After half a decade away, I jump back into Android with the launch of the 2013(2nd gen) Nexus 7. Ive got to say, things have changed! I bought this tablet for a few reasons. First, its damn cheap compared to the Galaxy Tabs(Notes), and Apples iPad Mini. Second, it has the highest pixel density out of all the 7 inch tablets currently. And last, its pure Android without the Samsung bloatware. For $230, its a pretty good deal. Some people think tablets are toys and while they can be good fun, I find them extremely useful for doing quick research, reading articles, and quickly looking up a video. Continue reading Nexus 7 (2013) Full Review: Android Revisited→
RIM is no stranger to bad press. When the whole blogosphere is counting down the days until they die, you know something is wrong. Ive been using BlackBerry for a few years now. As much as I love the phone, there are lots of things about it that I cant stand. A brief history. my first real smart phone was an Android and I decided to try out BlackBerry. Ive used it for the past few years and although things have gone relatively smooth, there are still issue about this phone that bugs me. The browser sucks, the phone is slow to boot, I need to reboot after every app I install or remove, the app world sucks, and watching that spinning clock makes me want to throw the phone at my wall. Enough rambling, lets get this down on a nice list.
1. The Browser sucks!
2. Long Reboots
I dread seeing app updates available for my phone. You would think this is very convenient that you get a message in your inbox reminding you of app updates but what this really means is enduring another long reboot. My computer takes less than a minute to boot up, why does my phone take 11 minutes to boot up? Yes, Ive timed it. Even then, I still have to wait for the phone to become usable as the system hangs and verify security. Sometimes, I would wait for a bunch of updates to build up and install them all at once. Then I would reboot the device once instead of doing it each and every time I update an app. The long reboots are required for app updates, installations, and removals. The process reminds me of those long anti-virus/malware scans I used to endure when I was using Windows. I didnt miss it when I went to Linux and I wouldnt miss it if this hassle went away. On Android, when you install apps, you can use it right away without rebooting. Same for removing them. BB10 is supposed to unify the smart phone with the QNX PlayBook OS and you dont have to reboot after installing apps so until then, this is something that sucks about BlackBerry.
3. App World and App Selection
Lets face it. The App World sucks. Android and iOS have a larger library of apps compare to BlackBerry App World. They always seem to be talking about a milestone which is currently over 70k apps but I dont see them. Most of the apps on the App World are garbage. I came from Android and they are not immune to trash either but where are the good apps? Honestly, it doesnt matter to me how many apps are in xyz store. What I am looking for is quality apps. Im looking for Skype, Netflix, HuluPlus. You know, the big names. Too often I hear about a cool new app and they offer a mobile app. Download for iPhone or Android. Wheres BlackBerry? Is this necessarily a fault of RIM? Yes and no. While its not technically RIMs fault that people dont develop apps for the platform, us end users dont really care. We just want the apps. When we open the App World and cant find Skype, we dont think, Man, Skype should make an app for BlackBerry or the PlayBook. No. We think, Why isnt there any apps on BlackBerry App World? What is RIM doing about it? I hate the App World. If I hear about a cool new app, I can count that it wont be available on BlackBerry.
4. Stale Phones
Pretty much all BlackBerry smart phones aside from the Storm/Torch/Style are the same. Thats not necessarily a bad thing. RIM found a formula that works for them and the keyboard is iconic to the BlackBerry image. The problem with that is people are getting bored. They want something different. I believe what RIM is suffering from is happening to Apple. After years of the same thing, same style, and same phone, people will look for something new. It happened(is happening) to RIM and its happening to Apple. Just look at what people are saying about the iPhone, 3G, 3GS, 4, and 4S. I will say Apple is executing things a bit better than RIM. All their phones are good when they come out. RIM tends to spread themselves thin with lots of variations especially cheaper entry-level phones like the Curve. Dont get me wrong. I have the Curve and its a decent phone but I always have Bold envy when I see it. iPhone users enjoy having a great product because they know their phones were top of the line at one time. They are never treated as second class. Cheaper phones are good for market penetration in developing countries but I live in the US. I dont care about marketing strategies in India and Africa. Most iPhone users have a sense of pride when owning their phones. Once upon a time, BlackBerry users had this feeling too. Not anymore.
5. 1 Convenience Key?
It appears when they are moving in the right direction, you catch them taking one step backwards. One of those nice little perks about owning a BlackBerry was the convenience keys. On older BlackBerry phones, you had two, one on each side. One is usually automatically set up for the camera and the other is set up for voice commands(that sucks). You could set these convenience keys to quickly open up your favorite apps or in my case, turn on the flashlight for those time when I needed some light. Quick, convenient and cool. Tell me why in their infinite wisdom that they decided to remove 1 convenience key? Why? What was the point? Did people have too many keys to press? I can tell you from my experience that 1 in not enough. Its little things like these that piss off your users.
6. Poor Media
From my understanding, BlackBerry smart phones, in general, are not very good phones for media consumption. Now, I say from my understanding because when it comes to music, my Curve rocks. Maybe because my Curve has these sweet media keys at the top of the phone. I can play/pause, and seek tracks easily without having to open the music interface. These keys even work for Pandora radio. Every other BlackBerry do not have these media keys and navigating the media player can be a hassle. Not to mention if you want to view videos, youll have to settle with the usually small screens. This makes consuming any rich video media a pain like watching YouTube.
7. Small Screens
While Android and iPhone users get to enjoy their large touchscreens, BlackBerry users are still stuck using screens about half their size. There are some exceptions like the Torch line and the now dead Storm but for the most part, a small screen over a full QWERTY keyboard is what we get. Today, multimedia, web browsing, and gaming are big parts of what most use their smart phones for. Doing that on a screen half as large is twice as inconvenient. Its a general trend that most people prefer using a phone with a full size screen rather than a full size keyboard. The convenience of a larger screen outweighs the lack of a physical keyboard for the average consumer. This is especially true with the growing popularity of HD media. Smart phone trends say, small screens are out, large screens are in.
Android has gotten better over the years but there are still many things I dont like about it. To put it bluntly, I hate Android. I tried to support it and I actually liked it for a while. Over the years, I got tired of nearly everything about it. I have used Linux for a few years since Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon and fell in love with the open source movement. Ive come to realize that all the hype about being open and portraying Apple and RIM as the evil closed platform was all a deception. Google Play(formerly Android Market) adds movie rentals, books, and music all in one convenient shop. The new market is not open source but a tightly controlled shop that Google aims to make big bucks with. No longer is it a simple library of applications but more like a Barnes and Nobles pushing its own products along with the usual selection. Its not just the changes to the market that I dont like. Theres a list(I love lists). Lets go through them.
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.
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.
What do most people do when they get a shiny new BlackBerry PlayBook? Besides bragging to their friends on how cheap they got it($200 in time for Black Friday), they look for cool apps! TheВ BlackBerry App WorldВ is not known for having tons of apps likeВ Apples iTunes storeВ orВ Androids MarketplaceВ but there are still gems if you dig hard enough and the selection is growing every day. Luckily for you, Ive done some of the prospecting for you and made a list ofВ 5В must have apps after buying a PlayBook. Keep in mind that none of these apps include games. Quite frankly, I think that deserves its own article. This is my personal list. If yourВ opinion differ, feel free to share it below. Enough chit-chat. Lets check out the apps.
After updating the PlayBooks OS and playing around with the stock apps, I quickly noticed that the Twitter icon is not a real app. Instead, its just a hyper-link that opened up the browser and took you to the mobile Twitter site. Needless to say, I was looking for a Twitter client. What I found was Tweedless. Tweedless is a free Twitter app that not only looks good, but it have lots of features. Currently, Tweedless cam only be used in landscape mode but thats not a big deal. The user interface is very Windows Phone 7-esque. That isnt to say its a bad thing. That black and orange theme gives it a professional look. Two complaints so far is the scrolling could be optimized a bit further and there doesnt seem to be a way to post pics. A few updates should take care of these minor issues.
Scrapbook For making collages
The next app that you have to pick up is a sweet little picture app called Scrapbook. This one is actually made by The Astonishing Tribe which was recently acquired by RIM. This neat little app allows you to make nice little collages of pictures in your media folder. It sounds simple and it really is but the execution is brilliant. It really showcase the performance and beauty of the PlayBook. Little touches like the monkeys eyes being affected by gravity and movement really makes this app feel polished and detailed. Its one of those fun apps that compliment your existing photos app. Its so nice, it shouldve been included by default.
Conqu A task manager
After playing around with some media, lets get to work. The third app on this list is Conqu. This app is a task manager. With this app, you can create to-do style tasks to help you stay productive during the day. You can set priorities, energy level, flag color, task time, add tags, and even sync it online with Conqusync. These are nice features but probably the coolest feature is the ability to collaborate with others. You can create tasks and assign it to someone. This is great for project managers or people who just need to get things done on time. This app is so good, it should replace the BlackBerry Bridges Task app.
BlackBerry News RSS reader
How about keeping up with the news? The next app on our list is BlackBerry News for the PlayBook. This is basically an RSS reader. BlackBerry News has a few feeds preloaded and you can remove them if you wish. You can find other feeds by either searching for them or pasting the feed URL. This feed reader has your usual scrolling in portrait mode but things get interesting once you go into landscape mode. Your feeds turn into a newspaper. This gives the app a unique feeling over other feed readers. This app isnt perfect though. When you go into options, there is no options to set. Its basically an about page. Also, when you click on a feed group to read, all the feeds in that group gets marked as read regardless whether you viewed them or not. One last thing. It feels more natural to scroll down in the landscape magazine mode but you can only scroll side to side. Maybe theyll change it in the future. This one is free. Pick it up.
Files & Folders File manager for onboard and cloud files
The last app on our list also happens to be the only one here you have to pay for. Its called Files & Folders. It is the only file manager you will ever need on your PlayBook. It can access files from BlackBerry Bridge, your PlayBook, Dropbox, Box.net, and Google Docs. You can send a file via email and you can also zip files but that feature is not yet fully implemented. There are other file managers in the App World and they work fine, but this app does them all. I dont need a Dropbox or Box.net app. If you sign up for a Box.net account, they are offering 50GB of cloud storage for a limited time. If you think about it, a 64GB PlayBook is $200 more than a 16GB PlayBook. You are paying $200 more for an extra 48GB. Just sign up for a Box.net account and youll get 50GB for free! And if you want to take it further, why not spend $2.99 for an awesome app that consolidate all your files without jumping from app to app? This app is money well spent.
So there you have it. These are 5 quick app you need to grab when you first get your PlayBook. There are other good apps out there and we will get to them. Not to mention the games available. There is also a matter of taste. I like the look and feel of Priority Feed but chose to use BlackBerry News for its organized layout. Can you add to this list? Do you prefer one app over the other? Why?
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