BlackBerry has been redoubling its efforts to focus on its core enterprise professional market since sales of its handsets first started declining.
The BlackBerry Passport is the latest piece in this strategy, and is touted by the firm as the only smartphone available that is designed with business professionals in mind.
However, given the ongoing consumerisation of IT and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trends happening in many firms, business professionals may be asking why they would give up their iOS or Android handset in favour of the Passport. We took an opportunity to get a hands on at the launch event to find out why.
Design and build
BlackBerry made a big deal about the Passport's design, claiming it is "a welcome break from the sea of boring rectangular handsets".
The Passport's square design is undeniably different to most regular smartphones. Apart from this, most noticeable feature is its physical touch-enabled keyboard. Physical keyboards have been one of the few design features differentiating BlackBerry handsets from the tide of Android, iOS and Windows Phone competition.
The Passport's touch-enabled technology enables the keyboard to be used as a trackpad as well as keyboard. On top of this BlackBerry claims it will let professionals type more accurately and make 70 percent fewer typing errors.
We definitely found the keyboard a big improvement, even on past BlackBerry devices with physical keyboards. Document editing and typing on the Passport felt significantly more accurate than on most handsets.
We found the Passport initially felt slightly odd to hold, with its square dimensions making it feel noticeably different to most smartphones. However at 9.3mm thick the handset was far from unwieldy.
The Passport's 4.5in 1440x1440, 453ppi square display is one of its most interesting hardware features. BlackBerry claims the square display is optimised for productivity purposes and will display as much as 20 more characters per line than other top-end handsets, such as the iPhone 6 or Galaxy S5.
The display worked really well when editing documents or viewing webpages. Text on the display appeared crisp, and colours were suitably vibrant. We'll be interested to see how the Passport's display performs when being used on the move in more adverse lighting conditions, such as direct sunlight.
The Passport is powered by BlackBerry 10.3. The 10.3 update adds a new BlackBerry Assistant feature, alongside upgrades to BlackBerry's core security and productivity features, such as BlackBerry Balance, Messenger and Hub.
Assistant is BlackBerry's answer to Apple's Siri and Google Now, and is designed to let users interact with their Passport using vocal or written commands. BlackBerry claims Assistant is more advanced than its competitors, and will have access to corporate as well as personal information stored on enterprise networks, a feature it claims its rivals lack.
We didn't get a chance to test this during our hands on, as the Passport we used wasn't connected to our company network, but we'll be sure to do this in our full review.
Beyond this, we found BlackBerry's Hub and multitasking services worked just as well as they have on past BlackBerry 10 handsets. BlackBerry hub is a tool that collates information and messages from all the accounts on the phone. This lets you see all incoming Facebook, email, Twitter and LinkedIn messages in one place. It also boasts filtering options that let you control which account is displaying at any one time.
The Passport is powered by a 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor that is backed by 3GB of RAM. In the past we've found BlackBerry smartphones slightly slower than their specifications would lead you to expect. This is due to BlackBerry 10's heavy demands on resources which have a habit of eating up memory.
During our hands on, although we found the Passport took a good few minutes to boot up, it did feel responsive in use. Apps opened in milliseconds and it managed to stream video and load content-heavy web pages hassle free. We'll be interested to see how the Passport deals with more intensive tasks when we more thoroughly put it through its paces in our full review.
The Passport features a 13MP rear camera with Optical Image Stabilisation and a 2MP front camera. Testing the rear camera around the showroom floor we found the Passport could take a pretty good picture, though not on a par with some top-end camera phones such as the Lumia 1020. In general, shots looked sharp and showed vibrant colours. Shutter speeds were also noticeably better than on past BlackBerry handsets.
Battery and storage
The Passport's powered by a sizeable 3,450mAh battery, which BlackBerry claims will last 30 hours from one charge. It also comes with 32GB of internal storage, which can be upgraded using its microSD card slot.
If opening impressions are anything to go by, the Passport definitely seems to have the potential to be a hit with the firm's core enterprise customer base, although we're not convinced it will be the game changer BlackBerry needs to win over consumers.
With its newly designed keyboard, crisp display and wealth of enterprise features, the Passport could prove to be BlackBerry's best handset to date.
Check back with V3 later for a full review of the BlackBerry Passport.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
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