The idea behind the BlackBerry Passport is to provide a device aimed specifically at users who need more screen real estate than is usually found on a smartphone to get optimized views of important data.
In addition, BlackBerry seems to be aiming the device at people who aren't normally heavy users of smartphones and thus might not be comfortable using mobile phones with touch screens such as the iPhone or even the company's own Z10. BlackBerry packed the phone with features that seem designed to appeal to people who need to get a job done quickly.
BlackBerry's set of design criteria led to a messaging device that is the size and shape of a passport, which is something that nearly all senior executives will be comfortable with. There is a square 4.5-inch screen positioned above three rows of physical keys. The phone will display an additional row of touch keys on the screen above the physical keyboard when needed.
In addition to providing the physical keyboard as a way to enter data, the keyboard is also gesture sensitive. A light stroke across the keyboard will scroll the screen and a light swipe from bottom to top of the keyboard will wake up the device when the screen is turned off.
There's a 13-megapixel camera with a flash on the rear of the Passport and a 2-megapixel camera on the front. You can shoot video with the rear camera at up to 60 frames per second in 1280p high definition.
You can store that video on an SD card. The Passport will handle cards with up to 128 GB of storage capacity. There's also the usual collection of instruments, including accelerometers, a magnetometer, time of flight sensor, a gyroscope, ambient light and proximity sensors.
In other words, it's a thoroughly modern phone. The current version supports GSM cellular communications—via AT&T, since BlackBerry is having a tiff with T-Mobile—and all flavors of WiFi including 802.11ac.
The wide shape of the Passport coupled with the physical keys squeezed into three rows at the bottom take a lot of getting used to. For me, even though I have large hands, it was too much of a stretch to use with one hand, something that's been a BlackBerry hallmark for years. However, I'm not the target market, so I asked a couple of IT industry CEOs, who declined to be identified on the record, what they thought about the form factor. Clearly I'm not the target for the device because they said loved it.
One CEO that I spoke with noted that the wider screen was important to him, especially for viewing documents including spreadsheets. He also mentioned that its more compact size made the Passport more desirable than a device such as the Galaxy Note, which both CEOs said was simply too big to take seriously.