Preconceptions and a smartphone revolution
If I am completely honest then I have to say that when I first saw the BlackBerry Passport online my preconceptions about this new smartphone were to say the least on the negative side.
However, the moment that I received a BlackBerry Passport and opened up the box things started to change and after spending a little time with the Passport I am absolutely convinced that we are seeing a smartphone revolution spearheaded by BlackBerry.
In this BlackBerry Passport review I hope to inspire you to seriously consider this smartphone, which I am convinced will be a winning formula that will see BlackBerry back on top in 2014 and beyond.
You may also like to check out my article: 14 tricks and tips for your BlackBerry Passport
The BlackBerry passport is without doubt one of the highest quality smartphones on the market and its design has elements inspired by steel beam construction and modernist architecture.
The exposed steel edges are complimented by a rubberised rear casing, glassed front and physical keyboard. The Passport is 9.3mm thick and weighs 196 grams which is heavy but I didn’t mind this as it added to the overall feel of a luxury high-end product.
The large 4.5-inch touchscreen provides an absolutely stunning canvass with a 1440 x 1440 resolution at 453 pixels per inch. At first it seems strange to see a device with a square display but I can confirm that it is infinitely better for browsing web pages, reading e-books, using apps or maps and seeing more of an email with less need to scroll.
The screen revolution sits proudly above another revolution, the new BlackBerry Passport keyboard. Okay so we have seen physical keyboards before but this keyboard can be used like a laptop’s touchpad. Simply slide your finger of the keys without depressing them and you can scroll around web pages without blocking your view as your finger doesn’t need to touch the screen.
Typing on the new keyboard is also a much better experience. As a fan of swipe keyboards I was surprised to find the BlackBerry keyboard extremely quick to use and far more accurate. The typing experience is aided by auto-correction, next word prediction and a personalised learning engine that gets to know the way you type.
The premium build quality of the BlackBerry Passport extends inside with a 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor with 3GB RAM. A rather generous internal memory of 32GB is included and this may be extended with a MicroSD card of up to 128GB.
The impressively powerful speakers amplify their sound out of the base of the phone and this ensures that your music isn’t muffled when placed on a surface. On the flip side of things there is a quad microphone system in place with BlackBerry Natural Sound Technology to make enhancements based on the position of the phone and background noise.
Phone Set Up
The phone set up for this BlackBerry smartphone has been well thought through and when you turn the Passport on for the first time you will be greeted by a quick tutorial covering the gesture controls which form the backbone of navigation and operation of the menu, apps and home screens.
You can find other tutorials in the tutorial hub covering topics such as typing tips, editing text, using the BlackBerry Hub and so on. In fact the BlackBerry Hub is central to all your conversations with emails, text, BBM, phone calls and social alerts all in one place and only a single swipe away.
A Setup Hub can also be found in the Passport’s home screens and this allows for easy set up of your email accounts and social accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Evernote. I set up all of my email and social accounts easily within five minutes so I can attest to this being extremely easy to do.
The BlackBerry Passport has succeeded where other BlackBerry phones have failed in the past by blending work and play-based features seamlessly together in one device. The success of this is demonstrated by enjoying an experience in both realms without ever thinking that you are using the phone for work or play as you edit documents, reply to emails, stream YouTube videos or play on games downloaded from either BlackBerry World or the Amazon Appstore.
BlackBerry Passport work-based features:
- Documents To Go - This productivity suite will allow you to open, edit and save Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. Editing tools pop out from the side and the dictation option works pretty well even when music is playing in the background. It is the square screen that stands out here as for the first time on a smartphone it is practical to use documents like spreadsheets, with a bigger picture on display and tailored perfectly to normal document sizes.
- BlackBerry World - This is home for many apps but in particular there are lots of productivity apps that have been created especially for BlackBerry devices.
- BlackBerry memo and tasks - These are easy to create and can include written notes, voice dictated notes and images taken using the camera.
- BlackBerry Assistant - Here you can use your voice to control actions on your Passport such as creating emails, managing contacts and your calendar, getting directions, using BBM, to begin playing music and videos, for finding information or to check in on Foursquares as well as much more.There is also a dedicated in-car mode for eyes only and hands free operation.
- File Manager - You might go straight to an app like Documents To Go but I found that the File Manager, which sorts all your files into type, was a great place to open up any item. This could be an Excel spreadsheet or music file and the Passport automatically opens your selection with the appropriate app. From here you can also copy, move and delete files.
- Synchronise - When you first connect you BlackBerry Passport to your PC or laptop via the included USB cable the BlackBerry Blend software is automatically installed onto your PC. After this your devices will sync and this has never been easier as devices can connect via a cable, over your Wi-Fi connection or over a mobile network by signing in with your BlackBerry ID.
BlackBerry Passport entertainment features:
- BlackBerry Browser - Accessing the internet is yet another experience that is better on a square screen. The browser remembers your most recent searches, you can save bookmarks or add an internet page to your home screen with its own icon or use the BlackBerry Screen Reader to remove the images and read only the text on a page with the option to enlarge text as needed.
- Amazon Appstore - The Amazon Appstore gives you access to Android apps and games and these include everything from Minecraft Pocket Edition to Pinterest or the Candy Crush Saga.
- Social - All of you favourite social networks are pre-installed so no matter whether you are a Facebook or Twitter fan you can get social without having to download new apps.
- Everything else - Further entertainment is provided by dedicated music and video apps, a FM radio which uses the ‘in-the-box’ headphones as an antenna and GPS is onboard for location based services and navigation.
Camera & Video
The BlackBerry Passport camera and video package is pretty impressive and I was able to capture images easily and understand the camera settings with no confusion at all. The 13MP 5-elements lens with optical image stabilisation uses continuous and touch to focus along with a LED flash to get its results.
There is a 5x digital zoom available for use with pinch and zoom but I honestly found the best results were achieved when the zoom wasn’t used. After all that 13MP quality allows you to crop images whilst retaining every detail of the subjects you want to bring into closer view.
In the settings you can change the aspect ratio of the image and among other things you can select normal, burst, time shift and panorama shooting modes. Burst mode was absolutely awesome when capturing fast moving images and the panorama mode was one of the best I have seen when it comes to panning around and lining up the next angle.
Post shot enhancements can be made easily with the typical selection of filters but I much preferred tweaking the saturation, white balance and sharpness manually, but it is great to have the choice. Story Maker is also at hand to create slide shows accompanied by music.
Video is recorded at 1080p HD at 60fps while the 2MP forward facing camera captures video at 720p with a 3x digital zoom.
The 3450mAh battery is quoted by BlackBerry as providing 30 hours of battery life based on a mixed usage scenario. I found that with limited use the battery barely deteriorated at all over a few days whilst almost constant usage throughout a day could also be handled by the high-capacity battery.
The official figures state that you should expect to get up to 14.5 days standby, 14 hours talk time, 91 hours of audio playback or 11 hours of video.
Overall I have been bowled over by the BlackBerry Passport which has massively exceeded all expectations. The square screen and mouse-pad feature over the physical keys completely won me over and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this smartphone to professionals and friends alike.
Watch this space for 20 tips and tricks on using your BlackBerry Passport and the BlackBerry Passport for Business articles coming soon.
Written by: Michael Brown