*Steve Makris is a technology expert who does a weekly Tech Talk segment during Edmonton’s Sunday Morning News. You can watch his segment above.
I was at the BlackBerry Passport global launch in Toronto this week amid media and fans. I say fans because many folks in the industry, even non-Canadians, have a soft spot for the Canadian technology company that brought serious mobility to business and consumers.
I have been using the Passport since then, trying to see if my love at first sight would fade away. I am happy to report that I still like the odd-shaped, square-screen device, which is about the size of my passport.
BlackBerry Chief Executive John Chen with Passport Handout/BlackBerry
BlackBerry Chief Executive John Chen with Passport
The Passport is the big hope for the struggling company. Chief executive John Chen said if BlackBerry sells 10 million units, the company will make money.
READ MORE: BlackBerry unveils Passport smartphone
The Passport’s all-around, five-inch-long, embedded, stainless-steel T-frame and carefully fitted Gorilla glass oozes class. It has a 4.5-inch, 1440 X 1440 resolution, 453-DPI pixel density LCD screen. Combined with its minimal use of plastic, signature keyboard and soft, non-slip rubbery back, it’s the hardest smartphone to hang on to, compared to traditionally shaped tablets from Samsung, LG and Sony, and Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus.
But this device has a purpose: Work first, play later.
BlackBerry Passport is similarly sized to its travel document counterpart supplied
BlackBerry Passport is similarly sized to its travel document counterpart
Its screen fits a lot more characters per line — 62 — than competitors’, which is great for business and websites. It takes one click to enlarge a story on a web page to full screen. You don’t have to decide whether to go horizontal or vertical, although the screen will rotate as an option.
Typing is different, but if I can get used to it, so can you. The manual keyboard makes typing very nice and has a smart sweeping feature in four directions for scrolling. The keyboard is supplemented by one screen of context-sensitive characters and three more numeric/symbol screens which end up encroaching on screen space. It is what it is.
READ MORE: Can the Passport save BlackBerry?
Battery life is better than most, and could last through a weekend of moderate use. The Passport uses a nano-size SIM, making it easier for HTC One and new iPhone users to switch to or share. The MicroSD slot is welcome, too, adding up to 128 GB of storage on top of the built-in 32 GB.
The 13-megapixel rear camera with optical image stabilization is found in only a handful of phones, and produces sharp, full-colour images and high-quality panoramas (though I found I needed to pan more slowly indoors). The video, right up to Full HD, is excellent and smooth. Story Maker is a nice touch for a business machince, to whip up a quick media presentation with pictures and video.
BlackBerry Assistant is surprisingly accurate, responding to simple English commands, but it is noticeably slower than Siri or Google Talk. In a BlackBerry Enterprise Server environment, it can be used to securely accesss a lot more contacts, than a traditional smartphone. But as a consumer, I still prefer Google’s ease of organizing contacts.
I was surprised BlackBerry has its own mapping program. It’s simpler than Google Maps but was able to warn me of traffic congestion ahead on the highway yesterday.
I like being able to see my personal and work emails in one inbox, differently highlighted.
Apps have improved on the Passport but not as much as I would have liked. Apart from BlackBerry World, Amazon Android apps are a click away offering about 250,000 titles but not the full blown million-plus pure Android devices have access to. Still enough to keep most users happy. And what about that daily free paid app download deal? Nice!
Let’s go back to the size factor. I figure you can leave smart phones, tablets and laptops behind when you are on the move, with the Passport. If I can find a place for my real travel passport then I can find a place for this Passport. I can see some nice “passport-sizes” travel cases for both!
READ MORE: BlackBerry reports receiving 200,000 orders for Passport smartphone
Reportedly, the Passport concept struggled to surface through three RIM/BlackBerry CEOs with much internal disagreement. Will it sell today? It garnered a lot of attention in my public outings and raised many eyebrows. But it seems to say more of “See? We could have done this six years ago!” Today it may be more than a testimonial on how great BlackBerry could have really been, with the right decisions amid competition.
I still like it because I am an incurable romantic. Despite this extraordinarily designed smartphone, BlackBerry envy may never happen again. But I also like the universally-accepted world of Android phones and Apple’s attention to design and function. This means I will never be a one phone guy.
You can buy the Passport unlocked for $699 in Canada or $250 with a two-year plan. But you have a better deal from Telus for $200 with two year shared plan till month’s end.
Passport’s Blend feature allows it to work securely with Windows, Macs, Androids and iPads.