BlackBerry's Passport: Crazy enough for work?

BlackBerry's Passport made an appearance in New York. The device is quirky but could find an audience in select industries.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor
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.

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