BlackBerry's Passport: Crazy enough for work?

Summary:BlackBerry's Passport made an appearance in New York. The device is quirky but could find an audience in select industries.

passport5
Credit: Larry Dignan/ZDNet

NEW YORK — BlackBerry's Passport device, which is expected to land in September, is an odd creature that ties into the company's enterprise and industry focus. Once you get over a few seconds of shock you realize that this phablet may actually find an audience.

At BlackBerry's Security Summit Tuesday, execs had a bevy of demos including BlackBerry Enterprise Server 12 and other corporate apps. At most tables rested this odd rectangular smartphone designed to appeal to spreadsheet jockeys and other corporate types.

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We got a hands-on demo — even though we weren't allowed to hold it — and I came away less cynical than I was going in. I could see the Passport doing well for those users clinging to BlackBerry Bold devices and lugging around an iPad. In Asia and Europe — two regions where people seem ok with holding massive devices to their ears to make phone calls — the Passport could also do well.

My first impressions broke down like this:

The positives:

  • A keyboard and trackpad is nice to have on a tablet-meets-phone device.
  • Adding Amazon's Appstore to the BlackBerry alleviates a lot of worries.
  • The screen shape and size does provide more viewing area for things like spreadsheets and data. These items may play well in the regulated industries — healthcare, financial services, energy and government.
  • Passport fits into your pants pocket so if you're already carrying around a Samsung Galaxy S5 or other big screen device there's not much of a shock.
  • Enterprises may actually want to deploy phablets if they can consolidate smartphone and tablet purchases.
  • The build quality on the Passport looked solid.

The negatives:

  • You won't be the coolest prosumer on the block. Your fellow executive titans may mock you at first.
  • Passport has an odd shape that may throw you.
  • BlackBerry's plan is to push the Passport through carrier channels, but it's a bit unclear how much support the device will get. I was a bit surprised to hear that BlackBerry was essentially going with a BYOD strategy at first when selling it through Verizon or AT&T's enterprise units may be a better choice.

After my initial view of the Passport, my comment was simple: "This is crazy enough to work." You could amend that statement to be "for work." I could also be more optimistic because I had low expectations about the Passport. In either case, I give BlackBerry credit for thinking outside the candybar shape of most phones. 

I had expected to snicker at the Passport. But then again I used to snicker at Samsung's Galaxy Note devices and other smartphones with large screens. Now I'm actually carrying one.

Here's a look at a few images of the Passport in action. Let me know the Passport is something you'd be interested or whether this quirky design is doomed to fail.

passport1
What's a BlackBerry with a keyboard if you can't send email. Credit: Larry Dignan/ZDNet
passport2
The Passport is bigger than the Z30. Credit: Larry Dignan/ZDNet
passport3
Multitasking is handy. Credit: Larry Dignan/ZDNet
passport4
Credit: Larry Dignan/ZDNet

Topics: Mobility, BlackBerry, Smartphones

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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