BlackBerry still runs the roost when it comes to physical keyboards, though that’s mostly because few phone makers even offer them anymore (but that’s neither here nor there, right?). Still, it’s a strength, and BlackBerry has capitalized on it again here, offering an excellent quality keyboard that generally provides an infinitely superior typing experience to that of a virtual keyboard.
However, this isn’t a typical BlackBerry keyboard in every sense. The keyboard on the Passport is something of a hybrid, as it only contains keys for the alphabet, the spacebar, the backspace, and the return key. Everything else – numbers, symbols, punctuation – is on a virtual keyboard towards the bottom of the screen. This feels slightly foreign at first, but once you spend some time with the layout, the whole thing becomes second nature.
The other neat feature here is that this is a capacitive keyboard, meaning it’s touch sensitive as well. You can lightly drag your fingers over the keys without pressing them and the Passport will register your swipes as gestures. This allows you to conveniently scroll through documents and web pages by simply swiping over the keyboard, minimizing the need to shift your hands from the keyboard to the display.
While this particular option works exceptionally well, less effective is the feature that supposedly lets you swipe upwards underneath suggested autocomplete words while typing to select and place them into text. This never seems to work on the first (or second, or third) try, so you’re better off just saving time and typing the word out the long way.
The Passport is BlackBerry’s new flagship and it’s spec’d accordingly, making it quite robust underneath the hood. Powered by a 2.2 GHz, quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon and an Adreno 330 GPU, the Passport is also equipped with 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of onboard storage, the latter of which is expandable via microSD.
This all translated to a remarkably fast, smooth user experience that featured virtually no slowdown or lag, whether we were gaming, multitasking, or web browsing – though for what it’s worth, BlackBerry 10 has always provided a very swift browsing experience. It’s also worth mentioning that call quality sounded crisp and clear, though all of our test calls were made though VoIP (more on this later).
The battery life of the Passport is tremendous, but before we get into the specifics, a disclaimer: BlackBerry accidentally sent us the device with the wrong size SIM card (we were provided with a micro SIM, while the Passport uses a nano SIM). As such, our testing of the device was done solely on Wi-Fi – including VoIP for testing call quality – thereby drastically boosting battery life without the constant drain of an active connection to a data network.
Take it with a grain of salt, then, when we tell you that the phone lasted for three days (almost 72 hours exactly, in fact) on a single charge. But this was undeniably impressive even without a data connection, given that we used the device heavily over that time. We viewed 20 minutes worth of video, sent half a dozen emails, browsed the Internet for a little over an hour, made a quick five minute VoIP call, and even used its Docs to Go app to jot up some notes.
Even if you want to shave off two whole days to account for the lack of a data network connection — which is probably excessive — getting a full 24 hours on a single charge while using the Passport that heavily can still be considered solid longevity. Although the 3450 mAh pack isn’t removable, it will get you through a full day with ease.
We’ve covered the BlackBerry 10 OS extensively in the past, so there’s no need to retread familiar ground. The highlights here remain the same: BlackBerry Hub is still an excellent way to consolidate all of your messages and notifications, while the UI’s gesture-based navigation remains swift and intuitive.
And thanks to the Passport being equipped with the most recent version of the platform, BlackBerry OS 10.3, there’s also a couple new attractive features like BlackBerry Assistant (BlackBerry’s version of Siri/Google Now/Cortana) and BlackBerry Blend. Much like with what Apple does with iOS and Mac OS, BlackBerry Blend allows you to access all of your smartphone content — including messages, documents, media, contacts, etc. — in real time on your desktop, tablet or other devices after connecting to them through Wi-Fi, a mobile network, or USB.
Unfortunately, the lowlights are equally familiar — namely, the fact that BlackBerry 10 has a woefully poor selection of apps and software. For most developers, it simply isn’t worth creating a version of their app for an operating system that has such low adoption rates, and it’s telling that there’s actually an app in BlackBerry World (the platform’s app store) through which users can request the apps that they want to see on BlackBerry 10.
As for preloaded software, BlackBerry thankfully goes relatively light on the bloatware and keeps the digital clutter to a minimum. Besides the basics (contacts, calculator, maps, media, etc.), the notable apps that are found on the device out of the box include the Amazon App Store, Docs to Go, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Evernote, Foursquare, Box, and Adobe Reader.
BlackBerry cameras have never really hit it out of the park, and the Passport’s 13-megapixel shooter is pretty much the same story all told. Pictures have good sharpness and can handle high sunlight shots without getting blown out too badly, but colors can look a little oversaturated, and closer examination of the photos often reveals some graininess.
The photo software isn’t ideal, given that it doesn’t offer a ton of customization options; forget about manually adjusting settings like white balance or shutter speed. And while we personally thought the phone’s HDR mode performed reasonably well, we can see some people thinking that it causes images to look a little too unrealistic.