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Hands on with the new Blackberry Passport smartphone

Al Sacco | Sept. 25, 2014
BlackBerry has officially announced pricing and availability details for its new Passport smartphone, which was previously unveiled and detailed through a variety of blog posts on the company's Inside BlackBerry blog. (Specific pricing and availability information can be found at the end of this post.)

It wasn't a good start with the device, and I don't know if my trouble with the case was the cause of the problem, but I'm sure it didn't help. Either way, the Passport I'm using now feels very sturdy, and it's a great-looking smartphone, but I wouldn't be surprised if I'm not the only one who has issues with the power key. 

BlackBerry Passport Speakerphone and Voice Quality

The BlackBerry Passport has a top-notch speakerphone. That's important because it's a phone, after all, and its 128 mm (L) x 90.3 mm (W) x 9.3 mm (D) size makes it awkward to hold up against your face in some cases, especially if you have tiny hands or a weirdly minute cranium.

Two separate speaker ports are built into the base of the device, which helps amplify and direct sound. I use the speakerphones on a variety of different devices regularly for interviews, and the Passport's speakerphone is one of the loudest I've used. Clewley even suggests that it could replace a Polycom or other dedicated speakerphone in some cases.

The Passport also uses a number of fancy-sounding audio technologies designed to improve and enhance call quality through the earpiece, but I haven't used the phone in that way enough to comment.

The BlackBerry Passport and BlackBerry Blend

BlackBerry Blend is a new piece of software designed to let you access a set of native BlackBerry Passport apps using your PC, Mac, iPad or Android tablet. (It doesn't work with iPhones or Android smartphones, according to BlackBerry.) Blend lets you connect your corporate Passport to non-BlackBerry devices and use them to securely access work email, contacts, calendar and various others resources via your VPN connection. No data is ever stored on Blend-connected devices, so it's not a security risk. (You cannot, however, share you BlackBerry's Internet connection using Blend.)

I haven't tried the app yet, because BlackBerry didn't make it available to me along with my evaluation device. The company did give me an in-depth demonstration. Honestly, the software interface I saw looked functional but clunky and outdated.

What BlackBerry Blend represents, though, is perhaps just as important as how well it looks and functions. The BlackBerry Passport is the first BlackBerry device in years that knows what it is and whom it's for. It isn't trying to be everything to everyone. BlackBerry is well aware that its target user also has a Mac and/or a PC, and probably an iPad or Android tablet. Blend aims to improve the interaction with all of your different devices and platforms.

Clewley says Blend is also IT-friendly, because it can lower total cost of ownership per user and address BYOD concerns. Companies that issue corporate Passports can train users on Blend so they never have to connect personal devices to corporate networks, and IT only has to issue one Passport for secure access on a variety of different devices.


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