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Hands on with the new Blackberry Passport smartphone

Al Sacco | Sept. 25, 2014
BlackBerry has officially announced pricing and availability details for its new Passport smartphone, which was previously unveiled and detailed through a variety of blog posts on the company's Inside BlackBerry blog. (Specific pricing and availability information can be found at the end of this post.)

The Passport keyboard has a steep learning curve. Not everyone will want to spend the time necessary to master the system. (More on that later.) But the Passport keyboard is the most innovative keypad I've ever used, and I appreciate it more as I spend additional time with it.

BlackBerry Passport Battery Life

The BlackBerry Passport packs a big honking battery. Its capacity is 3,450 mAh, to be exact, and you get about 25 hours of "mixed use," according to BlackBerry.

For context, the new iPhone 6 Plus reportedly has a 2,915 mAh battery, which gets you about 16 days of standby time, according to Apple, compared to the Passport's reported 18 days. Samsung's new Galaxy Note 4 has a 3,220 mAh battery.

I turned on my fully-charged BlackBerry Passport (on AT&T) at 8 a.m. Monday in Boston just before the plane took off. I wrote non-stop for about three hours of my six-hour flight, while listening to music. I surfed the Web a bit when I got to San Francisco, performed other random tasks and took a bunch of pictures at the Oakland A's game that night. I streamed another baseball game for a while and responded to a number of messages. I purposely didn't charge my Passport at all. It still had 38 percent battery life as I edited this post on Tuesday, nearly 29 hours later. That's impressive.

Unfortunately, the battery is fixed and can't easily be swapped out. This is disappointing; the majority of past BlackBerry phones had removable power packs, making this feature a staple of BlackBerry devices.

BlackBerry Passport Design and Build Quality

The BlackBerry Passport is a high-end device, which is evident in its design and build quality. BlackBerry's Director of Software Product Management, Michael Clewley, who gave me a breakdown of the device, says the internal steel structure of Toronto's TD Centre inspired its design; the Passport has a similar brushed stainless steel band that wraps around the entire outer edge of the phone. The band is a solid piece of steel, not a set of connected components. That lends a solid feeling to the handset.

However, it's relevant and necessary to note that I did have a hardware issue with the first Passport device I received, and it was serious enough that I had to swap it out for another device. When I first removed my review unit from its packaging and tried to put on its case, the removable panel that covers the nano-SIM and memory card slots got caught and came off halfway. It wouldn't snap back into place, so I had to force it open. When I popped the cover back in place, my Passport went into a reboot loop, and it was stuck until I removed the cover again. If I replaced the cover, the device rebooted. After some experimentation, I determined that the cover was causing the power/wake/sleep button to stick and start the reboot loop.

 

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