Today, BlackBerry launched its rumored, almost-square-shaped Passport smartphone seemingly targeted at professionals and people who want to "get things done." The question is whether it actually succeeds in reaching that goal.
The new BlackBerry Passport has a square 4.5" screen with 1440 x 1440 resolution, which means it's quite sharp at 452 PPI. It has a tough plastic body typical of BlackBerry phones, reinforced with a stainless steel frame and Gorilla Glass 3 screen protection, so it should be quite durable.
It comes with a Snapdragon 800 processor, which is relatively old by today's flagship standards. However, it has 3 GB of RAM, 32 GB of internal storage and a 13MP rear camera with OIS, which on paper are more competitive features.
The phone seems to have one of the largest batteries we've seen so far in smartphones, with a capacity of 3,450 mAh that should last for at least a full day of moderate to high usage (which should be expected from users who are focused on productivity).
The Passport runs BlackBerry 10.3, a revised version of the QNX-based BlackBerry OS we've seen for the past two years. It brings updated icons, a unified search bar, the BlackBerry Assistant (a competitor to Siri and Google Now) and the surprising addition of the Amazon Appstore.
It hasn't been easy for BlackBerry to promote itself as a solid alternative to the iOS and Android platforms when it has far fewer apps in its own BlackBerry World app store, but the Amazon Appstore should close the gap a little more and boost the Passport's appeal somewhat. BlackBerry's new CEO, John Chen, has mainly focused the company on mobile security and services that the company can offer even for competing platforms as its own customers adopt them and leave the BlackBerry platform. However, selling hardware can also bring significant revenue and profits to the company, if done right. With the BlackBerry Passport it looks like the company wanted to make a strong statement that it is still the company that focuses much more on its enterprise customers than any of its competitors.
It's not clear, however, whether the Passport is the right product to do that. Most people might find its almost square shape unappealing and strange. While the keyboard could be well built, it doesn't look like it's easy to use with one hand, which means even people who may prefer typing on a physical BlackBerry style keyboard may chafe at using it somewhat. Further, many smartphone owners have already gotten used to typing on touchscreen phones over the past few years, especially when swipe capabilities in some virtual keyboards can make one-hand typing even faster.
If BlackBerry is to make a strong comeback in the mobile market, it will likely need a product that has a much bigger mainstream appeal. Focusing on the small remaining market of hardcore BlackBerry users with a product like the Passport is probably not the best way to do that, even if those users really love the product – which is still something that we won't know until the company announces its next quarterly results.
BlackBerry will be selling the product for $249 on contract on AT&T's network and $599 unlocked from BlackBerry's online store in the U.S., Canada, UK, France and Germany. The phone should be available in 30 countries by the end of the year. BlackBerry 10.3 will also be coming to all BlackBerry 10 devices.