Saturday, April 23, 2011

My BlackBerry Playbook first impressions

So I just got a 32GB Blackberry Playbook. Here are my first impressions.

When you pick it up it has a nice heft so it doesn’t feel cheap. The back and sides are covered with rubberized paint. Along the top are a headphone jack, play/rewind/forward buttons along with a power button. The bottom has a micro HDMI, micro USB and a docking connector that reminds me of Apple’s Macbook magnetic power connector.

The Playbook has a 7” 1024x600 LCD display with 1GB of RAM, either 16/32/64GB of non expandable memory and is powered by a dual core TI 1Ghz processor.

The Playbook comes with a 10watt AC adapter (same wattage as the iPad) that includes the cord along with a micro USB cable and a nice fitted neoprene carrying case.

When I first turned it on and entered in the settings for my WiFi network it promptly started downloading a 269MB update. Then it took a few minutes to update. In the couple of days I’ve had the Playbook I’ve had 2 huge updates. It’s a good and bad thing. It’s good that we’re getting such frequent updates. On the other hand it’s bad that we need to be getting updates so frequently. Is the glass half full or half empty?

Anyways afterwards it runs you through a quick tutorial. Basically the paradigm is you slide your finger from the bottom bezel to the middle of the screen to bring up the launcher/switch programs. Sliding your finger from the top bezel to the middle brings up a program’s menu (if there is one). There are no physical home or menu button. You can also slide your finger from the left or right onto the screen to switch programs.

It actually reminds me of multitasking on WebOS. I like how the Playbook allows you to see your launcher when you multitask but I wish the Playbook would treat different windows from the same application like WebOS. For example if you have 5 browser windows open in WebOS you’ll have 5 separate entries which are grouped together when you multitask. On the Playbook it will treat the browser as one entry so you have to go to the browser and then switch browser windows.

The Playbook switches orientation automatically depending on how you’re holding it. There’s a orientation lock on the main menu.

What’s cool is the Playbook menu actually reminds me of Blackberry OS 6.0 (in a good way). If you’re a Blackberry 6.0 or even WebOS user you’ll find the Playbook familiar. Anyways for the most part the Playbook menus are simple and intuitive and best of all FAST. Hopefully they’ll address it’s short comings in an update.

As far as text entry goes there are QWERTY keyboards in both portrait and landscape modes. They’re excellent with a really fast response. They actually are laid out like a regular Blackberry’s keyboard. I liked the Playbook’s key-press sound - it kind of reminds me of the Windows Phone 7 sound.

While the Playbook ships with a smattering of apps really the main app is it’s browser and what a browser it is. It’s fast and has support for flash. I will remember the browser windows you last had open if you close it (you can turn this feature off) and it has a private browser setting which won’t remember your history.

The Playbook actually has a bunch of shortcuts for different email providers in the main menu but they’re actually shortcuts to the various email provider’s webpages.

While the Playbook browser is excellent the flaw in using it’s browser instead of apps are that for the most part the web is intended for computers with a keyboard and mouse. Some websites don’t work well without them. For example I tried to access my Google Docs but the on screen keyboard wouldn’t pop up when I created a new document. Another feature you lose out on is that some apps integrate with the operating system so you get stuff like alerts, widgets, that sort of thing.

One of the ironic things about the Playbook is that out of the box, it’s a Blackberry with no Email. To get email on it you either have to use the browser or you need to own a Blackberry. What happens is you download an app called ‘Blackberry Bridge’ to your Blackberry. The setup is pretty cool in that the Playbook uses a 3D barcode which you capture with App world on your Blackberry. After you’ve downloaded it you use another 3D barcode to pair the 2 devices.

Blackberry bridge is a pretty confusing feature. While the Playbook is connected to your Blackberry it’s only ‘sort of’ connected. You can use the Playbook to access your Blackberry’s Messages, Contacts, Calendar, MemoPad, Tasks along with it’s file system. You can also use the Blackberry to browse the web but only using the Bridge Browser app which is not the same as the regular Browser.

So if you don’t have a WiFi connection and are only using Blackberry bridge your other apps won’t be able to access the Internet. This includes the ‘regular’ browser. Confusing no?

Anyways if you want to the rest of your apps to access the Internet and don't’ have WiFi you can use your Blackberry to get the Playbook online by tethering it via Bluetooth. Tethering via Bluetooth is SEPARATE from bridge. So your Playbook is sort of connected to your Blackberry twice. Confused now? To tether you have to pull down the menu, choose tether, and then tell it to connect. It’s not automatic.

I imagine the reason why the Playbook handles it this way is because a lot of Blackberry users don’t have really beefy data plans. So by using bridge you sort of lessen the amount of data used. If you want the rest of your apps to access the Internet via your Blackberry then you have to manually tell it to tether. If that’s the case it’s a valid reason but try explaining it to a non techy end user.

Of course if you don’t own a Blackberry you could always get the Playbook online using your phone as a wireless hotspot assuming you have an iPhone, Android device, WebOS device, etc.

There’s a 5MP camera in on the back and a 3MP camera in front. Both picture and video quality is quite good. Both cameras capture video at 1080P. It’s quite a contrast from the iPad 2’s cameras which quite frankly are trash (though I still find them entertaining to use).

Anyways I’ll have a full review of the Playbook once I’ve played with it for a few more days.

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