There’s nothing more exciting than getting your hands on a brand new BlackBerry smartphone. Last week, I had the pleasure of BlackBerry inviting me to try out the BlackBerry Passport. I have since spent over a week with the Passport.

My review will provide you with an introduction to the latest BlackBerry OS 10.3 smartphone and first-ever BlackBerry with a touch-sensitive keyboard. This review should help you make a cohesive decision on whether or not it’s the right BlackBerry smartphone for you.

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Unboxing

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The BlackBerry Passport comes in quite a large box, suitable for such a large device. The overall presentation when first opening the BlackBerry Passport harkens that of the ultra-premium Porsche Design BlackBerry smartphones. See how this looks and what is included in the video below:

 

As part of the OOBE (Out-Of-Box-Experience), when you power on the BlackBerry Passport smartphone for the very first time, you will need to take a few minutes to get it set up by stepping through a series of panels (wizards). To get fully set up, you will select your language of choice, agree to the software license agreement, get connected on the mobile network and/or set up a Wi-Fi connection and set up your BlackBerry ID. The Passport will also check to see if there are any software updates to be downloaded.

Design

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BlackBerry has finally returned to its innovative roots with the bold, new design of the BlackBerry Passport. The BlackBerry Passport was purpose-built to drive productivity. It is the most advanced, most powerful and most innovative QWERTY keyboard smartphone on the market today – weighing in at 196g with a size (L x W x D) of 128mm x 90.3mm x 9.3mm.

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The device sports a unique 4.5 inch square screen with a stunning 1440×1440 resolution and perfectly placed stereo speakers. The large square touchscreen with 453 pixels per inch resolution is 30% wider than an average 5” all-touch device and 60% larger than the average smartphone. The Passport displays 60 characters across allowing for the best mobile viewing experience in any situation.

With the Passport, BlackBerry has revolutionized its standard four-row keyboard by introducing a 3-row touch enabled keyboard. Despite its size, it is ergonomically designed to fit in your palm.

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If you’re wondering where the nomenclature “Passport” originated, it was inspired by the fact that the physical size is the same as a country-issued, traveler’s passport. But, you don’t have to worry about the BlackBerry Passport fitting in your pocket or purse. The BlackBerry Passport is literally your pass to ultra productivity on a mobile device.

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The Passport doesn’t lack on industrial aesthetics. The Passport has a stainless steel casing that runs 360° around its edge, which BlackBerry tells us was inspired by the famous TD towers designed by Mies van Der Rohe in downtown Toronto, Canada.

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The Passport has a smooth backplate which is slightly curved to fit in the palm of your hand for better grip.

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The only removable part is on the upper back side of the device, which allows you to install a micro SD card and a NanoSIM card. On the top of the device you can find a 3.5 mm headset jack and on the right, the standby power on/off button.

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A great new design feature is the availability of quad microphone array, including one in the phone speaker. These four microphones work together to enhance call audio through real-time ear adaptation.

Hardware Specs

DSC_0002Finally, BlackBerry has stepped up their specs game to compete with any other smartphone OEM in the market. The Passport is the first quad-core BlackBerry smartphone, and comes with more memory and storage out-of-the-box than any previous BlackBerry smartphone.

The Passport sports a Qualcomm Snapdragon 2.2GHz quad-core 801 processor, an insane 3 GB of RAM, 32 GB on-board storage with hot swappable microSD slot that supports up to 128 GB, a fantastic 13 MP rear camera that can shoot 60 FPS in 1080p HD video, 2 MP (720p) front facing camera, gorgeous 4.5 inch 1440×1440 HD screen, Accelerometer, Magnetometer, Time of Flight (ToF), Gyroscope, Ambient Light, Proximity sensor, and NFC.

The Passport sports a beautiful sounding stereo speakers and a USB charging port that doubles as a Slim-port so you can project your Passport’s screen to a larger TV or projector screen.

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Battery lovers should not be daunted by the impressive specs as this Passport rocks a 3450 mAh battery that is certain to please even the heaviest of users.

Let’s break down the hardware and specs even further:

Display

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BlackBerry is finally playing in the big leagues when it comes to the display on the Passport. The Passport has a beautiful in-cell IPS LCD touch display that shows vibrant colours at 453 PPI and allows for a great viewing experience even in broad daylight. The Passport has absolutely the best screen compared to any previous BlackBerry 10 device. With a wider display, not only can more information be shown, it will appear less cramped giving you a much better viewing experience.

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Comparing the BlackBerry Z30 or Q10 to the Passport is not even fair. My biggest issue with the Z30 wasn’t the resolution, it was with the brightness. Even on the brightest setting, it wasn’t bright enough. The Passport’s screen doesn’t disappoint.

At a recent event in New York City, JT and I received a demo of a medical app that lets doctors review x-rays on their devices. The Passport’s square and super high resolution screen brought the ability to show even the finest of details.

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Most in-market devices allow for a 40 characters per line, where the Passport comes close to the standard of 66 with the capacity for 60 characters per line. Reading a book through Kindle or Kobo has never been easier on the eyes.

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You can literally see the difference in how much more content is viewable on the BlackBerry Passport’s incredible display.

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After a week with the Passport, I can safely say I am extremely satisfied and impressed with how clean, clear and crisp images and content renders on this device.

Battery Life

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BlackBerry says the Passport’s 3450 mAh battery supports 25 hours of mixed use. Talk Time: GSM up to 18 hours; UMTS up to 23 hours, Standby Time: GSM up to 18 days; UMTS up to 18.5 days, Audio Playback: up to 84 hours, and Video Playback: up to 12 hours.

When I first received the Passport, I was very excited about the large 3450 mAh battery. To my surprise, the battery only lasted for about 8 hours. To be fair, I was downloading nearly 40 apps through BlackBerry World and a bunch more from the Amazon App Store. Once I had the Passport completely set up, that’s when I got the biggest surprise. I have been able to get about 18 hours of heavy use, which in all honesty, is phenomenal.

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I am very happy that BlackBerry has decided to put such a large battery in the Passport and I know it will make everyone buying this device extremely satisfied. It’s the kind of device that makes you want to push it to the limits so it’s great that it won’t be the battery holding you back.

Camera

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To most BlackBerry 10 smartphone users, the only drawback in previous devices has been the camera. Photo and selfie-taking fans, the time has come to rejoice. We can finally take pride in the camera on a BlackBerry smartphone. The Passport delivers a beautiful, gorgeous photo taking experience that BlackBerry fans have never seen before.

The BlackBerry Passport features two cameras, each capable of capturing HD video. The rear facing camera has autofocus and can capture 13 MP shots in an instant. It includes a bright LED flash that can be set to activate automatically or not at all. The 2MP front facing camera is ideal for selfies and quickly sharing pictures on social media sites, or for video chatting over BBM. The rear camera features a sensor that allows for stunning ADP video which is rumored to eventually bring support for up to 4K recording.

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The camera is designed to be extremely fast at capturing images and easily accessible, because you never know when the “right” moment will suddenly happen. Tapping on the camera icon instantly captures a picture to the Pictures app, and the camera is then ready to shoot again. For quick access, the camera is always accessible from the Home screen. You can even launch the camera if the smartphone is in standby (from the Lock screen) – simply touch and hold the icon to launch it.

The BlackBerry Passport smartphone’s camera includes a number of advanced features, including a new Panorama mode as well as Time Shift mode, a fantastic feature for capturing a group shot where everyone is smiling with their eyes open.

Keyboard

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With the Passport, BlackBerry has decided to finally think outside-the-box and bring an intuitive and innovative physical keyboard experience. The Passport’s keyboard is unlike any previous keyboards, with the likes of the Q10 and Bold 9900.

The Passport’s keyboard features only three rows of physical keys, and utilizes the display to offer additional virtual keys that change in context with what you are doing. In addition, the physical keyboard is touch-enabled and can recognize gestures. The backlit sculpted keys are large and wide, with BlackBerry’s signature frets to separate the rows to help make typing easier, faster and more accurate.

The keys feel nice and firm. The biggest adjustment for me was having a space bar between the letters V and B. However, all of the characteristics that enable fast, accurate typing on a physical keyboard are here, including many time-saving keyboard shortcuts that allow you to simply begin typing to initiate a task.

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Additionally, the keyboard acts as a trackpad that lets you swipe and scroll through web content when you are browsing, or easily move about in documents, emails or anything you’re working in.

But that’s not all – the physical keyboard also offers some of the best features of the BlackBerry 10 touch keyboard by incorporating the flick gestures when you’re typing. However, it must be emphasized that there is a small learning curve when you first start using the Passport keyboard.

To access numbers, for example, you click on the virtual fourth line above the physical keys. BlackBerry OS 10.3 is intuitive enough to predict when you would need numbers or symbols; they simply appear above the keys on the touchscreen. It took me about an hour or two before I felt comfortable using the keyboard, but once I did there was no turning back.

The learning curve is a small price to pay for the amazing typing experience you’ll gain. When it comes to keyboards, physical or not, nobody does it better than BlackBerry. See the keyboard in action in the video below:

 

Speakers

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The sound on the BlackBerry Passport speakers is exceptional. Music is crisp, clear and sounds great, but it’s also the perfect device to use for conference calls and BBM chats. Phone calls with the Passport have never been better on any other smartphone.

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On the BlackBerry Passport with BlackBerry OS 10.3, Natural Sound has been enhanced and dynamically adapts in real-time to your surroundings and the network to provide you with consistently good audio quality for phone calls. A proprietary Acoustic Processing Engine tunes the different audio processing blocks in real time to reduce background noise and network noise, providing you with an optimal audio experience. The processing engine enhances audio quality in all cases, when you are on the phone, using the speakerphone, using a headset or using a Bluetooth device.

The BlackBerry Passport also has a unique feature called Active Leak Compensation, which automatically adjusts the call volume based on how close you hold the BlackBerry Passport smartphone to your ear. A microphone in the earpiece of the phone – part of the phone’s unique quad-microphone array – measures the sound pressure in your ear and adjusts the volume accordingly for consistent sound quality. This is helpful in situations such as when you are holding the phone to your ear with your shoulder.

The BlackBerry Passport speakers sound quality are better than the BlackBerry PlayBook or Z30. Yes, you heard that – err read – that correctly. But, hear for yourself in the video below:

 

Charging Port / Slim-port

Continuing with the beautiful design of the Z3, BlackBerry has put the charting port on the bottom, making the device easy to use while charging. As mentioned, the charging port can also be used as a slim-port to allow you to mirror your device on any large screen. Another plus to an already stacked spec sheet.

BlackBerry OS 10.3

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With the arrival of the BlackBerry Passport, BlackBerry is also introducing its latest OS. BlackBerry 10.3 features new icons, buttons and other UI elements with a flatter, more modern design. With the BlackBerry Passport, you can now run up to 8 active frames on your home screen.

The new OS allows you to re-order the placement of active frames with a long press. The frames will begin to pulsate like app icons and you then can drag a frame to a new position. In addition to the flat UI elements, the home screen is now always available even if no apps are running.

For an additional detailed look at BlackBerry OS 10.3, see our standalone review here.

BlackBerry Assistant

BlackBerry Assistant on the BlackBerry Passport allows you to manage Your work and personal email, contacts, BBM, calendar and other native BlackBerry 10 applications through both voice and type commands.

It helps you execute essential tasks quickly in any situation, whether at your desk, in your car or in a meeting. BlackBerry Assistant features deep integration with BlackBerry Hub, Calendar and Contacts, with unique capabilities such as having your email read to you and replying back hands-free and eyes-free, or saying “book a meeting” to schedule an event.

BlackBerry Assistant has a best-in-class architecture and new language processing that yields a very high rate of accuracy and recognizes voice commands in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian.

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We put the BlackBerry Assistant through the test and the results were quite impressive. Check it out in the video below:

 

BlackBerry Natural Sound

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BlackBerry Natural Sound is comprised of two technologies: ‘ProVoice’ – Best in class full-bandwidth & stereo audio performance for BBM Voice & Video on BlackBerry 10 for any listening scenario (speaker phone, HDMI out, etc..); and ‘ProReceiver’ – Advanced acoustic processing engine that amplifies what’s important in the noisiest of environments during cellular voice calls.

BlackBerry Natural Sound was first introduced in 10.2 to provide best in class VOIP experience over BBM Voice and BBM Video. In BlackBerry 10 OS 10.3, the technology now enhances cellular calls. BlackBerry uses a proprietary acoustic processing engine that tunes the different audio processing blocks in real time to reduce background noise, providing you with the best audio experience. The BlackBerry Passport has a unique feature called active leak compensation, which automatically adjusts the call volume based on how closely you hold the BlackBerry smartphone to your ear.

Quick Settings

When it comes to device settings, 10.3 brings a number of improvements, including the quick settings menu which is accessible within any application by simply swiping down from the top of the display with two fingers. Another great feature is an improved device monitor that provides you with essential details on battery usage, memory and CPU stats.

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The Hub

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The Hub has received a beautiful makeover with the introduction of instant actions. When you receive an email with multiple attachments, you can now download them all at once. On the upper right hand side of the Hub, you can tap the icon to open a context sensitive side menu (instant actions) that lets you quickly file or delete a message.

Another cool feature is that you can now immediately access the dial pad from the Calls Hub.

Text Selection

BlackBerry OS 10.3 brings much easier text selection. Copying, pasting, and editing text is even easier with a BlackBerry Passport. Check it out in the video below:

 

Applications and Media

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When BlackBerry was working on 10.3, they seriously listened to their core fans. One of the most noticeable features that was missing in previous versions was a music equalizer. With 10.3, BlackBerry has added 17 different presets. The new operating system brings a new PDF app which allows you to fill in PDF forms including adding a signature with the Adobe Reader app and a new Remember app that’s been redesigned to be simpler and easier to create tasks.

BlackBerry 10 OS 10.3 supports native apps and HTML-based apps as well as Android apps. With BlackBerry 10 OS 10.3, in addition to the BlackBerry World storefront, which provides you with access to a wide variety of apps and games, the Amazon app store (an Android app store) is preinstalled on the phone. You can also download Android apps from third-party app stores.

See how Android apps scale on the BlackBerry Passport in the video below:

 

Amazon App Store

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This summer, BlackBerry was able to score a huge victory with the announcement of a partnership with Amazon that would bring its Android store to BlackBerry 10. The Amazon App Store comes preloaded on the Passport and it brings a plethora of applications that were missing from BlackBerry World.

It helps close the so-called “app gap” that has plagued BlackBerry since the launch of BlackBerry 10. Applications like Netflix, Pinterest, Chase, Bank of America, and games like Candy Crush are now available to BlackBerry users.

A great new tip: if an Android app does not display properly on the BlackBerry Passport, you can swipe down from the top of the display to access the zoom button. You can zoom the apps display out. One of the examples is the Flipboard app.

See how the Amazon App Store looks on the Passport in the video below:

 

Camera Features

BlackBerry has gone to great lengths to improve their camera. The 10.3 camera brings a new panorama feature, the option to save a timeshift capture for editing at a later time, set a self timer, and allows the rear video camera to capture up to 60 FPS in 1080p.

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Conclusion

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BlackBerry customers have been waiting for a smartphone that will close the specs gap and now they’re going to get one. The BlackBerry Passport is a unique and beautiful device, specially crafted for today’s business men and women who are prosumers.

BlackBerry is finally playing in the big leagues. The Passport brings an outside-the-box approach to today’s bland smartphone design. Yes, the Passport is much wider than what most people are used to, but the Passport provides an exceptional mobile experience, applicable in either the consumer, business and/or medical field.

As expressed in this review, the BlackBerry Passport provides users with optimal media consumption backed by powerful battery life. The BlackBerry Passport is the quintessential smartphone for nonstop productivity, play, and an intuitive, innovative typing experience never-before-seen, until now.

 

Co-authored with additional editing by Lucas Atkins.