BlackBerry's Passport: Crazy enough for work?

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.

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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

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73 comments
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  • I have to use it

    before I mkae a judgement. The shape is different and seems odd, only because the iphone popularized the glass slab look. Now, virtually all smart phones are just glass slabs with a metal or plastic back. For people who view a lot of videos on their phone, the 4.5X4.5 will make for quite a bit of letter boxing.
    Low_tech
  • Physical Keyboard < Swype and similar

    It's 2014.
    The days of the "oh God, just give me a physical keyboard!" are so far behind us I can't remember when they even were anymore. That's Blackberry's problem with this one.

    Not only is Swype available... but it's available on the iPhone, and even Samsung's default Android keyboard attempts to clone it... as do numerous other aftermarket keyboard apps... ALL of which are smarter than the old-school poke-poke keyboards with the simpleton-level Autocorrect that made for funny websites.

    Those days are behind us like MySpace and Friendster...
    Which makes this Blackberry look just as awkward.

    ...and forces you to all the slowness of those old-school poke-poke keyboards.
    That's a fail.
    geolemon
    • Ecosystem and other ship-going-down issues as well

      I forgot to mention the other reasons that people wouldn't take ownership of Blackberry devices today:

      Like Windows Phone, it has very little to do with the OS, I'm sure it's just as smart and usable as Windows Phone, Android, or iOS.

      Like Windows Phone, marketshare has been declining, and is at single digits - it actually surpassed Windows Phone (surpassed might be the wrong word) as now having even lower single-digit marketshare - and freefalling.

      Like Windows Phone, developers are no longer bothering to waste their time developing apps for a barren wasteland of an ecosystem that doesn't have a significant user base.

      And on smartphones, apps are everything. They dictate what the phone can do - period.
      geolemon
      • Apps..

        Are not everything. They may be to you. If that is the case then carry on you have what you need already.
        heathman
        • Right you are

          Apps are NOT everything. A usable and reliable device is what most want along with a basic few apps. I suspect that the BlackBerry has the few that most of us need. I may be willing to give up Angry Birds for a better phone experience with a real keyboard!
          gary.lipkin@...
          • And all the better selling competitors ARE that.

            Plus an app ecosystem that is more than a barren wasteland, and without the risk of the company supporting that ecosystem finally collapsing as the last of the mighty Titanic sink underwater.
            geolemon
          • Why even bother posting

            When you are clearly not even reading what others are saying. Again, get over yourself. In the real world, business people don't need games on their phone. They need a phone that's not dropping calls 25% of the time and data security to be sure that their businesses are safe.
            happyharry_z
          • security too

            Business users don't need games.. true.. we need security and their purchase of the German security firm is a smart move.. Apple was once left for dead.. blackberry could rule business again if they provide security no one else does.
            jcasidy1
          • Give me an Anti-NSA

            Platform any day. Functionality can take place without 500K+ replicated apps. Given that the internet of things is on our horizon, will 1 million apps even matter in a year's time ? Just honestly asking a question here.
            AC777
          • Angry Birds

            Angry Birds is on BlackBerry 10. It's even on the PlayBook. Natively, too, not just as Android ports. But yes, I agree completely with your point :)
            ryanlr
        • There is no app gap

          Every app out there is available to the passport. There is no longer an app gap.
          Habsdude
          • Are you sure?

            Is there also a Netflix app?
            Nate650
          • Netflix

            Yes - this can be downloaded from the Amazon Appstore, or via the SNAP application with downloads Android Apps from Google Play. Works great.
            bRIZZAd
          • Yep

            I've been running it on my Z10 for a while. Don't really use it since I rarely have a reason to watch a movie on my phone instead of my TV, but it is there.
            ryanlr
      • There are tons of BlackBerry apps

        The best ones are native, Built for BlackBerry apps, and they make use of BB 10's QNX microkernel OS, where every app is sandboxed, and you also have granular permission controls.

        Many more new Built for BlackBerry apps are available every month. Trend Micro Guardian protects BlackBerries against rouge Android apps.

        All the major social media apps are native to BB10, and BlackBerry also has exclusive native apps that are superior to anything native to Android or iOS. We have a nice, full featured file manager, that can not only access files on my phone and SD card, but also my cloud files, and PC files. We also have a native Device Manage/Task Manager that is full featured.

        Exchange integration is native, and works better on BB10 that other phones.

        The Amazon App Store is native to the BlackBerry Passport.

        It seems like your information is out of date.
        bb_apptix
      • WRONG

        Apps are a security and privacy risk. The far majority are made for the sole purpose of collecting data about people and neither Apple nor Google want to change their platform to give users control of what data they share. Applications can also be made with HTML5 and Javascript and work on most platforms. But Apple and Google would rather applications be made natively and sold through the app store so they get a cut. This doesn't really make sense because if you have a mac for instance you can install software from anywhere. But why not on your iphone or ipad? They all just computers.

        I don't understand those who think a touch keyboard is superior to a physical. You can type quicker and more accurately on a physical keyboard and do so without looking. What drives me most crazy on a touch keyboard is accessing special characters. Many of them I often use I have to go two menus in to get to on a touch keyboard. If you have a physical keyboard most special characters are assigned to the keys. On an iphone for instance you cant even see the period, comma or any numbers on the keyboard without hitting a button to see them.

        Your posts make you sound like you have some sort of invested interest the success of these conglomerates. Maybe a paid troll? "Blackberry has a tiny marketshare, and falling!" like you at trying to create some type of fear so people don't buy them. Blackberry being around is good for everyone, even those who don't have one. Competition is good for the consumer. iOS and Android have over 90% of the market, they even work together to ensure their continued control of the industry.

        Personally, I have never owned a blackberry though i'm considering the passport when it comes out later this year. I currently have an iphone (that I hate) and I would never get and Android as its from Google an Advertising Company. I'm also a young tech savvy, web developer.
        bimmin
    • Oh really??

      There are many, many users out there who have given up on real keyboards solely becasue of their lack of availability - not because we prefer the virtual ones made popular by the iPhone. Swype - as good as it may be - is still no match for a real keyboard. For me, that is the attraction of the Passport - and why I will look it over carefully. as for you, well, you can continue to slide and poke poke on your unresposive glass screens...
      gary.lipkin@...
    • Physical keyboards

      I beg to differ..... I still prefer a physical keyboard and I use a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 every day. So don't discount old school yet.
      bonespiel@...
      • But obviously you are in the minority

        Otherwise, BB would be showing an increase in sales. And this would be noticed by other OEMs who would then offer physical keyboard models themselves.
        otaddy
        • True...

          But I don't think a company has perfected the physical keyboard like BlackBerry has. The fact that it's tied to a large screen could be the difference here.
          Nate650