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BlackBerry Passport is the square phone nobody asked for

Tom Morgan
25 Sep 2014
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BlackBerry Passport is a crazy concept that could only appeal to serious professionals

BlackBerry has officially announced the Passport, one of the most unusual smartphones we've seen in years. The company hopes its square handset will help set it apart from the iPhone and Android competition - something Blackberry desperately needs: according to recent sales figures, only one in one hundred smartphone owners in the US uses a BlackBerry, while the company itself admits its older handsets are outselling BlackBerry 10 handsets.

Named because the almost identical proportions to an actual passport, the handset isn't completely square; instead, the square 4.5in screen sits above a physical QWERTY keyboard that doubles as a touch-sensitive trackpad. It's a step backwards for the company, having switched to touchscreens with the Z10 and Z30 smartphones, but considering physical keys are what BlackBerry handsets are best known for and why they still prove popular with a small portion of the population that refuses to make the switch to onscreen keyboards, it might actually be a sensible one. The 1,440x1,440 resolution LCD display has a pixel density of 453ppi, which is up there with the best Android smartphones.

The phone itself is finished in the company's signature black and silver, with a stainless steel frame and soft-touch plastic finish on the back. However, at over 3.5in across, it's significantly wider than any other smartphone and according to early reports, not particularly easy to use with one hand.

Inside, the Passport is surprisingly powerful, with a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 CPU, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage and microSDXC support for adding up to 64GB of extra space. On the back, a 13-megapixel camera with LED flash and optical image stabilisation should be able to take crisp, clear images even in low light, while a 3,450mAh battery is one of the largest of any smartphone today - hopefully meaning it should last a considerable amount of time between charges. 802.11ac Wi-Fi support, NFC, Miracast and 10 LTE bands for 4G data around the world provide plenty of connectivity options too.

To coincide with the launch, BlackBerry also announced an update to its BBOS 10 mobile operating system. 10.3.1 include the Amazon App Store pre-installed by default, letting BlackBerry owners install Android Apps more easily. You can still sideload apps not available from Amazon, but only if they are compatible with Android 4.3; KitKat-optimised apps aren't supported. The new version of the OS also takes inspiration from Apple, introducing the BlackBerry Assistant voice assistant similar to Siri and the Continuity-like BlackBerry Blend.

BlackBerry Assistant will put a BlackBerry interface on your computer or tablet via an app, letting you transfer files to and from your phone, send and recieve texts or BBM messages, and basically work on your phone without actually working on your phone. It will be available as a free download on OS X 10.7 or better, iOS 7 or higher, Windows 7 or higher and Android 4.4 Kitkat. BlackBerry Assistant, meanwhile, is activated with a long press and uses Nuance voice recognition technology. It can be used to make calls, send text or BBM messages, dictate emails, create calendar appointments and basically control the phone with your voice.

The BlackBerry Passport is going on sale from today onwards in the UK for £529 SIM-free. It will be available from Selfridges stores, and should be appearing in the Carphone Warehouse later this year. However, it doesn't currently look like any of the UK networks will be subsidising the handset, meaning potential customers will have to pay full price and supply their own SIM card.

We certainly aren't convinced square smartphones are the way forward, and doubt the radical design will be enough to convince anyone to swap from an iOS or Android handset, but the wider screen and physical keys could still find fans in the business world.

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