BlackBerry pins comeback hopes on square phone

New BlackBerry runs Android apps.

Last year, one-time smartphone king BlackBerry attempted a comeback with the touchscreen Z10.

NBR thought the Z10 was a pretty nifty handset. 

But the phone was off the hook. Few punters were even aware of the new model.

Now BlackBerry is having another stab with a quirky-shaped smartphone called the Passport.

With its re-introduction of a physical keyboard, the Passport recalls the traditional Blackberry. 

But its 4.5-inch square design is more ... individual. It reminds NBR of the proliferation of txt-friendly devices around the turn of the millennium, or maybe a Palm Pilot or Treo.

The tech specs respectable. The square screen is 1440x1440 pixel (453 dpi) HD. There's a quadcore processor, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of onboard storage

The Passport will sell for $US599 off-contract in the US.

Notably the Passport will run Android apps (and according to early US reviews they scale okay to its 1:1 ration screen; most if not all other Android devices are 16:9).

That's a good thing, but reviewers have also complained they have to jump through a couple of hoops to install Android apps (which are accessed via Amazon's AppStore), and that none of Google's own Android apps are available.

Passport also features the BlackBerry 10.3 virtual assistat, Blackberry's answer to Apple's Siri, Google Now, and Windows Phone’s Cortana. By all accounts its a pretty capable voice assistant.

BlackBerry's Aussie operation was unable to immediately say if Spark or Vodafone — who hung in there for the Z10 — would carry the Passport (2degrees has never stocked BlackBerry).

A spokeswoman for Vodafone NZ said there were "no plans at this stage" to range the handset. A Spark rep told NBR he was busy at his company's iPhone 6 launch, before later updating that the Passport is "being assessed".

BlackBerry blend
BlackBerry has also released Blend, for sharing content and messaging over multiple smart devices, including those outside the BlackBerry camp. The company says there will be a subscription-based Blend service for enterprise users, with pricing expected in a few weeks.

Blend looks modern, but BlackBerry's key pitch for the Passport is retro.

The company claims a physical Qwerty keyboard is four times more accurate for typing that a virtual keyboard.

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