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Review of Blackberry PlayBook, Part 1
In this review I suggest analyzing this new RIM gadget without any conclusions as I am not sure about my feelings towards PlayBook. It is more interesting than Storm or Torch, but there are still too many reservations. The model still awaits localization for several foreign markets.
I will not compare it with iPad, because PlayBook is unlikely to enjoy similar popularity levels. If the first iPad did not have as many additional apps, its standard software worked better. PlayBook has many issues, which are often quite unexpected. It is still too raw. Updates are released in a timely fashion and are downloaded automatically, but it is not clear how long it will take until all bugs are eliminated.
You cannot familiarize yourself with PlayBook properly without taking it in hands to assess materials and build independently. There are many things to evaluate here as the gadget is unlike other tablets and has its unique selling points. Its front resembles a photo frame due to the broad rim around the screen. Above there is a 3MP camera lens and a light indicator. On both sides we see speakers, while the top features a 3.5 mm jack and at the bottom are located contacts for the dock station, microUSB jack for charging or USB cable with the microHDMI nearby. The pouch is made of cloth and its narrow opening makes it challenging to put the tablet inside. On the other hand it helps cleaning the screen from soiling. At the back you can find a 5MP camera lens and the omnipresent logo of the company. The gadget has the following dimensions: 194 х 130 х 10 mm and the weight is 425 g. It is rather heavy and after some time you can get tired if you use PlayBook on the sofa. It is too heavy for pockets of all types as well.
In general Blackberry traditions are observed. The color is black, while materials are impressive and the build is good. The sides have a metal rim and the back is made of rubber. The front is protected by the glass. When I held PlayBook with both hands I could reach almost any screen element.
The screen is easily soiled and you can see all fingerprints clearly enough.
A 7" screen offers the resolution of 1024 х 600. This touchscreen supports multitouch and boasts impressive viewing angles, brightness and response. I always value one simple test – the input of the text on the virtual keypad. There are no problems here and the gadget handles pressings accurately and quickly.
At the top there is an activation button, which also sends PlayBook into the sleep mode. The button is tiny and it takes some time to get accustomed to its location, which is not the best. Besides are situated volume controls buttons and the Play/Pause key. You can use it from time to time to stop the music playback quickly. The main controls element is a touchscreen.
As in the case with Blackberry we get numerous accessories for the new model. Cases of leather or neoprene, silicone back in many colors, cradle and a portable charger complete the lineup. Surprisingly, we were not offered the keypad, connector for memory cards and other traditional iPad accessories.
Look at the table with all possible Blackberry PlayBook variants available today:
I had a standard PlayBook with WiFi and Bluetooth. It is much better to have 3G model to allow operation where WiFi networks are not available.
The absence of 3G should not scare owners of RIM smartphones. The tablet has Blackberry Bridge, which has a detailed user guide. I tested the feature with Blackberry 9780. Install Blackberry Bridge on to the handset and to facilitate the search on the screen you see a bar code before going to App World. Bar codes have been in use for a long time. For example, in Blackberry Messenger they help to add a new contact. Similarly you can carry out the pairing. Start Bridge on the smartphone, scan the code and gadgets are connected automatically. Afterwards a new menu item (Blackberry Bridge) appears on the desktop. You can find there icons of apps associated with the smartphone - messages, contacts, browser, calendar, notes and tasks. Interestingly, if you want to download any file in the browser Bridge will ask you about the location of the file — in PlayBook or in the connected device. Accordingly you can use the connection to go online via the smartphone (Bluetooth). At least everything is reliable here and during the test the connection was always active. Automatic connection is available too. Once connected in the indicators line you see the Bridge icon. Messages are downloaded fast and all typical features are also available. It happens that the tablet turns into station for the smartphone as once Palm tried to achieve. Nevertheless, the Folio project was closed down. Apart from the mail you can work with the calendar, tasks, notes and browser in the Bridge mode. Beyond WiFi networks the download speed in 3G is good enough and pages are displayed quite fast.
Overall I got a strange feeling that Blackberry Bridge is a weird addition. Modern users are unlikely to value such a combination. I would rather enjoy a proper client, a SIM card slot to rule out the necessity of connecting the tablet to the smartphone for ordinary operations. Besides, not all potential owners of PlayBook use Blackberry smartphones, which is a limitation.
In PlayBook settings there is information on the system with the version labelled as 184.108.40.2068. The name is simple - Blackberry Tablet OS. It is similar to Blackberry OS 6.0 from Torch and BB 9780 and also resembles Palm Pre. The interface is as follows: at the bottom of the desktop are placed links to apps, while the top has a status bar (like in BB OS 6.0). In the middle you see icons of the currently run apps (remember Palm Pre). Under each icon you get a name of the application and the cross to close it down. Let's briefly look at the main features of the gadget. I recommend watching the video. It will help you understand the way PlayBook operates.
In the top line we have time and date with the icon of image rotation on the screen. The automatic rotation can be disabled. Nearby are located icons for Bluetooth, WiFi, battery status and the settings shortcut. When you press an icon a window pops up to show a particular information. On the right we see all sorts of alerts, for example, signalling the disabling of the Blackberry Bridge. As I have already mentioned in the middle you see icons of the currently active apps. Click on any of them to zoom in and use the browser. At the bottom are apps icons, which can be moved up if the right arrow is pressed. There are filters of applications, Favorites, Media and Games. If you press and hold an icon a menu for moving items will appear to enable the transfer of an icon to another category or deletion.
Unlike iPad PlayBook has no Home button and there is a proper question how to send apps into the background mode. Before you start using the gadget do not ignore the tutorials offered at the beginning. Naturally, the screen supports gestures. For example, if one app is active and you want to go to settings it is enough to move your finger from the bottom up in the middle of the screen to open an additional menu. When you make this upward move the utility goes into the background mode. The move from the bottom left hand corner to the top right hand corner opens the keypad and it is deactivated in the same way.
Now I will describe key applications and settings. If you have questions about minor details feel free to ask them on our forum:
Browser is one of the most important components of any contemporary mobile device. Luckily, the browser in PlayBook is different from those in Blackberry smartphones. It is an advanced and fast software. It handles Flash and in Facebook you can easily use chat in its full version. You can watch videos built into websites, but in YouTube the playback does not work well. You just cannot press the pause button. The browser has a menu with miniatures of opened windows and you can also view downloads, add a page to the favorites or place an icon on the desktop. There are many settings: selection of the homepage, default search engine, retention of windows from the latest session, font size (an important option for many people with visual impairment), automatic encoding and encoding by default. You can disable java, flash and images, set the period for storing history information, block pop-up windows, etc. There is an interesting Private Browsing option. It seems that this feature prevents the storage of history and other data. Two finger scaling is supported and it works correctly and smoothly. To my mind the browser can beat Safari in terms of features. At the same time it does not remember passwords, websites and the Flash is not ideal. The browser cannot deal with pop-up windows and if the website has too many of them the program will shut down. If you download music the files will be displayed in the player without showing the downloading process. Nevertheless, if you only want to view webpages, the browser is more than enough. Courtesy of frequent updates we can expect imminent improvements in the Internet experience too. The official site mentions other features: Full Adobe Flash® 10.1 enabled, Built-in support for HTML 5, No-compromise rendering of text, graphics and video. I have some reservations regarding the last point.
Music player supports MP3, AAC, WMA, filters by performer, artist, album and genres. On the playback screen you can access playback buttons, see all albums covers. You can set up random playback in the play list or an album or repeat a particular track. When the player goes into the background mode the status bar displays an icon, which can be clicked upon to see the playback menu.
Word to Go, Sheet to go, Slideshow to go are used to work with office documents. You can create and edit files as there is a multitude of settings. It is not clear how to use them all on the virtual keypad though.
The buttons of the keypad are large enough and localization should not be an issue. The switch between languages is made with the help of a symbol to the left of the "space" key. Digits are highlighted with color when you choose the symbols menu. There is nothing special here.
The clock is accompanied by stopwatch, alarm, and timer.
It is felt that the software was created to use PlayBook together with the cradle.
The calculator is also available.
Adobe Reader deals with PDF files.
Pictures viewer is rather handy and allows assessing the screen of PlayBook
Video Chat was created especially for PlayBook, but your contact will need a similar gadget to use the utility.
App World helps purchasing other applications. The installation is automatic and the interface of the store was altered to fit PlayBook. We will mention additional apps in the second part of our review.
Video player supports H.264, MPEG, DivX and WMV. I used PlayBook to watch ordinary series without any conversion. The device sees files, starts playback, but after a minute everything stops, while the timer moves on. I tried other files, but the issue persisted. The video player is also raw.
When I connected the tablet to the computer (MacBook Air in my case) BlackBerry Device Manager got installed and then I was asked to reload the laptop, while Mac users do not like it. After the reload and once you connect PlayBook the funny stuff begins. You will be asked to customize a new network interface (the tablet can be used as a hotspot) and the memory cannot be detected as a flash card until you go to the settings and activate the features. You can also start video recording there too.
Voice notes, podcasts and YouTube are easy to use.
AccuWeather looks nice and measurement units can be customized.
You can use the mail directly from the browser (for example, Gmail.com) and the in-built client is absent. The rest of apps from screenshots was installed from App World. The dedicated mail client will appear in 3G versions of PlayBook. At the same time we get a Copy/Paste option. Press your finger on the screen to open the frame and options buttons.
There is no card slot, so choose between 16 GB, 32 GB and 64 GB versions.
The tablet supports multitasking, which can be felt physically when some apps won't run and you need to close something! In settings select apps to continue running in the background or wait for better times. A dual core 1GHz processor teams up with 1 GB of RAM. The device is fast and has an accelerometer, gyroscope, GPS and digital compass. The company only has to deal with 100,000 small bugs and make developers create apps for PlayBook.
In the second part we will speak about operation time, camera, settings and use scenarios among other things.
Do you want to talk about this? Please, go to our Forum and let your opinion to be known to the author and everybody else.
Published — 18 May 2011
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