Blackberry Playbook

, posted: 18-Aug-2011 22:35

RIM's Asia-Pacific people lent me the Blackberry Playbook for about a month, together with a BB Torch 9800 (necessary for 3G data, see below); I quite like it, with some reservations.


Now, the Playbook has had mixed reviews. Wired tried out the Playbook and came across a number of issues such as the browser crashing and slow downs if you run many apps at the same time.

I think most of those have been sorted out by RIM. While it's been with me, the Playbook has had two big updates on top of smaller software ones.

The updated Playbook with Tablet OS feels quick and responsive, with no hangs, browser crashes or slow downs as you multi-task. So it should, with a 1GHz dual-core CPU and 1GB of RAM.

Here's what I like about the Playbook:
  • Swiping the edges of the screen for navigation and app-switching. This seems strange at first, but after a while it becomes second nature and you wonder why nobody else thought of it.
  • Playbook's user multi-touch interface is uncomplicated overall, even though there are places where the designers have had to concede defeat and add a Back button instead of a swipe gesture.
  • The 1,024 by 600 pixel 7" 16:9 ratio touch screen is great; it's bright and has good contrast, and you can quite happily watch HD movies on it.
  • Great audio, with two speakers, and a front-facing 3Mpixel camera, and a rear-facing 5Mpixel unit.
  • Performance is pretty good, with minimal lag as you switch app and start others.
  • The Webkit-based browser is excellent, rendering sites accurately and understands HTML5; Flash works too.
  • Build quality and design. Solid and understated does it, especially for corporate users.
  • Battery life: using the browser a great deal, watching the odd video and YouTube clip, emailing and a few other things, I found the Playbook would last for a day and a half. This is no doubt due to the large 5,300 mAh battery.
  • Encryption. I'm no rioter, but when successive governments get hacked off with RIM for its secure, encrypted messaging, you know the Canadians are doing it right.
  • QNX cool. From what I am told, RIM will move to QNX for all its devices
Not so sure about these things:
  • The form factor: sure, a smaller device is more portable and easier to handle, but don't people buy these things for the fairly large screen? Apple's iPad being the usual case in point.
  • Mini-HDMI for 1080p output to TVs seems like a great idea. Well, sort of. first, the difficult to find Mini-HDMI adapter isn't included. Second, it's nice for playing back video but RIM's suggestion that you use the Playbook for gaming over an HDMI cable while making use of the sensors that make a tablet a tablet isn't entirely sensible. Motion and cables don't combine, so get with the wireless, RIM.
  • Charging time: the Playbook is charged via the USB port, but most such outlets on computers don't seem to supply enough juice so topping up the battery takes a long time.
  • The price. My 16GB review unit goes for between $600 to just under $800 according to Pricespy. This compares to $799 for the Apple iPad2 16GB Wi-Fi unit which has a larger screen and better battery life, and of course, is the established competitor with a big app store.
Things I dislike:
  • The Bridge, or the main reason why people won't buy a Playbook. In order to have 3G data, contacts, calendar, personal email and Blackberry apps such as Messenger on the Playbook, you need to use The Bridge on it and on a Blackberry Phone. Pairing a phone over Bluetooth is easy enough, and The Bridge works as advertised if you make sure to update it on both the phone and Playbook but.. it runs over Bluetooth. This means adequate speeds (I managed to squeeze out 1.5Mbps downloads, and 800kbps uploads from the device) but also requires the phone to be fairly close to the Playbook. Plus, you have the extra expense of a phone and another device to charge so you can use the Playbook fully. RIM told me a new version of the Playbook with 3G and SIM support will appear later this year, and I'd wait for that one. While I can see some of the justifications for the Bridge, I don't understand what RIM's managers and designers were thinking of when they launched the Playbook as an essentially tethered device when that's not how people will use it.
  • Inconsistent text input, with no predictive text and auto-correct. I know, typing is kind of not what you do on tablets but there are times when you can't avoid it. The Playbook has a nice, large on-screen keyboard, but it's not particularly smart. With the updates, long key-presses are supported so you get different characters, but RIM should make sure Swype is ported to the Playbook and be done with it.
  • App World. I can get a native Twitter app for Blackberry phones, but not so for the QNX-based Playbook. That's one example, and there are too many others. RIM needs to work on this, and fast.
The Bridge notwithstanding, the Playbook is a very good and innovative first effort by RIM. Straightening out the early kinks shouldn't be too hard but RIM doesn't have much time to do so, as Apple is hardly going to sit around and wait. Plus, there's that Android too.

Other related posts:
Travelling gear
Sony Tablet S reviewed
Nokia N9 reviewed

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