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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.

Once you get used to balancing the device, the three rows of qwerty keys at the bottom of the phone's front side are easy to push and use. The touchpad technology atop the keys sounds exotic -- you can use the physical keys to swipe up and down to browse a website or to swipe left and right in an email to define text and edit it.

But really, the feature wasn't all that valuable, or at least not to me. The technology allowing it to happen is interesting, I admit, but that's about the end of it. BlackBerry says the purpose of the keyboard's responsive touch surface is to keep your fingers out of the way of what's on the display, but that problem has never bothered me, and it doesn't with the Passport's touchscreen either.

The three rows of physical keys only allow you to see letters, but the Passport lets you view a row of numbers and related characters in added virtual rows on the screen just above the keyboard. It's a little distracting at first, though some will surely find it useful.

Overall, the design of the unit is attractive, with my all-black model highlighted by a polished stainless steel edge wrapped around all four sides. The metal is not only decorative; it is part of a forged stainless steel plate that extends inside the phone to add strength. The steel adds a professional look and looks good set against the black keyboard and the black of the rear case.

blackberry passport primary 2
Brian SaccoBlackBerry's square smartphone was designed to mimic the shape of a travel passport.

While the shape is intended to be distinct -- it mimics the shape of a travel passport -- the phone's sharp corners felt almost treacherous; they're a clear departure from the round corners in the Samsung Galaxy and iPhone lines.

The Passport's display is remarkably clear at 453 pixels per inch with a perfectly square 1440 x 1440 pixel resolution. The LCD display is very readable -- maybe one of the best on the market -- even outside in sunlight.

With the square display, the width is 30% greater than a typical 5-in. display of a rectangular smartphone. That extra room allows a display of 60 characters across, which compares favorably to the 40 characters on most phones and is close to the 66 characters in standard printed documents.

The two cameras in the Passport are top rate, although I didn't do much experimenting with either. A 13-megapixel rear camera comes with image and video stabilization and 1080p HD video recording at up to 60 frames per second, putting it on par from a specs perspective with almost any rear camera on the market. The front camera is rated at 2 megapixels and also has video and image stabilization, with 720p HD video recording. Both cameras are far above the 8-megapixel rear and 1.2-megapixel front camera in the new iPhone 6 Plus.


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