After months of glimpses and teasers from BlackBerry CEO John Chen after first being unveiled at Mobile World Congress in February, BlackBerry has officially launched its latest BlackBerry device in the Passport, a highly divisive smartphone in terms of design. The device’s large square design is a reflection of the company’s focus on productivity, but the overall dimensions also suggest that it may be difficult for many to hold comfortably, as the square design is also a compromise forced by the unique 1:1 aspect ratio used by its operating system and native applications.
In terms of hardware, the Passport, is a flagship smartphone when it comes to specifications and features, with a stainless steel frame that BlackBerry claims lends it great strength and is also serving as an RF amplifier for the various radio antennae in the device. The screen measures 4.5 inches and features a square 1,440 x 1,440 pixel resolution that helps fit more content across the screen when compared to 16:9 displays, according to BlackBerry.
The company also took special care to develop the keyboard, which it claims is faster and more reliable than software keyboards by being touch-sensitive and lets users brush their fingers over the keys to scroll through information on the screen. Users can also use flicking gestures on the keyboard to use next-word suggestions, and swipe from right to left on the keyboard to delete the last word.
The Passport is powered by a 2.2GHz Snapdragon processor with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage with support for 128GB microSD memory cards with a sealed 3,450mAh battery. The phone also features a 13-megapixel camera with optical image stabilization and an f/2.0 aperture for the lens assembly. The device runs BlackBerry OS 10.3 with support the Amazon Android App Store for applications with substantial updates to the Android Runtime for increased compatibility with Android applications along with a two-level zoom function to fit Android applications on the display.
Alongside the Passport, BlackBerry also officially introduced BlackBerry Assistant, a voice-activated assistant similar to Siri, Google Now, and Cortana that can perform select actions on the Passport. BlackBerry claims Assistant is more powerful than rivals because it can access information behind corporate firewalls as well as accessing information from the internet. Another key difference with BlackBerry Assistant is the ability to control the device’s hardware remotely using only the Assistant if need be, such as triggering the camera LED, or other hardware features.
The phone is now available unlocked directly from BlackBerry for $599.99 unlocked with support for AT&T/T-Mobile LTE. No US carrier has officially announced plans to carry the Passport.