BlackBerry Passport – exactly what you want it to be

Is the Passport the new business tool or the next pocket protector? You be the judge. I’ve taken one for a test drive and shared my findings with other CIOs. I was also able to get a special tutorial from BlackBerry when I hooked up with them at the Gartner conference in Orlando last week. Check out the video of that tutorial at this link.

My son watched me trying out the new Passport at our CIO event in Muskoka and later at the Gartner conference in Orlando. Here’s what he said about the reaction of my fellow CIO’s.

“There are two attitudes toward BlackBerry. Those who are passionate and want to believe – and everybody else. How they feel will dictate their reaction to the BlackBerry.” Very astute.

Like it or dislike it, you can’t fail to notice it. The form factor and sleek look catch the eye even at a distance. But true to my son’s astute observation, there were indeed two very different reactions to the new Passport.

Everyone was intrigued. it’s hard not to notice this device. It’s different than anything else out there.

Some loved this new form factor. They loved the look and the dimensions – the Passport fits easily into a jacket pocket. The screen is striking and a beautiful high definition. There is simply nothing better out there in any phone I’ve seen.

Others were less interested or went straight for the negatives. Too heavy. Can’t operate it one handed. Another wondered if BlackBerry had abandoned women with this design so aimed at the suit coat pocket.

One internet post took a more humourous approach. They showed the Passport with a slice Kraft singles cheese over the screen. I’ll have to take them at their word about the size. We didn’t have any Kraft slices in the house to verify this.

Back to the land of the serious – some loved the keyboard. If you are one of those thumb-typing savants like me who have authored entire reports or proposals in the cab or in an airport, it’s easy to see why. After years of messing with their initial success in the keyboard, BlackBerry seems to have gotten it right. They took the basic QWERTY keyboard and gave it more space. The old familiar tricks work – you can still capitalize by just holding the key a little longer. They put special keys into a virtual third line using the bottom of the touch screen. Lastly, for those who still long for the old trackball – they made the entire keyboard a track pad. It operates like the one on a laptops. It also makes makes moving the cursor very precise. It makes a tiny edit much easier than trying to use a touch screen with fat fingers. Cut and paste are similarly well designed and easy to use.

Anyone who has endured the embarrassment of having auto-correct turn their well thought out phrase turned into an off colour joke will find BlackBerry’s approach a welcome relief. The system rapidly learns your frequently used words and phrases. You have the option of selecting them with the touch screen or with a gesture on the keyboard select words and construct entire sentences based on the suggestions.

Second to the form factor, the keyboard is a huge selling feature. But it won’t win over everyone. One fellow CIO I talked to had invested countless hours practicing to get up to speed on the new touch screens. Others have mastered the Android’s unique stylus based typing. While everyone I talked to gave points to the new Passport, many had moved on. Too little. Too late. Others were critical of the responsiveness of the new keyboard.

Even the detractors had to admire the effort. That includes my son, who will probably never be a BlackBerry user. He admired many of the features. Or maybe he was eager to get my existing and still very new Android phone.

BlackBerry might have found their focus late in the game, but find it they have. Even beyond the form factor and the keyboard the phone focuses on the business user. Email, text and social media management is managed in one location via the BlackBerry Hub. That extends beyond the phone. The app that manages the Hub on my Mac was a quantum leap up from anything else I’ve used – from Outlook to Gmail and Google Drive.

Document handling and creation is “ready for primetime” – at least the Word and PowerPoint substitutes seemed first rate. Not only can you read more effectively, but you can create documents for real business use.

For years, the lack of “apps” has been an issue on the BlackBerry. The fact that the BlackBerry OS now runs Android apps goes a long way to address this. The Amazon app store provides a good selection. It did have some curious omissions. Why the Kindle app was missing from an Amazon store was perplexing. But even apps that aren’t “officially” available could be downloaded after a simple hack we found after a few minutes of searching. We didn’t do a thorough test, but applications like my Kindle reader ran easily. My Phorus app that runs my speakers was the one app we couldn’t get to work.

Battery life – another key business feature was impressive. I charged my phone one day before and still had plenty of life left the following day. I haven’t been able to skip the overnight charge (and frequently the mid-day charge) for any phone in recent living memory. When I used the Passport as a hot spot it did drain the battery more than regular business activity – but that’s always been a challenge.

Oh yes, it also has a phone. Reception and sound were excellent with one idiosyncrasy. The placement of the speaker took some getting used to. You have to place it just right to hear well. For once, however, no one complained that they couldn’t hear me. The one place I didn’t get a chance yet to really test the phone was with my car system using the Bluetooth link.

For those who also value entertainment – music handling, photos and video were on par with anything else out there. The camera has some cool features that allow you to do time-lapse and pick the best photo from a range of choices. The stunning screen makes viewing very pleasant even on a handheld device.

Will this be enough for those who want a real consumer entertainment or gaming device? Maybe not. It may not capture the younger market or recapture those who have moved on. But it should find a niche as for those who want a solid business device.

That may or may not be enough. Whether the Passport will reassert itself as the business device for the individualist or become the next pocket protector is still an open question. If my son is right, that depends on how many of the true believers are still left out there.

Judge for yourself. And let me know what you think @CIOJimLove or [email protected]

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Jim Love
Jim Love
I've been in IT and business for over 30 years. I worked my way up, literally from the mail room and I've done every job from mail clerk to CEO. Today I'm CIO and Chief Digital Officer of IT World Canada - Canada's leader in ICT publishing and digital marketing.

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