Its been a little over a month since I got my PlayBook and instead of waiting for OS version 2.0 to come out, I think Ill just do a review now and a second look later. As of this review, the current version I have on my PlayBook is OS version 1.0.8.XXXX. These last few digits dont really mean much. The main point is its not OS 2.0 which will be schedule for release February of 12. Those of you lucky enough to have gotten a PlayBook this holiday season may be wondering what others think about this tablet and what you may expect while using it. Sometimes, it takes experience to find gremlins in electronics. Ive found this is usually the case when using new software. After a month, Ive put the PlayBook to work and give you my honest take. Just how good is the PlayBook experience? Lets take a look at how well it performs, its usability, portability, features, and apps. There are also some things I dont like about this tablet. Lets go over them too.
Lots of people talk about processor specs and I think that gives users a false impression of the device. I dont dwell on technical specs except storage. The PlayBook is not an Android tablet nor is it an iPad. It is the first of its kind(QNX tablet) so we really dont know how the 1GHz dual-core processor will perform in the real world. The PlayBook ships with Need For Speed Undercover which is a graphically intensive game that showcases its processing power. Performance on the PlayBook is not consistent, however. More on this later. For the most part, the PlayBooks performance is great. You hardly notice any lag on the main screen and multi-tasking is also very good. It will only start to slow down when you have lots of apps running at the same time. One important thing I noticed about the PlayBook is how smooth the OS is. Swiping and using the bezel gestures is fast and consistent. The app menu is liquid smooth. Its funny, because RIM uses the term liquid graphics to market how smooth the UI feels. This little tablet really surprised me. It is better than a netbook for browsing the web. Using the browser app to surf the web is silky smooth and fast. Flash works well and the PlayBook renders the web very accurately, simulating the desktop experience. In comparison, my netbook was always slow to load pages and Flash would crawl at a snails pace. Multi-tasking takes about 30 minutes to get use to, then it becomes so intuitive to raise the Browser by swiping from the bottom bezel, open the Calculator app, then go back to the browser. All of this can be done in a few seconds with no fuss. As far as hardware, Ive been reading a few complaints about the power and volume buttons being hard to press. Ive never had any problems with it. As long as youre not a nailbiter, its a non-issue. About the volume buttons, same thing. No issue. I actually like having physical volume buttons instead of waking up the phone in order to use a software volume slider. That way, I can leave my PlayBook in its case and turn down the volume without having to wake up the screen.
The BlackBerry PlayBook is small compared to other tablets. Its dimension is 5.1 by 7.6 by 0.4. The form factor is about the size of a small notebook and that description is fitting. Its funny because a notebook is another marketing name for a laptop. To put it into perspective, the iPad and other full-size tablets are huge in comparison. If I had an iPad, I would probably leave it at home simply because its too big. The PlayBook is big enough to use comfortable for web-browsing but small enough to take out with you. I take the PlayBook in my hoodie or coat pocket every night to work. I dont need a bag for it, just my Journal Case. Ive heard people make a case for larger tablets and I suppose you do get more screen real-estate but you lose portability. Most tablet owners or people who are in the market for one probably already have computers. I still dont think my PlayBook can replace my desktop but its a great compliment to it.
The PlayBook can do your usual tablet stuff. You can play videos, listen to music, and browse the web. All of things are important so what features does the PlayBook bring? Besides the standard tablet features, the PlayBook can output via HDMI and be used in presentation mode. I havent had a chance to try this out, but this feature is supposed to work well and cater towards businessmen who frequent meetings. Similar to the iPad, the PlayBook also has a Video Chat app which works like Facetime. This app allows you to chat, web-cam style, to other PlayBook users. Probably the coolest feature on the PlayBook is BlackBerry Bridge. Bridge allows you to connect to your BlackBerry smart phone and sync with its features. With BlackBerry Bridge, you can use BBM, MemoPad, Contacts, Messages, and Tasks on your PlayBook. Out of all the Bridge features, the coolest feature is Bridge Browser. Bridge Browser allows you to surf the Internet on you PlayBook. How is this different from the standard browser? Well, if you are not in a wifi hotspot, you can have web access on your PlayBook by using the data on your BlackBerry smart phone. This is like tethering. Carriers hate this feature because you do not need an additional tetheriing plan to use Bridge Browser. Bridge Browser effectively mirrors the browser on your phone and sends it to the PlayBook. Pretty cool feature that works surprisingly well. One thing that I hope will be fixed in OS 2 is BBM. BBM on the PlayBook works but it seems to lag quite a bit. Im not sure if its the app itself or the phones bluetooth lagging when trying to communicate with the PlayBook. Either way, sometimes you can get a BBM message and not see it on the PlayBook. You need to close and reopen it in order for the message to refresh. Besides BlackBerry Bridge, the PlayBook is one of a few tablets that makes great use of multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is something lacking in first generation tablets but this looks to change as tablets mature. В Features are pretty standard with the notable exception of the BlackBerry Bridge. This isnt to say that the PlayBook lacks in features but rather it has all the things you need in a tablet.
This is where the PlayBook starts to lag behind compared to iOS and Android. The App World on the PlayBook is not as popular as the competitors. There isnt as much choice. Some of the stock apps that come on the PlayBook are actually links to the browser. The browser is very good but a dedicate and official Twitter app would be nice. The stock YouTube app isnt as rich as the web version. You can search for and watch YouTube videos but its missing key features like being able to log in, rate, comments, favorite, and subscribe to channels. A good treat I found was the Podcasts app. I used this app on my BlackBerry phone and I thought this was basically the same thing. With this app, you can download audio podcasts as well as video podcasts. This was a nice little upgrade from the radio-style podcasts I was use to. I found lots of the TAT(The Astonishing Tribe) inspired apps well polished like Pictures, Calculator, and Scrapbook but other third-party apps not nearly as good. Vevo is annoying as hell to use. Sure you can watch music videos but I found it much more convenient(and faster) to watch them on YouTube. The PlayBook gives you Slacker RadioВ stock but Pandora is missing in the App World. I think the App World needs more time to mature. There isnt even a decent instant messaging app. One of the big changes in OS 2.0 is the ability to load Android apps via an emulator. This will certainly help the PlayBook in the quantity department but the App World ecosystem needs improvements. Probably the best app in the PlayBooks ecosystem so far is the Browser. A good browser is often overlooked when talking about apps, but RIM really hit a home run with this one. The browser has standard features like history, tab browsing, and private browsing. Flash works which is obviously not available on its main competitor, the iPad. Pinch to zoom works well, with slight checkerboarding. A third-party browser like Opera would be nice though. Especially on a mobile oriented tablet like the PlayBook. Ive heard lots of complaints about the PlayBook not having a dedicated email app. To me, this is a non-issue. I already get my email on my phone and desktop. I can even read and compose emails on my PlayBook with BlackBerry Bridge. Yes, I know not everyone with a PlayBook has a BlackBerry but if you are knocking the PlayBook for not having an email app, just wait for OS 2.0 in February. A few apps that I would like to see on the PlayBook are Netflix, Pandora, and a turn-by-turn GPS app like Garmin.
After using the PlayBook for a month, Ive found a few things that annoy me. For one, Ive always found it irritating that the App World is laggy compared to the home screen. Scrolling through the app list on the PlayBook is buttery smooth but scrolling through the apps on the App World is jittery. Another thing that bothers me, and Ive thought about this for a while, is a lack of a universal menu. What I loved about my BlackBerry smart phone is the ability to press the menu button and do everything from there. Theres a menu system on the PlayBook but it varies from app to app(reminds me of Android). The menus are accessed by gesture swiping from the top bezel. You are then limited to what you can do depending on what app you use. For example, on my phone, if I open a picture, I can hit menu, then send it via email, delete, copy, move, etc. On the Pictures app on the PlayBook, I can only access the camera, browse through other pics, delete, and set as wallpaper. Wheres the option to send it via email, BBM, post on Twitter, or Facebook? Same thing goes with their News app. They have Edit, Update, and Options which isnt even a real Options setting. Its just an about page. How that got pass RIMs quality control is beyond me. And all the settings menu look different. Another thing that annoys me is the orientation lock bug. There are a few apps that only work in landscape mode. As you may know, you can lock the orientation of the PlayBook either in portrait or landscape mode. When you lock the PlayBook in portrait mode and then open an app that only works in landscape mode, it will revert to landscape mode. Once in a while, it will mess up the screen, cutting off an edge or locking up a section only to show a black bar. Im guessing this is due to conflicting access. You want portrait mode locked but the app youre trying to open requests landscape mode. When this happens, I would have to do a hard reboot. Another hangnail is the keyboard. The software keyboard is not bad, its just okay. It only seems to pop up randomly. Usually, you would tap on a text field and the keyboard would pop up. Sometimes, it wouldnt. Youd think you mistapped or it didnt register but you see the cursor in the text field. Then you have to use the bottom-left corner gesture to bring up the keyboard. This is a hangnail, a somewhat minor problem, and its just one of those rough edges that needs to be addressed. The tablet experience is refreshing but the BlackBerry polish still need buffering.
Overall, the BlackBerry PlayBook is a great tablet. All it really needs is more apps. This will come in time and especially after the 2.0 release. The hardware is good to last a few years which is a lifetime in the tech world. I love QNX even though I have some complaints. The OS is fast and multi-tasking is amazing. The PlayBook is just another example why the netbook is dying. A few things I think the PlayBook needs is a global menu which I dont think they will actually implement. Along with that, I think the PlayBook needs autotext/predictive text. Typing on the PlayBook, as with other tablets, is painfully slow. I type faster on my desktop and my phone compared to my PlayBook. I have lots of autotext shortcuts on my phone that I wish were also on my PlayBook. Typing would still be slow, but not unbearable. Watching YouTube videos is very convenient when Im on my bed and the browser is a joy. Having such a nice browser offsets some of the app-hunger since I can use the browser version of certain apps but you can only wait so long. I mainly leave the PlayBook on all the time. Waking it up takes a second and opening the browser takes another. In comparison to my netbook, my desktop, and even my phone, the PlayBook is much faster when it comes to waking up and opening a browser. Flash support doesnt hurt either. Sometime you only need to search for something simple like a phone number or street address. Lots of times, I shut off my desktop forgetting to do one simple thing and the PlayBook comes to the rescue. Overall, I think OS 1.0.8 is good but it needs more polishing. I dont expect third-party apps to be in sync with one another but I do expect official RIM apps to have a certain level of synergy. As a BlackBerry phone user, you get spoiled with the global menu and you wonder why its missing on the PlayBook. As far as the PlayBook overall, its a great tablet @ the holiday deal of $200. Besides a few annoyances, the tablet is fast and multi-tasking is great. Now that the Kindle Fire is out, I expect the MSRP will dropВ permanentlyВ in the near future. Stay tuned for a second look when 2.0 comes out.
*Update* OS2 is out. Check out my review here!
RIMs first tablet comes with great hardware and so-so software. The tablets shows great potential but is hindered by a lack of apps. The native e-mail problem is over-hyped as many tablet owners will already have smartphones but that has been fixed with OS2. The Browser is excellent. Paired with a BlackBerry smartphone, this tablet is killer combo with BlackBerry Bridge. All it needs is more developers. The PlayBook is an underrated tablet.