Review

Review: BlackBerry PlayBook

The recently released BlackBerry PlayBook brings another contender to the Apple iPad. Throughout this review we'll look at how the tablet stacks up against its biggest competitor, the iPad. We'll also be looking at all the key aspects that consumers look for when deciding which tablet they should be shopping for.

Hardware

The PlayBook comes with a 1 Ghz Cortex-A9 dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM, all in a 7" WSVGA multi-touch LCD 16:9 aspect ratio screen. It is available in 16, 32, and 64GB flavors. The tablet outputs a 1024 x 600 resolution, with the option of 1080p HDMI output support.

BlackBerry went all out on this tablet, including stereo speakers, front and rear facing camera, 6-axis motion sensor (gyroscope), digital compass, GPS, orientation sensor, 3.5mm headphone jack, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n with the option to support WiMax, LTE, or HSPA+, and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR.

The hardware all fits into a tiny 7.6" x 5'1" frame, with a depth of 0.4", and weights just under 1lb. The bottom of the device features a Micro-USB and Micro-HDMI port for charging and video output to your HDTV. The top of the device comes with a power, rewind, pause/play and fast forward buttons which work with any song or video.

The feel of the tablet is superb. The rubbery-backing on the PlayBook feels very comfortable in anyone's hands. The large bezel around the screen gives you extra space to rest your fingers while you're using the tablet, so you don't accidentally open or close an application.

Software

The PlayBook runs BlackBerry Tablet OS, which is very similar to BlackBerry OS 6.0 running on many of their handsets. This is the first device to run the all new QNX Neutrino real-time operating system, a future look at the new BlackBerry OS for handsets coming in the near future.

BlackBerry pre-loads a number of useful, and useless, applications on the PlayBook, including a shortcut to Facebook, Twitter, Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo and AOL mail. It's a little disappointing to see applications like Facebook and Twitter just be shortcuts to the web instead of an actual native application.

However, the operating system does come with a number of useful applications like a 'kodo' book reader and library store. You can download and read books off your tablet, but what tablet doesn't do that these days?

There is of course a music application, which actually does have a better presentation than the iPod application on the iPad. Users can stream or play music from their device and even shop online to download music directly to your tablet.

If music isn't your thing, there is a native YouTube and video application for the PlayBook to stream videos or simply pre-load some videos to take on the go.

The PlayBook even comes with a Word, Excel and PowerPoint-like software for creating and editing documents and presentations. The toolbars come with a number of handy features for styling your documents or making quick changes.

Multitasking on the PlayBook is great. With a slide of your finger, you can pull up the multitasking window to quickly switch between applications. Videos and games resume right where you left them, if you switch to another window.

You can tell BlackBerry put a lot of work behind the interface and functionality of the PlayBook OS. The slide-down menu gives users a ton of things to customize, including an orientation lock. However, the orientation is really slow when trying to rotate your device.

Camera

The PlayBook has a front-facing 3MP and rear 5MP camera. The tablet does support 1080p recording, but I would recommend getting the 32GB or 64GB models before turning your PlayBook into an HD camcorder. Unfortunately, the device doesn't come with an LED flash, making low-light images and video poor quality. However, this isn't a bad thing, because most people won't be taking their PlayBook out to take pictures or film anything.

Screen, Video & Audio

This is one of the problems with the PlayBook. Compared to the iPad and Motorola Xoom, the screensize is fairly small. Compared to the 10" and 10.1"-inch screens the iPad and Xoom feature, the PlayBook already loses some potential buyers looking for a larger screen.

The 16:9 screen is nice to have, but the size is still too small to be available at a price point of $499.99.

Apps

This is another aspect of the PlayBook I have troubles with. The BlackBerry App Word has never really taken off, especially when you compare it to that of the Apple App Store, Android Market and Windows Phone Market place.

Compared to the BlackBerry Torch and BlackBerry Curve I've previously reviewed in the past, this market place does have a better layout and UI, and a few more interesting applications.

Luckily for consumers, the BlackBerry PlayBook will allow selected Android apps to run on the device, increasing their market and potential consumer base.

Conclusion

Final thoughts on the BlackBerry PlayBook are overall positive. The hardware specifications are great, but it doesn't offer anything 'extra' to the consumer that other tablets don't. The look and feel of the PlayBook is above average, as it's an impressive piece of hardware, but it still lacks the available apps. Understandably, the tablet only just launched, while the iPad has been on the market for over a year now.

I would also like to see native Facebook, Twitter and email support instead of just a shortcut to the browser. It would also be nice to see a larger screen come on the market for users wanting a bigger tablet.

Video and audio playback (h.264, MPEG4 and WMV support) is better on the PlayBook than on the iPad 2. For a first version of the operating system and hardware, it's much better than the Motorola Xoom, but has a little ways to go to catch up to the iPad 2.

I highly recommend checking out the BlackBerry PlayBook. The cameras, speakers and video are great, but I wish it had a larger screen. Hopefully in the coming months BlackBerry launches a revised version like Samsung did with the Galaxy Tab.

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27 Comments

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I have to disagree on the apps part. The apps on BB are limited, but they are of good quality. BB users don't have app usage habits similar to iPhone/Android users, so it would be a one sided view that lesser apps = bad.

Of course, more apps = better choice and I as a BB user would welcome that, but even otherwise I'm happy with the apps.

And yes, BB has one huge killer app - Blackberry Messenger. I'm not sure why Apple or Android can't copy the idea and build a native Messaging App.

An interesting feature is to slide your finger from the bottom left (on the bezel) on an upwards diagonal motion to the right to bring up the on screen keyboard as well.

I played with the Playbook at my store and it's an unfinished piece of technology. When comparing it to the iPad 2, or the iPad side-by-side the Playbooks screen is not as responsive or smooth and it is quite evident. You can't notice in user videos but I noticed it in-person. It also has a much slower loading time. Seriously, theres a dual-core in there, it should be much faster!

Another half finished product... No native mail and calendar app is unbelievable. Glad I bought a shiny white iPad.

.Neo said,
Another half finished product... No native mail and calendar app is unbelievable. Glad I bought a shiny white iPad.

Oh please, like the first iPad wasnt missing features that were included in the second gen and by updates. Shall see how fast BB is to include these updates and only then will it really matter.

techbeck said,

Oh please, like the first iPad wasnt missing features that were included in the second gen and by updates. Shall see how fast BB is to include these updates and only then will it really matter.


The iPad didn't have any serious competition when it came out. The BlackBerry does.

techbeck said,

Oh please, like the first iPad wasnt missing features that were included in the second gen and by updates. Shall see how fast BB is to include these updates and only then will it really matter.


The first iPad didn't lack incredibly basic applications like a Calendar and Mail app when it was released. Next to that I completely fail to understand people's obsession with bringing up the first generation iPad/iPod/iPhone as an excuse. What you're saying is completely irrelevant. Consumers will compare the PlayBook to today's competition, not the competition back in 2010.

Edited by .Neo, Apr 25 2011, 11:26pm :

This thing looks a lot better than I expected. Will have to wait to see if developers start building compelling apps for it to see if it's worth it.

To all of those people complaining about the lack of "native facebook/twitter apps", how do you access Facebook on your PC/Mac? Through a web browser!

The Blackberry Playbook has one of the best browsers on any device (see: http://www.sencha.com/blog/bla...-html5-developer-scorecard/), offering superior flash and HTML5 implementations.

Apple have done a great job of monetizing the web by convincing people that they need an app for everything, which is probably one of the reasons they decided against implementing flash. Why give away the web for free when you can charge for it?

The Playbook is not a smartphone, it's a tablet. It offers a full uncomprising web browsing experience without the need for apps. The apps will come eventually, but they are not needed on this device.

This review is very thin and fails to recognise some of the significant advantages of the Playbook.

- Incredible intuitive gesture-based UI. Play with this thing for 15 minutes and you'll find it hard to go back to the single-buttoned iPad.

- Tethering to your smart-phone. No need for an additional data-plan for web browsing when away from a WiFi network! Simply tether via Bluetooth to your 3G (Or 4G...) smart-phone for internet access. Note that some carriers may charge tethering fees, so check your contract.

- BlackBerry Bridge. Mirror your Blackberry device for SECURE email/calendering.

- This thing is PORTABLE. The iPad is far too big and heavy to carry around. Everyone ends up leaving the iPad at home..... where your laptop/desktop is! The Playbook fits in your jacket pocket.

- Presentation mode. Decide what to output to the big screen while viewing something else on the tablet.

- TRUE multitasking. the Playbook is a beast and can handle multiple applications simultaneously in the background.

-er0n

I agree. Haven't used this but the facebook app on my droid is extremely limiting, and even when I have a shortcut in my browser, facebook somehow forces me back to that stinking app. Who needs an app when you have a browser?!?

er0n said,
To all of those people complaining about the lack of "native facebook/twitter apps", how do you access Facebook on your PC/Mac? Through a web browser!

The Blackberry Playbook has one of the best browsers on any device (see: http://www.sencha.com/blog/bla...-html5-developer-scorecard/), offering superior flash and HTML5 implementations.

Apple have done a great job of monetizing the web by convincing people that they need an app for everything, which is probably one of the reasons they decided against implementing flash. Why give away the web for free when you can charge for it?

-er0n

Hardware-wise, it's great. The 7" screen size seems just about right for portability. It's also great software-wise; however, the lack of a native e-mail client as well as apps for Twitter and Facebook make it somewhat unimpressive. Of course, that can easily change in the future.

it probably should be pointed out that some features will be coming on a later date, such as email and calendar. people reading this article may think that the PlayBook will never have those features.

also 7" vs 10"... it really depends on what one needs... this review only points out the negativity of having a smaller screen. I have several friends who have iPads, but when I showed them the PlayBook, they started complaining at how the iPad was not as portable with its bigger screen. With a 7" screen, the PlayBook can be brought anywhere.

lastly, there's no mention of Flash (the Adobe product). it runs really well on the PlayBook

IMO eBooks work better at the 7" form factor. Considering the difference in screen size, the playbook has better ppi and will have sharper looking text than an iPad which will also make it easier on the eyes. I think the reviews main point, in regards to the price, is that it is priced the same as the 10" tablets on the market.

7" or 10" have about the same "portability" to me, anyway. They are both too large to fit in my pocket so each requires some kind of external bag to lug around if you wanna take it anywhere.

Got a 32gb and i'm loving it a lot. Bridge works excellent for me and the browser is just a thing of beauty. All the changes and updates that will be coming makes it all the better. Good start RIM and good value.

MistaT40 said,
Got a 32gb and i'm loving it a lot. Bridge works excellent for me and the browser is just a thing of beauty. All the changes and updates that will be coming makes it all the better. Good start RIM and good value.

+1

Negatives aside, I'm really happy with mine. I have a BB Torch with me at all times for work anyway, so connectivity and mail is a non issue. And for my personal email, I'm in GMail/Hotmail anyway. Lack of apps is let down, but it is new - and since it has a full webbrowser, it becomes less of an issue. Great job RIM!

DrCheese said,
Hiya,
It does have the ability to do full on email/phone blah blah, but it's really naff. You need a full on blackberry phone to tether with it to do it. The feature is called Blackberry bridge.

*You can delete this link if you want when you've read about it*
http://www.engadget.com/2011/0...blackberry-playbook-review/

Scroll down to Blackberry bridge

I don't see how Blackberry think this is a good idea.

Blackberry bridge is blocked with AT&T as they want to charge monthly fee for tethering

DrCheese said,
Hiya,
It does have the ability to do full on email/phone blah blah, but it's really naff. You need a full on blackberry phone to tether with it to do it. The feature is called Blackberry bridge.

*You can delete this link if you want when you've read about it*
http://www.engadget.com/2011/0...blackberry-playbook-review/

Scroll down to Blackberry bridge

I don't see how Blackberry think this is a good idea.


It's not a good idea in general, but from their standpoint, it's the only way to keep the security they've always had. The infrastructure behind their email servers probably wasn't ported over to QNX fast enough so they had to exclude the email app. Seeing as BB's customers are usually enterprise based, they need to have an enterprise friendly tablet, even at the cost of some consumer features.

DrCheese said,
Hiya,
It does have the ability to do full on email/phone blah blah, but it's really naff. You need a full on blackberry phone to tether with it to do it. The feature is called Blackberry bridge.

*You can delete this link if you want when you've read about it*
http://www.engadget.com/2011/0...blackberry-playbook-review/

Scroll down to Blackberry bridge

I don't see how Blackberry think this is a good idea.


It's not a good idea in general, but from their standpoint, it's the only way to keep the security they've always had. The infrastructure behind their email servers probably wasn't ported over to QNX fast enough so they had to exclude the email app. Seeing as BB's customers are usually enterprise based, they need to have an enterprise friendly tablet, even at the cost of some consumer features.