For better or worse, much has been made about the distinct shape of BlackBerry’s new smartphone, the Passport. And, according to Ron Louks, president of the company’s Devices division, we can expect BlackBerry to start pushing more out-of-the-ordinary hardware, like its latest, in the years to come. During an interview with Reuters, Louks said BlackBerry can afford to take risks after sorting out its financial situation, adding that the goal is to introduce “at least one unconventional device” every year. “When it comes to design and being a little bit disruptive, we want that ‘wow’ factor,” he said. Louks also stated that BlackBerry is already working on yet another unusual device, and while there were no details revealed on what it is exactly, he did say carriers have had some positive feedback toward it. Whatever it may be, you can definitely color us intrigued.
It’s the weekend, ya’ll. So while you sit back and relax, check out our news highlights from the last seven days — we took the new Oculus Rift for a spin, went hands-on with the Blackberry Passport, made an Ello account, and more. Oh, and be sure to subscribe to our Flipboard magazine!
How does one introduce an original web series like #Weirded?
For one, it’s not tech news — at least, not in the way you’re used to seeing. So scrub that notion from your brain. It’s more like a constant channel change; like pressing the seek button on a car radio and catching tidbits of the noise filling the tech industry’s airwaves. It’s light, but biting in a way we hope’ll make you ask for “more, please!” It’ll skewer and shine a light on the more outrageous news and comments of the week. But it will always be in good fun (and in very bad taste). It’s a guilty pleasure; our tongue-in-cheek gift to you.
This week’s inaugural episode is pretty fruity: It’s nearly all about Apple, with some Blackberry crumble on the side. The full episode’s just after the break. Enjoy the feast!
[Image credit: Denelson83, Wikipedia]
From the looks of BlackBerry’s newest earnings report, it looks as if CEO Jon Chen’s plan to transform the company into a software-and-services company might actually be working. The company posted a quarterly net loss of $207 million, pocket change compared to the $950 million that the other guy lost in the same period the year before. The reason for the healthier spreadsheet is thanks to growth in the company’s services arm, which managed to sell 3.4 million licenses of its BlackBerry Enterprise Service in three months – nearly three times the amount sold during the previous three months.
BlackBerry’s quiet revolution comes at the expense of its smartphone business, however, where sales dipped down to 2.1 million for the quarter, down from 2.6 million in June. The way the business is split now, it’s a near 50-50 split between devices and services, although we imagine that balance to tip in favor of the latter over time. That is, unless the company’s new hip-to-be-square Passport phone rejuvenates BlackBerry’s standing with the business community. There’s even good news to be found in the corporate piggy-bank, since the cash and investment balance increased, albeit only by $11 million. Still, given that investors were expecting BlackBerry to post a loss-per-share of $0.16, the fact that the actual figure was $0.02 shows that some (small) celebration is in order. It’s also a sign that the company is still on course to actually start making money at some point next year.
Source: BlackBerry (MarketWatch)
What’s the deal with Blackberry’s new square-shaped phone? Brad Molen took it for a spin and, as it turns out, the Passport’s not as awkward as it seems. That’s not all we have on deck, though — read on for the rest of Engadget’s news highlights from the last 24 hours.
For the first time in ages, I’m intrigued by a BlackBerry device.
That’s rather unusual these days, but it wasn’t always this way. I remember when I first saw the Pearl eight years ago; it was one of the most beautiful devices I’d ever seen. The Curve and Bold series didn’t disappoint either. But the magic has been missing from the Canadian phone maker for a long time, evidenced by its struggling sales. Only one in a hundred smartphone owners use a BlackBerry, and the company’s older-generation hardware is still outselling current BlackBerry 10 handsets. Now it’s putting much of its hope in a unique-looking squarish device called the Passport, which launches today in five countries (with 30 total by the end of the year). The $599 off-contract/$249 on-contract device ($699 in Canada and £529 in the UK, off-contract) is designed to appeal to fans of physical keyboards and large displays. It may not restore the magic BlackBerry’s lost in recent years, but my initial experience with the Passport has been more positive than I expected. At least that’s a start, right?
Calling the Passport a square device isn’t quite accurate, but it’s pretty close: It features a 4.5-inch square LCD panel with a resolution of 1440 x 1440 pixels (for a pixel density of 453 ppi), with a squished keyboard underneath that doubles as a touch-sensitive trackpad. (More on this soon.) Instead of the phone prompting a love-at-first-sight reaction from the people I showed it to, most folks had a bewildered look on their face as if to say, “what is the point of this thing?”
It’s not hard to understand why. The smartphone is named after the booklet that allows international travelers to enter and exit countries, presumably because its dimensions are nearly identical; place a real passport on top of the Passport and you’ll only see the outline of the device. It’s 128mm tall and 9.3mm thick, and it’s on the hefty side at 6.86 ounces (194g), but the 90.3mm width is the most striking part of the phone’s hardware. To put it in perspective, it’s wider than the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, the Galaxy Note 4 and the 6-inch Nokia Lumia 1520, and is only 1.9mm narrower than the 6.4-inch Sony Xperia Z Ultra. It’s also just a tenth of a millimeter skinnier than the LG Optimus Vu, which sports a nearly identical shape but without the keyboard.
The crazy width on the Passport is no accident — the designers made it this way on purpose. In fact, BlackBerry boasts that it’s 30 percent wider than an average 5-inch device, and as a result you’ll see 60 characters on a single line. In other words, the manufacturer expects you to do a lot of reading on the phone, whether it be emails, messages, websites or e-books.
Naturally, the first thing I asked BlackBerry reps when shown the phone was how anyone will possibly be able to use the device one-handed. To the company’s credit, the Passport feels very comfortable to hold with two hands, so anyone who misses the tactile feel of a physical keyboard will be right at home in this position. It was everything else — the stuff that doesn’t involve typing — that I was concerned about. How am I supposed to use it in the subway? BlackBerry responded by rotating the phone into landscape mode.
Landscape mode would normally seem silly on a square device with a physical keyboard, but the phone’s engineers added a neat trick. As briefly mentioned earlier, the three-row keyboard doubles as a trackpad, and this comes in handy in several ways. In landscape, it lets you scroll through websites, feeds and other content without having to reach onto the screen. (Sure, it doesn’t feel quite as awkward to hold this way, as long as you prop the bottom of the phone up with your pinky finger.) It also adds gestures to your typing experience; three word predictions will pop up on a virtual bar at the bottom of the screen, and you can swipe up from below that word to choose it, which eliminates the need to stop what you’re doing to tap on the screen. You can also swipe left to delete a full word and use the pad to move the cursor around.
The phone is also missing a physical number row, which ends up being the weirdest part of the experience. Instead, BlackBerry offers a virtual row at the bottom of the screen that dynamically changes based on the context of what you’re typing. When composing an email, for instance, the “to” field will pull up different keys than the “subject” field. Some apps or fields will pull up a dedicated number row, but most just hide it so you have to tap on the symbol button to access them. (Another alternative is to swipe down on the right side of the board; this pulls up a virtual three-row keyboard that acts as a hotmap, so you can press X to type 7 or E to type 2.)
After a little bit of use, the keyboard actually feels more comfortable to use than I expected, but it definitely will require an adjustment period. I get thrown off anytime I have to switch from the tactile keyboard to tapping on the hard screen, and it’s difficult to get used to the small space bar and lack of physical symbol or number keys. Still, it didn’t take long before I found myself getting into a groove.
The Passport is the first BlackBerry device to come with OS 10.3. Among its list of features is Assistant, the platform’s first attempt at a digital assistant like Siri, Cortana or Google Now. Long-press the middle button on the right side to activate the feature, which uses Nuance technology to process what you’re trying to say. As you might expect, you can use Assistant to tackle tasks like calling and texting friends, sending emails, creating and editing appointments, check in on Foursquare, play music, get navigation routes and send social media updates.
Additionally, the Passport comes with support for the Amazon Appstore, so users will have more app options (though still not as many as its competitors). Just as before, you’ll still be able to sideload Android apps, as long as they are compatible with Android 4.3 or earlier; KitKat apps still aren’t supported on BlackBerry’s runtime.
The company’s also launching a service today called BlackBerry Blend, which is akin to the Continuity feature on iOS — through an app on your computer or tablet, you can manage your phone’s content, transfer files back and forth, send and receive texts/BBM messages and handle both your personal and secure work stuff. The service will be available as a free download on Mac OS X 10.7 and better, iOS 7 and higher, Windows 7+ and Android 4.4 KitKat, but BlackBerry plans to launch extra enterprise features through subscription in the coming weeks.
Once I got past its awkward facade, I noticed that it’s actually very solidly built. Nothing on it feels cheap; it comes with a stainless steel frame along the sides, with a black soft-touch plastic on the back that, along with the fret racing across the top half of the phone, gives it an elegant look and feel. The unlocked model retains the company’s signature logo on the back, but nothing else.
Surprisingly, the Passport packs a respectable spec sheet. It’s powered by a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 chip and comes with 3GB RAM, 32GB of internal storage (with microSDXC allowing up to 64GB external space), a 13MP rear-facing camera with LED flash and optical image stabilization, dual-band WiFi with 802.11ac support, a four-microphone setup, NFC, Miracast and 10 LTE bands. And let’s not forget the 3,450 mAh battery, which is one of the top benefits of the phone’s size. Unfortunately, it’s not removable; the only part of the back you can take off is the top section, above the top fret. This section contains the nano-SIM and microSD slots.
Overall, my first impressions of the Passport are better than I expected. The device is built well and the keyboard is comfortable, but be prepared for a few odd stares from those around you. That said, I have plenty of reservations: I’m not sold on BlackBerry’s solution to the phone’s one-handed dilemma, and although the app situation is better than it was a year ago, it’s still not great. I have a unit that I’ll be testing over the next week and will offer my thoughts in a full review.
Does your love for exotic sports cars bleed over into every aspect of your life? If so, you might like Blackberry’s new $2,000 Porsche-designed smartphone. That’s not all we have on deck, though. Read on for the rest of our news highlights from the last 24 hour.
BlackBerry may have fallen out of favor with the majority of mainstream smartphone purchasers, but the company has always held a certain appeal with the, erm, super-rich. That’s why it’s no surprise to see the Porsche Design P’9983 getting unveiled here at London’s Harrods, a department store where personal submarines and gold-plated Xbox Ones sit side-by-side. The phone is the latest collaboration with the German design outfit, which crams BlackBerry hardware into its own chassis, and we got some time to find out how this thing feels in our hands.
Before we begin, however, we should indulge in a little history. After all, the P’9983 is the third device to emerge from the collaboration between BlackBerry and Porsche Design. The first was the P’9881, which crammed a BlackBerry Bold 9900 into a new chassis — an idea that was so popular, it sold 170,000 units and became Harrods’ biggest selling device. This was followed by the P’9982, or a BlackBerry Z10 with a minor storage bump and an angular, more brutal exterior. We’ve heard an unofficial statistic that around 30,000 of these units have been sold in the device’s life, which goes to show that there is a market for this sort of ultra-ultra-premium smartphone.
If you were hoping that the P’9983 would be taking hardware cues from either the soon-to-be-released Classic or Passport, then you’re likely to be disappointed. Unfortunately, this device is merely a dressed-up version of the old Q10. That means that you’re stuck rocking the same dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm MSM8960, 2GB RAM, 3.1-inch 720 x 720 display and 2,100mAh battery that that we saw back in April of last year. The only difference this time around, is that there’s 64GB storage tucked inside the hardware, rather than the 16GB found in the original and the microSD slot will now accept 128GB cards.
Of course, the one thing that the Q10 did get right was the keyboard, and it’s this feature that has sent Porsche Design’s employees a little crazy. This time out, the device has a keyboard with specially-crafted “glass-like” keys made from composite plastic and a 3D-effect for the lettering. The high-gloss keyboard is tremendously easy to run your fingers across, and there’s a surprising amount of travel considering the size of the device. The keys are big enough that you’ll probably be able to hammer out mini masterpieces on this as soon as you’ve gotten back into the habit of using a physical keyboard.
One of the things that you’ll be sure of with a Porsche Design handset is that the build quality will be exemplary. It’s no different here, with a stainless steel frame that is pleasingly heavy. You can feel it hang inside your suit jacket pocket, giving you the impression that it’ll take a lot of punishment.
The P’9883 runs BlackBerry 10.3, but the company didn’t want to spend too much time discussing the operating system in any great depth. After all, there’s another device due very shortly that’ll emphasize the new software features in greater detail. Some of the things you can spot, however, include a new “blue circle” that highlights the most commonly used feature in any menu — offering an email compose shortcut in the email hub or the shutter icon within the camera. There are also a raft of small software tweaks that Porsche Design has included, like a PD-styled clock face, loading screen and system font.
One thing that won’t change on this new device is the ability to side-load Android APKs if you’re not satisfied with the selections on BlackBerry World and the Amazon App Store. The former, however, is being tweaked to focus on productivity apps rather than trying to compete with Google Play.
Camera-wise, there’s an 8-megapixel, sapphire crystal-coated lens at the back that we’ve also covered in enormous detail in our review of the BlackBerry Q10. At first blush, little has changed, which means that we’re confident enough to give you the TL;DR version here: in bright light, photos are good with bright color reproduction, albeit missing a little bit of sharpness. In darkness, you’re probably better off using another device.
Like the Z10 before it, once you open up the presentation box, you’ll find a credit-card sized certificate of authenticity and your own “exclusive” BBM code. The 2AA that sits at the start of your messaging pin will denote you as a cut above regular users, and a special icon will appear in your profile to tell the world that you spent some serious cash on your phone. The device is also exquisitely packaged, coming in a sturdy box that includes a stereo headset, charging plugs for various nations, a USB cable and a polishing cloth. You’ll also be able to swap out that glass-weave backplate for various premium leather options in a variety of colors.
BlackBerry is targeting its line of Porsche Design handsets to the “Power Professional,” a euphemism that broadly encompasses style-conscious millionaires and ultra-masculine business types. It should, therefore, be no surprise to learn that the the Porsche Design BlackBerry P’9983 will set you back £1,400 / $2,000 (which roughly converts to €1,780). For most of us, that’s a little too steep considering that you can get a Q10 for free on some contracts nowadays. If you’re not a devotee of asceticism, or you’re already an oil billionaire, or you do your business deals from the front seat of your Porsche, then it’s just pocket change. Of course, this device is little more than a statement of wealth, a bold way of walking into a room and saying “I am rich” without having to pull out your most recent bank statement. As long as you can ignore those who’d point out that you can get essentially the same phone for free, then you can snag this device from Harrods at the start of October and from other high-end outlets a week afterward.
Over the past few months, BlackBerry has been putting a lot of effort into building some buzz around its newest, oddly-shaped smartphone, the Passport. Today, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, company CEO John Chen revealed one of the most important aspects of the device: the cost. Chen told the publication that the BlackBerry Passport will be hitting shelves in the US this Wednesday for $599, contract free, adding that such price tag is expected to vary from country to country — depending on sales tax and the like. Chen also said that BlackBerry’s new Passport is betting on reaching and appealing to people who need to be productive, pointing to the wider screen as an example of how the device could help users. “You really are seeing a more entire picture than seeing a sliver [of screen],” Chen stated to WSJ, likely in reference to some of the most popular phones out there at the moment, such as the iPhone 6, Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8.
Source: The Wall Street Journal