Sunday, February 19, 2012

Review: Blackberry Playbook

So I bought a blackberry playbook. It was cheap, and I had to send my Android tablet for warranty repair anyways, so what the hell, I thought I'd buy one and give it a try. Also I suppose it was a bit of pity for a Canadian company falling on hard times (though self inflicted, really. I'm not a fan of their phones) I'll give the point of view on the playbook from someone who is primarily an Android user, which I am.

  • Nicely designed and solid with a beautiful (if small at 7") 1024x768 display.
  • While small, it's very portable, fitting in pockets
  • Front facing and rear facing high quality cameras.
  • High Definition mini HDMI output
  • Speakers actually work and are front facing and discrete (in other words, your hands holding the tablet don't generally get in the way of them)
  • The front bezel of the tablet is part of the capacitive touch screen. It is part of the design philosophy of the tablet, and is incorporated into the touch gestures. It's incorporated into the design of the OS, and it's like if Androids pull down menu was pushed to the next level.
  • The 3 pin magnetic connector for charging your playbook (similar to the one on the Galaxy Nexus) eases wear and tear on USB connections.
  • QNX is an interesting OS. I'm a Linux user, but I'm not a zealot. I can appreciate what went into the creation of the software on this device. I wish I had the option of running Linux/Android on this little machine, as I'm sure many others do as well (would have possibly negated the necessity of the price drop in my consideration to purchase the device)
  • This thing actually detects 5GHZ wireless N networks.


  • Configuration - The default configuration method I found a bit tedious. While it's good to have a setup wizard, coming from Android this seemed overly laborious and I even encountered a hangup when it paused and wouldn't continue without an internet connection. Android by comparison asks for very little upfront, but allows more customization afterwards.
  • Lack of Customization - Want to lock the orientation to landscape or portrait mode? Well fuck you. Is it annoying that the screen arbitrarily changes orientation and doesn't change when you want it to ? Yes it is. Tough luck. Want the default browser NOT to force you to view the new tab you're loading immediately into the foreground? Good luck with that. Even in most Apps that the blackberry has, there is little to no customization allowed. It could be a case of the software just not being complete enough, but I suspect it's at least partly a conscious choice. Being an Android user, it angers me.
  • Lack of Apps - Seriously, theres no apps. And what apps there are, are painfully incomplete. Kobo book reader doesn't let you side load existing books. I don't even know where it keeps its downloaded books, seemingly in a locked down directory, so I can't simply use a file manager to copy PDF's or epubs and reload. Pretty lame. Not that I particularly care for that reader anyways.
  • While the speaker on the front looks good, I worry that it makes the device more susceptible to spill damage. If it's water resistant or waterproof, that'd be nice, but I doubt it.
  • I don't like the texture of the back of the device. That's just me. It's a little coarse.
  • Couldn't stream from video from my UPnP devices. That would have been nice. Tried downloading them and playing.. MPEG2 was also an unsupported format. I think MKV was as well. Kind of unfortunate. I'm not expecting Archos device levels of media playback, but it would be nice. God knows the device doesn't have any other features that stand out amongst its competitors.
  • Seems to randomly drop the internet connection and reconnect. Very odd behaviour.
  • Battery charges pretty quick, but maybe get around 6 hours with it. Which makes sense, it is a fairly small but it's not bad as far as battery life goes.
  • Keyboard is horrible compared to the Android keyboard. No predictive text is a noticeable loss, very frustrating to use in some scenarios.
  • While the touch screen interface is interesting and clever.. It takes some getting used to.
  • Did I mention lack of apps? Seriously, it's shitty. But what's worse is the App store interface on the paybook makes it very difficult to find apps. Especially free ones. Everything is kept in strange directories that make no sense to me. It's like the worst BBS SysOp was in charge of creating the files area. There is a strong focus on purchasing paid apps, which I understand, but if I'm not in the mood for a paid app, I'd like to be able to see a list of just free apps. Not just the top 25 either, I'd like to see and scroll though other ones.
  • I don't want to be overly negative about the playbook's web browser. While it does seem to crash and lose connection for no reason, it works more often than not, and the flash support is excellent. It also doesn't seem to pretend to be a mobile browser but instead shows up and renders web pages as you would expect to see on your desktop. Which is what I would expect for a tablet. It annoys me when I'm browsing at home and see a mobile web page. This device has everything it needs to render a desktop web page. So I'm glad it does. Still, the web browser needs work.
  • Would be nice to have a useful clock mode. There is a flip clock app to download that works great (and lets the screen stay on continuously) but doesn't offer alarm clock type features. Android has tons of them. Also if flip clock made the flip noise that a real flip clock makes would be nice too.. but that's for the app developer to decide.
  • This device would make a great internet radio. Of course, Tunein radio doesn't yet have an app for it, so too bad!
  • Lack of standard USB port. My Android tablet had a USB port. I used it primarily to keep my phone charged off of the tablet while tethered. If there is a micro-usb to regular USB adapter, or micro-usb to micro-usb that allows for an external device to charge off the playbook, it's a moot point, and I'll have to look into that, but it'd be nice.
  • Lack of expandable memory. I know you want people to pay extra for the 64gig version, RIM. I get it. But it's stupid. And stupid people already have a company they can go to for stupid quickly obsolete products. It's called Apple.
So, Blackberry QNX OS 2.0 is out in two days. Supposedly rumoured to be anyways. It brings native Android app support, so that should be interesting to me. If I can get fbreaderj working on this thing, at least my ebook reader desires will be met and that's the most important issue to me.

I just realized, it would be interesting if these tablets had a dummy mode where you could use it as a screen connected to an external device. Maybe watch OTA TV with an external adapter plugged in either via HDMI or composite video/audio in. But this goes for most Android devices too. It'd be useful to have a few extra tablets sitting around just as mini external displays, even when the device becomes obsolete a few years down the line. But this is just as an aside.

In any case, the Playbook has a lot of potential. It'd be perfect just as a Skype video terminal mounted on the wall. Too bad Skype doesn't run on it, or anything else really.

So, here's looking forward to OS 2.0. Warp edition. Coming out on Tuesday. Two days away. It's a good device, with average software trying to run in a pack amongst mostly bad devices running slightly better software.


Anonymous said...

Quote: Want to lock the orientation to landscape or portrait mode?

Orientation lock is leftmost icon at the top right of the screen. Will you being doing a post OS 2 update?

reedsolomon.matr1x at said...

Thanks for telling me, I did a quick search on google and didn't find anything in the first few results. But really that's a bit non-intuitive. They should have at least put something in the configuration menu under display settings.

Yeah I'll probably give my opinions on Blackberry OS 2 as well. I've got a number of other things to write about but I'll probably get around to it within about a month after its release at the latest.

Cintamani said...

The PlayBook's user interface is quite polished; this tablet is pretty fun to use. The graphics and overall layout looks sharp and colorful, and it's easy to launch apps, see what's running in the background, and generally move around and get things done.