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BlackBerry Passport deep-dive review: Qwerty meets quirky

Matt Hamblen | Sept. 29, 2014
Qwerty fans will welcome the unit's keyboard, quad-core processor, big battery and voice assistant, but its square shape and hefty weight may give others pause.

blackberry passport white
The BlackBerry Passport Credit: BlackBerry

Let's give it this: BlackBerry's new Passport makes a big impact when you first hold it, thanks to its unusual square shape, its heft and the physical keyboard aimed at keeping its legion of qwerty loyalists happy.

BlackBerry no longer discloses how large its installed base of smartphone users remains, but it's probably still in the tens of millions worldwide simply because many older users love having a familiar qwerty keyboard. BlackBerry's first touchscreen phone, the Z10, was introduced in January 2013 and didn't sell well for various reasons, but the absence of a physical keyboard was considered one major factor.

BlackBerry officials believe that young professionals also can also be lured to a qwerty device, even though they're the prime market for touchscreen smartphones. How likely is that to happen? After spending a few days putting Passport through its paces, I'd say the folks at BlackBerry have their work cut out for them.

Hardware highlights
Overall, the Passport feels unusually heavy at 6.9 oz., and its size and sharp corners take some getting used to.

At 5 in. long by 3.5 in. wide, the Passport's body is not as long as the new 6.2-in. iPhone 6 Plus, but the Passport is almost half an inch wider. It's also thicker, at 0.36 in., compared to the 0.28 in. of the Plus. The Plus is also nearly an ounce lighter than the Passport.

While the Passport's size and weight should seem manageable, it took me an unusually long time to figure out how to hold it properly to type with my two thumbs. When I first held the Passport in two hands to type with both thumbs on the keyboard, I didn't balance it properly and nearly dropped it. You need to have your fingers stretched pretty far up the backside of the phone to keep it from falling away as your thumbs hit the keys.

blackberry passport
BlackBerry.The Passport's physical keyboard should please qwerty fans, but not everyone will make use of its responsive touch surface to navigate the screen.

Some people claim they like a qwerty keyboard to be able to type blind, which can be useful when typing under a table during a meeting or when crossing a street to avoid getting hitting by a car. Unfortunately, I have never gotten that good at thumb-typing -- surely one my life's greatest failings. I will have to trust that this Passport can work for the superior thumb-typists among us, while I continue to toil in the trenches holding the phone in my left hand and picking out characters with my right forefinger. (But the tortoise won. Just sayin'.)


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