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BlackBerry Passport Review: Diary Of A Silicon Suit

29/09/2014 13:09 BST | Updated 29/09/2014 13:59 BST

The BlackBerry Passport is available now from Selfridges and from BlackBerry's own website for £529.

Key Features:

  • 4.5-inch Display with 1440x1440 resolution
  • 13MP Camera with OIS
  • Touch-Sensitive physical keyboard
  • 32GB Storage
  • 30-hour battery life
  • 2.2GHz quad-core processor

The Pitch:

"The BlackBerry Passport smartphone challenges the smartphone status quo with a large square touch screen and touch-enabled keyboard."

blackberry passport

The new BlackBerry was controversial as soon as it was announced, with its square form factor and unique keyboard design. To really get to grips with it - literally - we used it for five days, and wrote our review as a diary of despair and frustration and - possibly - redemption...

Day 1

The BlackBerry Passport is not an easy phone to love. It's taken me two hours just to find a comfortable way of holding it. I say comfortable: my little fingers are now precariously balancing the phone so my thumbs can hit the keys. This isn't like a normal BlackBerry keyboard, it's wide, thin and ultimately feels like it's going to be tough to type with. Which given the pitch here is a little strange.

Having set up the various accounts such as Facebook and Twitter I then went hunting for apps. The results were not good. My assumption was that the addition of Amazon's App Store would result in key apps like Instagram, iPlayer, Feedly and more all finally heading to Blackberry. I was wrong. I was so wrong in fact that after furiously comparing app stores I've come to the conclusion that blackberry's own app store is actually more useful than amazon's. This is of course ridiculous.

Day 2

The keyboard continues to prove problematic. Turns out despite being shorter than most smartphones the Passport still suffers from a serious weight imbalance. Lie in bed, try and type and there's an 80 per cent chance your nose will be sharply reminded of just how heavy some smartphones really are. At 196g that's pretty heavy.

blackberry passport

Still bitter about the app situation, I've decided that because this is -- to all extents and purposes -- a work phone and so primarily I should focus on looking at how it fulfils that role. In terms of productivity apps the Passport remains about as useful as any other BlackBerry handset. There's Dropbox and One Drive support courtesy of custom-built apps by BlackBerry. Docs2Go will open almost any file and while the editor is unattractive in the extreme it works (wrote this last paragraph using it).

Day 3

It's the weekend and my flatmate and myself have decided to go for a run. I usually use Nike+ Running but as that wasn't available on the Passport I went to look for Endomondo. Turns out that isn't available either (despite it definitely being available on the Z10) so decided to look for some alternatives. Unfortunately the selection isn't great and almost none of them tie into other accounts or fitness trackers you might use. It's frustrating but I have to admit that there's probably not much call for people to go running with a work phone unless you're a) The President of the United States or b) somebody that needs to reevaluate their work/life balance.

Battery life is something that has really impressed me, though. It wasn't even at halfway by the evening. It has occurred to me however this might have something to do with the fact that I can't spend my spare time watching iPlayer, or browsing Instagram etc.

Downloaded a few games to try and see what playing on the screen would be like. At this point all credit should be given to BlackBerry for the Passport's display. It's incredibly sharp and has fantastically wide viewing angles. They created it for reading excel documents sure, but no excel document deserves a screen as good as this.

Day 4

Dropped the phone on my face again. In my defence it was 8 in the morning and the Passport's insanely loud speakers caught me off guard. Some colleagues and myself were running The Colour Run this morning at the Olympic Stadium so figured it'd be a good time to try out the camera. Turns out the colour run really is as colourful as you'd expect. Decided to avoid covering the phone in paint and waited for another opportunity. Incidentally typing is getting slightly easier, but only at certain points. The moment you want to quickly reel off a message though you're suddenly reminded of how clumsy the layout is and you'll get annoyed again.

blackberry passport

Had another chance to try out the camera later that day courtesy of a stadium tour at the Emirates. It was a beautiful day as well. The camera is good although there's a lot of noise in photos where it has no right to be. My friend was not enamoured with the Passport. I felt a certain tinge of indignation but then resigned myself to the fact that while I had some counter-arguments, they just weren't relevant against a consumer-focused smartphone. The point remains, this is not the phone for consumers. It's the phone for businesses.

Day 5

So if this is the phone for businesses why does BlackBerry Hub insist on collecting all my information from every app into one long list of notifications, messages and system alerts? There's something horribly unorganised about having a stream of notifications that can include everything from a WhatsApp message to a system notification asking if you want to join a hotspot. This has become apparent today because I'm carrying my (actual) work phone with me as well.

It's an iPhone 5C and it serves a number of purposes including letting me check my emails and make sure we're tweeting out the news regularly. I also use it in the mornings to skim through the world news, collect things of interest and also research wider feature ideas. The reason I mention this is because they're all separate tasks, with different apps involved, but yet they all work. The articles I find on Feedly I save to Pocket so I can read later. The emails I read on Gmail can grab Drive attachments or I can share direct through Dropbox.

blackberry passport app store

These are the actions that define my working life and while I admire BlackBerry's focus on a business proposition I'm just not sure it'll be useful for anyone other than the suited businessman who writes emails, approves spreadsheets and has loud and long conversations on speakerphone.

Conclusion

BlackBerry set themselves a hugely difficult task with the Passport: to create a hybrid smartphone that satisfied the media-consuming tech junky inside all of us while never sacrificing productivity. In terms of difficulty, this was right at the top.

Sadly though the execution seriously misses the mark. BlackBerry's biggest USP is that combo of keyboard and smartphone and on the Passport, it's a pain to use. No matter how much we tried it was just not comfortable. Selecting text, editing it became chores that they shouldn't have been.

It's a shame, because in a world filled with smartphones that by in large all take the same form factor it would have been nice to have someone mixing things up a bit. As it is this remains a work phone that just... doesn't work.

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