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A look at BlackBerry's softer, rounder Passport for AT&T

Trading the dress suit for the sweat suit

At long last, those wanting to purchase one of BlackBerry's new smartphones can now do so directly from a major US carrier. Starting today, AT&T is offering the BlackBerry Passport and Classic, the two most recent smartphones from the Canadian company. The Classic AT&T is selling is exactly the same as the model that's been available directly from BlackBerry since December, complete with a throwback design that looks like it was pulled right out of 2012.

But oddly enough, AT&T's Passport (which is exclusive to the carrier for the time being) is different from the Passport BlackBerry introduced way back in September of last year. The internal hardware is essentially the same, but AT&T dictated notable changes to the design of the device that alter its character ever so slightly. It's still an awkward rectangle designed to "work wide" that requires two hands for use, and it still has the three-row hardware keyboard with touch sensitivity like the original Passport. But AT&T's version has swapped the hard corners of the original for softer, rounded edges. The layered sandwich design for the metal frame has been replaced with a more traditional band that wraps around the entire edge of the phone. And the back of the phone feels ever so slightly softer and more rounded than before.

AT&T's design works better ergonomically than the original Passport

The overall effect of these changes is that AT&T's Passport is significantly less visually striking than the first Passport. If the original Passport looked as if it put on its business suit to get stuff done, the AT&T version looks like it swapped the worsted wool for a generic cotton sweat suit. In practice, AT&T's design arguably works better: it's more comfortable to hold in one hand (or two), and it's more comfortable in your pocket. Though the internal processor and specifications are the same as the first Passport, it seems that BlackBerry has been improving its software since launch, and many things (such as the camera) are faster and more responsive than before. It still takes too long to do a lot of simple tasks (such as refreshing a Twitter timeline) on BlackBerry 10, but I'm happy to see that there is noticeable forward movement.

Importantly for BlackBerry, AT&T is selling the Passport (and the Classic) in all of its retail stores as well as through its online and telesales channels. The Passport runs $199.99 with a contract or $649.99 outright, while the Classic is $49.99 on contract and $419.99 outright. Both phones can be purchased on AT&T's Next installment plan, and both are available to buy starting today. In the meantime, check out images of AT&T's customized Passport below.


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