Like the majority of tech consumers, I wondered what the once-great BlackBerry was up to with the Passport. The company's latest device is a square-shaped one that follows the dimensions of a passport, has a full touchscreen that also shares space with a Qwerty keyboard, and runs on its own BlackBerry operating system but allows the use of Android apps.
The addition of a keyboard in a touchscreen-dominated device landscape is a throwback to when BlackBerry ruled the business gadget world, and when I was once able to type out messages with only my sense of touch.
But this is not the same BlackBerry keyboard that users will be familiar with. The three-row physical layout places all 26 letters under the 4.5-inch screen, and includes the Enter and Backspace buttons. Everything else is placed as additional rows on the touchscreen. For example, commonly used punctuation marks are located on a fourth row above the keyboard. If you need numbers or other symbols, selecting that option from the fourth row will bring up three more rows of numbers and symbols.
This means that a typo-free e-mail message based on touch alone is a lot harder, but the wider dimensions of the Passport meant I no longer had to type with my nails and could use the sides of my thumbs to craft a message.
Of course, having this much real estate on the front panel means that the Passport is not meant for one-handed use, as the keys on the other side of the device are impossible to reach using one hand.
To ease up on this restriction, the Passport uses a unique control mechanism that turns the keyboard into a partial trackpad.
Swipe up from the bottom of the screen to scroll down webpages and notifications, but when you start swiping up from the keyboard and past the screen, you leave the current open app and head to the Home Screen. Double tap on the keyboard and a magnifying glass option pops up, allowing you to highlight, copy and paste chunks of text with ease.
Previously, Android apps could be used only one at a time, but now, you can run multiple apps like on an Android smartphone.
If the lack of the Google Play Store is a problem, BlackBerry has added the Amazon App Store to the device. While it lacks the full range of Google's store, it offers the same popular apps and games. And as the local Google App Store lacks some apps found in the US store, I find that the Amazon version more than makes up for it. At the very least, Amazon offers the Netflix app for download.
Having said that, this is not a full Android device. Its more open structure beats Nokia's implementation of the Android ecosystem, but Google-specific apps, such as Drive and Maps, are missing.
Business users will clearly go for the new BlackBerry Blend feature that lets you mirror essential services on your tablet or laptop. Think of it as being able to start an e-mail message on your phone, continue where you left on your work laptop and attaching files stored on your tablet.
This is the premise of the BlackBerry Passport but, sadly, the market has changed. The ones who desperately cling on to a Qwerty device are getting fewer and fewer, and aside from the well-crafted features that might appeal to corporate users, there is very little here that will woo regular consumers.
The BlackBerry Passport is the company's most accessible device in a long time, but unless you have a specific need for a keyboard, there is little reason to pick one up.
Processor: Quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
Operating system: BlackBerry OS 10.3
Screen: 4.5 inches, 1,440 x 1,440 pixels (453 pixel per inch)
Value for money: 3/5
Battery life: 4/5
This article was first published on Nov 19, 2014. Get a copy of Digital Life, The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.