Blackberry Passport Review - Qwerty Perfected

The Blackberry Passport is one of the best productivity smartphones you can buy.


First things first.  Yes, it fits in every pocket I use.  That out of the way I need to point out that this will not technically, be a review.  Instead think of this as more of an account from someone who used Blackberrry up till the Q10 and for a brief time jumped ship to Android (Xperia) and then Iphone 6.  As a result I was reminded I should never have left the awesome BB10 system in the first place.  You see the little green robot was forced on me through work and boy did I hate it.  Confusing, near endless streams of swiping through pointless overly complicated menu's, a lack of continuity between apps, an absence of the Blackberry Hub and many frustrations with the lack of a physical keyboard.  At that point I wanted the Passport but my carrier didnt supply it.  I wanted to be back on Berry but then everyone was freaking out about the "amazing Iphone 6". Why not, I thought. I haven't used one since I owned a 4s this must be the answer to my frustrations....surely a lot has changed ummm no same stagnant phone, same frustratingly ineffective multitasking and productivity....just bigger....way to push the envelope Cupertino. Then a few weeks ago I actually had a chance to hold the Blackberry Passport in my hand for the first time and my mind was made up I was going back to the berry so I picked up an unlocked phone the next day. 

*note:  Part 2 of the Blackberry Review series is now out here!

The Blackberry Passport Feels Good!

The Blackberry Passports new soft touch back replaces the carbon of the Q10

When you see the pictures of the Blackberry Passport you would be excused for thinking its such an an odd shape that you would be wary of how you could actually live with it.  Thats why people really need to get one in their hands, its a whole other world from from your perceptions to physically holding one in the hand.  The minute I pulled this thing out the box I was massively impressed, it made it seem like the Blackberry Q10 had been a stopgap, a marker on the road to a true flagship.  Build quality and finish on the Passport are exceptional with a fantastic choice of materials such as the new soft touch back and a metal finish bar around the housing to give an all out premium look and feel. The ergonomics are so on point it makes it a dream to use, being amazing to use in two hands but also surprisingly capable in one.  The soft touch finish on the back gives a confident slip free grip.  The tactile feedback on the keyboard is the best out of any blackberry I have ever used and makes me baulk at the thought of tapping and swiping away on and Android or Apple offering. Really, the Only thing I would change is that I would prefer the power button to be located on the right hand side.  Now as for looks and street appeal i have to say that this gets the same reaction you used to get when u pulled out the old Bold 9990 back in the day.  Their is an air of premium luxury about the Blackberry Passport but the real impression you get from using one is that this is a tool to get things done.  It means business, its not a toy. 


What can I do on a Blackberry Passport that i cant do on another phone?

Sized Up - The Blackberry Passport vs the Blackberry Q10

I am sure you heard all nonsense from some tech press, usually folk entrenched in an apple or android ecosystem.  The ones who, you know...write tech articles for a living and live a lifestyle as writers.  What about a little perspective from those who are constantly back and forth with clients, lawyers, accountants etc or those operating in a business or marketing environment? Those conducting trades and dealing in secure systems?  What about those that prioritise being on top of things when on the go over a f.....n gaming experience in landscape mode?..... seriously. Many decried what a Passport cant do or doesn't have, which, in reality is very little. Some said it doesn't have Apps yet as I glance at my screen right now I see a folder filled with Blackberry's own app store, Amazons Android App store, and lo and behold Google's very own play store filled with all the apps you could ever dream of.  Some said qwerty keyboards aren't cool anymore but judging by how many people paw over my phone at every time I put it on a table I would disagree. However, thats far from the point qwerty is included on the Passport because its hugely practical and functional.  

Of course there is the antiquated statement "Well Blackberry's camera suck" but I can assure you the one on the passport does not, I shot the actual review photos for the Sigma DP2 Merrill review using the BB and was confident enough in those quick poorly lit shots in leading an article.  With android on board there are a whole host of options available for a smartphone snapper to shoot better shots so check back or here towards the end of the week to see a full post dedicated to the camera plus apps and shooting tips on getting the best results.

One thing grossly under-emphasised in previous reviews I have read, is what you actually can do with a Blackberry Passport...  Get stuff done.  With a Passport you simply fly through tasks at a rate I could only wish to keep up with other flagships.  When I say tasks, I don't simply mean checking my Twitter Facebook and sending short emails as I did back on android, no, you can do real work.  This phone is a productivity beast.  The keyboard is fast to type on and far more accurate than I am used to with virtual keyboards, for me the tactile response from clicking actual keys makes sitting down to write elongated pieces far more manageable.  A brand new feature present on the Passport, is the keyboard doubling up as a trackpad thus allowing you to swipe, scroll and point your way through messages, webpages and lists.  Not just a gimmick either, its functional, and actually enhances your workflow. The screen real estate on offer makes emailing, messaging and web browsing more akin to using a laptop and allows me to hold my focus and attention for longer periods and the only area it doesn't perform as well as competitors is when watching videos for everything else the aspect ratio just seems... better. Another massive boon for the Blackberry Passport, and something that has always been a favourite of Blackberry users in general is the battery life.  I am easily getting 2 full days out of usage with a fair amount of charge still left in it.  I always fun at full brightness and either have mobile data or wifi on so I suspect that if you were careful about settings you could really drag the life of a charge out to some insane number of days.  Either way its nice not to be tied to a wall outlet and when carrying my largest Calibre portable charger I could get a full week of use on the go. 

Of course the hardware alone is very very good but this phone is simply just a housing for the star of show, the Blackberry OS10 software.  Or, as I tell anyone that asks "the best mobile operating system around".  BBOS10 is something I have mentioned before but on the Passport it works even better. Its faster than ever with apps opening and transitions happening without a stutter the multitasking (true multitasking) has never crashed or faltered on me yet.  Best of all there is no ridiculous distracting widgets or app drawers, its all about getting you to what you need in the fastest way possible, without unnecessary tapping and swiping.  From the home page you are faced with your apps.  I just use 1 page that is separated into my most used apps out in the open and the lesser used ones are organised into custom folders. From home I can open any app with 1 or 2 taps.  I swipe left for multitasking, swipe down from top for my settings, left again for my hub.... its so damm simple.  The Blackberry Hub is the heart of the phones engine.  Think of it like your mission control, your base camp. From the hub you have your Email, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Notifications, Messages, Missed calls.  I couldn't live without it, it's an integral part to how I get work done and its just so well implemented.  The Hub is a stand out feature so much so it should be considered as one of the main draws to Blackberry systems.  This being said is all well and good but what most folk should know is what the Passport is like to use in practice as opposed to features so here we go.


Really though how productive am I with the Blackberry Passport?

At the start of the week I set myself a challenge of sorts, to only use my Mac for editing raw photo files. Everything else was to be done on the Blackberry Passport.  So what did I get up to? Well to start I am writing this article on the Passport and flying through it.  I am typing it up in the included Docs to Go app (essentially mobile Word) before jumping into my sites Squarespace backend to format, add photos and publish. Without the extra width of the Passports screen I just couldn't imagine diving deep into the back end of my site for anything but a quick or emergency tweak.  However, this isn't the only article I have written on the Blackberry this week I also wrote last weeks review of the amazing Sigma DP2 Merrill Camera.  I typed up the Music Monday post, grabbing and embedding youtube videos from the browser to the article with ease.  I wrote a couple of headphone reviews including a very exciting set of budget bluetooth earphones (Hint: They are the ones in the conclusion section photo below). I wrote and researched an article on headphone drivers for the Learn section.  There is NO WAY I would have done the majority of this on even the best of Blackberry's competitors.   In addition to all those words typed I managed my clients from my property company pinging emails, documents and attachments back and fourth.  I drafted and edited documents to be sent to my company accountants and from spreadsheets, pdf's excel files the Passport handled it.  I ran the Facebook and Twitter pages, set up Instagram on BB native Igrann app.  I prepared and gave a presentation using the Passport hooked up via the Slimport HDMI adapter. I chilled out watching Youtube videos on Fasttube (the best Youtube app I have used on any device) plus I caught up with my podcasts on Nobex. Additionally, I navigated my way to client locations using Navfree and tracked my runs using Cascarun.  The only thing I couldn't get going was Strava but I am sure there is a workaround. Along the way there were some hiccups which you would expect transitioning to any portable device and its not something I would do exclusively but what really blew me away was just how well the Passport coped with my workload and surprisingly how little frustration I felt.


Conclusion and Upcoming Blackberry Articles

Blackberry Passport - Nobex Podcast App - Brainwavz BLU-100 Earphones

To say that I have been impressed by the Blackberry Passport would be an understatement.  At a time when most other phone manufacturers flagships seem to have stagnated to the point of minor revisions Blackberry has stayed true to its core offerings whilst producing what feels like a complete a revamp of their implementation.  You still get qwerty, they cleverly brought back the trackpad functionality, you get an unmatched battery life, Android App integration is better than ever, build quality is stellar and the operating system is a dream to use.  The design choice is far from the norm, it was a bold move that really works well in practice and one I hope they stick with in upcoming releases.  On the passport actual work becomes far less of a grind and cohesion between different facets of the OS / apps make for an extremely enjoyable experience.  The camera upgrade is very well received as performance was sorely lacking in previous devices such as the Q10 and the innovative trackpad gives a fresh nod to the days of the trackball.  I think if you are are a previous Blackberry user or fan of the system then the Passport is going to feel like a coming together of where the company seemed to be heading, finally Blackberry have put together a flagship that is both a beast in performance just as it is in functionality. For those looking at to move from android the transition is easier than ever as you once you connect you install the play store you have all the benefits of the android ecosystem but its combined with the Blackberry advantages.  After the Bold 9990 there seemed to be a period of the company finding its feet with hardware under the new OS as well as the limited app functionality but now the Passport should go a long long way in showcasing just how good Blackberry's mobile systems are for power users.

*Note - I have probably enjoyed writing this article more than many others in recent months as it offers me something different away from just audio gear.  I always get more of a kick covering gear I actually use in my personal life as opposed to things I am evaluating for the audio community.  When searching for Pro-Blackberry articles other than at the awesome there is very little on offer for fans of the system.  So with that in mind I am going to continue putting up articles here on this site covering both the Blackberry Passport and the OS as a whole. I haven't settled on a final release format but possibly a weekly article every Tuesday coving things like apps, tips and tutorials.  The first of these is going to be a look at photography with the Passport including performing post processing internally and on a computer.  Later this week however I am going to have an article up evaluating the Passport as a portable DAP (Digital Audio Player) and its performance with various DAC and AMP units as well as some higher end headphones.  I would also be open to suggestions or submissions in this regard for future topics so don't hesitate to get in touch in any regard, many thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings.

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