BlackBerry PlayBook Review [Video]

The name “PlayBook” is interesting considering where it comes from (hint: it’s a sports metaphor). The Playbook is RIM’s latest attempt at market viability. This BlackBerry tablet, while enterprise friendly, is trying to gain a foothold in the consumer tablet mountain with their eyes on the summit currently held by Apple. Although the idea of “play” is not something that comes to mind when looking over RIM’s earlier domination of enterprise markets, this concept might get them where they want to be and rescue some of their lost market share from the mountain peak.

Hardware

As you can see from the image above, the PlayBook is pretty minimalistic in its design. It is very easy to miss the speakers hidden in its ample bezel, and the very small power and volume buttons on the top. The outer metal chassis has a rubbery feel to it, and is pretty solid with no give of any kind.

At the bottom you will find micro-HDMI, micro-USB, and a proprietary three-prong charging connector for use in its docking cradle or with the optional external adapter — charging at twice the rate of micro-USB. To round out this tablet, you have a five megapixel camera out the back, while only a three megapixel unit for front-facing image capture. The seven-inch, 1,024 x 600 display is not the brightest I have seen, but does deliver great clarity with decent viewing angles.

For the internal components (guts if you will), the Playbook has a dual-core, 1GHz TI OMAP processor, 1GB of RAM, and either 16, 32, or 64 GB storage available managed by the QNX OS. Connectivity is handled by 802.11a/b/g/n plus Bluetooth (sorry, no 3G yet). While I didn’t have the opportunity to see how well it connects to a PC or Mac, I have read that it doesn’t allow for mass storage and only offers limited ability to move items to and from the device.

Interface and Impressions

The PlayBook has an active bezel. This means that the capacitors are not only on the touchscreen but go into the bezel to add to the variety of gestures. Most gestures start at the edge of the pixels and move inward in some fashion but I found it easier to just start at the bezel. Let’s go over a few of the basic gestures:

  • Wake the Device: Swipe from one bezel across to the other side of the screen as opposed to traditionally pressing a power button
  • Switch from Running App to the Next: Swipe in from the left or right edge, scrolling left or right though the list
  • Have a More Detailed View/ List of Running Apps/ List of Favorites: Swipe up from the bottom bezel
  • Delete an App: grab it and throw it upwards sending it to the trash or the less theatrical way of tapping the tiny x that shows up next to its name
  • View the Context Menu for the App/ Address Bar/ Tool Bars: Swipe down from the top bezel
  • Access System Menus & Functions: Swipe in from any top corner

At first I found the interface frustrating. This is because it wouldn’t really accept mid-screen swipes very well, but then I realized you had to swipe further out. Sure, you could read the instructions when you buy the tablet, but where is the fun in that? How intuitive is reading instructions? Meh. The tablet is easiest with a bit of practice and knowing some of the basic gestures.

I am not going to go into specific apps, while there are few for now, the list should get bigger and with proposed Android support who knows what the future holds for this tablet. What I will discuss is the browser, whether for fun or work the browser will probably be the most used item on this thing.

The Browser

I fired up the browser and launched pinglio.com. The site took a bit longer to load on the Playbook than it would on, say, an iPad 2. It was a slight disappointment considering it loaded on WiFi about as fast as my iPhone would on 3G. For major sites it did well with loading images and videos quickly showing little signs of skipping or buffering. It’s not a speed demon, but it does the job fast enough so you don’t end up throwing it across the room. As stated earlier, if you swipe top down a context menu for the browser appears with an address bar, tabs, and favorites.

The Keyboard

One thing that did make me want to throw it across the room was its keyboard. Sure, for a simple address its kind of nice, well spaced, touch responsive, and pretty. But like a Barbie its all glam without substance. Buried deep within the symbols menu you’ll notice numbers, special keys, exclamation point, question marks… the list goes on. This makes typing anything meaningful a pain in the butt which is crazy since you can create Microsoft Word .doc files.

Conclusion

Overall the PlayBook is a nice piece of hardware with slight flaws in the software. While the OS is a nice experience and promises to be a decent platform for RIM, it’s lacking in productivity apps (email, calender, etc.). Oh, sure you can get them if you run the BlackBerry Bridge, but that’s assuming you already have a BlackBerry. I also noticed there are very few apps on their app store, the music store is not very easier to navigate, they’ve implemented a keyboard from a 1990′s ATM, and there is a lack of network connectivity.

I tried using my iPhone hotspot with it, and it failed to connect. I am sure with enough time I could have figured it out, but I had no problems with the rest of the laptops and tablets in the store. If RIM is hoping for 100% crossover from BlackBerry users then I think they have a winner here. However, if you’re without a Blackberry and not in business (and other tablets are already grabbing market share in that regard as well), then there are better tablets for the same money. I can see BlackBerry users being quite impressed with the interface and its potential. I was impressed by the QNX OS. It’s too bad we won’t be seeing it on BlackBerry handsets anytime soon.

With future updates, RIM might be able to get itself some piece of that tablet market share pie that Apple, Motorola, and Samsung have been enjoying. Let’s hope it’s soon for RIM.

Marc is a tech-junky from Toronto. He has either been building computers or fixing problems with them since he was 9 years old. He was also the family member who could change the time on the VCR (tells you how old he is).