The Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX), a consortium of more than 50 U.S. retailers working on an alternative to Apple Pay, announced Wednesday that its service, called CurrentC, has experienced a security breach.
“Within the last 36 hours, we learned that unauthorized third parties obtained the e-mail addresses of some of our CurrentC pilot program participants and individuals who had expressed interest in the app,” a representative for MCX said in a statement provided to Mashable. “The CurrentC app itself was not affected.”
While payment details were apparently not impacted, the incident nonetheless casts an unflattering light on CurrentC at a time when the payment service is already receiving greater scrutiny.
CVS and Rite Aid backed away from Apple Pay in favor of CurrentC, which one report suggested may be the result of fines retailers could face for breaking their contracts with MCX. (MCX has since put out a blog post confirming the exclusivity aspect, but said “there are no fines.”)
CurrentC was first announced in 2012, well before Apple unveiled its payment option, but it won’t hit the market until sometime next year. At first blush, CurrentC is a clunkier alternative that requires customers to scan QR codes in order to make in-store payments. The email breach may also raise questions about whether it’s as secure as Apple Pay.
Apple CEO Tim Cook said earlier this week that more than one million credit cards were activated in Apple Pay in the first 72 hours.
Hot on the heels of last week’s BlackBerry Passportlaunch, a word got out that the company plans to introduce more devices with unconventional design going forward. The head of BlackBerry’s Devices unit, Ron Louks delivered the news in an interview with Reuters.
According to Mr. Louks, the trimming of BlackBerry’s losses allows it to take more risks and introduce more unconventional smartphones in the future. The company will be looking to introduce at least one unconventional device every year.Furthermore, the high-level BlackBerry executive hinted that the company has a new unconventional device in the works already. Wireless carrier partners have reportedly given positive feedback on the new project.Despite its quirky design and questionable ergonomics, BlackBerry Passport has so far been well received by the public – it sold out within hours of its retail launch in many outlets and raked in more than 200,000 sales in three days.
Security software maker Avast performed the study. It analyzed 20 eBay-sourced, used phones, and was able to recover swaths of data including compromising stuff.
Remarkably all of the previous owners had performed factory resets. Something you’d think would clear the device.
The data that the security outfit uncovered included over 40,000 images and more than 750 e-mails and texts.
Of those images 750 were of women without many of their clothes, and 250 were selfies of probably better left un-photographed parts of the male anatomy.
Contact names and addresses were still on the devices as was one completed loan application.
In the experiment Avast used specialist software to conduct the hidden-data recovery job. But clearly there are failings with the common factory reset, which basically eliminates the data index only.
Encrypt Your Android
Alternatives to a reset include overwriting and encrypting the data itself. The Encryption process scrambles the data. The electronic encryption keys are then deleted during the reset, said Ken Munro, a security expert at Pen Test Partners.
Clearly there are failings with the common factory reset, which basically eliminates the data index only
“Any data in slack space on the device should be encrypted and pretty much irrecoverable,” he said. Encryption options are built-into many post-Android 3.0 OS devices. Not all devices support it, according to Munro. The next version of Android, currently known as “L” and due later this year, will likely have encryption turned on by default he said.
Overwriting the drive with ones and zeroes using a commercial solution like a third-party app is another way of ensuring data can’t be read again. Avast is one provider. There are varying degrees of feature-creep in options at the Google Play store.
Avast didn’t check used iPhones during its eBay experiment. But Apple’s iPhone could also be susceptible to erased data recovery although it’s more complicated, said Avast’s mobile product manager Tomas Zeman.
Despite being widely thought of as encrypted, Apple’s file system is often unlocked and elements including images aren’t encrypted at all, according to iOS forensics expert Jonathan Zdziarski.
Avast reckons that if an operating system is not encrypted, you can be “somewhat successful” in recovering data using a similar extraction technique as the one used for Android phones. But Zeman thinks that iOS forensics is much harder to do than Android. “If the iOS encrypts the data on the device, then if anybody tries to recover the data, they recover encrypted data,” he said. Sellers can take some precautions.
An old-tech solution
It’s only recently that mobile operating system makers have even begun to address the issue of retiring, or handing-down devices. I remember the days of smashing phones with a hammer. Some years ago, I needed to end the life of a 2008 Palm Treo, the granddaddy of smartphones. It was full of account numbers – we didn’t do selfies in those days. There was no data deletion at all then, when performing a factory reset. Factory resets were only used to un-hang stalled devices.
I wrapped the aging in a towel and smashed it to bits on the concrete floor of my downtown loft. I then dumped the pieces in the street recycling receptacle. I didn’t get hacked.
And if you can’t factory reset the device before selling it? For example, if it’s bricked? “Then simply don’t sell it. If you can’t encrypt the device before wipe, definitely don’t sell it,” Munro said.
But don’t worry. eBay has hammers too, if you need one.
Encrypting a Jelly Bean or KitKat Android device
Step 1: Plug in the smartphone and let the battery charge. Keep the power cable connected so there’s no chance of power failure. That can corrupt the process.
Step 2: Open Settings and find the Security menu item. Choose the Screen Lock menu item and enter a long, hard-to-guess password. Then follow the prompts to confirm it.
Step 3: Scroll to the Encrypt phone item in Security settings and choose the Encrypt SD card option by marking the checkbox. Select Next, and confirm your password at the prompts.
Step 4: Press Encrypt phone. The process can take half-an-hour, and will reboot the phone a few times.
Tip: Removing any external SD cards, before starting encryption, and storing them safely away, will eliminate any media on that card being | The Open Standard
“Them games’ll rot your brain, you know,” said the fictional midwestern mom that we’ve invented for the purposes of this story. Grudgingly, we’d accept her admonishment, put down our copy of Sonic the Hedgehog and go back to playing “educational” titles like Oregon Trail and Carmen Sandiego. Now, however, it turns out that a game like Portal 2 is better for your brain than an actual brain-training game like Lumosity.
A team down at Florida State University sat 77 lab rats undergraduates in front of the games for eight hours, with their problem solving, spatial skill and persistence tested before and afterward. The results showed that the Portal 2 players showed “significant increases” in their scores once they’d spent time with Wheatley and GLaDOS while the Lumosity gang, er, didn’t. It’s only one study with a limited sample set, for sure, but maybe the next time that fictional midwestern mom starts moaning about your rotting brain, you can hand her the report and tell her to shove it.
The BlackBerry Passport and the Porsche Design P’9983 are the first two BlackBerry models to come with BlackBerry 10.3 installed (which includes BlackBerry Assistant). Already, BlackBerry 10.3.1 is in the works. A video has been posted on YouTube, revealing five interesting new features for the OS build.
The first feature on the video is Reverse Contrast. Instead of black on white, the screen shows white on black. Other colors show up as purple and orange. We can’t say that this looks to be useful, but it is a way to customize your phone and make things seem fresh and new. With BlackBerry 10.3.1, users will be able to block contacts, and hide pictures and video. If you have some embarrassing photos of yourself that you might have snapped, this feature will allow you to keep them under wraps in case you lend someone your phone for a quick call. It also will prevent someone hanging around you from seeing something that you don’t want them to see.
With Battery Saving Mode, you can preset when certain changes kick in to save the battery life on your phone. With this Mode in action, the screen brightness is lowered and notifications do not turn on the screen. You can decide to lower the maximum CPU performance, turn off data services and turn off “advanced interactions”. And the last new feature on the video is Custom Notifications. With this feature, you can decide the ringtone that plays when you have a call, the color of the LED notification that accompanies various events, whether to show notifications on the lock screen, and more.
When it comes to performance and power there is no device so widely misunderstood as the iPhone. The new iPhone 6 (and iPhone 6 Plus) is no exception – you’d find bashful comments about its comparatively low clock speed, ‘only’ two CPU cores, low amount of RAM, lack of expandable storage, and what not in practically every online forum.
Looking at numbers without fully understanding them, though, is a dangerous business. This iPhone 6 performance review aims to clear some of the widespread misunderstandings and give a more detailed overview of the state of mobile CPUs, and how Apple’s efforts compare to that of the main rival: the mostly Qualcomm-powered Android fleet.
Apple A8 and ARM’s architecture license
When it comes to the CPU, it’s worth starting off with a quick refresh on the facts. The overwhelming majority of mobile devices – be it Android, Windows Phone, or iOS ones – are based on ARM-derived architectures. ARM offers two types of licenses to its clients: a processor license and an architecture license.
Most manufacturers use the processor license that grants them the right to take an ARM-designed core and use it in their SoC. An example for ARM-designed cores include the battery-optimized Cortex A7 (and its newer, 64-bit Cortex A53 successor) and the Cortex A15 (with its newer, Cortex A57 64-bit heir). Phone makers like Samsung, for instance, take those two cores and combine them in various big.LITTLE combinations to come with SoCs like the Exynos 5430 in the Galaxy Alpha where the company combines four power-efficient A53s running at lower clock speeds and four performance-driven A57 that can go up to higher clocks, but also draw more battery.
The other type of licensees, those under ARM’s architecture license program, take a totally different approach by just using the ARM instruction set, while building their own CPU core. The most prominent companies that do that are Qualcomm and… Apple. Apple used to operate under an ARM processor license all the way until the iPhone 4s, but decided to switch to an architecture license for the iPhone 5, and has building its own CPU cores ever since then.
The state of 64-bit
Looking at this timing, you see how this coincides with Apple’s industry-first introduction of 64-bit chips – the first 64-bit phone, the iPhone 5s, arrived two years after Apple introduced its first processor, and Apple has clearly used this time slot to outpace the industry. To this day, Apple remains uniquely positioned in the transition to 64-bit on mobile – all first-party apps were 64-bit-ready on iOS 7 launch date, and the company has given developers an ample timeline and great tools to optimize their app quickly and effortlessly to 64-bit. With extremely low levels of fragmentation in Apple’s ecosystem (where by fragmentation we mean that iOS adoption rates are high and happen in days, while on Android transitions span months, if not years), the company is one year away from having a lineup consisting of 64-bit devices only. This will happen next year when the Apple iPhone 5 is expected to go out of production, and the 64-bit iPhone 5s with Apple A7 (or as speculated, a plastic derivative of the 5s with similar hardware) takes the lowest place in Apple’s ecosystem.
Looking over to the Android camp, we’re seeing that the platform lags behind a full year and more. To this date, in late 2014, the biggest Android vendors like Samsung, HTC, LG, and others, are all releasing their flagships with 32-bit chips like the Snapdragon 805 and Snapdragon 801. Both those chips are based on the now 3-year old Krait core (with some tweaks, of course), and later on in this article you’d be able to spot the difference in compute power. Naturally, using the 32-bit 805 translates into those flagships not being able to benefit from ART optimizations in Android L.
The earliest this could (and likely would) change is in spring of 2015 when the first wave of Android flagships for next year is expected to arrive. Some (and hopefully most) of those devices are said to feature the Snapdragon 810, Qualcomm’s first top-level 64-bit SoC. In just over a year time, Qualcomm has overhauled its portfolio to consist of 64-bit chips on practically all levels, from the low to the high-end. However, the Snapdragon 810 does not ship with a custom Qualcomm core (such a core would likely take more time for development) – instead, the company goes back to using an ARM processor license and equips the 810 with a big.LITTLE setup with four low-power Cortex A53 and four performance-driven Cortex A57 cores.
Given the long period of time it takes for the Android install base to switch to an ART-enabled version of the platform in meaningful numbers (let’s keep in mind that we don’t have a minimum target for ART, and chances are that it won’t be KitKat, but Android L), it is clear that Android is in a much less favorable position in terms of 64-bit-readiness.
Apple A8 die break-down
Both TSMC and Samsung are said to be making the A8 in a 40-60 ratio
Being as secretive as Apple is (the company does not disclose processor details in the way Intel does) hides a little joy for us, tech reviewers, to try and reverse-engineer its efforts.
We’re not completely in the dark, though: in the past two release cycles, Apple has been disclosing the number of transistors in the Apple A8: there’s now a whopping 2 billion of them, double the number from the A7. As far as we can tell, this is the most ever in a smartphone chip – in comparison, some estimates claim that the Snapdragon 805 chip features 700 million transistors.
From here on, the journey towards a better understanding of the Apple A8 starts with a teardown of the iPhone 6 and images of the A8 die from Chipworks. Those images give us a detailed breakdown of the Apple A8 die and the location of its various components.
Despite (or rather because of) the doubling of transistor count, the die size has grown smaller and comes in at 89mm in the A8, down from 102mm in the A7. Apple has switched the places of components on the die, and the CPU is now on the bottom left (it was on the bottom right), with a large block of L3 cache above it. Despite a 20% decrease in the size of the SRAM block (cells have shrunk in third from 0.12µm to 0.08µm), it’s likely that more advanced circuitry makes up for the difference and we’re still dealing with 4MB of L3 cache memory. At the time of this writing, we have seen the first benchmarks showing that memory latency has indeed improved by a hefty 20ns when we go out to L2 $ and further.
The most drastic change in size, however, seems to be in the CPU die size: the new CPU measures 12.2mm, nearly 30% smaller than the 17.1mm CPU die in the Apple A7. By all visible clues, the rest of the architecture remains the same: we have 64KB/64KB of L1 instruction/data $ (L1 is the fastest cache, located on the CPU die), and a 1MB block of L2 cache shared between the cores.
Apple has provided a few important details about the CPU performance of its new A8: first, the company says the new CPU comes a 25% performance improvement, and illustrates this with a chart showing generational improvement all the way since the 2G iPhone (the 25% number is derived by comparing the iPhone 5s’s 40x CPU overhead over the 2G iPhone and the 50x peek in the iPhone 6).
On clock speeds and deceptive marketing
With a modest boost in CPU clock speeds from 1.3GHz to 1.4GHz (an 8% speed-up), the 25% improvement obviously comes from various other tweaks and tricks. Before diving deeper in benchmarks, though, here is the place for a quick insert about clock speeds and the state of the industry. Commentators in forums are quick to point out the apparent inferiority of Apple clock speeds in comparison to the much faster speeds declared in rival Snapdragon and Exynos chips, for instance. The most up-to-date example is the Snapdragon 805 with a declared clock speed of ‘up to 2.7GHz’. At first sight, Apple’s Cyclone core looks like a sore loser with its declaration for just half that at 1.4GHz.
Most people would call it a day at this point – the Snapdragon outperforms the A8 hugely, case closed. This, however, would be naïve: running real-world applications and games shows instantly that the 2.7GHz speeds can only be achieved for a very short periods of time, but after those short outbursts, the chip quickly throttles back to the much more sane ~1.3GHz. Put simply, the 2.7GHz number that you read about is not the nominal frequency, but maxed out turbo speeds that are not sustainable for the long term. In fact, Apple is being much more truthful as it declares actual nominal (and not turbo) speeds for its chip, plus, the company goes on to disclose a second big thing about its chip: sustained performance times. Apple actually claims its A8 is capable of running flat at its nominal speeds for (at least) 20 minutes.
This is the right place to note that ARM, the licensee company for both the Snapdragon and the Apple A8 CPU cores, has actually claimed that the current generation of its processors works best in terms of thermal output/performance at around 1.2GHz. Going up above that ensues big consequences – AnandTech has earlier shared estimates that going above the 1.5GHz threshold by just 100MHz brings up a shocking, quadratic increase in voltage and power consumed by the chip.
Tired of being ineffective and unloved? It’s time to act different
Sep 16, 201
When Apple Pay was announced last week, I very quickly saw IT folks at retailers and elsewhere saying it was old technology. Platform partisans were quick to point out that Android phones have had the required NFC chips for several years, and Google has its own wallet technology. I also heard CIOs quickly declare that because Apple was a technology company, Apple Pay would not be secure.
Those reactions were, to be blunt, stupid. And they’re emblematic of the dilemma that IT finds itself in: unloved by users, distrusted by managers, considered an incompetent, expensive, yet necessary evil to keep thing running. InfoWorld’s editor in chef, Eric Knorr, was asked at a recent VC conference about IT’s role in this era of cloud computing and technology-savvy users, and the question brought him short, as it did his fellow panelists. Houston, we have a problem.
Although the “think different” theme is now cliché, it does speak to a core reason why Apple is Apple and no one else comes close. If IT organizations and their management partners understood the Apple way, perhaps they could become Apples in their spheres: groups that make real money even without majority market share, loved by their customers, and able to drag much of the industry along. I’ve followed Apple as a user, reporter, and editor for 23 years, and what makes Apple Apple is quite clear
Lesson 1: Work through the whole problem
There are no silver bullets. Yet so many people think adding this technology or that business relationship will magically make them succeed. When Google convinced its Android makers to add NFC to phones, the banking industry and retail industry ignored it. An NFC chip may be useful as the communications mechanism, but the issue is deeper.
The payments issue is complex, but a key challenge was that the customer credit card data was being stolen both at the point of sale through magnetic skimmers and shifty employees, as well as from the data centers by insiders working with cyber criminals. Moving the credit card data from a magnetic strip to a chip-and-PIN to NFC does you no good if the sales terminal is compromised, as we saw with Target last year and with Neiman Marcus and Home Depot this year.
If you move valuable information through lots of networks and accessible devices, you have an indefensible perimeter. Apple Pay does away with that issue by sending one-time codes from the iPhone to the sales terminal, matched to a unique user ID. The reconciliation happens on the back end through presumably highly secured, low-footprint connection
On the phone, the unique ID is stored on the Secure Elements chip, inaccessible from apps. The fingerprint in the Touch ID is likewise stored in that chip. Thus, the attack surface is smaller and hardened, and the data is abstracted from the credit card itself. (John Beatty has written a great technical description of what Apple is doing on the security front for Apple Pay.)
To develop Apple Pay, Apple had to work through several issues: the communications technology, the security issues (on the device, at the sales terminal, and at the data centers), the user experience, and the card collection method (through the Passbook app, in this case).
Note “user experience” — this is an area where IT usually fails. Technical persona are different than business persona, but that’s become a convenient “why we can’t” explanation to keep IT down. People use technology, and it needs to feel and work “right.” As long as IT ignores this or pays lip service to it, it won’t be working through the whole problem it needs to.
Apple iDevice users are looking forward to Monday, when they can download and install iOS 8.1 on their iPhone or iPad. The update will help correct some of the bugs that have been afflicting users of iOS 8. The most talked about new feature coming with the new build is Apple Pay. This is a mobile payment system that allows you to use your NFC enabled Apple iPhone 6 or Apple iPhone 6 Plus to tap a pad near the point of sale at a participating retailer, to make a payment.
The update will also bring back the Camera Roll, which had been removed with the release of iOS 8. At the same time, the iCloud Photo Library will be available so that you can save all of your pictures and video to the cloud. The feature ties in to your iCloud account and uses your available iCloud storage space. A smaller version of the pictures are stored on your iOS device, in order to use up less memory.
Another new feature, Instant Hotspot, requires a Mac with OS X Yosemite, to turn on the hotspot feature of an in-range iPhone running iOS 8.1. With SMS relay, iPads and Macs can receive SMS messages routed through an iPhone. While the Mac and Apple’s tablets can receive iMessages, SMS messages have been limited to Apple’s smartphones.
Among the bug fixes that iOS 8.1 will fix, is one that makes it difficult for an iPhone to pair with a Bluetooth device. While the update is expected to be disseminated on Monday, Apple has not yet released a time when we will start seeing notifications pop up on iOS devices.
The BlackBerry Passport is a pure productivity machine, and emblematic of the company’s professional, business-focused mindset. It’s packing powerful hardware, a slew of clever features, and a great foundation in BlackBerry OS 10.3, which is poised to give iOS and Android a run for their money — if there are enough apps.
The phone will be available unlocked later this week for $599 in the US, and later in 2014 for €649 in France and Germany, $699 in Canada, and £529 in the UK. It’s definitely coming to Australia, but at the moment there’s no pricing or even on sale dates available. BlackBerry has announced that AT&T will carry the device in the US, but more information on carrier availability, the phone’s price on contract, and specific release dates haven’t been announced at time of publication.
I approached this phone with reservations, and came away as something of a fan — it’s really nice! But the Passport has a critical flaw, and you’re looking at it. The squat, square chassis that makes the device great for reading and editing documents is the reason for its distinct shape. But it makes for a cumbersome user experience, and one that’ll give pause to even those of us cursed with giant hands.
Design and specs
The 4.5-inch BlackBerry Passport is about the same size and shape as a US passport. That squat, distinctive square shape will certainly grab everyone’s attention while you’re tapping out missives or holding it up against your face. And at 6.9 ounces (just under half a pound or 196 grams) the phone is light, but still feels solid. But it’s also 3.5 inches (89mm) wide, which makes it wider than phablets like the 5.7-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus — both of which offer larger displays.
Keep in mind that these are completely different phones targeting fundamentally different audiences: the average consumer versus that nebulous “professional” BlackBerry has courted for so long. And if you fall into the latter camp of hard-core BlackBerry devotees or can’t do without a physical keyboard, this is the phone for you.
In May, BlackBerry CEO John Chen remarked that BlackBerry had been “distracted” by consumer devices: “We cast our nets a little too broadly…The bigger play is in enterprise.” Lackluster devices like the BlackBerry Playbook needed to give way to BlackBerry’s longtime focus on productivity and messaging — we’d see some of that in the keyboard-toting BlackBerry Q10. It’s no surprise that BlackBerry’s latest foray into the smartphone space would emphasize getting things done above all else, but this phone may have taken the idea a step too far.
It is an odd-looking phone, sporting a shape we haven’t seen in some time — the HTC ChaCha and Acer BeTouch E210 are two devices that attempted the full-QWERTY, square-display look, to ill effect. But the Passport, by contrast, looks really sharp. It feels like a premium item, with a sturdy stainless-steel frame that screams “jet-setter.” And yes, it fits in my pocket.
The square 4.5-inch display has a 1,440×1,440-pixel resolution, with a pixel density of 453 pixels per inch. It’s a gorgeous screen but the width is key here, as the Passport can show about 60 characters on every line. BlackBerry points to the print industry as a guide, where the optimal standard is considered to be about 66 characters per line.
I’ve personally found that responsive, mobile-friendly websites have generally eased any issue I’ve had with reading lots of text on modern smartphones, but there’s no denying that reading on the Passport is a great experience. Text is crisp, and you can comfortably fit a lot of it on the screen without flipping over to a wider landscape mode or zooming in on a site.
Images and videos look great too, with colors that are reproduced faithfully and don’t shift no matter how you hold the display. And if things look a little off, you can just dive into the display color settings and tune the white balance and color saturation to your liking. The glossy IPS LCD holds up well enough in office and outdoor lighting, though (as expected) it becomes less visible if the sun is beaming directly down on it.
If you’ve used a phablet then you’re likely already aware of some of the benefits of a bigger, wider phone. BlackBerry is banking on the unique design to help its phone stand out from the nigh-endless parade of rectangles out there, thanks largely to the compact physical keyboard running underneath the display. And that keyboard is the real story here, as it represents an attempt to bridge what BlackBerry perceives as the gulf between your average smartphone and devices built for those who want to get things done.
BlackBerry and physical keyboards have gone hand in hand since time immemorial, but the company is switching things up a tad on the Passport. The four-row physical keyboard that might be familiar to fans of the BlackBerry Q10 (or the BlackBerry Bold) has been replaced with a three-row model. The end result is a mashup of physical and virtual keyboard, with a context-sensitive row sitting on the bottom edge of the display.
Reaching up to the screen to insert numbers and punctuation or capitalize letters took some getting used to, and the spacebar is a little narrow for my taste, but it didn’t take very long to get acclimated. And BlackBerry has built in quite a few really smart features and gestures to give its keyboard an edge.
The keyboard is touch-enabled, and it works fairly well. Consider predictive text: as you type, three suggested words appear above the keyboard — swipe a finger upward underneath any of those options and the word will drop into place. It took me some practice to get the motion just right (it’s more of a flick than a swipe), which isn’t ideal, but once I’d mastered it my typing sped up dramatically. If you make a mistake, just slide to the left on the keyboard and the last word you typed will be deleted — that gesture works flawlessly.
Things get even better when it’s time to edit documents. Double-tap lightly on the keyboard and a magnifying glass will appear over your text. You can then use the keyboard as a sort of touchpad to scroll about with, dropping the cursor exactly where you need it. It’s really precise, and makes editing long documents (like this one) a manageable experience on a smartphone. I’d personally still turn to a proper keyboard and monitor to get heavy lifting done, but if you want to carry only one device and you spend a lot of time wrangling text, the Passport’s keyboard will be helpful.
Note that while the phone’s abnormal width makes for a spacious typing experience, you’ll need to use both of your hands to get things done. Time and again I had to drop what I was doing (or holding) to hammer out a quick response to an email or text, knowing that one hand would suffice on a narrower phone like my Nexus 5, or even the gargantuan Samsung Galaxy Note 3. And I have really big hands — smaller palms will find this phone more unwieldy.
This is a bigger problem than it may sound. Tall, comparatively narrow phones like the iPhone 6 Plus already are overtaking head size for some people, and the Passport is a full half-inch wider. I suspect that unless you’re clamoring for a tactile typing experience and are willing to compromise, you’ll be unable or unwilling to juggle this phone.
Software and features
The BlackBerry Passport runs BlackBerry OS 10.3. App selection remains the phone’s Achilles’ heel, but there is a silver lining: you can run quite a few Android apps. The Amazon Appstore comes preinstalled, and you can just fire it up and download apps as you would on any Android device.
But this is no Google Play Store — you’re limited to apps that are available from Amazon’s marketplace, which is a weird subset of the Android experience. That said, I readily found most of my favorites, like Spotify, Pocket and Reddit is Fun. You won’t find everything — most of my favorite Android games are missing — though if you have the APK file for an app you’d like to run, you can drop that onto the phone and install it at your leisure.
You won’t find Google’s official apps, either. The native BlackBerry mail and calendar apps are great, but Google Talk is the best the Amazon Appstore has to offer, as Google Hangouts isn’t available. That service hasn’t aged well, and lacks many of the features Hangouts has introduced, such as free voice calls and SMS. BlackBerry’s BBM is of course readily available — and your friends can join in on the fun whether they’re on iOS, Android, or Windows Phone.
Apps that aren’t optimized for the square display can also look a little odd. Consider a game like Angry Birds: the Passport’s generous resolution means it has no problem displaying all of the content, but the game is really meant to be played in a landscape orientation, where you can see an entire level at a glance to plan your strategy. On the Passport I generally need to zoom out or pan across the screen to get that crucial birds-eye view of the action.
If you’re primarily interested in staying in BlackBerry’s ecosystem, you won’t be disappointed. Email and messaging has long been BlackBerry’s strong suit, and the device does great job of juggling disparate accounts and giving you a single “hub” to view everything in.
A sidebar called Instant Actions sits on the right side of the hub, and will allow you to quickly respond to text messages or file and delete emails en masse. There’s also a Priority Hub that works just like Gmail’s priority inbox — messages that are identified as being “important” are funneled here, so you can quickly access them. The priority hub is supposed to learn your habits as you go, though you can flag messages as important. In my case, emails and text messages I was actively replying to tended to end up in the priority hub.