Monday, November 10, 2014

First week with my BlackBerry Passport

Upfront, I am a little biased to the BlackBerry smartphone (anyone who follows me on twitter (@TferThomas) would clearly know this), but having used a variety of BlackBerry devices since 2004 (7100g - 8100 - 8300 - 9000 - 9700 - 9780 - 9810 - 9900 - 9790 - Z10 - Z30 - Q10), now I feel it the time to give my thoughts on the new Passport.
Now that's out of the way, onto the review.
(Image courtesy of Crackberry.com)
My Passport arrived on Monday last week, not through a local Carrier (my preferred Australian Carrier is not stocking the Passport at the moment ... although hopefully that will change @Telstra) but brought in from overseas. I'm afraid I've had to do this a number of times over the years for certain technology items, and living in Australia.
Protection:
The first thing I did was to place an Amzer Pudding Case over it chassis (yes, even though the Passport has gorilla glass and seems to have been sturdily built, I am clumsy, and no tech company can compensate for my clumsiness).
(Image courtesy of Crackberry.com)
The Passport is wide, and at 90.3mm it only just fit my existing car cradle ...at a squeeze. I think I will be sourcing a tablet cradle though to fit to the existing rig, but so far so good.
Operating System:
The Passport runs a version of the proprietary BlackBerry 10 operating system (a derivative of QNX) and currently sits at 10.3 (my current Z30 and Q10 were running leaked versions of 10.3.1 so I am very familiar with 10.3).
Ah yes, the old story of apps:
Not only does the BlackBerry World come preloaded, but also the Amazon Appstore, giving you immediate access to a large proportion of Android apps.
What I have noticed is the Amazon Appstore does lack a few of my favourite Android apps, so I also side-loaded Snap, which is a third party Google Play app, and from there, I have no app deficiencies (to cover my own personal/professional usage). You can also download 1Mobile Market which also does the same / similar job to Snap.
How do Android aps present on the the Passport's screen (quite unique in the current market, being 4.5" diagonal in size)? .... simple answer is all of the ones I use have so far fit the bill. You do have an option with some apps to resize (slide down from the top bezel from within the app) which can make an improvement, but I have only had to do this for two apps.
Some of the Android apps I use on my Passport:
  • Feedly (RSS Reader and sharer)
  • LinkedIn Pulse
  • Facebook Pages Manager
  • Pinterest
  • Udemy
  • Our Groceries
  • Tweetspie
  • Hootsuite
  • CommBank
  • Todoist
  • Amazon Kindle
  • Seek
  • Airtasker
  • Nespresso
  • Shazam
Technical specifications (nope, not going to bore you here):
What I can say is the Passport is the smoothest operating BlackBerry I have used yet, and the difference between it and the Z30 (the previous flagship) is marked. Everything is quicker, smoother and more responsive. Nice one.
Battery life is good, and better than the previous benchmark, that being the Z30. Battery, like that of the Z30, is fixed and non-removable, but I can easily get through a day of heavy social media, email, and call usage, without needing to find external power.
Physical dimensions and "that" keyboard:
Yes, the name relates to a Travel Passport, and the size is essentially the same .... and that makes it an interesting device to get used to.
The Passport is a screen and 3 rows of physical keys. If you were to compare the Passport to a legacy BlackBerry device, you would quickly note the lack of the 4th row of keys (containing the space bar and some speciality keys), where as the Passport has squeezed the space bar into the 3rd row.
But where are the numbers and speciality keys? Simple really .... but it does require a little getting used to. Slide your thumb down the physical keyboard brings up the numbers and speciality keys / symbols in the form of a virtual workspace, with a downward accent to retract (alternatively, you can also press the virtual @123 key which will bring up the virtual workspace).
You do need two hands to be most efficient when using the Passport. With the earlier legacy BlackBerry devices, you cupped your hands together and thumbed out messages very rapidly (on a BlackBerry Bold 9900, I believe I was quicker at thumbing out emails, than from my laptop). With the wider device, your two hands cradle the Passport and your thumbs are positioned well productivity and reach wise. As I said, it does require a wee bit of practice, but at the end of day 1, my thumbs were starting to intuitively find each key, with a high success rate ... soon, back to typing without looking if need be.
But if you are in a hurry, looking at the keyboard brings you an added productivity angle ..... predictive words. Again, whatever has been done here has improved the quality and accuracy from previous BlackBerry 10 devices. It also learns from your typing. You can, after a few days, literally type out a sentence (or mostly thereof) by just using predictive texts and a few key selections.
The accident:
I am accident prone, and last Friday it came home to roost .... gashing my left hand in a clumsy styled accident in the laundry (the front loader won), requiring 5 stitches ....and I am left handed! While I was waiting at the Doctors, I had to message a couple of people, and by only using my right thumb, and predictive text, I was able to accomplish this reasonably quickly .... although, I could not cradle the Passport with just one hand.
The keyboard is more than just physical:
The keyboard also can become your mouse for accurate text copying (think back to the track pad on the legacy BlackBerry and how simple it was to copy large volumes of text ..... with this keyboard, the same is just as easy and just as accurate). Thank you BlackBerry for one of the legacy features I was missing (much better than copying using the touch screen).
When reading web pages, it is suggested, and I concur, tip the Passport onto its side, and use the keyboard to scroll through the website by running your finger from bottom to top over the keyboard). This same function works in all apps, including the Hub.
I felt the Passport would be top heavy, with the keyboard mounted so low, but was pleasantly surprised to find it wasn't the case. The Passport easily fits into my suit jacket pockets, and a little snug in my pants pockets. Cargo shorts however, appear to have been custom made for the Passport.
A mate and I went to the Cinema on night 1 with the Passport (we see the movies that our wives aren't interested in) and when I passed the Passport over so that the barcode could be scanned from the booking email, the Attendant (lass of around 17 - 18 years of age) remarked "what a sick looking BlackBerry .... wow!"
Never. Expected. That.
There doesn't seem to be too many Passports out in the wild in Australia currently, and each time I pull mine out to work wide ..... invariably, someone asks a question about the device, and normally hones into the physical dimensions.
BlackBerry Blend:
For anyone who remembers the BlackBerry Playbook, would remember Bridge. Bridge was a way of getting your emails, contacts, tasks, calendar etc from your legacy BlackBerry to the Playbook. It enable you to work from a much bigger device on your projects, tasks as required. When the two devices were disconnected, no information was left on the Playbook.
Blend is the 2014 version of Bridge, but much better. It will connect your Passport or Porsche P'9983 (coming soon to more devices) to an Apple (Mac OSX 10.7+ or iOS 7+ Tablet), Windows (7+) or Android Tablet (4.4+). While the Passport's screen is a great size for delving deeper into more intricate tasks, sometimes a bigger screen is more welcome.
Things you can do with Blend:
  • Access your photos and documents and view them on a much larger screen.
  • Access your emails, texts and BBMs
  • Access your calendar, contacts and tasks
  • Access between devices via Wi-Fi, Mobile network or USB connection.
And like Bridge, once you disconnect, nothing is left behind. Smart and secure.
A Blend dashboard demo is here:
http://demos.blackberry.com/blackberry-passport/na/ca/gen/how-to/blackberry-blend/connect-to-computer-or-tablet/getting-around-blend-dashboard/index.html
I've been using Blend between my Passport and my Google Nexus 7 over the past week .... very handy.
Conclusion:
Now that one week has passed, I can definitely say the BlackBerry Passport is the best BlackBerry that I have used across 10 years, and there isn't really anything I found to be lacking, and in fact, the dimensions, design, access to Android apps (and BlackBerry apps), and the legacy features so sorely missed until now, of the Passport have added significantly to the BlackBerry 10 proposition. To quote one of my favourite movie titles ..... a case of "Back to the Future".
Thomas