Do you ever turn your smartphone sideways to get a better view of a document or Web page? BlackBerry's new square business phone is designed to provide a clear view of documents, calendars and Web pages, with a screen that's as wide as it is tall. The unusual shape isn't just a gimmick; it's actually functional, providing better dimensions for many work-related tasks, compared to the average smartphone. The Passport's other big selling feature is its physical keyboard, a throwback to BlackBerry's heyday, when the company's name was synonymous with "business phone." Combine those physical features with great security and a slew of handy software updates, and you have a pretty capable work device. Here are 10 features that help the BlackBerry Passport stand out from the pack.
The Passport's square, 4.5-inch (11.4 centimeters) display instantly sets it apart from other smartphones. The idea is that the rectangular dimensions of iPhone and Android screens are just too narrow to provide an optimal view for business tasks like editing a spreadsheet or viewing a PDF. Rectangular phones cram documents into a narrow column when viewed in portrait mode, and compress them into a wide row when the phone is turned sideways in landscape mode. The Passport, meanwhile, provides a good horizontal and vertical view, no matter how you hold the phone. For example, it could aid architects who need to view full schematics on their smartphones, or health care workers who want to view full X-ray images and medical documents with minimal swiping and panning.
Touch-screen keyboards are pretty responsive these days, but some users still pine for a keyboard that provides tactile feedback. The BlackBerry Passport provides a full physical QWERTY keyboard in three rows along the bottom of the device, so you can type out messages by pressing actual buttons. For business users who crave an accurate, tactile typing experience, the Passport delivers; it's virtually impossible to make a typo on the device. The downside is that it's also practically impossible to type with one hand on the Passport — a simple task on most smartphones — since your thumb won't reach across the device's wide keyboard. And though typing on the Passport may be accurate, it's also a bit slow.
BlackBerry has always been known for its great security features, and the Passport doesn't disappoint on that front. One of the phone's best features is built-in encryption for email and messaging, ensuring that business communications can't be intercepted. Messages are encrypted before they leave your phone, and they pass through a firewall before they hit BlackBerry's servers, so they can only be decrypted by a private key on the intended receiver's device. Individual businesses can also create a unique encryption key. Users can also encrypt data stored on the phone's internal hard drive, or on the microSD card, using 256-bit AES encryption.
Losing your work phone can be a real disaster, so BlackBerry packed in some extra features — accessible via a Web portal — to help you find the Passport if you misplace it. For starters, you can force your phone to emit a loud sound in case the device is nearby. If you still can't find your phone, the feature can remotely lock your Passport to ensure private work data isn't compromised. As a last resort, you can also use BlackBerry Protect to remotely wipe all data on the device and the microSD card.
BlackBerry Balance is another handy security feature that essentially separates your work data from your private apps by relegating work info to a separate, private profile. That ensures that other apps on your phone can't access sensitive client data. You can switch between your work and personal spaces at any time by swiping down from the top of the screen with two fingers to get the Quick Settings menu, then selecting the other profile.
The BlackBerry Passport is a huge phone with a huge, 3,450-mAh battery, so business users can expect long battery life. The phone can last nearly two days on a single charge. That's a big perk for business users who depend on their mobile devices to get through the workday.
Most smartphone platforms have a voice-activated assistant: Android has Google Now; iOS has Siri, and Windows Phone has Cortana. The BlackBerry Passport includes a similar app called BlackBerry Assistant. Just activate the voice command prompt, then state a command, such as, "Remind me to call Karen tomorrow at 2 p.m.," to receive an alert when the time comes. You can even get very specific with commands, such as, "Read me the last email from Sam," to have your phone automatically find and read the email aloud.
BlackBerry has fewer apps than other platforms, but now there's a pretty good solution: You can install and run Android apps on the BlackBerry Passport. All Android apps are downloaded and installed via the Amazon Appstore rather than from Google Play, the main Android app store. Sure, Amazon's store has fewer apps than Google's, but this is still a huge boon to business users since it opens up hundreds of extra apps for use on the Passport. However, you can't install official Google apps, such as the Maps navigation app or the Hangouts messaging app.
If you're tired of fussing with your smartphone during the workday, you might like BlackBerry Blend. The feature lets you view and send text messages (with attachments), view and change your calendar appointments, and more, right on your desktop computer (Windows or Mac) or tablet (Android or iOS.) It works via either Wi-Fi or USB connection, and it leaves no data behind on the host device, a perk for security-minded business users.
Despite all the extra features, the Passport is still a phone, and a pretty good one at that. Compared to the average smartphone, the Passport's speakerphone function provides louder, clearer sound for conference calls. And during regular calls, the phone can even automatically adjust the call volume by measuring the pressure in your ear to determine how close to your head you're holding the device.
Originally published on Business News Daily.