UPDATE 2-BlackBerry launches square-screen Passport in turnaround push

Wed Sep 24, 2014 1:12pm EDT
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(Recasts with industry reviews and reaction; adds details)

By Euan Rocha

TORONTO, Sept 24 (Reuters) - BlackBerry Ltd's unconventional square-screened smartphone, the Passport, earned mixed reviews at its launch on Wednesday as the company's turnaround push moved into a critical phase in which it must prove its handsets are still desirable.

BlackBerry showed off the new device at events in Toronto, London and Dubai. The smartphone, which has a large touchscreen and a modified version of the company's well-known keyboard, comes to market as the phones of BlackBerry's rivals all converge on a tall, rectangular profile.

The Canadian company says its new device is ideal for professionals who need secure access and editing control of spreadsheets, medical scans and other documents. But reviewers said consumers may be disappointed to find some popular apps, including Instagram, were missing at launch.

"The Passport is a shrine to everything BlackBerry has done over the last 15 years, but none of that is very relevant in today's world," a reviewer for tech website The Verge wrote.

Another tech website, CNET, gave the phone 3.5 stars out of five, praising the keyboard but saying the phone's shape makes it awkward to hold.

Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group, said BlackBerry could have moved more quickly to combine keyboard and large screen. "Their loyal customer base is very keyboard-driven, and you want to be able to provide them with something that allows them to step into the future," he said.

Users can type to enter text, or swipe lightly across the slimmed-down keyboard to navigate. And using a new system called BlackBerry Blend, they can respond to messages and access information stored on their phones from tablets and computers.   Continued...