The Market Ticker
Commentary on The Capital Markets- Category [Company Specific]

When you open the box your first reaction is oh my God is that thing big!

It is.  If you have an American (or most other nation) passport, go get it.  That's the size of the phone, almost to the millimeter.

It's substantial.  Neither light or ridiculously heavy, and reasonably svelte.  Unlike many devices these days the body has an outside metal band that appears to be stainless steel, punctuated with the charging connector on the bottom, the volume and mute keys on the right, and the power button and headphone jack on the top.  The rear surface is a lightly-rubberized plastic and soft to the touch, providing a good gripping surface.

The rear of the phone sports a flush camera (it does not stick out, unlike the new iPhones) while the face is taken up by the screen and...... a keyboard.

Up top a small cover comes off (at the center top there is a small notch for a fingernail to be used) to reveal the nano-sim and SD-card slot.  The battery is enormous but not directly replaceable (although the unit has been disassembled at this point by some and it appears to be reasonably serviceable -- which is nice.)

Will it fit in your pocket?  Yes, as will an actual passport.  Unless you wear those ridiculous skin-tight jeans that won't fit a proper-sized wallet, you're fine.  The standard pair of men's Levis swallows the phone in the front pocket without complaint.  So does a pair of dress pants, or (of course) a suit jacket pocket, which is where you would typically keep your passport when traveling. The bound paper one, that is.

I swapped my T-Mobile account to a nano-SIM (the Z10 takes a micro), popped in the 64GB SD card that I had in my Z10, then powered it up.

My first impression on going through the setup and mandatory quick tutorials -- which now include teaching you how to use the touch-sensitive keyboard (yes, it works like a trackpad as well as a keyboard!) revealed that this device is smoking fast and the screen is simply gorgeous.  Colors are vibrant, clean and the resolution is outstanding.  Not wanting to screw the software up I elected to set it up from scratch rather than attempt to port over my most-recent backup from the Z10 -- which I might have been able to accomplish, but it wasn't worth the risk.

First things first -- I used Sachesi to load SNAP, so I could easily get the Android apps I had on the Z10 back, then went into BlackBerry World, signed in and it transferred my credentials over.  All my previous purchased apps from the Z10 were available and I narfed them, setting up my folders as I had previously.

The task of telling the phone where to find my calendars, contact database and such was then upon me, along with re-setting all the customizations for various people I communicate with (custom ring tones, etc.)  The entire process, and remember that I'm migrating from a Z10 I've used for the last year and a half (with all the data and apps you might expect I'd have over that time!) took about an hour to complete.  Note that I keep my calendars and contact database on my infrastructure -- the Passport will talk to Google's systems among others, but then Google has your calendar and contact database.  No thank you; I will run my own over an encrypted link, and BB10 devices support that with minimal hassle in setup.

It was during this process that I discovered that this phone has one hell of a pair of stereo speakers in the bottom bezel.  You won't be playing concert halls with it, but it's very unlike what you think of as a "phone".  The sound is loud, clear, and has surprisingly good definition for coming from that tiny little case.  This augurs well for those who want to use the phone as a speakerphone for small groups -- good (and acceptably loud) speakers are, of course, a big part of being able to do that.

The keyboard took only minutes to become acclimated to -- I'm fast and more-importantly, accurate with it.  I've never been a fan of physical keyboards other than "sliders" as I have been unwilling to give up the screen real estate, but this implementation won me over quickly.  Being able to swipe backward across the keys to perform a backwards word delete, for example, is one of many intuitive touches that just plain works.  I thought the context soft keys above the physical keyboard would be a gimmicky pain in the butt, but they're not.  It's much faster to use than on-screen "soft" keyboards -- even the really nice-working ones as are found in the more-modern smartphones like the Z10, Swype on Android devices and similar.  In short the keyboard is a winner -- a big winner if you actually type things.

The phone has 3Gb of system RAM along with 32Gb of device flash storage, and has no problems with keeping multiple things going at once.  Should you wish to have more (and you should for music, video, picture and similar storage) an SD card of up to 128Gb can be used.  Note that for cards larger than 32Gb the phone downloads (on first use) a driver for exFAT; on first boot my Passport wanted to grab a software update and refused to load that SD card driver until it completed, which took a few minutes.  But as soon as the update completed and I allowed it to reboot (it was polite enough to ask and allow me to defer until it was convenient) it all was good from there.

Cold boot time for this device is quite short.  I measured 55 seconds from pressing the power button with an "off" phone until the lock screen was displayed.  That's exemplary -- and a lot faster than previous BB10 devices.  But -- there's no real reason to shut the phone off; I've not had a crash on a BB10 device since the very early 10.0 days roughly 18 months ago....

About this time into my use I started to find surprises in the new hardware and software combination -- all good.

First, in Android apps if you swipe down from the top you'll see a "Zoom out" option.  If you choose it the unit will resize for the full screen resolution instead of a "clipped" phone-style Android app size, and tell the app it has the full resolution available.  Some apps will go into tablet mode when you do this -- which is really, really nice.  Think trading apps, for example (e.g. ThinkOrSwim), or the Kindle e-book reader.  Speaking of which the Passport works exceptionally well for that application, should you be into book-reading.

Next, a double-finger swipe down on the physical keyboard brings up a full virtual keyboard (above the physical) complete with all the symbols, and a second double-finger swipe changes to a second set of symbols.  A third dismisses it.  Very handy.

The BlackBerry "signature" multicolor LED on the front is present; get the BlackBerry App BeBuzz Pro for greatly enhanced capability in this regard.  To give you some sort of idea what I do with it I have two contacts (my daughter and g/f) that have their own "colors" -- yellow and pink -- that I have blinking for any sort of message (email, facebook, text, missed call etc) from them.  Thus if I have anything pending from them (unseen) I know instantly without having to wake up the phone.  For unread general texts, the LED blinks green, for emails blue.  Then there are patterns I have set for missed calls (red/blue) and there's another one for no Internet connectivity (e.g. in an area with a crap signal) -- red/red.  As a result I know the status of the device at a glance, and what if anything I haven't seen.  This is one of those features that Apple has never figured out the need for, and while some Android devices have it, not all do.  I consider it essential after having had it for the last couple of years and would never buy a device without it.

The BB10 "bedside mode" is another nice feature; your phone is your alarm clock.  We all charge our phones at night, yes?  So buy a little stand for your bedside table, plug in there, and pull down the top menu -- you get "bedside mode."  The screen appropriately dims way down to red so your eyeballs don't get blasted out and adjusts for the room light (or more to the point, the lack thereof.) You can set this to allow phone calls (and only phone calls!) to ring through or silence all alerts while in that mode.  Alarms are of course supported as well (what good is a clock without an alarm, and of course you can wake to any music from your collection.)  Now you have a travel alarm clock that really works (including snooze) that is your primary clock, both home and away.  Excellent.  Note that in 10.3.1 firmware, which I have on my Z10 but is not yet available for the Passport, notification profiles can be radically customized for any mode -- including this one, so if there are people who you must hear from irrespective of when you can tell it to do that.  This is one of those little BlackBerry features that has replaced a device I used to have both in my home and when traveling -- the old mundane clock.

One "random" note -- if you're one of those people who texts in the car while driving (and you know damn well you shouldn't) I will tell you right now -- don't get this phone.  It is very difficult to operate one-handed, especially for entering text.  So if you're hellbent on trying to kill yourself or others by being distracted while driving this phone isn't for you.

On the other hand in an airvent clip holder as a GPS device the Passport is incredible.  The screen is very crisp, brightness auto-adjusts nicely (as do the other BB10 devices; BlackBerry got this right on the entire line) and overall it's a great user experience.  Mireo works well also if you have purchased it (offline nav with maps on your SD card or in device memory.)  Want Google's maps?  Yes, that works -- you can't sign in (since BlackBerry doesn't formally support Google Play) but the navigation portion is fully functional.  Just remember that whenever those apps are running you're giving your location, direction of travel, speed and identity to both the company involved (e.g. Google) and the NSA.  If you'd like some privacy pony up the few bucks for Mireo, but in using it rather than BlackBerry's (or Google's) mapping app you will give up active traffic (e.g. wrecks, etc) avoidance.

Now let's talk about BlackBerry Blend.  It only works at present on the Passport, and it's a game-changer.  It connects over WiFi, cellular data or USB (your choice of any or all.)  You load an app on your desktop, laptop and/or tablet; when activated it mirrors your phone messaging and calendar screens on your computer.  When you get a message, email, BBM, anything -- you have it available on your computer, which means your phone can remain in your pocket all the time when you're at your desk, especially if you have a bluetooth headset to take a phone call.  Oh, and did I mention that the file manager is available from Blend, so you can copy files to and from the phone, including from your linked cloud accounts such as Dropbox, Box and even your PC or Mac if you set that up via Link as well?  The exceptions are that the Twitter and Facebook clients don't mirror.  I also am not terribly impressed with the calendar visualization and interaction, but for messaging (which is the part I find most-compelling) it's flat-out awesome.

Back in my Android days I had a rather kludgy version of this that sort-of worked.  This is different -- Blend is awesome sauce and it's a unique feature.  It's secure (it uses the internal tunneling that BlackBerry has in Link), it's reasonably quick, it works from and to pretty-much anywhere (on my laptop and desktop transparently, for example) and I don't have to pull the phone out of my pocket at my desk or pick it up; as long as the network can "see" it the functionality is there.  Essentially, unless you need to charge the device (the charge status is visible in the lower right corner as well) provided you have a headset to take a call with you never need to take the phone out of your pocket, purse, briefcase or otherwise while at your desk for the common things you do with it while working.  I like it -- a lot.

Now onto Android compatibility, because I know a lot of people care about it.  You have the Amazon app store that's preloaded if you wish to use it.  I don't and haven't.  I use SNAP so I have all my Android apps available.  You choose. Those who argue that "sideloading" is difficult have rocks in their head; you simply plug in the USB cable once and drop the BAR file on the window.  Done.  It's that simple -- no "development mode" is required or anything else.  I had to do it exactly once when I put SNAP on my Z10, and I had to do it once for the Passport.  Whoopie.  It's no harder than loading a program on a Windows computer or a Mac; if you can drag a file from one place to another you can do it.  Once done you simply use the app like any other on the phone itself.

Performance-wise Android apps run very well on the Passport.  There have been some that were constrained -- severely so -- on the Z10.  It's simply a matter of running the Android apps in a virtual machine and the constraints of doing so alongside the rest of QNX and the BlackBerry apps in a device with only so much RAM.  This has gotten worse over the last year or so as app developers in the Android world started counting on devices having more and more memory native -- Fox News and MyFitnessPal are two that over the last six months have seen multiple updates that rendered them quite-severely constrained performance-wise on the Z10 -- while previous versions were great.  The Passport's 3Gb of RAM eliminates this consideration entirely and the difference is a quantum level of improvement in the user experience.  In short a large number of Android apps ran really well on the Z10.  Nearly all of them, provided they don't need Google's Pay service (e.g. in-app billing) run really well on the Passport.

How about the camera?  It has 720p and 1080p video recording at both 30 and 60fps, the latter being "slow motion" of course when played at 30fps.  The shooter itself has a 12Mbps sensor, a dedicated image processor and hybrid IS (both optical and digital); it works extremely well.  It is capable of shooting in single-shot, burst mode (hold down the button and it rapid-fires frames) and of course video.  Stills in 1x1 (square) format are 3120x3120 pixels; f/2 aperture.  Your options for aspect ratio are 1x1, 4:3 and 16:9.  I am getting clear pictures without flash at 1/5th of a second in dark locations such as my local neighborhood bar; the IS works amazingly well in low light.  IMHO the JPEG algo is a bit too aggressive with sharpening but it's not awful by any means. In short while the camera will never be mistaken for a dSLR it produces very credible imagery -- even without flash in challenging lighting conditions.

Battery life is as expected -- that is, excellent.  I've spent the last couple of days intentionally not plugging the phone in at all and being that it's a new device and I'm playing around with it a lot I'm using it very heavily.  I've yet to run out of power with a full day's heavy use spanning 18 hours, even when I include a half-hour or so of navigation.  That's something you typically cannot do on any phone without plugging it in -- nav is pretty much the worst-case scenario as it heavily exercises the radio (if you're using maps over the cell link), GPS receiver, display (of course) and the CPU -- add it all up and you have a major power pig on your hands. Nonetheless, even with intentionally not plugging in while in the car I've yet to run out of power before retiring for the evening, although I have gotten into the single-digit percentage remaining range.  Bravo.

The 10.3.0 OS provided has the browser "auto-font size" problem that is in all of the previous versions of BB10 back to when manual font size selection disappeared (~10.1 if I recall correctly), and which I've reported on before. It's not particularly serious but is a bit annoying.  This is fixed in 10.3.1 but there is currently no leak available nor any official update for the Passport -- and the Z10/Z-30/other device leaks that are available to date have no flash available in the browser at all which some people will find unacceptable.  10.3.1 will come, and has other advantages -- but for right now it's definitely a bit of a bleeding edge in that in addition to flash being missing IKEv2 VPNs are broken.  The latter is a serious problem for me as I really, really like the automatic connect-back to my VPN for any "open" WiFi network -- it secures such connections very effectively and completely but simply doesn't work right now on 10.3.1.  On the other hand the profile customizations are awesome, so I'm very much looking forward to its availability for the Passport.

Reading content (e.g. books, web pages, etc) on the screen is wildly satisfying -- dramatically better than any other "pocketable" device I've used.  The Kindle app works fabulously and I strongly recommend using the "Zoom Out" mode with it, as it then goes into tablet configuration and is just a flat-out joy.  Incidentally, if you select that mode for an Android app the mode is "sticky" on a per-app basis across invocations.

In the end this is where the magic of the balance that BlackBerry put forward with the Passport design really shines -- they managed to get the utility of a tablet in your hands in terms of reading pleasure, whether your "reading" emails, books or viewing images and business data while not forcing you to try to stuff a 7" tablet in your pants.  While the device is only about 30% wider than my Z10 in point of fact, and about the same thickness, it is dramatically more-usable for content consumption and inspection.  Some of this comes from the screen size, and the rest comes from the visual resolution and fidelity -- with 453ppi the screen surpasses what Apple calls "retina" (in fact it's best-in-class) and keeping with the Z10's design it's an IPS panel as well.  It's a matter of balance and BlackBerry hit the ball out of the park in that regard.  

Any bigger would be too big; like Goldilocks' porridge the Passport is "just right."

Oh, and it fits in my sporran -- yes, that's what you wear with a kilt.  I have one (for hashing) and it can be used while running (it's sort of a "front mount" fanny pack.)  I was concerned that I wouldn't have a running solution for music with the Passport but in fact I do.

I've written much about BlackBerry's OS 10 in the past and how I consider it to be a revolutionary operating environment; the Hub standing alone is revolutionary compared against either Android or IOS.  Another example is BlackBerry Travel -- it reads your email accounts and picks up anything travel related, automatically updating itineraries and similar.  Make a hotel reservation and it will pick up the confirmation email back to you without your interaction; you can then point at the hotel in Travel and tell the phone to navigate there and it will do exactly what you'd expect -- open up the maps application and route you there.  There's no keying in the address of the hotel necessary; it picks it up automatically.

Another example of this integration: I had Travel alert me of a gate change while sitting in front of the gate at the airport in Dallas before the board in the airport updated!  It's that good, that fast and if you travel at all for business or pleasure it's enough reason to use a BB10 device all on its own.  None of the competitive offerings come close.

Being able to run my own email, calendars and contact databases on my infrastructure without hassle (or having to load an external app) is extremely useful, as is the integration of all of this into the Hub.  Android still doesn't handle this sort of thing properly; Android is great if your email, contacts and calendar are all Google based, but what if it's not -- or you don't want it to be?  What if you have a half-dozen email accounts in different places and want all of them available on a seamless basis?  K9Mail works well on Android in providing this functionality, for example, but it's an app and not integrated as a result.

10.3 has extended the BB10 environment in many meaningful ways, including nice touches such as knowing when you pick up the phone from a flat surface (it wakes up) to the picture password option (incredibly secure yet very fast and easy to use), quick "triage" for your various accounts (allows filing and deleting with a single touch) and more.

My complaints in terms of missing features are all of the OS variety -- there is still no S/MIME standalone support (for those not on BES) and there should be, and PGP would be nice.  This is something that's quite-important and not just for encryption -- digital signatures provide evidence of lack of tampering, and are valuable standing alone. PGP is rumored to be coming, but there's been silence on S/MIME for non-BES users and IMHO that's idiotic. 10.3.1 has a decent set of contact-based overrides for profiles but I'd like content-sensitive capabilities (e.g. "If a text message from Joe comes in AND contains the word URGENT, override the profile settings") that are specific to each profile (e.g. the preceding is ONLY VALID in "Bedside mode".)  The problem with the overrides is that if I have the phone set to silent I probably really mean it, while if it's in "Bedside Mode" I'd like certain things to override and ring through, but only certain things (and from certain people.)  10.3.1's customizations get me halfway there; the other half would be fabulous. BlackBerry absolutely should allow modification of Android app permissions on an individual basis (yes, I know this can break an app but that's ok -- it should be my choice individually as it is for native apps) and there's nothing other than BlackBerry's decision in coding their Android VM keeping them from permitting it.  Finally, BlackBerry needs to improve its IMAP integration; it is nearly perfect, but for one flaw -- "delete" means delete, unlike virtually every other implementation that lets you choose between that option and having the mail client move the message to an archive (or "trash") folder instead.  I deal with this by having a "mirrored" email setup but fixing that problem would make for a true "one mailbox, many clients" implementation that works.

None of this is Passport-specific and they're mostly things you've heard from me before.

I have discovered one glitch specific to the Passport that annoyed me -- if you have "instant previews" turned on and get a message pop-up (e.g. a text message, etc) while using an Android app, and reply to it, the soft keyboard appears above the physical keyboard as expected (for numbers, symbols, etc.)  It does not always disappear when you hit "send".  That's a bug in that the soft line of keys will cover a piece of your app's screen and should disappear when you're done with the pop-up notification; closing and re-opening the app clears it.  For a first-release software version, I'll note, one glitch that is mildly annoying is pretty darn good!

What could BlackBerry do that would advance things even further?  Improve Blend so that it can fully mirror the screen environment and port OpenOffice (or LibreOffice).  If they then implemented my previous suggestion to use WiFi as a means to support an "external" screen (with effectively unlimited resolution) you now have a very effective desktop replacement for many applications and for those heavier users you have a seamless integration option too.  The Passport has the processing and RAM capacity to support this, along with the connectivity required.

So what's my verdict, in summary?

BlackBerry's Passport brings to the forefront a device that is rationally-priced ($599 unlocked and no-contract at introduction; it will go $100 higher soon) while having top-of-class specifications, a fabulous screen that rivals tablet capability for reading books, working on spreadsheets or browsing images, the iconic BlackBerry keyboard in a new incantation that works exceptionally well, 32Gb of NVRAM (instead of the more-common 16Gb), 3Gb of system RAM (eliminating contention issues in my experience) and a SD slot that will accept up to a 128Gb card.  Add to this incredible battery life, excellent performance, Blend for game-changing desktop integration and the total package winds up making time for you in your day instead of wasting time.

The bottom line is that the Passport is a device that fundamentally fulfills the promise made years ago yet not delivered until now -- that is, to be smart.  Such a device should learn from you, it should do things intuitively and it should make your life easier -- not because it enables you to do things if you go through some convoluted set of steps but because it does the logical thing for you and thus reduces the time you have to spend to get your work done.

BlackBerry has a winner in the Passport.

Simply put it's an actual, as opposed to promised but not delivered, smart phone.

PS: A note on carrier compatibility -- this is a GSM/HSPA+/LTE "world phone."  As such in the US it is a T-Mobile, AT&T and similar technology regional carrier device.  There are multiple reports that it does work on WalMart's Straight Talk service (provided you're using the "pink" T-Mobile SIM they supply with their starter kit.)  It will not work on Verizon, as they still have their legacy bastard CDMA system in use.  If you're an AT&T customer you may need to talk to their customer service people to get LTE to come up, as AT&T does some really bizarre things with IMEI validation before permitting LTE connections.

Update 10/30: 10.3.1 OS is up for the Passport; AT&T's carrier code is showing it available. smiley

View this entry with comments (registration required to post)

As if you didn't need a(nother) good reason to tell Apple to***** off...

Hockenberry, one of the developers who helped build the popular app Twitterrific, has posted at length about a serious security issue that affects all iOS devices.

The gist of the issue is this: in-app browsers in third-party iOS apps have the ability to log keystrokes as they’re typed. In other words, when a browser window pops up in an app to let you log into a service like Google, Facebook or Twitter, it’s possible that your login details can be stolen. Worse yet, credit card data or bank login details can be stolen if entered in a browser window in a third-party app.

Folks, read the original article.  This is basically an indictment of the in-app browser capability that many applications have -- and use.  

It's very hard to defend against.  

And, it's very exploitable.

View this entry with comments (registration required to post)

I now have my unit and have used it yesterday afternoon and evening.

I'm going to go through a couple of full-day cycles before finishing my review -- but if you want the short version it's that this phone is utterly awesome, doing a very-effective "mind meld" between the tablet and phone space.  BlackBerry's execution on this device is utterly mind-blowing.

The size isn't a problem (yes, it really is identical in size to a US Passport) but in one place -- you cannot text and drive with it.  You shouldn't do that anyway unless you want to wreck your car and possibly kill someone, so I don't see this as a material negative -- but some will.

Keep your eyes open for the review that should drop mid-week.

View this entry with comments (registration required to post)


I was among the first people to try out Apple Pay the moment it came available on Monday. It was convenient, fast, and it seemingly worked without incident ... until I logged in and checked my debit card bill.

As it turns out, I've been charged twice for every single purchase I've made with Apple Pay at various stores.

A quick search of Twitter found many other people experiencing this same exact problem.

Of course with debit cards there is a huge potential problem here because if you overdraw your checking account using one you're going to get monkey-hammered for as much as $39 for each overdrawn item.

Yeah, I'm sure Apple will "fix it", but the point remains that this so-called technological marvel was supposed to make this sort of thing impossible because a given token issued by the software for a given payment would only be good once.

It looks like it was good at least twice, eh?


Update: There are reports that Bank of America was involved in some way with their clearing process -- nonetheless, as Apple's branded offering, screwups are theirs -- period.

View this entry with comments (registration required to post)

Want a 10-bagger?

Buy the November $10 BBRY calls for about 50 cents.

There's a rumor that Lenovo will bid for the company as early as this week -- at $15, with a $3 override available to get a deal done around $18.

I don't have a clue as to the provenance of this reported rumor, but if you're into such things that's a very cheap play as these things go.  The market doesn't appear to believe the rumor is real, given the (relatively) low implied vol on the option -- which is part of what makes it relatively attractive to consider.

Those calls are too close-in time-wise to be a decent bet on the next earnings release -- with the Passport included, which appears to be selling very well.  That makes this one a pure play on an M&A deal, which are usually (unless you have inside information) a loser for the common rube like myself.

Nonetheless if you're into such plays this one looks pretty attractive.

View this entry with comments (registration required to post)

Main Navigation
Full-Text Search & Archives
Archive Access
Get Adobe Flash player
Legal Disclaimer

The content on this site is provided without any warranty, express or implied. All opinions expressed on this site are those of the author and may contain errors or omissions.


The author may have a position in any company or security mentioned herein. Actions you undertake as a consequence of any analysis, opinion or advertisement on this site are your sole responsibility.

Market charts, when present, used with permission of TD Ameritrade/ThinkOrSwim Inc. Neither TD Ameritrade or ThinkOrSwim have reviewed, approved or disapproved any content herein.

The Market Ticker content may be reproduced or excerpted online for non-commercial purposes provided full attribution is given and the original article source is linked to. Please contact Karl Denninger for reprint permission in other media or for commercial use.

Submissions or tips on matters of economic or political interest may be sent "over the transom" to The Editor at any time. To be considered for publication your submission must include full and correct contact information and be related to an economic or political matter of the day. All submissions become the property of The Market Ticker.