I took the Passport for a five day test drive over the past week. In that time I was able to come up to speed, not just on thumb typing, but on all the features.
I had some help – the folks at BlackBerry Group gave me my own tutorial which you can see in the accompanying video.
The new BlackBerry Passport is clearly designed for and aimed at a niche market of business users. It has features which are designed to bring back the dyed-in-the-wool business user. It is – at least in my opinion – the finest work that BlackBerry has done in years.
The first thing that strikes everyone is the form factor. In the five days I used it, it always got noticed. Some thought it was elegant. Others found it strange. For me, it fit in my jacket and even shirt pocket nicely, and I have big hands, so I liked the size and form factor which is what counts.
In some ways, this is a “back to the future” smartphone. The keyboard is front and centre on this device. Unlike previous versions where you had to scratch your head and ask what they were thinking, this is a straight ahead QWERTY format. The placement of special characters utilizes the touchscreen in a creative and easy to understand format. After many adaptations that I never really got, the old trackball has finally met its match with an easy-to-use innovation – a keyboard that acts like a trackpad.
Other business features that the Passport excels at? The BlackBerry Hub and its one stop management of email, text and social media is first rate. Even the mail client for my Mac was well thought-out and took no time to learn. Feature for feature, in my opinion it was superior day-to-day business use to either Outlook or my Gmail client – both of which are formidable competitors.
Business documents were not just easy-to-read – they were easy to create in the built-in function. I did both a long text document and played with the slide creation. For a phone, those were as close to business use as I’ve seen.
The battery life is exceptional. I charged it one day and was using it well into the next day. I’ve never skipped an overnight charge with any other phone, and frequently I have to charge midday.
As a consumer device, I’m sure that it has a long way to go to compete with the other players, but I’m not really an expert on that. It covers the “holy trinity” of functions – photos, music and social media. Photos were easy to take and manage. The high resolution screen made viewing them a pleasure.
They have also added some cool features to the camera. The built in time-lapse photography is a good way to capture just the right expression. I did manage to port my music over very easily. And social media management was a breeze. The micro SD card transferred directly from my Android phone and moved my files over with it. For those who want to convert their media, the BlackBerry software seems to make that painless as well.
For those who want choice or have that one special app, the BlackBerry operating system now allows you to download and run native Android Apps through the Amazon app store. Curiously, the Amazon store still has some apps which are conspicuous by their absence. The Kindle app was one of these. But with a tiny hack that anyone could do, we managed to find out how to load and run any Android app. I can’t vouch for them all, but with one exception (my Phorus app) all the apps I downloaded ran with no problems.
Like it or hate it – this device isn’t going to send shivers up the spine of the other smartphone providers. But it is a credible and serious contender that might breathe some life back into the BlackBerry franchise – at least in the business niche that it has refocused on.
Love to hear your opinion. Catch me @CIOJimLove or firstname.lastname@example.org.