BlackBerry’s new Passport smartphone looks odd from every angle

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Aug 5, 2013
Mobile By Russell Holly Sep. 24, 2014 12:28 pm
The folks at BlackBerry are announcing a new smartphone today, and to say the design is jarring would be the understatement of the week. Fortunately, there’s a decent chance BlackBerry doesn’t think this phone is for you. Instead, BlackBerry has decided to stick to what they know and target people whose smartphone use is more business than personal. Or, to use Blackberry’s own language from their presentation: serious mobile professionals interested in serious mobility.
BlackBerry has managed to attach a three-row keyboard to the end of a 4.5-inch square screen and call it a smartphone. The Passport is a squatty little phone that just plain looks odd at every angle, but on the inside it’s actually got some impressive hardware. The Passport is packing a 2.2GHz Snapdragon with 3GB of RAM, a 13MP camera, and a 3450mAh battery. The 1440 x 1440 HD display is perfectly capable of wielding BB10.3 to show you tons of information, and with 32GB of internal storage as a starting point there’s a lot to like here. The phone has a stainless steel frame running through the center of it to help ensure durability, and at 9.3mm thick it’s only slightly larger than most of its competitors.

The big takeaway from BlackBerry’s presentation is how capable this phone is for professionals, but there’s still plenty of entertainment focused features as well. The BB10 app store is paired up with Amazon’s Appstore to deliver a new arsenal of Android apps, which means lots of new games for the platform. There’s also a new virtual assistant that is designed to take on Siri and Google Now, and it does so by allowing text input and granting the assistant access to the secure parts of the phone where you keep your locked down work-related things. This means you’ll be able to use this virtual assistant for both work and home, which is something neither Google nor Apple have managed to pull off just yet.
One of the most interesting parts of the Passport is the keyboard. BlackBerry has always been known for their quality physical keyboards, but the Passport takes everything but the alphabet and a touch strip and moves it to the screen. What’s fascinating about this is how well the combination seems to work, as the information on screen changes based on whatever you are doing at the time. A number pad can be quickly summoned if the phone thinks you need one, as well as an auto-correct feature and just about everything else BlackBerry keyboards have been known for. It’ll be interesting to see how well users can actually switch between the physical and the virtual, but the idea could certainly establish a new scenario where physical keyboards can co-exist on smartphones.
The Passport is launching unlocked at $599 in the US, but so far no US carriers have been announced to carry the phone subsidized. BlackBerry is facing some unique challenges as the underdog in the smartphone world right now, and focusing on professional users is familiar ground for the company.
Now read: Five days with the iPhone 6: The good and the bad

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