The unlikely BlackBerry Passport review

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Through an odd sequence of events I’m now the owner of a BlackBerry Passport. I chose this device despite deep reservations of owning such an odd beast.

What follows is a mostly unedited day-by-day log of the first week of my getting used to the Passport. The short version: it’s odd but awesome.

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Day 1: This is the first sentence I’m typing on the BlackBerry Passport. What an odd device. It looks like it will be too large and unwieldy for normal use but so far it fits better into pockets than my Z30 ever did mostly because it’s a bit shorter. I’ve also found it to be easier to use one-handed than the Z30 despite the size.

What a curious thing.

The other odd thing about this phone is that, in true BlackBerry form, they weren’t afraid to bury useful features. Like devices from their past, I have a feeling that over time I will become faster and more efficient with the Passport as I learn about the hidden features they’ve included. Case in point: double tap on the keyboard to start the integrated trackpad, swipe down to bring up a temporary listing of alternate keys. I read about these features in a review. At first it seems odd and unexpected but it already feels natural.

I’m still getting used to the keyboard. It’s unlike any I’ve used before. I think this will be a good thing overall but by all accounts there will be a multi-day adjustment period.

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Day 2: I’m starting to get used to the input and for sure it’s the fastest phone I’ve used. Everything flies. I never found the Z30 to be slow but this is certainly faster. The hybrid keyboard is an interesting beast. I’m starting to use the gestures but it still feels a bit forced and I have to look at the keyboard and screen more than I’d like. I’m pretty sure that this will get better quickly over time. The size is odd but I’m not finding it any more awkward in my pocket than the Z30. I also find one-handed use to be no worse than the Z30.

Back to the hybrid keyboard, I’m still hitting the screen by accident more than I’d like and the keyboard gestures take a very particular sensitivity which I am still adjusting to. I think I’m getting up to speed pretty quickly though. I’d bet I’ll be a lot better within a week of use.

It’s a very handsome device, I think.

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The speakers also seem to be at least on par with the Z30. This is a good thing because that was one of my favourite features of the z30. I’d say that maybe there’s a little less bass but that it’s certainly louder. It’s excellent at any rate.

I’m getting used to the keyboard and swiping around. It’s a little inconsistent but I’m sure I’ll work it out.

Here’s an interesting thing: I was just at a meeting where I would normally use a laptop. Instead, I used the Passport to refer to and make meeting notes, check email and text logs, schedule events, and run a calculator. I could have done these things on earlier BlackBerry 10 devices but I didn’t. It didn’t occur to me. It did with the Passport and I think that’s down to the odd shape and size of the device. It’s like having a small, unobtrusive tablet or laptop as far as functions go but is much smaller than one of these devices.

On just the second day of owning it, I’m already starting to reach for the Passport for entirely new classes of use. I think this little portable computer may become a pretty indispensable tool for me. In some ways it feels like a real leap passed what I’ve been using. BlackBerry may well be on to something here.

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Day 3: 61% charge at 6pm. It’s been off charge since 6am. I’ve used the Passport quite a bit today. In fact, I’d say it’s been my main computer. I also used it to listen to music for a few hours. I’m using it more than any other portable device I’ve owned in recent memory. Despite the heavier than average use I never worry about the battery. It’s great.

I’ve now got it hooked up to Blend on a few machines now. Blend works great and is a true standout feature of BlackBerry 10. (More on this later.)

I’m pretty used to the keyboard now. I already feel that I’m about as fast as I was on the Z30. The larger keys are a joy and I’m getting quite fast at scanning and flicking in the right spot for the auto-suggest. I’d say I’m far more accurate with this keyboard. The placement of the B key seemed problematic on day one but is already normal for me. I’m definitely keeping this phone. What a shocker.

I’ve been using it a lot between 6am and 11pm to read sites, compose this, run updates etc. It’s still at 30% battery and I’m running an unoptimised leaked build with battery saving disabled to work around a minor display bug. It’s most impressive. I look forward to the official 10.3.1 release in the coming days.

Already the workflow is feeling very natural. I feel like I’m getting a good handle on the keyboard and scrolling feels natural. I haven’t quite figured out the trackpad. That will be next.

In the meantime, I’m attempting more than I ever have on a phone. It really is quite impressive. Like a true pocket computer. Maybe almost as much of an improvement as my iPhone 3GS was over the BlackBerry Curve it happily replaced. It feels to me like a modern take on the venerable Nokia Communicator line.

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Day 4: more web browsing. Started using Maps too. We’re heading out of town for the weekend. Fun times! I’m still seeing odd display bugs from time to time. Serves me right for running a leaked build.

I’m finding myself more likely to attempt longer-form writing on the Passport. The screen and roomy keyboard really lend themselves to these kinds of tasks.

With driving out of town I didn’t actively use the Passport as much today. I had about 75% of the battery left by 10:30pm.

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Day 5: I didn’t use the Passport that much yesterday. I did listen to podcasts for hours and make extensive use of the GPS, maps, and the excellent turn-by-turn navigation that’s been introduced in 10.3. It works great!

I had a chance to check out the BlackBerry Classic. It’s a lot bigger than the Q10. It’s about the width of a Z30 with the height of the Passport. Oddly, it felt significantly thicker and heavier than the Passport. It also felt very solid and well made, but it in no way felt like a premium device like the Passport does. I can’t exactly put my finger on why that is. Overall, with the two side by side, I’m glad that I got the Passport and that’s just based on the physical differences, not taking into account how much faster the Passport is. Go figure.

Camera: seems good but not brilliant. I’ll include some samples. Low light is a challenge. It’s certainly not worse than the Z30. It’s easy to take a very blurry shot without realising it. I hope this is something they improve over time.

I think I’m pretty much used to the trackpad now. You can lightly double tap anywhere on the keyboard to invoke it at the current cursor position. It works just as well as the trackpad on the Classic would. I’m not sold on the three row keyboard for all uses but I am sold on the virtual trackpad. Assuming you don’t need a dedicated call and hangup button, I could see BlackBerry releasing a Classic 2 with the specs of the Passport but the Classic keyboard with the Passport’s virtual trackpad. This would let them offer the same screen size and excellent keyboard with a shorter overall height.

I still find that I use this for more tasks. For instance, I just ordered equipment from my phone without moving to a laptop. There’s no reason that I couldn’t have done this with my earlier phones but I didn’t. The size of the Passport makes it feel like a small computer or tablet rather than a phone for many uses. It’s like a phablet for people who like to type! Five days in, I’m sold. This is an outstanding device.

 

As of 10:50pm the Passport still had 54% of a charge. Despite using the GPS while listening to music, typing and browsing quite a bit, and video and camera use. I’m pretty sure I could actively use this thing all day long on a charge. Remarkable.

 

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Day 6: Up at 7. Back home again! In the first hour I’ve been up I’ve been using the Passport pretty much constantly to read and comment on articles, work on this post directly in WordPress using the web interface, dealing with emails, including one very long reply. In that time, with the screen on pretty much constantly, I’m down to 97% battery. Impressive.

I’m closing in on 1500 words for this post and it’s all been done on the BlackBerry Passport. That’s quite a feat, I’d say. Well done BlackBerry.

 

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Day 7: I’m now whizzing around the device. I think I’ve pretty much mastered the keyboard and trackpad. I’d say I’m now more efficient and accurate than typing and navigating around than I’ve been on any mobile device.  So, I’m done with this log. The Passport is awesome. Sure, it’s odd-looking but it’s a great pocket computer and a great cell phone. As with all things BlackBerry these days, it’s too bad more people won’t get a chance to try the Passport for a few days before committing to one. It may look odd but it works so well for my uses. I’m super-impressed with BlackBerry for taking this to market. Anyone still missing a slider phone should try this thing. Heck, anyone who isn’t put off by the app ecosystem should try the Passport. It’s quite a device.

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One more thing: I started this log on Documents to Go on my phone but moved to the web version of WordPress on about day 5. Every since, it’s been strictly BlackBerry Browser only, images and all. (For kicks, I copied the images of the Passport from my camera directly to the Passport using a USB OTG cable. I won’t do this every time but it is certainly doable. ) That too worked great. No data loss, no unexpected behaviour. I’d been using the Android WordPress app on BlackBerry 10. I’m going to remove it and just edit directly. BlackBerry have created a superior mobile browser and the WordPress devs have done an amazing job of adapting their admin interface to mobile devices. Well done all!

GoSaBe Blog - Feb 16, 2015 | BlackBerry, Hardware