30-Second Review: The BlackBerry Playbook

Dave Courbanou

April 29, 2011

4 Min Read
30-Second Review: The BlackBerry Playbook

After spending only about 30 seconds with the BlackBerry Playbook, it’s hard to give it a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down compared to other tablet devices. RIM clearly had some moments of brilliance with the Playbook, but there are also some things that are woefully overlooked. But it’s almost unfair to directly compare it to the Motorola Xoom or the iPad based on the way the Playbook works. Read on and find out for yourself.

The BlackBerry Playbook looks like a small, sturdy, rectangular block of plastic and it feels nice, with the same rubberized plastic back as the Xoom. The sides of the device house the power button, a USB port, an HDMI-out port and a volume rocker, but its face is completely devoid of buttons. The 7-inch screen, however, is gorgeous even at 1024×600, a resolution lower than the iPad’s.

But when I first picked up the device, I was stumped. It was running Tetris, and I had no idea how to quit the game. I tried triple-tapping the screen, swiping up and swiping down. I tried double-clicking the power button. I tried a lot of things, until I swallowed my pride and asked the big-box employee how the heck this thing worked. I discovered RIM implemented a touch bezel — users swipe from the bottom of the bezel up to the screen to “push” the application up and away into the multitask view. Swipe down from the top of the bezel, and users are greeted with the settings options for the app currently running or for the Playbook itself.

Wow. There’s a serious human interface hurdle that could turn off those who are less determined than I. At first I wasn’t a fan, but as I began playing with the device, using the touch bezel felt quite natural. I actually found it more intuitive when moving through applications than Android Honeycomb’s “cube” environment.

Indeed, the entire interface to the Playbook seems much more organized than Honeycomb. A bottom bar displays apps, a middle bar displays thumbnails of the applications currently running, and a top bar serves as a standard status bar. Each of these bars expand and contract dynamically depending on what users are doing or what section they’re accessing. I liked that a lot.

It’s fast. It’s faster and less lag-prone than Honeycomb is on the Xoom. Scrolling through web pages, even while they’re loading, with Flash embedded was much smoother, and pages seemed to render faster than they did on Honeycomb. I loaded up YouTube.com and watched HD video with no hiccups or lag. While the video was playing, I swiped up, watched the video continue to play in the live preview and loaded up a weather application. Even if I had decided to browse apps or fiddle with settings, the thumbnail would’ve continued running.

There was no sense of lag while moving through the operating system and transitions were pleasing.

But here’s where there’s a bag of hurt for RIM: There is no native application for e-mail or calendar; rather, the Playbook relies on the BlackBerry Bridge connectivity to a BlackBerry phone. Bummer. RIM says it plans to address that soon.

What’s more, the App library is lackluster, but this is an issue with many new tablets and I expect that to improve. Since RIM supports Java, RIM has encouraged Android developers to be repackage their Java Android apps and submit them to the app store. That potentially could mean Android developers can cross-develop without really having to cross-develop code.

It’s my opinion that the Playbook is perfect for BlackBerry users looking for a tablet. If someone asked me to pick between a 7-inch Android tablet or the Playbook, I’d pick the Playbook. For VARs and SMBs out there deciding what to do, consider buying the Playbook if your employees are currently equipped with BlackBerrys.

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