UTB on The Verge

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Yesterday, I was BBM’ing with an old friend of mine that is a full fledged iPhonian. There is simply no changing this guy. And we tend to talk about our brands of choice often, giving as many digs as possible in each of our conversations. Needless to say I was shocked when he said he was sorry about the new Passport. Sorry? I mean, had he seen the same thing I had seen? BlackBerry had an iPhone 6 on stage to show how the Passport beat it. That’s not something a device manufacturer would do if there was something to be afraid of in that bendy phone. When I asked him this, of course I found out he knew nothing about it. All he knew was of a review he saw on The Verge. No surprise there. Of course I asked him, if being an iPhonian, if he was allowed to read anything besides The Verge, BGR and Crackberry, oops, I mean iMore. I told him to watch the actualy announcement, and tried to push the thoughts of The Verge trolling outside of my mind. Then later, in the UTB staff group, someone else brought up The Verge review, and I knew I’d end up reading it. And as The Verge usually does, it begged for a response from UTB. So, let’s get on with it then.

“BlackBerry is still around?”

I’ve heard that question quite often the past few weeks, as I’ve been using the BlackBerry Passport. Contrary to what many people in my social circle believe, BlackBerry is indeed still around and is ready to make itself relevant once again.

Right from the first intro, we get something that BlackBerry users are tired of hearing. However, we know for a fact that BlackBerry is still around, and still bringing the excitement. Why, it was only a short time ago that The Verge posted a poll about what device people were most excited for. Guess what device won? With a whopping 47% of the final vote, the BlackBerry Passport more than doubled the second place winner, the Bendy iPhone 6 that finished with 15%. Don’t believe me? Or just forgot to go back and check the final results? Go here and see for yourself.

Next the author goes in to his quick history version of how BlackBerry lost the consumer market to iPhones. *yawn* Let’s get on to the Passport review shall we?

The $249 ($599 unlocked) Passport is the biggest, squarest, most in your face BlackBerry the company has ever produced. It’s the culmination of everything BlackBerry has ever done, a productivity powerhouse more comfortable in the boardroom than in the living room. (It even looks like it’s wearing a suit.) Other smartphones are often criticized for not being efficient productivity tools, but the Passport’s sole focus is on getting work done.

Hmmm…. let’s just say primary focus shall we? Of course it is made for productivity first, but it can do everything else any other phone can do as far as entertainment as well. But having The Verge try and pigeon hole it is of course no surprise.

Let’s not mince words: the BlackBerry Passport looks like a giant square drink coaster. It’s big: 5.03 inches tall, 3.55 inches wide, and 0.37 inches thick. It’s heavy: 6.91 ounces. It’s odd-looking: it’s as if a classic BlackBerry spent some time in a medieval torture device and got stretched it out in all four corners. It’s actually very close to the same dimensions of an international passport, surely not by accident. It’s heavier and wider than both the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the Apple iPhone 6 Plus. Needless to say, the Passport is awkward to use and awkward to carry in your pants’ pocket. I can hardly use it in one hand, and I dropped it more than once in the the few weeks I’ve been using it. I can’t use it efficiently when I’m holding a cup of coffee in the back of a Town Car, nor can I cruise through my inbox while holding onto a railing on the subway.

Let’s get one thing straight, I’ve read many people say that the Passport is odd looking. I understand that. It’s a different form factor than what we are used to. It is something entirely new. And in a time when Samsung and Apple and Nokia are putting out the same phone design time after time (oh sorry, I forgot, Apple went bigger….) perhaps it’s time that someone did something different and new. And realistically, in today’s market, if someone is going to do something different and new, we know it’s going to be BlackBerry. If you think that a phone must be a rectangular piece of glass with rounded corners, then by all means continue reading The Verge to catch up on each new rectangular piece of glass with rounded corners, each more rectangular than the last and more rounded cornered than the last. Oh no, my mistake. Same rectangles and same rounded corners.

All its size and weight does make the Passport feel sturdy. Its stainless steel frame and matte plastic construction are durable and functional, if not exciting. Even though I dropped it more than once, my review unit still looks like it just came out of the box. Power Pros can’t get anything done if their iPhone or Galaxy phone breaks when they drop it, and BlackBerry is well aware of that. The Passport doesn’t need a clunky Otterbox to make sure it survives.

I’m also guessing it won’t turn in to origami if you decide to carry it in your pocket as well.

The Passport’s awkward dimensions are to accommodate its square display. It’s a high-resolution, 4.5-inch, 1,440 x 1,440 pixel IPS LCD with a dense 453PPI. It looks great: viewing angles are tremendous, colors are accurate, and pixels are invisible to my eyes. BlackBerry designed this display for reading and you can see a lot of stuff on it.

It’s a very purpose-built screen for doing business-y things like reviewing spreadsheets and slide presentations. But that makes it not very good at many of the other things that we use our smartphones for today.It’s much easier to navigate a spreadsheet or browse a webpage with the Passport, but reading my Twitter feed requires a lot of scrolling, and videos have annoying black bars eating up half of the display above and below the content.

A wonderful screen that makes the iBend 6 screen look like something that you would have on a child’s toy. As far as the black bars, really? In this day and age, with the myriad of types of media which we watch on so many types of devices, aren’t we really used to just tuning those black bars off now? Also, as someone who has been using a Q device for some time now, I really like the fact that my notifications can come in, and I can read and reply to them, while still seeing the video I’m watching. Which leads me in to a few ideas I have to get further use out of those black bars while watching videos. But I’ll save that for a later date.

Below the screen is what makes the Passport a true BlackBerry: it has a honest-to-goodness physical keyboard, something no other modern device offers. It’s a throwback to the keyboards that made BlackBerry smartphones so popular in years past, and BlackBerry says it’s essential for efficient productivity on the go. But the Passport’s three row layout isn’t as good as the older designs. It’s too wide, making it all but impossible to type the simplest words with one hand. And for some reason, the spacebar is jammed up into the third row of letters, splitting the keyboard and causing all kinds of confusion for my thumbs. I never got used to it and I remain a far faster and more accurate typist on a good virtual keyboard. It’s not clear to me why BlackBerry didn’t just make the Passport slightly longer to accommodate a fourth row of keys — it’s already a big phone, another quarter-inch wouldn’t make much of a difference in size but would go a long way to improving the keyboard.

The keys are at least clicky and responsive, and the keyboard does have a few unique tricks up its sleeve. The surface of the keyboard is actually sensitive to touch, so you can scroll through web pages or emails by just gliding your thumb across the keys. It’s a weird, satisfying feeling to scroll with the keyboard and it keeps my fingers from blocking the content I’m looking at on the screen. The keyboard can also be used to move the cursor around when typing, but it’s just easier to use the touchscreen for that.

I am extremely excited about using this keyboard. The touch capacitive aspect is what truly amazes me, and what I believe I will get the most use out of. I do admit that space bar stuffed between the V and the B is the one item that has me most concerned about using the Passport. I am quite literally excited about every aspect of the device except for that. But realistically, do I think it’s something I can’t learn? Do I think that it will take me longer to learn to use it than it would take me to get used to any other type of keyboard when changing devices? Of course not. I’m not a monkey.

The Passport does all its work on BlackBerry 10.3, a refinement from earlier versions of BlackBerry 10 – it looks nicer, performs better, and is generally just better to use. But it still relies on a lot of gestures and swiping, many of which aren’t intuitive, and it’s not an easy operating system to learn and quickly get proficient with.

This ‘not intuitive’ argument makes me laugh so often. Why? Simply go back to the dawn of BB10, look at all the video reviews of the Z10 where the reviewers kept saying the gestures were not intuitive because it wasn’t the same as every other home buttoned phone out there. And watch as they compare the Z10 to other phones as they try to swipe on the iPhones and Samsungs. It’s truly comical to hear them say “this isn’t intuitive” as they mistakenly try to use those same unintuitive gestures that they’ve now learned after using the device for a few minutes on devices that don’t use them. It’s also important to note, how everyone else is using gestures now as well. Someone, please get on the troll-line and let everyone know this argument’s time is over, and it needs to go in the wastebasket.

BlackBerry 10 centers around the Hub, which is a great idea executed poorly. The idea is to group all of the notifications and messages you receive into one place — essentially a notification center on steroids. But it doesn’t always make sense to have all of your Twitter or Facebook messages, work emails, personal emails, Foursquare alerts, text messages, and BBMs in the same place. Marking all of those read requires a long press on a tiny date and then another button press after that, and many times it just didn’t work. The Hub can show me my upcoming calendar appointments, which is super useful, but I can’t choose which calendars to display there, so all of my shared Google calendars show up in it. That’s not productive at all.

Wrong. Just wrong. If he had truly used the hub for any length of time, he’d realize he is wrong. I can’t believe someone didn’t stop this portion frome being published. If you don’t want all those items in your hub, simply take them out. There is something called Hub Management. You decide what goes in your hub. The author can’t devalue the hub because he didn’t take a few moments to adjust a basic function.

The major new feature in BlackBerry 10.3 is the virtual assistant, BlackBerry’s take on Siri, Google Now, and Windows Phone’s Cortana. It can do most of the things you expect a virtual personal assistant to do: add reminders, send emails, look up sports scores, search the web, and make calendar appointments, all with just your voice. BlackBerry’s voice parsing technology is actually pretty good, but the system itself is slower than the assistants on other platforms. It doesn’t do any of the predictive stuff that Google Now and Cortana provide, but it’s a solid first effort.

What I can say about the new virtual assistant is, it understands me. Every time. Something that little floozy Siri was never able to do consistently. I’m fairly certain English is not Siri’s primary language.

BlackBerry 10’s biggest fault has always been its lack of third-party apps, and BlackBerry is smartly outsourcing this problem for the Passport. The Passport can run Android apps, so BlackBerry has preloaded the Amazon Appstore on it, providing access to wealth of apps that were never available to BlackBerry users before. Oddly, the BlackBerry App World remains on the device, but BlackBerry says that will be focused on productivity apps while the Amazon store handles the rest.

Having the Amazon Appstore on the Passport is a huge improvement for BlackBerry’s app situation — there are far more apps in it than BlackBerry’s App World ever had. And many of them run just fine on the Passport’s square display — I was able to cruise through my news feeds in Feedly and read articles in my Pocket queue without any issues.

Ok, let’s make this simple. Android apps in Amazon App store. Native apps in BlackBerry World. And BlackBerry World will have a focus on productivity apps while Amazon obviously has a focus on consumer apps. Make sense now? Not too difficult isn’t it?

 But actually installing apps from the Amazon store is a chore: it requires no less than three taps on different install buttons, at least two loading bars, and a fair amount of patience before you can actually use the app you’re trying to install. It definitely feels like the Band-Aid solution that it is. And Amazon is still missing important apps, such as Instagram and Snapchat, plus none of Google’s excellent Android apps are available. That’s probably not a problem for the users BlackBerry is targeting with the Passport, but it is for the rest of us.

Download and install. What is so difficult about this? Even on my computer, I download an app, and then I install it. Can we find more minutia to complain about?

Performance-wise, the Passport has the most powerful hardware that BlackBerry has ever brought to the table. Its quad-core, Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor and 3GB of RAM ensure that most everything is fluid and smooth, and the browser is really fast. But the Passport still slows down when I try to multitask or do more than one thing at a time, which is frustrating for a device with such powerful hardware.

Bullshit.

Sorry, I should have said earmuffs first. I am currently using 10.3 on a Q5, the lowest spec device of the family. I constantly have at least 5 active frames going, and bounce between them non-stop. I also have messages flying in all day long. No slow down. None.

There’s only one way to describe what the author is writing here. Blatant bullshit.

And with that I’m done. He goes on to talk about the camera, mentions iPhone, and says that BlackBerry is no longer relevant. And at the end of it all, we see The Verge once again, trying to dismiss BlackBerry. To get the word out there that BlackBerry is a bad device and OS. Lying. Let’s look at this week, BlackBerry had an announcement, they brought the flagship iPhone on stage with them and set the Passport right next to it, and ran them side to side, to show what the BlackBerry can do. In Apple’s announcement, they showed old devices to compare their iPhone to. Even comparing their new iPhone to the original iPhone to show improvement. This in itself is a telling story. BlackBerry is ready for the fight, showing where they have created a device that can beat current devices out there. Apple, is not willing to compare to anything current, instead playing catch up and hoping no one notices. And Samsung, is only willing to compare themselves to the trying-to-catch-up iPhone in their advertisements. I think the phone manufacturers have shown their hands, and BlackBerry wasn’t bluffing.

Brad

Founder & Owner of UTB Blogs. Former BlackBerry Elite. When I'm not talking or writing about BlackBerry, you'll find me using my BlackBerry.

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