take a look at what you can
expect if you're thinking about buying a Passport.

1. Display and Design

It's big and demands attention, thanks to the unique 4.5in square screen with its 1440 x 1440 resolution.

The display is super bright too, clocking a maximum reading of 700
cd/m2. Together, with the device's width, this makes it ideal for
reading documents, books and browsing the web. You also don't ever have
to switch between landscape and portrait modes.

The 1:1 ratio of the Passport isn't capable of displaying the video
using the whole screen - so you'll get thick black bars when watching
content. It's not ideal if you're using it as your primary source of
media consumption.

The front and back panels are bonded together with a thick metallic
band to provide solidity. It's heavier than most smartphones at 196g,
but it does fit snugly into pockets. The soft-touch back feels lovely to
hold too.

The sheer width of the device makes it difficult to use with
one-hand. You can read a book and swipe through pages with a single hand
but any interaction requiring typing will need you to grip the device
with both paws, so you can tap away with your thumbs.

2. BB10

BlackBerry 10's interface is designed to give you quick access to
your most commonly used apps. The home screen is made up of
ever-changing preview windows. Tapping on these panels allows you to
pick up where you left off.

BB10 differs from Android and iOS, especially when it comes to
navigation. There's no home or software buttons - so everything relies
on swiping from the edges of the screen.

Don't worry if you're new to the OS, because you're provided with a
tutorial when you boot up the device and this can be revisited at
anytime from the app screen. It's pretty intuitive and you shouldn't
find any problems getting up to speed with the gesture control.

To help businesses deploy BlackBerrys to employees, the device also
supports features like BlackBerry Balance. This allows 'personal' and
'work' profiles to be created - so confidential information can be
sandboxed in a safe environment and altered without affecting personal

3. BlackBerry Hub

This remains the best messaging aggregation hub on any mobile OS. The
BB Hub syncs your emails, IM and social media accounts into one easy to
access place. You can get to the Hub at anytime by swiping in an
inverted 'L' motion from the bottom of the screen regardless of which
app you're using.

Download Facebook or Whatsapp, for example, and it will automatically
pull your conversations into the Hub - and you can jump straight into
the app from there.

There's a Priority area too - so you can assign important contacts to make sure their messages aren't buried in a busy inbox.

4. Physical Keyboard

Design changes mean even the most ardent BlackBerry fans will take time to adjust to this layout.

The keyboard has been cut down to three rows, in order to accommodate
the 4.5in display. The physical keys are used exclusively for letters,
with punctuation and numbers popping up on the touch screen when you
start typing.

We found the new positioning of the spacebar to be problematic. It's
now on the same row as the letters, whereas on previous models it was
always placed underneath. On the Passport, the spacebar is now where
BlackBerry users expect to press the letters "b" and "n".

Despite using the Passport for a few weeks, I feel like I'm not
typing as fast as I could be. Touchscreen keyboards have come a long way
and with apps such as Swype dominating the market, you may find
physical keys aren't needed.

5. Hardware + Storage

The OS is powered by a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor and
3GB of RAM. This should give the device longevity via future software

Every device ships with 32GB of internal storage and also supports
micro SD cards (up to 128GB in size), so storage space won't be a
problem. To access the micro SD and SIM card slots, you need to unclip
the top of the device - this is secured in place so don't be afraid to
use a bit of force to prise it off.

On the rear there's a 13-megapixel snapper with auto-focus and optical image stabilisation.

Wireless connectivity is comprehensive too with 4G, Wi-Fi Direct,
NFC, Bluetooth 4 and Miracast all included as standard. When it comes to
transferring content, there are plenty of options with the Passport,
many of which work cross-platform.

6. BlackBerry Blend

This feature allows you to install software on your Mac or Windows
machine. You can then sync up the Passport via a USB cable or through a
connection to the same Wi-Fi network.

When your phone and computer are connected, a BlackBerry Blend
Dashboard pops up on screen. This shows emails, BBM and text messages as
well as Calendar appointments. You can respond to messages from the
dashboard should you choose to.

We could drag files onto the Passport using the File Manager in
Blend. However, to take files off, we had to use the device as a mass
storage device.

7. Battery life

One of the standout features is the battery life, thanks to the
gigantic 3450mAh battery pack powering the Passport. That's larger than
the batteries found in phabets such as the Note 4 (3,220mAh) and the
Nexus 6 (3,220mAh), which have screens that are over an inch bigger.

This translates to excellent battery life. With moderate usage expect
to stretch the battery life to over 48 hours. Even if you're hammering
the device during the day with multiple email accounts synced up, you'll
make it through the working day. I've been averaging 30 hours on a
single charge.

8. Apps

Apps are no longer a massive problem because you can dip into either
the BlackBerry World Marketplace or the Amazon App Store. This means
you've got more than 500,000 apps at your disposal, so you're more than
likely to find the one you need.

Box, Docs to Go, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and
Adobe Reader are useful apps already pre-loaded onto the device.

9. Personalisation

Although the interface has limited customisation options, there is
plenty you can change when it comes to notifications and how you
interact with the device.

To set up custom notifications for contacts go to Settings > Notifications > Contacts. It's then possible to assign unique ringtones as well as alerts for emails, texts and other messages.

We like the Advanced interactions too. From this menu it's possible to do the following:

10. Web browsing

This has been a weakness of previous BlackBerry handsets with
keyboards, primarily because the screens have been so small. This is no
longer an issue with the Passport.

Running the latest version of WebKit - the default browser loads pages in a couple of seconds.

BlackBerry's default browser also remains one of the few to retain
support for Adobe Flash on mobile devices. You need to activate it in
the browser menu by going to Settings > Display & Actions. Whilst the web is transitioning to HTML5, having the option to view Flash content on the move is useful.

You can add pages to the Home screen for quick access, enable a
Reader Mode to get rid of clutter and even save pages. There are even
one-click keyboard shortcuts for actions like 'refresh' and 'find on


The last month has been a more enjoyable experience than I imagined.
BB10 has improved tremendously since its launch in January 2013. It
feels like a completely different operating system and the ability to
install apps from the Amazon App Store gives users more options.

The Passport provided all the functionality you'd expect from a
high-end device. I liked the square display, but felt like the keyboard
suffered to accommodate this design.

Personally, I prefer touchscreen keyboards, but if you prefer physical keys, the Passport is worth trying.


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