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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review - BlackBerry PlayBook

OK. I'm going to jump on the bandwagon and write a review about the BlackBerry PlayBook.

I wrote recently about how I wanted one; and so, I went out and got one.  Having read all the reviews I could find, and seeing how many were quite disparaging; then getting the opportunity to actually use one; I couldn't understand the negative comments.

So, here, for what it's worth, is my personal view of the PlayBook.  I have the original iPad, so will compare against that (but I know the iPad 2 offers slightly better specs).

Build and Size
The PlayBook is solid.  It's half the height of the iPad (in portait) and the same width, weighing just 425g (under 1lb)

With a 7" screen, offering a resolution of 1024 x 600, it's a great size for carrying around.

There are 4 external buttons - the power switch, and media controls (start, pause and volume +/-)
I've read complaints about the power switch being too recessed. RIM must have heard, because on mine, it's flush with the body, which is ideal.

There is a headphone socket, and along the bottom, a micro USB port, a micro HDMI port and a port for a fast charger.  It's not possible to expand the memory; like the iPad, it's a fixed storage volume.

Operating System
RIM went back to the drawing board when they designed this baby.  Using the talents of the folks at QNX, they have designed an OS that is so fluid and intuitive, I'd be surprised if it doesn't surface on their smartphones in the not-to-distant future.
Running a dual-core 1GHz processor, with another 1Gb of RAM, this is a quick beast.

With full Adobe Flash built-in, this is a machine that shows the web they way it's meant to be seen.  That's one thing that the iPad can't do; and is a major selling point.

Whilst I'm talking web, I also compared the speed of loading websites, and the PlayBook was quicker on every site I tried.  A definite winner.

Since there is no 'home' button, everything is operated through the use of 'gestures'.  Swiping across the screen (up, down, diagonal) brings up various context-sensitive options, keyboard and settings.  The bezel (the black screen surround) is part of this, and is a clever use of the otherwise wasted space around the screen.

The fluid way the apps switch; not to mention the true multi-tasking ability, makes this a beautiful tablet to operate.  The web browser allows for multiple tabs too.

Offering 1080p HD video, and two high-definition cameras (3MP on the front and 5MP on the rear) the picture quality is flawless.  There is no flash.

The built in media player is good; but I have to admit that the iPad has the advantage.  Watching a film, the sound and picture quality is great; however, the iPad remembers where you are when you stop watching; and resumes where you left off.  The PlayBook doesn't do that.  It's not a big thing (and in the grand scheme is certainly not a deal-breaker!)

On the subject of sound, the PlayBook offers stereo speakers - a definite improvement on the tinny speaker on the iPad.

The initial release of the PlayBook is Wi-Fi only (3G is due later this year) and it works very well.  It's possible to tether any mobile phone (via bluetooth) to get online, or use a Mi-Fi dongle outside of a Wi-Fi area.

Of major criticism has been the lack of native calendar and email applications.  I thought long and hard about this, and tried the BlackBerry Bridge that RIM devised.  This allows you to pair the PlayBook with your BlackBerry and use the applications on that.  It's a clever idea, and it works. You can also access files on the smartphone.  Once the connection is cut, the access to the apps is removed.

Cleverly, you can use this bridge to access BBM, and use the larger screen and keyboard to write messages.

The other criticism is the lack of apps.  These days, the world of tablets is governed by the applications available for it.  However, allow me to counter this by saying, when the iPad was released, the majority of apps were for the iPhone, and didn't scale properly on a larger screen (take facebook as an example).  Over time, apps were built and Apple have managed this to great success.

No-one is pretending that BlackBerry will grow to the heady heights of the App Store; but there are apps available for the PlayBook; and with the promise of an Android player, then the number of apps will increase quickly.

There's plenty more I could write, including being able to wirelessly update the software, copy files wirelessly between the PlayBook and PC; and the fact you're not tied to an ecosystem like iTunes.

It's a beautifully designed tablet.

To all the Apple fans out there; who just want to knock something that isn't created by Mr Jobs; take a proper look at how a tablet can be all things to all men (and women).
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