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I recently came into ownership of a Blackberry Playbook tablet (pictured above). In this blog post, I will share my first impressions on the device, based on just two days of usage.
What is it exactly?
The Blackberry Playbook is a 7″ tablet device developed by Research in Motion (RIM), known mainly as the makers of Blackberry brand of mobile phones.
The Blackberry Playbook runs the “Playbook OS” which is also known in technical circles as “QNX”. I now own the Wifi only 16GB model, running Playbook OS 2.0.1. More technical information on the Playbook can be found here.
My very first reaction of the Playbook was to the retail box. Its a pure black box, mainly plain with a Blackberry logo at the top and barcode at the side. That’s it. No picture of the device inside or some text info about the device.
I am a huge believer in minimalism, so this actually endeared me more to the device. The box is a tad too big for my liking though but that is mostly inconsequential. Inside the box, I found the Playbook device itself, as well as an A/C adapter, USB cable and some manual documents.
The Playbook comes with a black pouch made with some foam like material and it is meant to be worn around the device, reminiscent of the official pouch for blackberry phones.
The Playbook itself is beautifully crafted and is mainly plain black, except for the blackberry logo, camera and speaker slit at the top. It has 4 ports (microHDMI, magnetic charging port, microUSB and 3.5mm Standard Audio jack) and 4 physical buttons (Power, Play/pause, Volume Up and Volume Down) on opposite ends.
The top of the device is button free and this could throw someone coming from iOS and Android devices a bit off balance because, that means there is no “home” button.
The Bezel of the device is unusually large on all sides for a modern tablet and this further decreases the size of the screen. This might seem like a design flaw at the moment but its use becomes evident later on.
On booting the Playbook, I was prompted with the usual questions such as timezone, country, etc. I had to connect to an internet enabled WiFi network during the initial setup process in order to check for updates and login with my Blackberry ID. During the setup process, I was informed that I needed to download 338Mb to get the device up to date and “optimize it for my region”. This turned out to be a compulsory step as all attempts to skip it just put the tablet on standby and when on resume, took me back to the same page.
Eventually, I had to activate a data plan on my Galaxy Fit, broadcast a Mobile Hotspot and use that to perform the update, and after that, the rest of the setup process was much more straightforward.
This part of the setup process has been greatly criticized all over the web. It turns out some people don’t have as much luck as I did and are unable to perform the update (even with sufficient Internet access available). I recently learned that RIM intend to remedy this flaw with the release of Playbook OS 2.1 so that should make the process simpler for future playbook owners.
As mentioned above, the Playbook runs Playbook OS, with the latest version being 2.0.1. Navigating the OS is done almost exclusively by using gestures. Swiping up, down and sideways from the bezel to the screen achieves tasks such as closing applications, showing application menus, displaying running applications, switch between running applications, viewing notifications, etc.
This makes for a unique user experience, much unlike what is obtainable from other tablet platforms. The OS is really beautiful and elegant. It has a “businessey” feel to it but that is to be expected from a device made by RIM.
The default software selection on the Blackberry Playbook is adequate with some heavy hitters such as Adobe Reader, Facebook, Docs to Go and Zinio making appearances. The device is also preloaded with Tetris and NFS Undercover from Electronics Arts.
The Video Player has been able to play any format thrown at it and the web browser is simply awesome! More apps can be installed via the Blackberry App World, however, I am yet to do so.
One of the major selling points for the Blackberry Playbook is the Blackberry Bridge functionality, so naturally, I was very eager to try it out.
Blackberry Bridge is a functionality of the playbook which enables it to “bridge” with any Blackberry phone to enable feature such as viewing the Phone’s email, Calendar, Contacts, Memo and Tasks on the Playbook. You can also use the phone’s BBM feature on the tablet once bridged, enabling you to ping to your heart’s content on a device with a larger and clearer screen.
The best feature of Blackberry Bridge in my opinion though, is the ability to share your phone’s BIS subscription with the Tablet. Installing the Blackberry bridge application on my phone and pairing it with the tablet was a breeze and before long, i was synced and bridged.
I first tested the Messages and BBM feature and they both functioned beautifully. Next, I launched the Playbook browser and loaded full webpages using the BIS from the phone. At this point, I was already giddy with joy, but that feeling was elevated even further when I realised I could stream videos using the playbook browser while using my phone’s BIS subscription, something I am not able to do from the phone.
Another interesting feature of the Blackberry Bridge is the ability to use your phone as a remote control for the tablet. When this is enabled, a cursor appears on the tablet, which you control from the phone, and you can even type on the tablet from the phone. This, along with the microHDMI port would make the playbook an ideal device for a presentation.
There are a few annoyances with the Blackberry Bridge though. One major one is the fact that not all applications can use the BIS internet from the phone. I tried launching some internet dependent apps after bridging, while WiFi was off and it kept on telling me that I needed an active internet connection to use.
Overall though, I was thoroughly impressed with the Blackberry Bridge. It does what it says on the tin.
After 2days of usage, I have discovered a few limitations of this device. There are somethings that should have been done differently in my opinion, or should have been added. The list is really short for now but I’m pretty sure it will grow as I use it more.
– The screen is too small, even for a 7″ device.
– The app selection in the App World leaves much to be desired
– I should be able to place icons on the desktop
What’s next for me and my Playbook? I’m glad you asked. Over the next few days, I will put the device through all the paces. Download apps from the App World (any suggestions on an epub reader is welcome), try to plug some of the loopholes I have noticed and the ones I’ll still notice, and try to install Android Apps on the playbook. I’ll try to write another post on how that goes.