There are few things these days (especially smartphones) that have the ability to surprise me. I walked into work yesterday and a friend of mine points at me asking me to come over. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out this slate-looking thing and turns it around. It was a BlackBerry Passport. I have not stopped smiling since then.

I'm guessing the excitement is there among BlackBerry users considering I woke up to a fully drained phone this morning from all the twitter chatter and I figured no better place than CrackBerry to share my experiences with it. In this pre-review, I'm not comparing it to any other devices because in all honesty, there is no real comparison to be made. It's in a league of its own.

[Editor's Note: This is a pre release pre-review of the BlackBerry Passport. It was written by @halobandit based on his views of using the device personally. Some of the information in this review is certainly subject to change because again, it's based on a pre release BlackBerry Passport that has been confirmed to NOT be a final hardware revision. Upon official release of the BlackBerry Passport we will have our own CrackBerry review as always when new BlackBerry smartphones hit the market.]

Initial BlackBerry Passport Impressions

 

This is not your traditional BlackBerry. It's unlike anything you've ever held and an entirely new form factor. With this device, BlackBerry has created its own niche market. You won't find any university students using this. Don't expect the passport to be your go-to for selfies, or your music player at the gym. The much-loved Q10 was and still is a phenomenal device. It has now grown up and you are in for a treat.

The Passport is a completely different feel when you pick it up. It's not the classic design, not at this size. For a second it felt like I was picking up a sexy new twist to the original Gameboy and that's a compliment. The keyboard has a different feeling too. It's too wide for one hand. The keys are smoother than anything before. They're almost a tad slippery. I've been told that they have been improved upon since this generation of prototype. The backside had a felt-like feeling to it. Not like the Q10, but more like the Z10 and was easy to grip. With a phone this size and weight, the grippiness goes a long way.

This is not your traditional BlackBerry.

The Passport weighs in at 6 and 7/8th oz. Also, it's really wide. I know the screen is just as tall, but the keyboard makes it feel wide. I had a passerby say it looked like a flattened Sidekick. I couldn't help but agree. What it truly reminded me of was my trusted 8800. It had the same feel. The keys were wide too. I'll get to the keyboard in a bit, but the keys felt empty visually. It's because there were no other markings on it. No punctuation of any sort. Just plain dedicated QWERTY. It really threw me off.

The screen is one of such elegance, that it even made the most diehard iPhone user smile. It's got one of the sharpest screens out there and the UI that felt cramped on the Q10 now is unleashed in a fashion that renders you hopelessly in love. It's not the traditional screen. You want to type. On the left and right sides, it very gently curves down as it goes to meet the side. It's nothing that would change the looks of the phone, but it feels nicer. More buttery.

I have purchased every single iPhone. My biggest complaint about how thin they are is that, as they get thinner, they become increasingly more difficult to pick up off of a table if they are not in a case. The Passport has dealt with it. The bottom curves up enough to make it very easy to pick up. The sides have a sort of brushed aluminum look and the buttons on the right side are very nicely spaced out. On the top sits the familiar lock / standby / power button while the speaker opening is on the bottom.

 

BlackBerry Passport Hardware

 

 

Let's get the most important thing out of the way first: it fits in your pocket. You will have fewer things in the pocket thanks to the Passport, but it fits and it's snug. You'll know if you don't have your Passport with you. It did not seem to weigh me down in any way though, which is nice. I put on a hoodie and it worked there too. For those who like to put their devices in their shirt pockets, it fits there too. Rather nicely I must say.

This particular device is running an older build of 10.3, 10.3.0.428 to be exact. There is a newer one showing as available, but this device was given to me to pre-review and I don't want to tamper too much with it. This model has 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of on-board memory, though I did add a 64 GB SD card myself. Finally, there is an easily accessible nano SIM slot to allow for easy SIM switching without the battery interfering. With it having an internal battery which lasts forever, BlackBerry put the SD card slot and SIM slot on the top of the phone inside of a removable panel.

It isn't the easiest to remove, but it's debatable whether that's a good thing or not since it's very sturdy. Most people aren't going to be removing their SIM daily, so it shouldn't really be an issue for the majority. There is no exclusive micro HDMI port. Instead you get what appears to be a microUSB port for charging the device and HDMI out through MHL.

 

Screen

The screen is everything on the BlackBerry Passport. They finally figured it out. It's the focus here and also takes over a large amount of the duties of the keyboard. At a whopping 1440x1440 pixels, the screen is pleasantly bright and gives everything more space.

Keep in mind that you do need two hands to be fully functional on this device. I have large hands and even I couldn't get from one corner to the other corner of the screen. The screen seems very resistant to greasy and sweaty hands and even worked well with inductive gloves on. There's a lot of screen real estate here so it's hard to make a mistake.

The screen is everything on the BlackBerry Passport

Information is displayed beautifully on the Passport and minimal scrolling is required. Fonts go up to 18 and my dad will love BlackBerry for that. The screen once again reminds me of the BlackBerry 8800, which was a true machine and almost everything on this device feels inspired in some way from it.

Keyboard

Remember the 9900 keyboard? The Q10 keyboard? This is nothing like any of them. Its bigger, it's broader, softer, wider and leaves you wondering what happened to your BlackBerry. It's short a whole line and has nothing but letters on it. There are no dimples or waves on it. There are no numbers and no ALT button. Just a plain QWERTY keyboard, void of any color, and some might say character. The buttons though are soft and sensitive.

So how does this work? It works in a fashion never witnessed before. The symbols, characters, numbers and everything else is on screen and intuitively changes depending on where you are. If you are on the compose panels contact list, you will get the numeric buttons on the screen and if on the body portion, the symbols and character can be invoked. But, that's not it. The best is yet to come.

Prepare to fall in love with your BlackBerry all over again.

The predictive keyboard aspect goes to a whole new level. Not only can you be fancy like the keyboard on the Z10, Q10 and Z30, the keyboard is in fact touch sensitive. It's like the trackpad of a MacBook and you feel as if every part of the phone knows what you want it to do.

On this particular model, I rarely had to touch the screen and drifting my thumb, I could choose a word I wanted and flick to choose it. Deleting worked in a similar fashion (swiping right to left) and scrolling worked in a top down and vice versa fashion. To clarify that, you can swipe up or down on the keyboard to move around. In my opinion, with a screen that large, if the fonts are small, the keyboard works great, but if there is a lot of information, just use the screen.

Unfortunately, text selection and accentuated characters did not work for me. Again, this is pre-release so I expect issues like this.

One downside is the space on either end of the keyboard is filled with plastic that does nothing. In my opinion, the frets could have been made shorter and either end could have been made a button (call and camera respectively). This would make the device appeal a little more to the younger demographic.

I don't know and can't really say if this is the best keyboard yet. It's very different. It took me a bit to get used to the new keyboard and to understand the onscreen buttons. Emoticons have never looked better.

The keyboard isn't clicky. It's soft. The keys are wider and you need two thumbs to use it. It doesn't matter how big or small your fingers are, the accuracy is there. It's easier for women who type with their nails because the keyboard is soft and not plasticy. It's more of a tap than a click now. I got a friend of mine who is a nail typer on her BlackBerry and I had to the Passport out of her hands because she loved it so much. I'm hoping to see another version soon to get a final idea. My typing has been faster on this than it has been on any other BlackBerry. Its been more accurate too. This keyboard is so very inviting. You know that moment when you fell in love? Prepare to fall in love with your BlackBerry all over again.

 

BlackBerry Passport Camera

The UI has changed just a bit, but I'm not getting into software in this pre-review. The camera is crisp. Autofocus has never been faster on a BlackBerry when it comes to the rear camera. Photos are crisp and the zoom does it justice. Low light photographs are much better but burst photography still needs some work. Shutter speed is definitely faster that any of the Samsung devices out there, but it's not an 'iPhone killer' by any means.

All in all, for BlackBerry users, taking pictures just got better.

That said though, it's much better than any previous BlackBerry camera. In HDR mode, the Passport asks you to hold still for almost 3 seconds which seems a bit excessive, but there's still room to fix that. The front camera is 3 MP and it works great for BBM video conferencing, if a bit oversaturated. All in all, for BlackBerry users, taking pictures just got better.

 

BlackBerry Passport Battery Life

The battery is once again very impressive here. They seemed to have worked on a lot of detail here with the internal battery. I will get an opportunity later next week to look into it further, but having been signed into it on Wi-Fi with one email account, the Twitter frenzy since last night, my Facebook posts, having some of my closest friends playing with it, taking over 100 screenshots, playing a few videos and playing a fair bit of music, I am 16 hours in and it sits at 15% having started with 98%. Does it live up to the standards? In my opinion, it exceeds them if there aren't any changes between this model and the retail version. Also, to be clear, we're working with a 3450 mAh battery here.

 

Videos

 

This portion is short as I wasn't able to take a lot of the video of the Passport. That said, you'll want to stay tuned for more because there will be videos coming in the future. For now though, check out how loud the speakers are, how video will work and how web pages are viewed. I know, everyone wants to see the keyboard in action but it just wasn't possible as of yet.

Closing Thoughts... for now

This particular model is an older prototype. I was told very clearly that a lot of changes have been made to the product since then and there are more to come. Yes it fits in your pocket. In suits, in pants, in jeans that weren't too tight for you to begin with, and in hoodies.

It fits in dress shirt pockets and you can hold it with one hand. You just need two hands to use it. The battery lasts forever and the screen is a breath of fresh air for the 'cramped' Q10 users. The keyboard is a delicious treat that is a different approach compared to anything BlackBerry has done before it and anything that the market has ever seen. The combination of physical and onscreen this time around is exciting and intuitive. It is what we have been waiting for all along. A breath of fresh air.

My personal recommendations would be to make the sides a little less flat and a tad curvier and the corners a tad more rounded. Moreover, on this particular model, there is a 3-4 mm gap on either side of the keyboard that is the biggest waste of space. They should just shorten the frets and on the left side put a physical call button and on the right side a camera button. That would be unreal.

The phone (if we can call it that) is meant for executives and serious businessmen who will now do more on their BlackBerry smartphones. It's not likely to be a hit among the young crowd but I don't think they're the target market here. The camera compared to others might lack in some areas but it's still the best BlackBerry has put out and there's still time to improve it through software. The call quality is unreal. Videos are beautiful but the black bars on the top and bottom sometimes feel like waste of space, though the display will help you get over that pretty quickly. The unsung heroes here are the speakers. They are louder and crisper than the HTC One's 'Boom Sound' and will turn a lot of heads.

I currently have an iPhone 5c, an iPhone 5S, a Galaxy S4 and a Q10. I CAN'T WAIT for a retail version of the Passport after having used it. My faith in this BlackBerry has been shaky but I can say now that it's a strong device that makes you feel important, powerful, productive and ready to take on the world. For those of you you think it's bulky, when it comes to devices, the Passport is a Brooklyn bouncer in an Armani Suit. It might not appear to be sleek, but it's sexy, it's fresh, it's bigger and badder. It lets you 'do more' and just could be the passport to tomorrow's BlackBerry. No pardoning the pun there either.

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