Friday 22 September 2017

BlackBerry tries to square decline with quirky Passport

Weckler on Technology

A BlackBerry Passport smartphone shown at its official launching event in Toronto
A BlackBerry Passport smartphone shown at its official launching event in Toronto
Logitech K480
iPhone Plus leather case
Toshiba Satellite Pro R50-B
Sandisk Connect Wireless
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

BlackBerry Passport Price: €650 Rating: **

I'm old enough to remember the first significant home computer craze in the 1980s. Although I was stuck with a Sinclair ZX81 (the Lada of home computers in those days), a friend had another of the debutant devices, the British Oric computer.

I was reminded of this machine when BlackBerry unveiled its Passport smartphone last week. Like the Oric, the Passport has a bitty keyboard that, while functional, detracts from other usability elements.

This is because the phone is square in shape. While this lends itself to a faster two-handed keyboard session, square dimensions make one-handed operation a bit of a nightmare.

The Passport uses Amazon's app store, which is a fairly poor second tier to Google's main Android app store. But the device has some clever business-oriented functions that might make it of interest to large corporations seeking to lock down phone usage.

In reality, this is BlackBerry's only hope with this slightly freakish machine: it's already dead in the general consumer space.

Budget wireless keyboard is a good call

Logitech K480 multi-device keyboard     Price: €50 (from Harvey Norman)    Rating: ****

Technically, we've had the ability to use our smartphones as full-on word processing tools for some time. All that was required was a flick of the Bluetooth switch and an accompanying wireless keyboard. But how appealing has that prospect realistically been, using a 4-inch handset?

The switch to 'phablets', such as the iPhone 6 Plus, may change our minds on this. In such an eventuality, Logitech's multi-device K480 keyboard is waiting in the wings. The keyboard is actually capable of working with any tablet or (Bluetooth-enabled) PC and has a one-size-fits-all narrow dock that can stand any type of flat screen up into a de-facto monitor. That includes smartphones. I tried it with a couple of different handsets and it worked flawlessly with all of them.

I'd say that the cheap and cheerful battery-operated keyboard is more suited to a permanent home (on a desk or kitchen table) than in a briefcase, as it's relatively clunky and heavy. But if you're looking for a writing tool on a budget, this is a good buy.

Leather protection, just in case

iPhone Plus leather case    Price: €50    Rating: ***

We've already reviewed the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus (see detailed write-ups on Independent.ie). But if you're one of the first to get Apple's latest jumbo smartphone, you'll need a case. It's not just to protect the screen or the body from scratching, either.

Recent reports of iPhone 6 Plus units 'bending' will have many reaching for anything that might stiffen up the unit. (I should say that in a week of using the iPhone 6 Plus, I haven't noticed any bending vulnerabilities, not even during twerking classes.)

Apple's own protective cases come at a bit of a price premium but are very nicely finished. The Plus model's leather case is very slim with a soft microfibre interior that helps stop any abrasions on the phone's actual body.

It's not especially handsome, but - crucially for a 5.5 inch 'phablet' - it doesn't add any heft to the device. Apple's obvious first-move advantage will mean this is probably the only properly designed case available for the Plus for a month or so.

'Dull but effective' is this laptop's mantra

Toshiba Satellite Pro R50-B    Price: from €750 (depending on spec)    Rating: ****

These are tough times in the laptop market. Just ask Samsung, which has decided to stop selling laptops in Europe because there's no market left to chase. (Sony recently did the same thing.)

That leaves stalwarts such as Toshiba, HP and Dell ploughing a narrowing path in the Windows PC laptop game. Toshiba's latest 15-inch business model, the Satellite Pro R50-B (why on earth do manufacturers insist on such awful branding extensions?) is aimed at small business people who won't pay more than €800 for a laptop but who like the idea of business-specific features.

To this end, it comes with some decent security specifications, Intel i3 or i5 processors (although a cheaper AMD version is also available) and up to 8GB of Ram. It's also not overly bulky, at 2.3kg, despite an integrated 500GB hard drive. The styling is a little dull and the screen is nothing to write home about. But Toshiba (generally) make good PCs, so this should suit the business user looking for a reliable workhorse.

Streaming storage that cuts iPhone cost

Sandisk Connect Wireless Media Drive    Price: €100    Rating: ****

Here's a thing about the new iPhone 6: it doesn't come in a 32GB configuration. Instead, you can buy a 16GB, 64GB or 128GB version. This is a little sneaky on Apple's part, as it knows that 16GB is very unlikely to be sufficient for most users, given the phone's high-end camera (with new video features) and ability to play movies. In other words, any normal user will conclude that the real entry level is 64GB - at €100 extra.

One alternative is to stick with the 16GB phone and spend the extra money on a 64GB wireless media drive such as Sandisk's. This allows you to store your extra photos, movies (or whatever) on the external drive and stream them over its wireless function whenever you want.

This carries the obvious disadvantage of an extra device, even though you'll gain 16GB in the process. However, it could encourage a healthy de-hoarding habit that dogs many Irish phone users.

Irish Independent

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