28 September 2011
We took a look at the Blackberry Playbook on TBB on release - though we missed getting it on the site at the time. So here's our closer look at what we feel is a slightly underrated RIM's 7 inch tablet, which has had limited success despite a lack of top shelf competition.
The Playbook is quite heavy for its 7 inch size, though it's still much more portable than 10 inch tablets including Apple's iPad 2. We think there's a neat division in use between the two sizes - 7 inch tablets are great for porting to and from work, and on the road when you are trying to spare your shoulders (especially important for those of us who are video journalists), while 10 inch tablets are great for keeping around the home, on planes and other times when you're not constantly on the move.
The screen on the Playbook is a winner - as good as we've seen. It's just a shame the black frame is so big - while it's to allow you to use the Playbook's handy gestures, it's hard not to feel its taking up much-preferred screen space.
The gestures certainly set it aside from the likes of Apple's edge-to-edge screens and while perhaps not enough to justify the loss of screen real estate, there's no doubt a dedicated control section gives you another interface option. It's the same philosophy that has both the touch-enabled Blackberry Torch and Bold Touch retain a touchpad - and we like having a few user interface options.
RIM's tablet has plenty of processor power for a reasonably lag-free tablet experience, and a beautiful screen to boot. Video was excellent and lag free. Multi tasking is very impressive - as you flick through the line of open tasks, they keep running (including video) as if to show off the Playbook's effortless handling of multiple apps. It's a serious productivity advantage over Apple products.
Disappointingly, we did experience a small bit of lag and jerkiness scrolling through the Facebook app. Still, at least it's got a Facebook app, unlike the iPad 2 (until October 4, anyway) - though the Twitter icon is a launcher that opens the social networking site on the browser, which is a distinctly slow and unpleasant experience. The accelerometer that switches between landscape and portrait is slow to "catch on" as well.
What distinguishes the Playbook from the pack is the ability to tether to a Blackberry phone. Not only is this effortless compared to some tethering experiences - but it's a serious cost saver since Blackberry plans offer unlimited browsing and email. Just remember that with a Bluetooth bridge, it'll be a noticeably slower browsing experience - you access a separate "Bridge browser" than if you were using the Playbook's own internet connection.
There's been plenty of grumbles about the lack of a native email application - the Playbook essentially "imports" your Blackberry phone's emails for the duration of the tethering session only, and it can be a bit slow given the Bluetooth connection. In principle however, I don't see that as a problem since we can't imagine why you'd own a Playbook if you didn't have a Blackberry phone. It's also possibly a workplace plus since you can use multiple Blackberries with one tablet. That said, we can see how say, a dedicated email app would be handy if you want to keep it separate from your work emails, and also just to avoid that Bluetooth lag.
The app situation, not surprisingly, is not good. We've already mentioned the lack of a Twitter app, and unlike the iPad's ability to use iPhone apps (looks ugly, but at least it's possible for crucial apps), the Playbook's app range is even less than Blackberry's already small selection.
The battery life is good. Not iPad 2 good, but good enough to get through at least a couple of days of heavy use, which is probably enough. You can also charge via any micro USB, though we've been told using the original charger is best.
So we like the Playbook for many reasons such as its great form factor, beautiful screen and swift performance. Multi-tasking is much appreciated and very solid. The ease of tethering to a Blackberry phone is a winner - if you have such a phone, of course. If you love Blackberry, the Playbook is a terrific complement to the keyboard phones such as the Bold Touch, particularly since the latter sport such small screens compared to the increasingly monstrous Android displays (which we think could even end up hurting Google's push into the 7 inch tablet market).
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