BlackBerry’s square-screened Passport launches today for $599

BlackBerry logoBlackBerry's Passport phone caught our eye when it was announced this summer, mostly because of its odd screen and marketing pitch. It has some vague similarities to last year's BlackBerry Q10, but with a larger 4.5-inch square screen that's meant to show you more horizontal content at once. The self-described "IMAX of productivity" is being released today at a price of $599 unlocked ($249 on-contract).

The Passport is named for the thing it is shaped like—it's roughly the same size as a US or Canadian passport. The keyboard underneath its square screen isn't quite a full traditional BlackBerry keyboard. It has all the letters, the spacebar, and a couple of other keys, but for numbers or Shift or any others, you'll need to switch between physical and onscreen buttons. We enjoyed BlackBerry 10's software keyboard quite a bit when we reviewed the Z10 last year, but this hybrid seems potentially awkward.

BlackBerry Passport

Early reviews for the device have been mixed but generally negative. Most praise the phone's solid construction and the quality of the 1400×1400 display. The Wall Street Journal criticized its 13MP camera and its lack of apps (despite the addition of Amazon's app store to BlackBerry's own), saying that the position of the physical keyboard made the phone feel top-heavy and lopsided to type on. Engadget likewise complained about the lack of apps, while complimenting the keyboard's ability to act as a trackpad in landscape mode.

The Passport comes with a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 SoC, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage expandable via microSD, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, NFC, and LTE support. It's the first of BlackBerry's phones to ship with BlackBerry 10.3, which among other refinements adds a digital assistant feature to compete with Siri, Google Now, and Cortana.

Whatever the Passport does well, the inescapable fact is that it's still a BlackBerry 10 handset. While the platform does certain things well and has its die-hard adherents, it's miles behind iOS, Android, or Windows Phone in terms of hardware selection and app ecosystem. Does that make the Passport a bad phone? Not necessarily. Does it render it mostly irrelevant right out of the gate? Yeah, probably.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: BlackBerry, smartphones

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