A friend of mine was generous enough to lend me her Blackberry Playbook for 3 long days so that I could review it. After thorough usage of OS functionalities, applications and system settings I am now ready to show you what you got in store if ever you plan to buy one of these tablets. RIM is selling the Playbook as a more serious device than what we have with the iPad and Android Tablet Army, with this they offer security that is acknowledged by no less than the White House.
The Blackberry Playbook has a screen size of 7 inches which is inline with Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, and it has a 1024 x 600 WSGVA capacitive touchscreen which is very comparable to other tablet displays. If you think thin is sexy then you’ve got a gorgeous babe right here, the tablet is less than half an inch thick and weighs just below a pound. Despite the small form, you will be surprised what is packed inside this monster, in it lies a 1Ghz dual-core processor, with 1GB RAM.
The unit has a 5MP main camera at back and has a 3MP camera up front. Volume rack and power buttons could be found on top along with the 3.5mm jack for audio. While at the bottom we have different ports, a charging contacts, a micro-USB and a micro-HDMI port. Charging the device could be done via plug through the charging contacts or via USB through its micro-USB port (hurray for USB charging). Audio speakers are found at the left and right edges of the bezel. For connectivity, we’ve bluetooth 2.1 + EDR and wifi 802.11 a/b/g/n.
The Playbook’s capacitive screen is very responsive, during the short span of my review, never did I have to tap an area on the screen twice to get a response from the device. One of the cooler features of the Playbook is the gesture support. If you will notice, there are no buttons up front of the device that is because manipulation is done mostly with swipe gestures. This is similar to what Nokia was planning with the N9, wherein button functionalities are replaced with quick gestures from bezel to screen. A swipe from the left or right will allow you to sift through RUNNING applications, a swipe from the bottom shows the home screen and swiping from the top reveals application menus. There are other gestures like pulling up the keyboard or peeking at notifications while inside of an application but what I covered here are the commonly used ones.
Sound quality is fair enough for a tablet but the problem lies with the position of the speakers, they usually get covered when holding the tablet to watch movies or play games. I also feel that the placement of the 3.5mm socket was a bit off when handling the tablet because you will need to get the cord under the tablet, but it was probably for the best especially if you plan to listen to music while your Playbook is inside the bag.
Bluetooth functionality seemed to have issues when I tested it out. I am not really sure if it is limited to certain devices but when I tested it out on a DR-BT30Q/S headset pairing did not work properly. This is also true with tethering, I wanted to test it out on my n900 but it failed to work even after restarting the device. Firmware was updated at that time so I suppose this is a bug on the firmware version.
The buttons at top works great although I have to point out the effort I have to use just to press the power button. I know that it was built to be hard to accidentally press but I suppose they overdid it on this one. Not much of an issue since you wont be pressing it that often.
Taking pictures with the 5mp camera was really nice but not really perfect. I would still recommend a nice digital camera for better quality pictures, and a smartphone for on the go shots. I feel it can still do well as a tablet even without the main camera especially since they are promoting the Playbook as an extension of your smart phone. I have nothing against it really, but as a programmer… I just don’t like redundant stuff.
Sadly, I did not have enough time to test out HDMI, video chat and BB Bridge due to time constraints. Maybe I could check it out next time I get a hold of a Playbook I could delve more into these features. Hopefully they fix the firmware issues soon, but knowing RIM they probably are ready to roll out an update any moment now.
Operating System and Applications
The main selling point of the tablets are not just with their hardware but with the software and services that runs on them. The Playbook uses QNX as its operating system and it is definitely different from other mobile OS. Aside from the easy navigation using the swipe gestures, the interface itself is
easy to get used to. On the home screen you get your usual app icons which are categorized for easier management, on top of that lies the current running programs which could be minimized to show more of the app icons.
RIM also has its own application store called App World, and though the it clearly has a smaller number of apps compared to the competition, a lot of them are actually very functional and well made. A few apps worth noting, are the Facebook, Youtube and Twitter apps. There are also a lot of free applications for the Playbook problem is a few of them tend to be laggy. Another thing worth mentioning is the future Android support for the device. Yes, that means that you will be able to play android games and android apps on your Playbook soon. This was confirmed by APAC’s marketing director during their Philippine launch party.
Out of the box, the Playbook also has Office applications installed. An employee’s dream come true, opening and editing documents on the tablet and working on the go… Sarcasm aside, this makes the Playbook very productive, I did try to push an excel and a word document into the PB, did some editing and it was great. This would be golden for people who wants to get some quick edits in before a meeting. Plus delivering your presentation with it makes you more professional and convincing, this might just be what you need to close that business deal.
NomNomNom… All work and no Play makes a user a dull boy. RIM may be targeted for those more on the professional side but they also understood that professional users also have a life. Therefore they made sure the PB stock software are entertaining as well as functional to keep users happy.
Playbook’s stock browser is a joy to use, being a full webkit browser does have it’s perks. You get to browse the internet in its full glory with Flash integration… Only cons against it is that it takes it’s sweet time to load, I don’t mind waiting a few seconds but hopefully they improve loading tim
es on it to be competitive. Once the page is fully loaded navigating through it is quick and responsive enough, pinch to zoom would be your best friend especially while browsing text heavy websites. I also like the way the browser handles tabs, like all applications on the Playbook when you swipe in from the top a menu show and through there open tabs could be previewed and selected.
One thing that a media player on device should have is audio/video format support. As a user I was definitely pleased with the PB’s wide support for video formats, just because I don’t want to convert a movie or a video just so I could enjoy it on the device. Sadly though there is no Matroska support but I would not expect this thing to view a 4gb mkv video, it would just be cruel. I am also pleased with the audio player, album management and navigation lets you look for your songs easily and audio playback is also nice, it has support for mp3, wma and aac… a normal user got nothing more to ask from it.
Gaming on the Playbook is very nice, it has Need For Speed out of the box and is running seamlessly. Though it has the power to play such games, problem is the lack of games on it. If they however manage to make the support for Android apps work then the problem will be solved. It would also be great if they could support development on more titles like what they did for NFS.
During the three day span of my review, I only charged the unite once! It was continuously hooked to wifi whenever it was available. During the times I was a work, I looped music or videos but it still lasted me an entire day. The only time it was drained was when I played non-stop the whole day but other than that it usually lasted the whole day. Having that enormous battery life also has its downs when charging through usb, it actually took 4 hours continuous charge to bring the battery back up.
RIM has something special here with the Playbook, it has the unique looks and awesome build quality that makes it stand out from the competition. Unlike most tablets that is marketed as a standalone device, I am impressed on RIM’s concept of the tablet as a more powerful extension of your smartphone. With tethering and BB Bridge, you won’t have to spend on another data plan while still letting you enjoy videos and web browsing on a bigger screen. It’s is a diamond in the rough that needs more polishing to be perfect, maybe the next version would be better but the current version isn’t that bad either, RIM just have to provide good support for its customers. Is it worth buying one? It would definitely be a nice add on to your smartphone especially if you have an unlimited data plan or you are currently a BB phone user — for those who wants it as a standalone tablet, you are better off with another brand, more so if you consider a larger screen and price a big factor.
Oh and don’t forget to check Hannah’s video review on the Playbook, after all she owns it.
And here is me giving the Playbook a quick handson for When In Manila