BlackBerry Passport asks: is it hip to be square?

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BlackBerry, as a company, has been in trouble for some time – but it clearly hopes that its new phone, the Passport, can turn its fortunes around.

new-blackberry-passport

According to recent sales figures, only one in 100 smartphone owners in the US uses a BlackBerry, and the company itself admits that its older handsets are outselling BlackBerry 10 handsets.

Now it seems that BlackBerry is hoping its square handset will help set it apart from the iPhone and Android competition.

BlackBerry CEO  John Chen showed off the new smartphone (or is it a tablet?) at launch events in Toronto, London and Dubai this week.

The tablet (or is it a smartphone?) has a large perfectly-square touchscreen – which is full HD 1440 x 1440 – and a modified version of the well-known BlackBerry QWERTY keyboard.

When BlackBerry began selling smartphones, the QWERTY keyboard was one of their main attractions. But this time, the Passport’s keyboard is coupled with a capacitive multi-touch trackpad.

Users can type to enter text, or swipe across the keyboard to navigate. And using a new system called BlackBerry Blend, they can respond to messages and access information stored on their phones from tablets and computers.

The Canadian company says its new device is aimed at professionals who need secure access and editing control of spreadsheets, medical scans and other documents.

But early reviews have been mixed, with some pundits saying that consumers may be disappointed to find some popular apps, including Instagram, were missing at launch.

The New York Times called the Passport a “startling and polarizing” design with “crisp lines and aggressive, vaguely 1980s styling”, while Yahoo’s David Pogue described it as “unusual, innovative, and weird. It has pros and cons that don’t line up with any other phone.”

Overall, the verdict on the Passport seems to be a resounding no.

“If you were hoping the BlackBerry Passport would be your next BlackBerry then don’t,” says PocketLint’s Stuart Miles.

The Wall Street Journal went as far as sticking a slice of cheese on the display:

Said the WSJ: “The craziest thing about the Passport is its American-cheese-size 4.5-inch touch screen. While every other smartphone maker was figuring out how to make larger rectangular screens, BlackBerry focused on making the largest square that humans can fit in their hand or pocket.”

The BlackBerry Passport is on sale in the UK for £529 SIM-free.

Stuart O’Connor