The BlackBerry PlayBook is Research In Motion’s (RIM) first foray in the tablet world. This 7-inch tablet gained a lot of accolades when it was announced in September last year. It was an exciting new product in a tablet market full of Androids and Apples.
This 7-inch tablet was recently released here in the country but it had already made impressions (good and bad) in the US market a few months prior. We’ll let you know how the PlayBook really fares in this review especially here in the Philippines where there are quite a lot of BlackBerry loyalists.
The BlackBerry PlayBook falls in the 7-inch category and personally I think the design here is done just right. The thickness, the subtle curved edges and the soft matte finish at the back makes it pleasant to hold.
The front is void of any buttons since navigation is done onscreen with the use of gestures. What you’ll see up front is the 3-megapixel front-facing camera, a LED indicator and the speakers on both sides. No physical buttons or touch panels means a symmetric look and for the untrained eye the PlayBook resembles a digital picture frame with the BlackBerry logo.
On the top side of this tablet you will see the tiny power/wake button and also media controls. The size of the power button makes it hard to press so RIM made an update that adds a lock button onscreen and allows you to wake it up using a multi-finger swipe. The volume control also acts as next and previous when doing a double-press and it will also take screenshots when pressed simultaneously. Situated on the right corner is a 3.5mm audio jack.
There’s nothing at the left or right and at the bottom you’ll see a mini-HDMI port, microUSB port and a proprietary 3-pin port for docks and accessories. The micoUSB port is used for charging and data connection. That is big because you can use any microUSB cable to connect to your PC unlike other tablets which requires you to have their proprietary cables. At the back is just the 5-megapixel camera and the BB logo.
A minimalist design that looks premium on a size that you can easily store inside your coat’s pocket, I’m giving the PlayBook an A+ for design.
Display and UI
The 7-inch WSVGA (1024 x 600) display of this tablet is the brightest and sharpest I’ve seen and it really surprised me. Comparing it to the 7-inch Galaxy Tab, images on the PlayBook looks really, really good. You would definitely enjoy watching your HD videos here.
RIM created their own gesture-based UI for the PlayBook. Navigating is done by performing swipes onscreen or from the bezel. It’s not that intuitive and you need to read the manual or have somebody show you how. But once you get the hang of it (which is quick if I may add), you will enjoy the simplicity and fluidity of the UI.
To give a few examples, swiping down from the top will bring you the menu for the app or settings for the PlayBook depending which screen you’re on. Swiping to the left or right from the center is like performing will tab to the next open application. And my favorite, when in the multi-task screen, clicking an app and flicking it upwards will close it. This tablet is a real joy to use.
The BlackBerry PlayBook is powered by 1GHz dual core processor with a gig of RAM for good measure. Most importantly, it runs on its own OS by QNX which is very optimized for this tablet’s use and you can really feel the power of this one.
I am very impressed on how smooth every transition is, virtually no lag. One of its core feature, which is multitasking, is unlike any other tablets I’ve used. You can open multiple applications and see them running side by side. In the multitask view, you can see a video playing, your game still running while a page is loading. You may not have the need for it most of the time but it clearly demonstrates the PlayBook’s power.
RIM is proud of the native browser in their PlayBook. Sites are displayed as it is without any issues in rendering and it also supports Flash. YouTube site loads as if you’re doing it on your desktop. It also loads Flash games including those found in Facebook. It doesn’t support the built-in video chat on Facebook as of the moment.
It’s important to point out that when you pair your BlackBerry phone with the PlayBook to use its mobile internet, a different browser called Bridge Browser is used. I’m thinking it has something to do with data compression to conserve your BIS bandwidth.
As I mentioned regarding the display, the one on the PlayBook is the brightest and sharpest I’ve seen on a tablet so far. This makes it a really nice portable media player especially for HD videos. I tried watching a hi-def 2GB mp4 file and the colors and clarity just blew me away. And playback is really smooth as well. No lag when scanning through the movie. DivX files are supported but it can’t play my 4GB MKV files. With the HDMI out, you can bring this over to a friend’s house and watch HD movies from it to the big screen.
With the speakers at the front on both sides, listening won’t be a problem here. Sound quality quite good for a tablet. The music app is laid out quite nice and simple so you won’t have problems navigating at all. It is very usable as a portable music player on your desk.
For a device with powerful specs and nice visuals, the PlayBook also excels in gaming, if there are enough high quality games that is. Right now, the only game you can show off with the PlayBook is Need For Speed.
The game loads pretty fast and gameplay is smooth without any stuttering at all. You can even continue playing your game while in the multitask view. However, once you’re done with the game, you probably won’t use the PlayBook for gaming until they RIM comes up with newer quality titles. There’s always Hangman in the App World though. Hehehe.
The PlayBook works well with your BlackBerry phone. Pairing is very, very easy and you can use your phone’s BIS on the PlayBook to go online (aim for a 3G phone). You will also have access to your calendar, notes, contacts, messages and mail when paired with your BlackBerry.
If you want to know more how the experience is when using the PlayBook in conjunction with a BlackBerry phone, Liane wrote a nice article about it.
Lack of apps
So far you’ve heard almost nothing but praises for the PlayBook. Design and spec-wise, I have no complaints with this device. But, and it’s a big one, the lack of apps seriously hinders this tablet from taking off which is unfortunate given the excellent computing experience the PlayBook can offer.
You can forgive RIM for the lack of quality games since the PlayBook can still be a formidable portable media device. However, where’s Skype or other video chat apps? The only way you can video chat right now is with another PlayBook device. Where’s the much needed mail, calendar, contacts, notes app that you can use without having the need to pair with a BlackBerry phone? I would think of getting a PlayBook even if I don’t have a BB phone if only those apps are present. Then I seriously want a free or a native e-Reader that allows me to load my book collection. There’s a Kobo reader you can get for free but then you would have to spend on books you already have just to put it in the PlayBook.
In RIM’s defense, they are going to release an update that would let you install and run Android apps on the PlayBook. This would be a good move for them instead of developing their own version of popular apps Android currently have.
If I want a portable tablet where I could watch my HD videos and TV series, listen to my music, browse the web without any limitation then the PlayBook is something I would strongly consider. It’s a very smooth and powerful tablet in a compact and quality package.
However, I most certainly want to do more with it. I want to check my Google calendar and my Yahoo! mail without having to launch the browser and visit the sites. I want a tablet-friendly app that would allow me to do those. Owning a BlackBerry phone though will give you more mileage on the PlayBook. You can share your cheap 3G BIS connection when paired with your phone, and you will have access to your mail on a bigger display.
We would like to see the BlackBerry PlayBook succeed and I hope RIM would put in more effort into getting the much-needed functionalities to make their tablet compete with the Androids and iPads out there. I believe the Php23,990 price tag for the 16GB is just right for a WiFi tablet of this caliber.
|BlackBerry PlayBook Specs:|
|1 GHz dual-core processor using QNX Neutrino microkernel architecture|
|7″ LCD multi-touch capacitive display (1024 x 600)|
|16GB, 32GB or 64GB internal storage|
|Full Adobe Flash 10.1 enabled|
|Built-in support for HTML 5|
|WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n|
|Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR|
|BlackBerry Tablet OS|
|5 MP autofocus read camera, 3 MP high-def front camera|
|1080p HD video recording and playback (MPEG4, WMV, H.264, DivX/Xvid)|
|Micro USB and Micro HDMI ports|
|Pricing: Php23,990 (16GB), Php28,990 (32GB), Php33,990 (64GB)|
Also read: The BlackBerry PlayBook Experience