Monday, November 21, 2011

BlackBerry Playbook Review

We’re all too familiar with Android tablets and the iPad so when we were introduced to the BlackBerry Playbook with its own mobile operating system, we paused for a while to re-think the UI, navigation and over-all usability. Read our full review of RIM’s BlackBerry Playbook after the jump.

RIM’s approach to a tablet is something that’s thin, light and very portable that’s why they invested in a 7-inch form factor instead of the more popular 10-incher segment. Of course, that’s not to say they might put up a bigger tablet in the future once this one pans out.
This move has its inherent benefits as well as disadvantages, depending on each individual case use. Larger tablets are more attractive to folks that look bigger screen real-estate whenever they want to watch movies, browse the web or play games. However, they are oftentimes heavy and bulky to carry around.

Like many other 7-inch tablets, the Blackberry Playbook offers a more jacket-pocket friendly mobile device (or for the ladies, the usual hand or clutch bag) light enough not to be too cumbersome for all-day use.
At first look, the Playbook does have that impression that it’s just a well-crafted digital picture frame. The glossy all-glass front panel and the simple, squarish design that’s devoid of any buttons or accent is the obvious culprit. The thick black bezel around the sides adds to the same impression.

On the top end, there’s a very small silver-metal power button beside the volume control and media playback (play/pause button) and at the far right, the 3.5mm audio port. At the bottom end are ports for the micro-USB and mini-HDMI. The absence of a micro-SD port is disappointing but how else can RIM sell the 32GB and 64GB variants if they’d include it, right? (That’s the same strategy Apple did with the iPad).
The tablet is very thin at just 9.7mm and weighs around 0.9lbs. It’s actually thinner than any other BlackBerry smartphone RIM has ever produced. The display crisp and bright and the screen is very responsive to the touch.

The Playbook runs on it’s own operating system, the BlackBerry Tablet OS, which is based on the QNX Neutrino OS. RIM will also be migrating to QNX with the upcoming BlackBerry OS 7 for their smartphones (with the upcoming BB Bold 9900).
IMO, the Blackberry Tablet OS truly represents what multi-tasking should be done on a tablet — applications actively run simultaneously on the screen and in the background. That means you can play Need for Speed while loading a YouTube video on a browser in the background and watch a movie at the same time. Oh wait, you can actually record videos with its 5MP camera in full HD while still doing all those.

The Playbook actually allows you 3 levels of application behavior — Showcase (all applications are active and never pause in the background, Default (an application in active in the background until another application goes fullscreen and Paused (all applications are paused in the background and activated when tapped). This setting helps you conserve power on the tablet.
The Playbook’s navigation relies on the edges of the screen (the bezel part) and gestures from that end activates several menus and controls the panels/windows for individual apps that’s running in the background.

It could be confusing at times but once you get the hang of it, works like a charm. The UI, while intuitive and elegant, could be a little challenging to some age group (my 7 year old niece had no problem navigating the iPad but I’m pretty sure he’ll easily get lost with the Playbook).
Central to the usability of a tablet is the collection of apps available to it. RIM has the BlackBerry App World for some time now but the number of available apps seems to be a bit lacking. Most of the basic apps are there — a native Facebook app, a couple of paid Twitter apps (Blackbird & Blaq at $1.99 each), the FourPlay app for FourSquare, Bluebox as a DropBox client and a few more. Prepare to shell out a couple of bucks to get the useful ones.

Compared to the Android Market and the iTunes App store, the BlackBerry App World pales in comparison. However, RIM is said to be working a software that will allow Android apps to be installed and run on the Playbook.
RIM BlackBerry Playbook
7″ capacitive display @ 1024×600 pixel
1GHz dual-core CPU
16GB, 32GB, 64GB internal storage
5MP rear camera
3MP front-facing camera
1080p Full HD video recording
HDMI port
micro-USB port
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
Bluetooth 2.1
BlackBerry Tablet OS

Unlike some tablets that offer a WiFi+3G variant, the Playbook is available in WiFi only models. What RIM did was introduce a built-in feature called BlackBerry Bridge — a wireless Bluetooth connection between your Blackberry phone and Playbook so you can connect to the internet using your phone’s 3G network. It also activates access to native email, calendar and BB Messenger. Would have been a nice idea but also crippling to many others who don’t own a Blackberry phone (gives us the impression that RIM made the Playbook for BlackBerry users only).

Here are some really nice features I found native to the BlackBerry Playbook:
  • WiFi Sharing. Allows the Playbook to share files and folders over local WiFi network so transferring movies, documents and music is very fast & easy.
  • Internet Tethering. You can connect the Playbook to any phone via Bluetooth and be able to use the phone’s 3G to connect to the internet (tried it with a Nokia E6 and t’was very easy; no need for Joikuspot).
  • Application Behavior. As mentioned earlier, this sets how applications behave in the background.

Movie and music playback on the BB Playbook is really good — movies run smoothly at 720p but you can hook it up to an external TV via HDMI for full HD 1080p playback. The speakers are placed smack in the front, right along the sides so the audio is directly straight to you (most other tablets put the speakers at the bottom or the back so the sound is often times muted or obstructed).
The built-in browser is pretty slick, fast and renders pages very well. It can even play YouTube HD at the full 1080p resolution and FarmVille for Facebook right on the browser.

Battery life is actually impressive for its size. The 5300mAh built-in Li-Ion battery can play about 6 hours of videos (that’s around 3 full movies) while browsing the web over WiFi on a single full charge.
The 5MP rear camera on the Playbook is arguably the best one I’ve tried on a tablet. It takes very decent stills and 720p videos. Here are sample photos and videos taken using the Playbook.

Don’t forget to tick the 720p video settings on YouTube.

The BlackBerry Playbook is a very promising tablet and is something worth waiting for. Simple, yet elegant design, sleek form factor, ideal weight and size, a powerful processor and flexible multi-tasking OS plus a selection of storage options up to 64GB. Its got its own share of shortcomings like the native BlackBerry features and the selection of apps in the BlackBerry App World (the BlackBerry Bridge is a useful feature when you’re already using a BlackBerry handset).
If RIM can really make Android Apps work on the Playbook, that would be awesome. RIM is also working on a software update to allow native applications (mail, calendar, etc) to work even without the BB Bridge.

The Playbook is not yet officially released in the Philippines but we’ve got word it might land in the country by end of July or probably early August. Globe Telecom is said to be the exclusive distributor of the tablet. The Playbook starting price is $499 for the 16GB model (it’s Php22k in Singapore so I’m guessing Php25k to Php27k here)

1 comment :

  1. The physical appearance of the device is again very pleasing and the matte finish on the back is extremely grippy so it feels stable in your hands, also having the camera in the middle means your fingers won't be able to smudge it like when you hold an iPad 2 in portrait.