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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.

Two other hardware items jump out: The processor is a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801, which is BlackBerry's first use of quad-core technology. Whether opening apps, loading websites or playing video, the Passport's processor performance was remarkably nimble. There's also 3GB of RAM, and 32GB of flash storage that's hot-swappable with a microSD slot that allows adding another 128GB.

The other outstanding hardware feature is a battery rated at 3,450 mAh, which is almost 50% more than smartphone batteries from a year ago, and rates nearly 20% higher than the battery in the iPhone 6 Plus. While Passport's battery is admirably capacious, it irks me that BlackBerry has decided users won't be able to remove it. BlackBerry seems to be telling us: 'OK, you asked for a bigger battery and we gave you one, but don't expect to replace it.' BlackBerry markets the battery as supporting up to 30 hours of mixed use, but I was able to go up to 40 hours per charge when browsing, playing videos and reading messages and emails several hours each day.

BlackBerry also enhanced audio in incoming phone calls with the Passport, which supposedly will allow the earpiece volume to increase automatically when a Passport user is in a loud environment, when the person on the other end is speaking softly or even when the phone simply isn't pressed close to the ear. I tried to detect this improvement, but wouldn't say it was all that noticeable. Perhaps I should blame the cellular AT&T network, and not the phone.

The Passport also includes an NFC chip for mobile payments and file exchange, as well as support for Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy, Wi-Fi Direct, Miracast, and 2.4GHz 802.11 b/g/n. Also supported is FD-LTE, allowing global roaming capabilities.

Software specifics
The Passport runs the BlackBerry 10.3 OS; chief among its new features is BlackBerry Blend for sharing messages and content from the phone to many desktop computers and tablets.

Blend is what all the smartphone platforms hope to become; it could be the most exciting development from BlackBerry in months. From the Passport, you can share texts and documents and see your calendar and contacts, among other functions, on many other devices. So far, Blend sharing is supported from the BlackBerry 10.3 Passport to Mac OS X 10.7 and later and Windows 7 and later, as well as to iPads running iOS 7 and later and Android tablets running Android 4.4 and later via cellular, USB or Wi-Fi connections.

While I wasn't able to test it out extensively prior to the public release of the Passport, Blend, which must be downloaded separately, sounds very helpful for professionals traveling and using different computers or for grabbing a document on a work computer from a device at home.


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