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BlackBerry PlayBook: Mini Review

What’s this? A blog posted entirely unrelated to photography? Why, yes it is!

For my day job I work in IT management in a organisation that uses BlackBerry devices for its mobile comms(anything but those filthy, dirty iOS devices!) so when news of the PlayBook reached our ears we were keen to give them a go. We were especially keen to try them as they were meant(see below) to feature out-of-the-box multi-user video conferencing, something that no other tablet provides with a native app. Facetime doesn’t count here, it’s purely designed for one-to-on video conferencing and anyway, see previous comment about iOS.

See the shiny, shiny

First thing to say is that RIM know how to present a package, the device has a nice weight and feel to it. It doesn’t feel too flimsy or too heavy, the rubberised back makes gripping the device easy – you never feel like it’s going to slip out of your fingers. RIM thoughtfully provide a very nice little cloth case with an elasticated top that holds the PlayBook very nicely. It also provides some protection when you drop it, as I did when three days into owning it I was juggling a load of small items out of the car and the PlayBook somehow launched itself from about waist height onto concrete. I was expecting to pull it from the sleeve to find a shattered screen, anyone who has dropped an iPhone will know how those screens tend to shatter, but apart from a small dink in the metal on the corner that had hit the floor first the PlayBook was entirely unharmed.

The PlayBook itself is fairly minimalist, apart from a grey metal bezel around the screen the entire device is black. There are no buttons or connections on either side of the device, along the top there is a (very small) power button, and the now standard volume up, play\pause and volume down buttons at the far right end is a 3.5mm audio jack. Turning the device the other way up reveals a docking station port, a mini-usb and a mini-HDMI. There are front and rear facing cameras and a speaker grill on the front left and front right.

The User Interface experience

The UI itself is clean and slick, the device is touch sensitive outside of the screen area, so the 1/2 inch black band around this is not entirely wasted real estate. Dragging your finger up from the bottom towards the centre of the screen opens the home screen from within an app, it also gives you a preview window of all the apps you are running and switching between these is just a matter of swiping left or right and tapping the one you want. This makes multi-tasking on the PlayBook a breeze. RIM have obviously worked VERY hard on getting this part of the user experience just right. Transistions are smooth and silky, I couldn’t get the device to slow down no matter how many apps I opened or how hard I pushed it.

The on-screen keyboard on the PlayBook can be accessed at anytime by swiping a finger diagonally up from bottom left to the centre of the screen. The keyboard itself is fairly well laid out and responsive, although different to those found on Andriod and iOS devices and this takes a bit of getting used to. I also couldn’t find a way to switch on predictive text, although it may be hidden away in some secret menu option that I have missed.

Bridge over the river Berry

The PlayBook does not have a built in SIM, so to access the internet while on the move it needs to be tethered to a smart phone, if a BlackBerry is used for this you also get the option of using the Bridge software. This gives you access to some of the BlackBerry functionality directly from the PlayBook, for example you can read and write emails, create and updated calendar events and even access files across the “Bridge”. This makes the PlayBook a very handy tool for composing longer emails that would cause your thumbs to be worn away to little stumps if they were composed using the BlackBerry’s own tiny keyboard.

And now for some FAIL

The first big failure we ran into is that the version of the device that is shipping at the moment does not support multi-user video conferencing, 1-1 works fine and is really quick and responsive, but this isn’t what we want the device for. Our support company tells us that RIM are working on an update for the PlayBook that will bring the multi-user access “Very Soon”(TM), if you’ve ever been involved with software development or even if you’ve waited for a patch for an app or game you’ll know that this is a random amount of time somewhere between 1 day and 15 years.

But that fail is insignificant compared to the issues I’ve had with Bridge, the PlayBook and my 8520 Curve. It seems that if you take the devices out of bluetooth range of each other, then Bridge dies in a huge heap and refuses to reconnect. This is a massive pain in the backside when you consider that the PlayBook has no way of communicating with the Internet on it’s own. RIM acknowledge this as an issue (See “Unable to connect BlackBerry Bridge with BlackBerry smartphone” error appears when attempting to pair with the BlackBerry PlayBook” KB) but the workaround is massively complex and involves a hard reset of both devices.


If RIM fix the issues above in a very speedy timeframe I think they will be onto a real winner with business users, the device itself is very nicely put together and is let down by the buggy and underdeveloped software. Is it an iPad killer? No, but then I don’t think it’s looking to be a toy, it’s looking to be a serious business tool and it’s certainly seems to have the grunt and look and feel to perform that role admirably.