Before you get started on my review of Blackberry’s weirdly shaped Passport, there’s something that needs to said. Or done, rather.
This is a long post and I really don’t want to waste your time.
Apple fans, you may as well leave now because you’re rusted on, having been rightly lured by the innovative genius of the first couple of iPhone iterations, then wrongly trapped by the kind of blinkered marketing that would make the Marlboro Man tip his hat in respect.
It’s not unusual for our analytics to say that at any one time, at least half our audience is reading an Apple story, so there goes 500 readers right off the bat.
Android fans have watched, learned and surpassed Apple fans when it comes to rabid defences of how their 18,000 odd mobile devices have captured the market over Apple’s dozen or so. The Passport supports 250,000 Android apps through Amazon’s app store and screens anything you’re installing to weed out the dodgy, porny ones.
So it’s not the smartphone for you, which probably sees me down to 200 eyes on this page.
And speaking of apps, I barely use them anyway.
There, I said it, even though I’ve seen real people write about how they tried to live without apps and couldn’t! Yet here I am.
OK, maybe Rdio, which isn’t carried by Amazon’s app store. (Thanks for hanging around this long, Spotify, iTunes and app fans in general.)
I need to knock out a few more. How about the fact that I own a very small parcel of BlackBerry shares therefore I can’t possibly write an unbiased review? That should do it.
Now that I have an audience that’s going to listen, all 10 of you can now all settle in, because I’m going to take some time with this.
And 10 is a great number, because out of 1000 smartphone owners, you’re probably the only 10 who would are even raise an eyebrow at the Passport.
You’ve probably already got one.
Wait, there’s just one other thing…
We’ll get to the technical side of things next, but first, another important declaration – I’ve always been drawn to what the other thing can do.
Sega Game Gear? Not me. I was Neo Geo Pocket Colour all the way, and it even had Sonic. No backlight, so you couldn’t play it after sunset, but it had Sonic, and it wasn’t a Sega.
Atari 2600? Nope, Phillips Videopac.
For about five minutes in the early 2000s, minidiscs were revolutionary. I bought one for a small fortune on a three-week trip to Hong Kong and it was superceded by digital players by the time I returned.
Undeterred, I said you can all keep your iPods, because that junk’s going nowhere. The future is iRiver. (Actually, I still use this – it’s incredibly easy to load.)
Here, look – my NeoGeo and iRiver, still relevant to me.
And yes, I have a Playbook. More about that later.
Stay with me
At this stage, before I make this a completely worthless exercise by bleeding even those who remain, it’s probably important to note that I’m not a complete tech numpty. All this desperate experimentation comes with a backdrop of regularly using the mainstream stuff by default. I’m a digital journalist and at times, tech editor, who’s spent just as much time in the past wrangling with InDesign on a Mac as I have swearing at Photoshop on a PC.
I’ve been to launches and conferences and symposiums and collected a couple of drawers full of review mobiles, tablets, games and bluetooth speakers and out of all of it, I like the free t-shirts best.
The point of all this waffle is that I got very excited about the Passport because when it comes to tech, as noted above, I’m an unashamed counter-culturalist. In my world, there is a place for everything and nothing upsets me more than whining about Why Does Microsoft Even Bother Making Windows Phones, Nintendo Just Doesn’t Get It Any More, or the interminable (Insert Tablet Here) Is No iPad Killer.
I bought my Wii U only because Dick Smith dropped his lunch when he realised he needed to make space for PS4s and marked them down to $147. It paid for itself when I actually lol’d at how happy that massive gamepad made me feel when I fired it up. It is a beautiful piece of design.
So too is the Passport, but I won’t go into that, because I already have.
I bring this up because nowadays, I really believe we’ve all got the luxury of being able to choose our modern portable telephones and computers more and more solely on the basis of how much fun they are to diddle with.
Let’s be real about this. The difference in productivity in moving from OS to OS is minimal, despite what their purveyors would love to have us believe. Fanboys can fight about this all they like and they should, too, if it saves their mums a couple of extra laundry days a week due to the angsty, sleepless nights that plague them if they bottle it all up.
Regardless, here’s the stats you probably already know about the Passport. It has a 4.5″ square screen and a capacitive touch keyboard. Memory – 32GB internal, up to 128GB microSD and 3GB RAM. 13MP camera, 2MP front-facing, 1080p video at 60fps. Bluetooth, NFC, HTML5 browser, even an FM radio. Up to 18 hours talk time on the massive 3450mAh battery.
Now that’s out of the way, you should also know smartphones haven’t changed my life, personal or professional, in any meaningful way outside of helping me not get lost or taking a hundred times more photos than I can possibly enjoy in a lifetime. Tablets even less so.
Will the Passport? No. But I’m still using it two weeks after BlackBerry gave me one, and here’s why.
I hate that:
- There are better cameras – and better camera software – on the market. But the Passport is up there.
- There are better app stores. But you’ll find ways to manage with what BlackBerry’s offering.
- There are better processors. But the Passport’s is comfortably capable for whatever you need.
- Double tapping, with the camera button the worst offender. It appears in the corner of the screen on startup, but uselessly so, because you have to swipe up the home screen before anything works.
- Video quality is excellent; implementation is laughable. Yes, it’s a massive screen, but you can knock an inch off the top and bottom in order for it to run a letterbox display.
- You sometimes have to hit Send twice for a message – one when you’re done writing, one to send. Unforgivable. On other occasions, it’s just a matter of learning you need to be out of the document you’ve opened before sideswiping is enabled again.
I like that:
- Nothing on the market comes close to organising all your messages quite as neatly as the Passport. Eyes right:
- There are clearer displays on the market, but none that come to mind which are better optimised for browsing and document work.
- The battery is by far the best in its class under strain.
- BlackBerry Blend – the software that allows you to manage everything your phone does on your desktop, works. It’s a great way to keep mind on the job in front of you without having to constantly switch between devices. I can’t stress how helpful this tool is on the train.
- It’s still the most intuitive OS on the market when it comes to swipability and navigation. It hasn’t lost anything of what made the Playbook surprisingly friendly in the hand. (I’ve noticed a few other reviewers noticing that too, which probably only serves to show how little time they’ve actually spent with a BlackBerry product in the past five years.)
In a nutshell, it won’t win the battle of specs in the schoolyard or at the bar. You’ll probably look like a goose if you try to demo its functionality, bang out a speedier text or attempt to download the new app the rest of the group is passing around.
And yes, people will laugh at its shape and antiquated keyboard, regardless of its extremely useful capacitive touch tricks. This has happened to me at least once on most days so far.
It will take some time to figure out. BlackBerry keep reminding me their product managers are only too happy to help me find my way through using the Passport properly. That’s understandable because they’ve invested a lot of money, time and credibility into it.
It’s also a big investment for consumers too, and they won’t have the luxury of a BlackBerry PA, so I thought it best to battle it out on my own.
It’s not the absolute cutting edge smartphone tech on the market, but even if it was, it wouldn’t be six months from now anyway. It’s a productivity tool, perhaps the best you can buy in the mobile space, but you’re already 10 times more productive on the go than you were even a couple of years ago and that’s quite enough for now.
Go on, make me rich
So what’s the one reason you should consider a Passport?
As much as BlackBerry probably don’t want to hear this, you can actually get yourself a Passport for no other reason than simply because you like it. You like how it feels in your hand. You like how you’re suddenly not reaching for your tablet half as much. (In my case, not at all.)
You like how it makes you feel serious about your B2B communications again. You like how your nude selfies are safe from your mum, your friends and your friends’ pervy partners.
And most of all, buy it not because it might make my $5000 investment in BBRY suddenly a $5200 investment, but because you like being the one who owns the BlackBerry Passport, and the Neo Geo Pocket, and the iRiver; the guy/gal whom the world still somehow hasn’t left behind.
You like it because it fits your personality, and that’s okay. Be bold.