A letter from a parallel universe where Steve Jobs didn’t exist. Typed on a BlackBerry Passport

BlackBerry Passport is a phone from a parallel universe. Due to the big screen, the manufacturer promotes it as a phablet, but the screen is square. It has a physical keyboard and a general tactile feel like no other device I’ve held in my hand, from NMTs and Philips Spark to my iPhone 6 Plus. It is a surprising device. Really surprising, and in a good way. But in a sense, it was built for another world.

The nice surprises

The last time I’ve used a physical keyboard on a mobile device was years ago, on a Nokia N97. That Symbian thing with a sliding screen, some kind of Communicator grandson. My fingers were starting to hurt at a certain point, although it was a fine device in other respects. BlackBerry Passport is totally different. It has a wide, ugly keyboard, with a spacebar between “b” and “v”. You probably do know BlackBerry got famous as the ultimate top manager device because of its secure mail and suitability to office tasks. I couldn’t tell how comfortable all those top managers were with it years ago. Still, it is comfortable enough for me to write this very blog post on, with little hassle or adaptation effort from the laptop. For some reason, I hardly did it on all my previous iPhones or tablets.

Editorul de text se cheamă Docs To Go

The Romanian version of this story, in Docs To Go, BlackBerry Passport’s text editor

The physical keyboard is convenient and essential for this kind of task. But there’s something else that is very good: the autocorrect/predictive mode, which is a big problem for the Romanian language – and others too, I’m sure. I always deactivate it on other phones. On the contrary, I can easily use Romanian accents on BlackBerry. It even gives you very good predictions, maybe too good, because of the cliches it provides. Your email or story may sound like everybody else’s – ‘every day,’ ‘every country,’ BlackBerry suggests – but I suppose this is a success standard for the predictive mode.

The resolution of the screen is great. Not only for text but also the pictures that turn out great from the 13 Megapixel camera, although the camera itself is quite laggy. There’s a panorama mode which is easier to use than the one on the iPhone. There’s a full rectangle I had to frame inside an empty one, which is easier than staying on a line while turning the camera around at constant speed, like on the iPhone. Too bad about the lag.

The parallel universe

But, anyway, the camera is a secondary issue. I wanted to tell you about that parallel universe. Steve Jobs didn’t exist there – or if he did, he’s alive and got a private island from the Pixar exit and never got back to Apple to invent the iPhone and iPad. BlackBerry Passport does have a touchscreen, but it’s kinda redundant in the “look, we have that too” way, although there are some needed swipes in the proprietary OS. Speaking of the operating system, it is, of course, BlackBerry OS with an Android compatibility layer. There are two app stores, BlackBerry World and Amazon App Store, which are depressingly empty compared to Apple and Google’s big stores. Although I must admit that any Android apps I’ve installed worked seamlessly, no matter how sketchy they were.

So there are few apps. But there’s still another thing. The shape of the screen, which is square. This makes most apps look strangely, especially related to the World Wide Web. The square screen is just great for emails or tapping through Excel sheets, things that power users will totally love. But in terms of Internet and news apps, I’ve only found one that looks fine, NY Times.

Huffington Post doesn’t make any sense, as well as Comanescu.ro, in browser view, because they are conceived for a rectangular screen, in portrait mode. Instagram is fine to a certain extent because pictures are square, but it has no native client for BlackBerry. There’s a clone that I’ve used, iGrann, which is acceptable, although it’s crude, missing some functionality.

And, besides all, there’s a gorgeous retro Snake for actual oldtimers. In case this is some consolation for Instagram.

After I’ve walked around with the BlackBerry Passport for about two days, I took out the SIM and put it back into my iPhone. I breathed in relief. After another two days, I put it back again into the Passport. I landed into some kind of alternate history experiment. Would I spend my money on a BlackBerry Passport? I don’t know how rich I should be to do it. Did I have fun? Absolutely.

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