BlackBerry Passport review
2014 has been a year of transition for BlackBerry. Twelve months where the presence of Canadians has been very discreet and has focused on two terminals: Classic, a review of the times of one of its most popular terminals and Passport.In this second case we are dealing with a smartphone with a very daring and risky bet basically due to its design.
Square screen, rectangular body, LG has already tried with the Vu in Korea but its presence was very discreet globally. This mobile inspired by the proportions of a passport seeks to regain a foothold in the American of all those entrepreneurs who once enjoyed a BlackBerry. A difficult bet that today we unravel in our analysis to check how it has been the most unique terminal of the company to date.
Blackberry Passport, technical specifications
Accustomed to analyzing Android mobiles, which by quantity are the most abundant on the market, when we touch other platforms, it is normal to find ourselves with somewhat more modest configurations, at least in numbers on paper. But in the case of BlackBerry Passport we find some specifications that could well be part of a top of the range in 2014.
Front: 2 Mpx
As you can see in the table, the terminal presents very powerful hardware that is reminiscent in many cases of what it offers, for example, a One Plus One: 3GB of RAM, Snapdragon 801, high capacity battery (3,450 mAh). In this section it is not possible to be said that the Canadians have spared and they have put inside a powerful configuration.Both the screen and the physical keyboard mark a terminal that by specifications could be among the best of 2014
The most curious thing we find in this section is the screen. Atypical proportions that collide with the already classic panoramic format. An IPS LCD panel with 4.5 inches in size and a square resolution of 1440 x 1440 pixels, leaving us with a total of 453 pixels per inch. A good starting point with certain singularities and with a brand element of the house: a physical keyboard that in this case sees its lines reduced from four to three.
BlackBerry Passport, video analysis
Before beginning our analysis, we leave you with our video review so that you can see in more detail a terminal as unique as the BlackBerry Passport.
You won't see the same design
If there is something that attracts attention as we look at a BlackBerry Passport it is its form factor. Unlike what we have seen so far, the closest reference we have in the Optimus Vu, a terminal that had a very discreet presence. Square screen, physical keyboard and a name that is a clear allusion to its general shape: that of a passport. Yes, it seems more square than this document but when we put them face to face we realize that this is the case.
BlackBerry has always been characterized by elegant and robust finishes. Passport does not break this line and is a classy terminal, with a good choice of materials (plastic and steel) but also with some problems. It is a well-built terminal but its format makes one-handed use uncomfortable in many cases. The agility that the other generations of mobile phones in this company had is missed.
Despite having a square screen, it is difficult to get to all the points well with one hand due to the physical keyboard. The good thing, and perhaps the most curious thing about the terminal, is that if we use it in landscape format it is more comfortable since the keyboard itself serves as a touchpad to scroll through. The obvious downside is that we lose the ability to write when used in this way.
As a terminal it is heavy. It is robust, without a doubt, but its almost 200 grams of weight are noticeable in the hand taking into account the physical proportions it has. It ends up being somewhat annoying with one hand and in the end we will see ourselves using the mobile with two hands longer than with one.
The physical keyboard has always been a hallmark in BlackBerry and in this case we find a difference from the previous ones: it only has three rows. Something that may seem trivial but that on a daily basis translates to having to pull a lot of a virtual line over the keyboard to access certain characters such as symbols or some punctuation marks.
The keys have been sculpted one by one and are pressed very comfortably, although at first it is strange to have a keyboard with panoramic proportions and not a little more square. The learning curve, as usual in BlackBerry, is short and in a short time we will write quickly. Even so, having to use a virtual fourth and fifth line as a crutch is not always comfortable.Despite the fact that BlackBerry launches a very solid terminal, the square format and the weight make it not comfortable in hand.
The other great novelty in the keyboard is found in the existence of a touchpad that we will never see but it is located on the keys. In addition to pressing them, we can touch them to carry out two sweeps: horizontal or vertical. In certain situations, these gestures are used for certain actions such as scrolling on a web page, sending words suggested by the prediction system, or completely deleting it instead of pressing the corresponding key.
It may seem a very silly detail but it is a very useful function to navigate a web page and not put your finger in the way, thus hindering reading. Perhaps to send words when we are writing or to delete it does not shine so much but only for the comfort of reading a website and being able to move with such a natural gesture is an advance to consider.
With that said, we run into one of the main BlackBerry Passport conflicts. On the table it is capable of putting something different and very attractive: different design, good manufacturing, physical keyboard with touch sensor ... However, it also makes some important commitments: weight, something uncomfortable to use with one hand. One of lime and one of sand that make it difficult for the balance to tip in favor of the virtues.
A screen made to be seen outdoors
Accustomed to the panoramic format, it is strange to find a square screen. The justification for BlackBerry is that it is thus possible to display more characters per line than on a wide screen. Considering that it is a terminal oriented for professional use and not so much for consumption, the reasoning is solid, although probably not shared by everyone.
On the panel we find an IPS LCD with exceptional brightness (894 nits) and correct contrast (1: 1161). Of the screens we have tested to date it is one of the best seen outdoors. The front glass does not put much problems and allows you to see the screen without serious compromises in almost all angles.
The resolution allows it to reach more than 450 dpi, which translates into a sharpness of the texts and everything that happens on the screen without but some.
To all this we must add a well balanced color temperature that does not show significant deviations towards any shade. Pure whites, neither warm nor cold although sometimes the colors tend to saturate a bit. With a lot of ambient light we have already said that it looks smooth and in the dark it is able to reduce the lighting well so as not to be annoying or consume a lot of battery.
As for the square format of the screen, although it is true that reading is comfortable, for anything else it is a little uncomfortable. When watching videos, it leaves us with significant black margins and when playing the screen, it adapts well in almost all cases, but the feeling is a bit strange. In any case, a good choice in the panel that without standing out or being as attractive as those of other top of the range performs well in the most important aspects.
Performance and autonomy
At this point it is impossible to question the performance of Snapdragon 801 and 3GB of RAM. A combination that as we have seen in other terminals offers a fluidity and speed typical of a top-of-the-range terminal. In this equation, in the case of the BB Passport, you have to change an element that is very important: the operating system.
BlackBerry 10 already demonstrated a couple of years ago with the Z10 and Q10 that you could have a smooth operating system without putting spectacular hardware inside. The change in Passport seems more conditioned by the momentum of Android applications that we will talk about later.
In any case, the performance offered by the combination of factors leaves us with a phone capable of solving all daily uses without major problems. Too bad, as we will see later, there is still no way to take advantage of all that power. In memory we find 32 GB of capacity that we can expand with microSD cards of up to 128 GB, so this section is well covered.
As for the battery, we are part of the justification of the almost 200 grams of phone. When we find a 3,450 mAh battery (which despite being Blackberry cannot be exchanged) the weight of the BlackBerry Passport seems a little less to us since, despite the high brightness of the screen and its resolution, it is capable of supporting a day without problems. Canadians have always been a reference here and if with small batteries they achieved excellent performance, with such a large one you can expect many hours of use.
In the tests we have done we have achieved up to six hours of screen on and resisting in the most intense days without the need to carry the charger or an external battery. Some benchmark analysis benchmarks like in The Verge obtain similar data in autonomy and even slightly higher as in the case of Techradar.
Android apps are coming but not the way you expect
BlackBerry made a huge transformation of its operating system a couple of years ago. Changes very oriented to their DNA of the telephone for the professional world that did not fully convince either those who already used it or those who could have grasped it, thus leaving a very small but faithful nucleus of users. Since 2013 its evolution has been slow but it has left us some important news.
BlackBerry 10 has great virtues as an operating system as its Hub system to centralize the notifications that come to us in the different accounts. A couple of years ago it was very differential and although it continues to offer a lot of value, the competition has been gaining ground on it and is not as attractive as in 2013.
It also has other aces up its sleeve, such as gestures to open and close applications or multitasking that works much faster than on Android or iOS. As an operating system, it is fast and encourages us to use it, but again, competitive advantages compared to its main competitors, but which do not shine as much now. It continues to do very well in these sections but the rest have evolved.
In 10.3 we also find a voice assistant that still needs a lot of evolution to be useful. It doesn't recognize commands right the first time, and it's quite easy for you to go wrong with what we've really asked for. The feeling it conveys is that it is a service that is very green and after trying it a couple of times we will rarely use it again.BlackBerry 10 is still a very interesting operating system but competitors have gained a lot of ground since it was introduced in 2013.
BlackBerry World as an application platform continues to be lacking and has not yet managed to build an extensive and quality catalog. The basic ones are there but shortly after we need specific applications we discover that many apps are missing. Aware of this, with the jump to 10.3 they decided to introduce the Amazon Android application store.
Unlike the previous versions of BlackBerry 10, the installation of Android applications is much easier. No need to activate any specific option or convert apks. The process is direct and simpler. In fact we can install them on our own beyond those offered by Amazon on its platform.
The ones we have tested work without any problem and this is where the choice of a Snapdragon 801 is most noticeable and not that of another processor. They generally fit well with Passport's unique resolution and format. This addition solves many gaps but, again, if we want very specific applications that are not on Amazon, we will have to find them and install them on our part.
Finally we have business services that will only be activated when our Passport is working within a company's network. The division between a personal mode and another for work to have the two separate environments. Very useful but, again, it is not something that we can activate on our own and use it personally to have both spaces.
A camera well above the usual average on Blackberry
In the Passport camera, BlackBerry bets on a 13-megapixel sensor on the back. Canadians make a good choice of component, something not very common unfortunately, and the image processing performed by the camera application is good but we also encountered some problems such as too slow focus speed that in many cases seems more typical of a mid-range phone and not a top of the range as assumed to Passport.
When it comes to taking photos, it is not a very comfortable terminal either. Size turns against you. When taking it, we need to press the palms of the hands a lot on the corners and it is easy that we do not fit completely well, fortunately it comes with an OIS stabilizer to avoid that the images are shaken.
Interior photo with natural light. The management of the colors is very faithful and all the details can be appreciated perfectly: the texture of the plastic and the paint, the details that remain in the shadows ... Very good result with the only downside of putting a little noise despite having a lot of light. Look at the details of the green Andy on the right.
Example of HDR photo where we see how using this mode we managed to rescue details from the bookshelf that is against the light of the window. The dynamic range is quite extensive and although it is difficult to reach some darker points, it solves it very well, also showing the differences in light between the exterior and interior.
Indoor photo with artificial light. The noise is more noticeable and although it refines focusing on certain details of the vans, the OIS does not prevent the text of the books from being out of focus. Correct result but in this shot the focus of the camera was very slow.
Indoor macro with natural light. Well focusing on the details of the dice and creating a slight blur at the back. The texture is appreciated and the reflections are not completely overexposed.
Exterior photo with lots of light. The dynamic range does its job very well showing all the dark and low light parts but in the sky it completely burns the image and no detail can be seen.
The results, as you can see, without competing with the most cutting-edge photographic mobiles from last year are not bad. There are aspects in which to improve but the photos we take with the Passport are good. Some more editing mode is missing since the options are very basic: flash, image size and whether or not to activate HDR.
The 2 megapixel front camera is more than enough to take fast photos and video conferencing but the quality it offers is not exceptional. It is not a selfie phone and the images that we can capture are correct. The sensation that BlackBerry gives in this section is of improvement with respect to the previous models. It doesn't seem like a concern to Canadians but if you want to go higher, they still have a way to go.
Xataka's opinion and note
BlackBerry Passport was launched as a different proposal and the truth is that it has managed to bring something that we have not seen until now. However, despite putting many interesting things on the table, it does so with a series of commitments and aspects to improve that make the terminal less attractive.
The screen, battery and camera are among the best of the terminal, which, however, has not been comfortable to handle due to its peculiar design in which the keyboard has also not convinced us more than the classic (or the absence of it) as well as It solves the problem of the ecosystem, although the arrival of Android has given it an important respite in that section.
7,7Design7.5 screen Performance8.5 Camera7.25 Software8 Autonomy 7.75
- Physical keyboard
- BlackBerry 10 is still a fast operating system
- Native Android app support
- Large battery, very long autonomy
- Well built but heavy
- High starting price
- Uncomfortable to use with one hand
Jesús Maturana and Pedro Santamaría have collaborated in this article with the production and voice-over of the video, respectively.
The phone has been loaned for testing by BlackBerry. Can inquire our policy of relationships with enterprises