BlackBerry PlayBook Review

BlackBerry PlayBook Review

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RIM’s BlackBerry Playbook is the companies first effort to join the newly created applucrative tablet computing market. Apple launched the iPad just over one year ago, and in that time sold 14.8 million units or more. They have also recently launched a successor to the iPad 1 tablet, bringing many more features to the table that were expected the first time around. Despite this, the Apple App store really changed the world and the way we use computers today. Google has followed suit with their Android optimized OS for tablets, and as of recent, support for anything and everything; the OS for the world. RIM was a late comer to the tablet party, but despite this we wouldn’t be quick to rule them out. The PlayBook is a very well made device, although lacking in the apps department it does offer basic functionality that even the iPad 2 is without. Now, on to the review.


Hardware

A pure black slate with an industry first advanced capacitive touchscreen 4-finger multi-touch and gesture supporting display. That’s a mouthful.  Gestures are activated by the outer glass bezel surrounding the 7-inch, 1024 x 600 display. The introductory tutorial basically gives you the skinny; swipe from the bottom of the glass up to the screen to pull up the alt+tab style application navigator. Swipe from the top bezel down pulls in additional functionality (if built into the specific app you are in).

Size is actually quite nice. It’s large enough to know its not a smartphone, but small enough that it still fits in the back of your blue jeans pocket. I was quite impressed because it makes it more “mobile” than say, a larger 10-inch tablet.

The Playbook has quite a bit of processing power under the hood. RIM has opted for a 1 GHz dual-core processor with 1 GB RAM to run the new powerful and sexy QNX OS. This speed combined with memory will give RIM an advantage in the gaming department over the iPad’s 512 MB RAM. Increased RAM literally translates to bigger games being ported from the desktop space to the tablet space.

HD video out via micro-hdmi, comes standard, no extra dongles need to be purchased. Here’s a list of the full specs and features for your perusal;


BlackBerry PlayBook Specifications

  • 7″ LCD display, 1024 x 600 screen resolution
  • High resolution, WSVGA, capacitive screen with 4-finger multi-touch and gesture support
  • 1 GHz dual-core processor
  • BlackBerry® Tablet OS with symmetric multiprocessing
  • 1 GB RAM
  • Powerful, user-friendly QNX technology: It’s what the World Wide Web runs on
  • True simultaneous multitasking — apps run simultaneously and in real time
  • Accelerometer, 6-axis motion sensing (gyroscope) and digital compass (magnetometer)
  • GPS
  • Micro USB port
  • Games, media, apps and all the rich content the real Internet has to offer
  • Full Adobe® Flash® 10.1 enabled
  • Built-in support for HTML 5
  • No-compromise rendering of text, graphics and video
  • 3 MP 1080p HD forward-facing camera
  • 5 MP 1080p HD rear-facing camera
  • Stereo speakers and stereo microphones
  • Crystal clear video; H.264, MPEG4, WMV HDMI video output
  • Micro HDMI port for 1080p playback
  • Music Store by 7 Digital, BlackBerry® Podcast app
  • Reliable BlackBerry Tablet OS, powered by QNX technology
  • Supports POSIX OS, SMP, Open GL, WebKit, Adobe Flash and Adobe Mobile AIR
  • 0.9 pounds/425g
  • 7.6″/194mm x 5.1″/130mm x 0.4″/10mm

It weighs 0.9 pounds, lighter than the iPad, but heavier than the Galaxy Tab.

The buttons are crap. Yes, I said it and I do hope RIM will change this for the next version. I have become used to them now after 2 weeks of use, but it was no easy feat. The power button is nestled within a bevel to the left of the audio toggles. Basically here’s how you can skip two weeks of fuddling around and become a pro right off the bat. Use your left index finger only, place it on the top of the tablet edge, slide it across to the right until you hit the audio toggles, then just to the left of the first toggle press down. It’s awkward and I have yet to find any other way.

The camera’s are OK. They work, they are pixelated, slow and grainy, but this isn’t a camera-centric device anyway. It’s often blurry and video is, well, acceptable and not terrible.

Sound is quite good. The speakers are cleverly ported on the outer front edges and give you a real stereo effect.

Battery Life

Not as impressive as I would have imagined. I usually find it completely drained after falling asleep with say, a 60 minute mp3 playing in the background to send me off to la la land. You would think it would perform much better considering it goes into standby and disables Wi-Fi only after 5 minutes. Once you wake it, you will have to manually connect to your Wi-Fi again. A nuisance which will probably be addressed in later updates. I calculated north of 6 hours on a good “light day.”

Software

Get used to that screen; you’ll see it frequently as the BlackBerry Tablet OS continues to improve.  But  I will say the BlackBerry Tablet OS (QNX) is the sexiest tablet OS I have seen to date. I say this from a professional standpoint, being a user interface designer myself, as well as from a consumers point of view; usability is paramount to what’s out there now. Swiping and menu bounces are all dialed in, the opacities and overlays look very clean and high-end. You know who RIM is targeted when you look at this OS. It is a first generation, so obviously there are quirks to it that I’m sure will be sorted soon. Some buttons are a pixel off and shift position when you touch, no search capabilities within the OS, apps tray shows up even when no apps are there, I have noticed small things like this but nothing too serious. Even the volume toggles require you to press them once per step up or down, you cannot just hold it to do a quick change.

I’m not a BlackBerry user so that limits me to not being able to test the full functionality of BlackBerry Bridge, but if you want to learn more read up on it. Without it you can’t send email attachments and do other BlackBerryific stuff.

App World

The app store for BlackBerry apps. Although not loaded to the nines with flashlights, fart sound apps and 20 Angry Birds knock offs, they are slowly building up a good library. Once the Android App browser is released it should open things up plenty. Check the video at the end of this review for more on that.

 

It would be great if you could go back to your search results after installing an app. Unfortunately you have to search again.

Performance

The thing is blazing fast, serious. Just give the bundled Need For Speed Undercover game a run and see for yourself. I did notice some jittery after “effects” when playing the bundled Tetris game while simultaneously playing the built-in Tetris music. I would blame this on software as I can’t conceive a 1GHz processor being inadequate to perform this task.

Multi-Tasking

 

Yes, it is a commonly advertised feature that everyone likes to shout out loud with the their thumbs hanging off their waste belts “it can multitask.” But how much multitasking is possible with the Playbook? It will vary depending on what you are doing. You can technically “run” multiple programs and have them in a suspended state for later. This kind of ruins part of the YouTube experience but not entirely. The YouTube app and MP3 Player will keep playing while you are in another app.

YouTube

If you are an iPad or iPhone user you may share the same feelings as me and believe the YouTube app is crap. The BlackBerry official YouTube app is not far off, but they do actually allow you to use the traditional YouTube website to playback a freaking flic. Try this on iOS and you will get the boot into the YouTube app with entirely different search results. Yep, I’m outing you Google and Apple, you are not giving YouTube users the same search data that native web users get. But low and behold, RIM has really made an impression on me. Not only do you get flash, but you get the actual native web browser search results since you are able to access YouTube from within the “browser” and not just the “app.” This may or may not be a big deal to you, but to someone throwing a party that has a tabletized self-jockey ability enabled for guests, and to ask those guests to play songs and videos they love but only to leave them disappointed with different search results than they are used to, well, this just doesn’t go over well. Words are spoken, not nice ones, and usually about Apple. I should make a note that the BlackBerry official YouTube app also delivers different search results than the native website, but you do have the browser alternative unlike iOS.

 


Finally, YouTube within a browser that works on a tablet!


YouTube in the PlayBook app (meh)


iOS Search Results

Technical Support

If you have any issues with the PlayBook, setup, software, etc. you get 90 days of free support. Thereafter you must purchase an extended warranty for 2 years. It’s $129 and they say gets you “protection against drops and spills” too which is pretty good if you’re clumsy like that. Save yourself a headache though and register first before calling; if you dare do call that is. You just enter your serial number at the bottom of the support page, accept a TOS, then call in.

Once registering I got the following message: “Your BlackBerry® PlayBook™ tablet has been registered. Your 90-Day Complimentary Support expires on 2011-07-27, so you have 72 days remaining.” I’m wondering where the other 18 days went to since I never called in previously. Technical support said not to worry, I have 90 days. Shrug. Dont even waste your time entering serial numbers or case numbers into the phone prompts, no one gets them once you are transferred.

When you phone in the first level support has very bad English and due to RIM policy were unable to tell me where they were located. After trying to comprehend what the agent was saying, repeating and repeating over and over again, then going back and forth with another technical support agent for more than five minutes trying to determine and resolve the issue for why BlackBerry Desktop Software does not work on Mac, not to mention after recommending I download the latest PC software, they finally decided to transfer me to the next level which was about the same experience, just alot longer. I finally ended up with an email listing step by step instructions how to uninstall, reinstall and restart my computer. I am still unable to get this software to work on Mac OSX 10.6.7. I spoke to a third agent who then said he would send me more instructions and ask another higher-level of support about “configuration specifics.” Well, 30 minutes of hold and then a hangup, I got a call from Bill, the fifth and final rep who actually spoke English and let me know that the BlackBerry Desktop Software does not work for the PlayBook just yet. Anyway, to make a long annoying experience short — I believe I was the first Mac user to call in – just use Wi-Fi. Here’s the instructions thanks to Bill to setup your PlayBook share with a Wi-Fi connection

.

BlackBerry PlayBook Tips

 

If your Playbook for some reason would become frozen. Press and hold the power button down for 15 seconds, this will give it a hard restart.

To wipe out your device and start over (this literally wipes out everything) go to Settings > Security > Security Wipe. From here on you will basically revert to a new device, same startup, mandatory tutorials, etc. If you wipe you will lose Need For Speed Undercover and some crappy fake Bust-a-move game upon refreshing the OS; go to App World and get them again for free.

Playbook above China Craptablet (aka: CherryPad)

Bottom Line

This is a great tablet, it’s small, fast, the design is solid and doesn’t feel like a MIC craptablet. It’s got a great form factor, the virtual keyboard is kick ass since the size of the tablet allows you to use it as a perfect thumbboard — I think RIM thought this one through. The OS is slick and sexy, although basic and could use some “bells and whistles,” keep in mind it’s a first gen OS and wow, what a first gen. Technical support is free and not up to the Apple standard just yet. If Android portability and market support come through without any hiccups, technical support passes ESL (I did press 1 for English) RIM could have a serious game changer on their hands. Would you buy one?

The BlackBerry PlayBook is a Wi-Fi only tablet that can use your BlackBerry smartphone’s Internet connection. It is priced at $500 in 16GB capacity, with 32GB and 64GB options for $100 more each step up.

 

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