Living with the Blackberry Playbook - 2 month review

It has now been a couple of months since the Blackberry PlayBook came into our lives. In that time it has seen itself on a number of car journeys, hopped back and forth over the Atlantic a few times, been on holiday with, had children paw over it and the dog give it a good sniff.

It has definitely found a place in our digital lives and like many devices it has its strengths and it has its weaknesses. So let me run down the list, in no particular order.

  1. Physical Size
    It is without a doubt the perfect size. Fits in your hand just snuggly, does not require both hands to operate. You can slip it into a jacket pocket or even your back jeans pocket with no problems. The size, when in portrait, lets you easily type with your thumbs in the classic Blackberry keyboard style.
  2. Screen
    Given the size of the device itself the screen you would think would be compromised. Not at all, crisp, sharp and bright. Movies look great on it and web sites just jump at you.
  3. Touchyness
    I confess to hate touchscreens. I like a button to be a button. I want to see it go down and come back up and give me that beautiful click response to tell me something physical has just engaged. The PlayBook is responsive and the pinch in and out to zoom works beautifully. Typing is a pain on a touchscreen. It is just not a pleasant experience and you find yourself doing less and less.
  4. Power button
    Huge design flaw here. Blackberry really dropped the ball here with the main power button at the top. Pressing it takes effort and possibly the aid of a pen to press it in. It is too small, recessed under the surface and no feedback if you are indeed pressing it. You can hold it down thinking you are doing the deed, only to realize you are just annoying the case!
  5. Battery life
    Let's be honest, not as good as it could be and no where near the sort of life you have come to expect from their other Blackberry handsets. Life is good for a solid few hours. I believe Mrs W managed to watch a good number of Smallville episodes over the Atlantic before it gave up.
  6. Charging
    MMmmm this could be a lot better. The choice of USB cable is a huge hit'n'miss affair. It takes the standard the mini-USB cable that you would think opens up the world to any number of outlets. Think again. Assuming you've found a cable that works, the standard USB port on your laptop/desktop will not charge it in any great speed. It will take it at least overnight, plugged into the laptop, to get a full charge back. Recommend using a direct to the wall charger. Give the bugger as much juice as you can. Even then, don't expect a quick charge. No in-car USB charger would even register the charging icon.
  7. WiFi
    I have been disappointed here. It will not connect to places that my Blackberry Torch will happily hop on and off. It is very quick to lose a connection and it takes a lot of coaxing from the WiFi settings to get it back online again.
  8. Browser
    The browser is fantastic. Quick and speedy and doesn't wait for the whole page to come in before rendering something. Pinching for zooming in and out is quick and easy. However, I would love if we could stroke the edge of the case (you can do certain operations there) for scrolling up and down. Amazing the amount of websites you hit that when you try to scroll you accidentally hit an advert and get jumped over to that one. Fortunately it is tabbed browsing that makes life a little easier.
  9. No Email/Chat
    Yes I have a Blackberry, but the lack of an integrated email client is a major loss. Amazing the amount of times I have come across a site i want to either email to a group or myself and i find myself powerless. It is very frustrating not able to share anything.
  10. Blackberry Bridge
    So you can hook up your Blackberry, through bluetooth, to it. On paper this sounds great. I was stuck in Wales for a few days and had no WiFi. So my only contact to the western civilised world was through my Blackberry. Hit upon the idea of using the PlayBook as my "big monitor" to my torch. Connection no problems. However, this connection is hugely buggy and problematic. It would frequently hang, not show the same emails on the PlayBook that was on the Torch, and lock-up the UI. This feature is purely in the "novelty" category, not to be used in any serious scenario.
  11. Flash!
    The PlayBook does flash, and does flash, very well. Amazing the amount of websites you hit that have embedded video that can be played there and then with no lag and no slow down. Not once have i seen the device lockup due to a flash video. Making flash go full screen and back painless. Love it. I do not really care what the Apple fanboys will say about not needing flash, its bollocks. Flash content exists and why should i be denied it. I will confess, the only flash app i would really like to work that doesn't, is Grooveshark.
  12. Twitter
    No native twitter client which is a shame and a huge loss. There are a number of paid-for apps but none that I have seen are good enough to warrant springing cash for.
  13. App World
    The PlayBook app world is quick and easy. You can quickly find new stuff and its updating and downloading is painless. Just a lack of choice in there and whole host of crap. Looking forward to the Android player to become available for a whole new world to open up.
  14. Video Player
    The PlayBook has a good inbuilt video player that will play most DivX files with no problems. Simply drag them onto the device's storage and you are good to go. Very handy for those that have many a "backup" lurking around. You can't stream video off another device (unless over web), but this is just software and rumour has it, it is coming.
  15. Music Player
    The music player is very good. Laid out well and you can quickly get to where you need to go. The player works in the background as you move around windows, with quick access to volume buttons on the side of the case.
  16. Multiple Apps
    I do love how the PlayBook manages its running apps. You stroke your finger from the bottom of the case up and it will go into a task bar like ribbon, that you can easily switch between or kill. Not once has this failed on us.
  17. Scroll lock
    This is one of those little features that proves to be very useful. Scroll locks stops the machine from always guessing what way you are holding it and flipping the screen accordingly. My first born loves this as he can watch stuff in bed without it always flipping on him.
  18. Internet Tethering
    The PlayBook does tether to your blackberry for its internet bandwidth very easily and painlessly. This got us out of a major hole in Wales, when Mrs W was able to use the 3G connection on her Blackberry Torch to surf the world.
  19. Video Chat
    The playbook comes with video chat, which is effectively a SIP based protocol. Therefore, firewalls are not its friend and extremely difficult to get it to work.
  20. Inbuilt camera's
    Comes with two cameras, one on each side. They are very good and responsive. The kids take lots of pictures with it and enjoying doing lots of cool stuff with them in the PlayBook scrapbook.

As you can see not with out its faults. But I believe the strengths show a future of potential. I see the current PlayBook as proof-of-concept device, not quite ready for the mainstream. It was obviously rushed out the door to keep the market happy. Every couple of weeks a huge (300MB+) update is made to it that brings the device along in leaps and bounds. This update procedure is painless (which is good as it does it a lot!).

The tablet has become part of our kitchen, living room and bedroom lives. It is the first device we reach for when searching for more information (IMDB being the most used site). I use it in the morning to catch up on my Google Reader feeds (excellent GeeReader app for syncing with Google Reader). The lack of sharing is a real pain. I use it at nights or at quiet periods to do reading up on new technologies, watch podcasts/conference sessions (via Flash!), but I can't share those links with my desktop/laptop at all.

I watch live snooker on it (which again is flash) and that works beautifully. Think of it like a mini-remote TV that you can carry around the house with you. Not too big and not too small that its useless. The size of the unit as a whole is a huge winner for us (same size as our Kindle's).

As I have said each update brings a whole host of new stuff with it and for that reason I love that the PlayBook is continually evolving right underneath my fingers. Whether RIM will still be around long enough to get PlayBook to the stage it should have been on launch remains to be seen.

What is has shown me is what I want from a tablet. I didn't know what I wanted until I had one for a while. The PlayBook ticks most of the boxes (flash, size, speed, video playback flexibility) and has yet to tick some of the boxes (sharing, email, chat).



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