Skeptics might refer to the new, square-screen BlackBerry Passport as “your father’s smartphone,” a faint-praise damning that the corporate folks up in Canada would not necessarily be unhappy about. They could care less about whether your just-delivered dessert is instantaneously postable to Facebook or elsewhere — kid stuff for iPhone purists with way too much leisure time on their hands. The Passport, however, is a grown-up alternative for those with mere moments to spare before their next flight or board meeting that prioritizes productivity and spreadsheets over photos of your lunch.
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But BlackBerry hasn’t been totally blind to its rivals’ preeminence among non-boomer consumers. In fact, the Passport is far more user-friendly than the shrimpy Q10 that preceded it, both in terms of its bigger and brighter display (4.5-inch HD, sheathed in Gorilla Glass 3), its more ergonomic QWERTY keyboard, and best of all, access to the many splendors of the Amazon Appstore. Finally, a BlackBerry device that allows you to load the LinkedIn app or stream your Spotify playlists.
The Passport, with its formidable, 6.9-ounce stainless steel frame, is powered by Qualcomm’s 2.2 GHz quad-core 801 Snapdragon processor and 3 GB of RAM. It can run ten apps at a time without a noticeable lag in performance. The new BB10.3 OS offers an array of gestural shortcuts, including touch sensitivity on the physical keyboard as well as on the screen. It’s a nice improvement — you can scroll and move the cursor at will with a swipe or a double-tap without having to move your fingers from the keys to the screen. And even though audio quality is usually an afterthought for the enterprise types the Passport is aimed at, this iteration has a pair of stereo speakers with decent sound and the ability to adapt the microphone sensitivity to your surroundings, making voice calls far easier to negotiate than the tinny Q10. To boot, the 13 MP camera takes bright and detailed pictures and shoots full HD 1080p video. The rear-facing 2 MP camera could use a little more clarity, but does its job passably.
The bottom line: Samsung and Apple needn’t hold their collective breath, but neither should BlackBerry execs throw in the towel just yet. In fact, they can probably tell the BlackBerry Assistant (the less sexy version of Siri) to book them a flight from Toronto to Antigua.
[$699 without a contract; us.blackberry.com]