BlackBerry Passport: Hands-on video shows off keyboard features

Read our full BlackBerry Passport review.

BlackBerry is back in business. In mid-June, company CEO John Chen showed off the brand-new BlackBerry Passport phone to investors. Shortly thereafter, images of Chen holding the large, 4.5-inch QWERTY device appeared on the Internet. Since then, the BlackBerry Passport has been the subject of much controversy. Company loyalists, express excitement over the upcoming device, while many iOS and Android users scoff at the unlikely form factor.

Even Chen himself has concerns about the company. Could BlackBerry could ever be great again, he recently mused?

No matter which side of the fence you’re on, it certainly is fun to talk about the Passport. So here’s everything we know so far:

Updated on 08-14-2014 by Malarie Gokey: Added hands-on video of the Passport posted by U.K. retailer Carphone Warehouse.

Hands-on video showcases design and keyboard features

Although we recently saw the BlackBerry Passport in person, we weren’t allowed to touch it. In August, U.K. retailer Carphone Warehouse shot a hands-on video of the Passport. The video shows off the physical QWERTY keyboard and the new scrolling function, which lets you use the keyboard as a touch pad, too. BlackBerry’s voice assistant is mentioned, but we don’t get to see it in action or hear its voice.

High-end specs and an unusual form factor

When images of the BlackBerry Passport first appeared on the Internet, it was clear that this smartphone will be a device like no other. To please BlackBerry loyalists and appease the big touchscreen fans, the company decided to give the Passport both a 4.5-inch touchscreen and a full QWERTY keyboard. The touchscreen is perfectly square and will have a resolution of 1,440 × 1,440 pixels. BlackBerry says that the high-resolution display is good for watching movies, viewing spreadsheets, and in general, taking care of business every day.

BlackBerry claims that the Passport’s design is refreshing and original, but also functional.

The Passport is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, clocking in at 2.5GHz, along with 3GB of RAM. The device also has 32GB of built-in storage and an 8-megapixel camera on the back.

We recently saw the Passport in person at an event in NYC and although it is much wider across than most other phablets, it looks relatively thin and the QWERTY keyboard doesn’t take up as much room as you’d expect. As such, the device looks no taller than many other large smartphones. We were not allowed to hold the device, so we can’t say anything about the build quality, the back of the device, the weight, or how it feels in the hand just yet. From what we saw, it looks high-end and sturdy, but so incredibly square with no curves to be seen. You can see for yourself in the photo gallery at the top of this post.

It’s hip to be square and QWERTY

When many people first heard of the Passport, they thought it sounded very odd indeed. The square form factor and the addition of the QWERTY keyboard had a lot of people confused. In response to the negative comments and questioning articles online, BlackBerry issued a blog post explaining why it’s hip to be square and QWERTY.

The company claims that the Passport’s design is refreshing and original, but also functional. BlackBerry imagines that healthcare professionals, architects, businessmen, writers, and all kinds of people in the working world will love the Passport’s large, square display and use its QWERTY keyboard to type emails, enter data more accurately, and so on.

BlackBerry reinforced that message during a July event in NYC where it showed off new security features for enterprise clients. BlackBerry showed us a healthcare app, used by oncologists to view patient data and show which cells are infected, how the treatment is progressing, and so on. The patient’s data did indeed look nice on the 4.5-inch square display, although it would probably look even nicer on a seven-inch tablet’s display.

The QWERTY keyboard has just three lines, which may make for a slightly different typing experience than users are accustomed to, but it seems to work well enough in the above video. It also has touch capabilities and can serve as a touchpad when you don’t want to tap on the screen.

BlackBerry’s voice assistant and BB 10.3 will debut on the device

BlackBerry’s new voice assistant will arrive on the Passport alongside the BB 10.3 operating system. The voice assistant doesn’t have a name just yet, but BlackBerry’s Senior Vice President of Marketing Mark Wilson and the rest of the BlackBerry crew assured us and other members of the press assembled in NYC That it won’t be called Mark.

blackberry assistant-main-useIn a recent blog post, BlackBerry hinted at its voice assistant’s capabilities, but did not provide audio or video of the assistant in action. The post did say that the assistant will be able to answer typed and spoken questions, set reminders, announce calendar events, dictate messages, write tweets, search the Web, and read emails to you when you can’t look down at your display.

The newest version of BlackBerry’s OS will also debut on the Passport. In addition to the voice assistant, BB 10.3 is expected to include a slightly revamped design, new app icons, an updated BlackBerry Hub, and more security features.

The new BlackBerry Hub will feature a download all attachments button, let you delete the original text of an email, create a sent folder for messages, and automatically save content after 30 seconds on inactivity.

BB 10.3 will have lots of business-oriented features, such as Meeting Mode, smart calendar reminds, and more.

BlackBerry will also offer specific, separate modes for personal and work functionality. During the Security Summit event in NYC, BlackBerry showed us how to switch from one mode to the other with a single tap. Dividing work and personal data into two separate sections ensures that enterprise data is safe when you’re at home or on the go. It also prevents your personal apps, photos, and accounts from spilling over into work-related accounts by accident.

It’s unclear whether this new feature is enterprise only or for regular customers, too.

Release date a price

BlackBerry has said that the Passport will launch in London this September, but there’s no word on price yet.

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