BlackBerry Passport: A hybrid workhorse coming your way

BlackBerry Passport: A hybrid workhorse coming your way
A picture shows a close-up view of the new Blackberry Passport smartphone during at a simultaneous launch event in London on September 24, 2014.

Is that a phone?" "Whoa, so huge!" "I thought it was tempeh."

These were just a few of the many remarks that people in the crowd around me made as I used my brand new, square BlackBerry Passport. The latest model of the smartphone is expected to hit the local market by the end of the year, and it is fun to hear people light-heartedly comment on my gargantuan phone.

My teenage daughter teased me as to why in the world I was still going around with yet another BlackBerry when most of the manufacturer's local fans have shifted their loyalties to Android and iOS phones.

I have long been a diehard fan of BlackBerry, which first came on to the local market back in 2004 and then commanded 42 per cent of the local smartphone market during its heyday until its more innovative competitors, iOS and Android, took over the reign.

My first device was a shiny black 9800 Curve my wife gave me as a birthday gift back in 2008 when BlackBerry fever in Indonesia was partly boosted by news that the then US presidential front-runner Barrack Obama, who happened to live in Jakarta as a child, was a big fan of the smartphone.

But the thing that actually hooked me about the Curve was the neat three-line softly clicking QWERTY keyboard. What was more revolutionary was its instant messaging system that liberated me from my desktop computer. It put a litany of emails in my pocket and I could reply to them from wherever I was and of course the great BBM service cost me nothing.

Now, after years of a slowdown that allowed its rivals iPhone and Samsung to lead the premium smartphone market, BlackBerry is introducing the Passport to woo back its one-time fans and to prove to the world that it isn't dying as many believe.

As a diehard BlackBerry fan, I was excited when I had the chance to attend the newest model's launch in London on Sept. 24 and to get my hands on it.

The Passport - so named to symbolize global mobility - is surprising enough to grab the world attention the company badly needs to boost its turnaround bid.

The Passport, which belongs to the BlackBerry 10 series, is a completely different BlackBerry, whose neat, softly clicking signature physical keyboard charmed millions like me. It is basically a hybrid phone which combines the touch-sensitive physical keyboard and virtual keyboard functions.

So why has BlackBerry been so bold as to create a bulky square model? John Chen, the company's executive chairman and CEO said, "The BlackBerry Passport was created to drive productivity and to break through the sea of rectangular-screen, all-touch devices."

It's so wide that you have to use both hands to operate it properly so that it won't slip out of your grip. Mind you the 11.43 cm (4.5 inch) handheld weighs 190 grams so a fall could result in serious damage.

Despite the sheer size and weird shape, it can still be held easily when making or receiving call thanks to its thin frame.

But don't let its unconventional looks deceive you. When it is idle, this work phone looks plain and lifeless, like a real passport, but once it comes to life, it is a digital battleship!

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