There is no getting around it – the BlackBerry Passport is the one phone that will turn heads this winter. The sentiment that accompanies the head-turning could, however, well determine the future of the once iconic smartphone brand. For, the Passport is simply the most noticeable device we have seen since, well, the E90 Communicator from Nokia.
The Passport It marks a massive change in design approach from the double B. The company is known for its QWERTY keyboard devices with large keyboards and relative small displays. It tried to go the touchscreen way with the Z10, Z30 and Z3, and even blended the touchscreen with the QWERTY in the Q10 and Q5, but in all the cases, it never really tried to go beyond conventional shapes and sizes. With the Passport, it bloody well (pardon the swearing, but the sentiment is strong) does.
For the Passport attempts to marry the touchscreen with the QWERTY, but unlike the Q series, it actually tries to give both due space. The result is a device with a three row full QWERTY keyboard and a 4.5 inch touchscreen which is certainly the biggest I have seen in a candy bar form factor. The result? A device that is perhaps the most square shaped we have seen in candy bar mode – it is about 12 cm long and 9 cm wide. Want perspective? The Q5 was about 6 cm wide! To its credit, BlackBerry has kept the thickness down to single digits (9.3 mm). And the result is a device that looks like a relatively slim tile.
That said, it will stretch your palms significantly, and also weighs a very hefty 194 grammes. This is a two handed device and makes no bones about it.
You would have thought the size and shape would be a killer in this era of sliver-thin, large-screened devices, but well, we have to concede that the Passport looks, well, classy. The back curves outward, and although the corners are a bit on the sharp side, the overall feel of the phone is very solid. The sides are metallic as are the volume rocker keys on the right and the display/power key on top. And running right along the keyboard are two horizontal stripes of metal. The back has a smooth feel to it and has the BB logo and a 13.0-megapixel camera with a flash above it placed in the middle of a thin steel band (shades of HTC). No, it will not fit your palm, but know something? You won’t mind holding it.
We had feared the phone would be “top-heavy” given the fact that the display is so much bigger than the keyboard, but we actually did not find that to be the case as our fingers tended to support the upper and middle part of the device as part of our natural posture. Coming to the keys themselves, they are right out of the Bold family and large with plenty of “give.” We have heard some complaints about the spacebar being too small, but we think it is more a matter of habit, really. What’s really odd is that there are no numbers or shortcut keys – both appear just above the display when needed. Incidentally you can swipe your fingers along the keyboard to scroll the display, which is again kind of odd, considering that you can just reach up and do the same on the touchscreen itself.
The 1440 x 1440 resolution display is however the strong suite of the Passport – it actually big enough for someone like me to have written a story on it, as you can see several lines of text on it and not just the handful as on older QWERTY BlackBerries. The 13.0-megapixel camera seems a decent performer and well, the phone certainly has the specs: quad core Snapdragon 800 processor, 3GB RAM, 4G, 32 GB storage (expandable), Bluetooth, NFC, Wi-Fi…and the new updated BlackBerry 10.3 OS, along with support for apps from the Amazon App Store.
It borrows from the old BB, it borrows from the new one too. But we think that what could determine the fate of the Passport is how it blends those two. All we can safely predict is: this is one of those devices that is going to polarise opinions. People will either love it or hate it. To find out which side we end up on, stay tuned for a review.