So i received a review unit and i’ve been using the PlayBook very actively over the past 30 hours or so.
If I was impressed by the device before, I’m glad to say that the device has not let me down. So let me just share some thoughts about the experience so far…
Let me first say, though, that I have been on a BlackBerry for a while so my daily usage habits do revolve around BlackBerry apps for sometime. The experience you get as a non-BlackBerry device holder may be different.
BlackBerry devices have always been known for their long battery lives and the PlayBook is no exception. Upon receiving the device, I had it charged to about 93% unplugged it and left to meet a couple of friends. Time: 7.30pm. Between then and 4.15am, I had watched 2 episodes of Criminal Minds and completed the entire Need For Speed game that came with the PlayBook. That’s a whopping 9 hours of intensive gaming and media playing before it was down to the the last 9% of it’s battery. I figure until normal usage, it would definitely break past the 15 hour mark. For instance, as I’m writing this, the PlayBook has dropped 87% after 17 hours of light emailing, surfing, gaming, photo taking and video recording.
Oh, in the above observations, the PlayBook was permanently kept Bridged to a BlackBerry (which means the bluetooth was on) and have it’s wifi connection enabled. The phone itself didn’t really show any major jump in discharge rate.
I’m totally awed by the battery life.
Design and Feel
Like many tablets, the PlayBook feels a little bit heavy after long term usage. But that’s good if you’re intending to build up your forearms. Otherwise, it’s weight packed in such a small device actually gives you the solid feel that the Bold and the Torch have provided to many BlackBerry users. I’m not going to go so far as to test it’s durability but it does give me the feeling that I won’t have to treat it like a baby when i put down on hard surfaces.
UI-wise I like how they’ve used the swipes as a way to handle multi-tasking. That said, it does take some getting used to. I’ve been on an Android device for a while and some gestures like pressing and holding does not yield any action – no moving of icons or additional menu popups. It would be nice if they implemented it though because I spent quite a considerable amount of time trying to figure out how to delete a picture. Only to realise that I’d have to swipe down the top menu, tap “edit”, select the picture, then tap “delete”. Oh, and the power button is way too flushed with the top of the device making it quite difficult to press the power button (and you do have to press this quite often to bring back the screen).
If anything, this is probably the one area that will keep people from adopting the device. There’s not that many applications available on the BlackBerry App World. That said, it still has a decent number of applications to get your stuff done. To do lists, calendaring, contacts, blackberry messaging, browsing, note taking, camera functions are all there. There are also some pretty decent games on the App World although the number pales in comparison to the other more established app stores.
Here, I want to highlight again how I think the PlayBook is first and foremost a companion to a BlackBerry smartphone. It syncs with the phone perfectly but if you’re not a BlackBerry, it doesn’t mean that the PlayBook won’t allow you to do anything. It just means you either have to wait a while longer for a 3rd party developer to develop an app or you can use web-based apps. With the PlayBook browser, I can open up almost any site and it functions just like a desktop browser.
I’m strong believer that RIM will sort out their tools for developers and more developers will build apps for them over the coming months so this lack of apps shouldn’t be a very big issue. They just need to keep pushing out new and simpler ways for developers to build stuff… something they’ve been consistently doing over the past year or so. The commitment they’ve shown gives me the confidence to say that they’ll fix what’s not working.
This might get a bit confusing so bear with me. BlackBerry devices support several types of data connections. For most consumers, the set of connections you’d probably be dealing with are the BIS, Direct TCP and Wifi. BIS is basically the connection that is used for things like your email, BlackBerry Messenger and other BlackBerry related stuff (some sites can also go through the BIS connection). Direct TCP is the one that your telco provides for other data needs – things like data tethering, downloads, general surfing, etc. It’s this separation that requires you to get different SIM cards from everyone else because your friends on other phones only need the direct tcp type of connection on their SIM cards but you need to have that and BIS.
On the PlayBook, it gets really confusing because using BlackBerry Bridge to connect to your smartphone opens up the BIS connection. With this you can use your BBM, receive emails and surf using the “Bridge Browser”. But if you’re not connected to WiFi or enabled Internet Tethering(which is the Direct TCP method) in the settings screen, then you’ll receive an error when you try to use the “Browser” and even some apps like Facebook which are looking for a direct tcp connection via either tethering or wifi.
So why not just enable Internet Tethering or WiFi right? Well, not so simple. I realised that enabling Internet Tethering causes a disruption to the BlackBerry data services – things like BBM and email would stop coming in until you disconnect tethering. As for WiFi, well, it’s not available everywhere.
Browser Vs Bridge Browser
I like this distinction between the two browsers quite a lot actually. In the PlayBook, there are two browsers – the normal Browser basically uses the Wifi Connection to surf in the internet while the Bridge Browser uses the internet from the phone. For most BIS users, this means that when you use the Bridge Browser, you’re actually surfing with a US or Canadian IP address so you can bypass the local proxies and also gain access to US only services! Don’t believe me? Trying using the Bridge Browser to check out your IP address!
( BlackBerry Bridge is the app that allows you to connect the PlayBook with your BlackBerry smartphone. See this video for installation guide )
BlackBerry Messenger and Video Chat
Not much to say here because it works exactly like it should. They’ve also just introduced a new service that allows you to have video chats with other playbook users. Not sure if I really like it, but it’s definitely a cool thing to introduce.
It’s quite refreshing to be able to read my mails on a larger screen. I’m still not too used to using a virtual keyboard so I can’t say that I really prefer typing on the PlayBook over typing it on the phone.
Media Playback and Gaming
The video quality is gorgeous. It got to the point that even after I hooked it up to the monitor to watch Criminal Minds, i much preferred watching it on the PlayBook because the colours were so much more vibrant and the resolution was sharper. This all adds to a much more immersive game experience too. Oh, and watching youtube on HD was also very awesome. Too bad the youtube app still lacks quite a number of features (like sharing of what you’ve just watched).
The PlayBook has both a front and back camera that are HD ready which makes all your photos stunningly beautiful… provided there is enough light. The PlayBook does not have an LED flash. One gripe I have is the camera image is waaay too close even when you zoom it out to the max. To have a decent video conference image, I would have to stretch my arms all the way out so that the other party isnt looking up my nostrils. Otherwise, it’s a great feature. 🙂
Battery Life…. Have I said this already?
It lasts an insanely long time.
This is BlackBerry’s first foray into the tablet space and while the hardware is superior, the software still has some minor issues here and there. For instance there are some rendering issues from time to time when the OS doesn’t redraw the screen properly when it switches from horizontal to landscape view…. Some apps like the app world and facebook force you to be on WiFi or Data Tethering to be able to use them. I think it would be possible to make such apps use the BIS connection. It would definitely make life easier for so many people who don’t want to have to manage the constantly changing data connections.
I would definitely recommend it to existing BlackBerry users. It’s really a good device to bring with your BlackBerry phone. As for the non BlackBerry users, if you want something for work and bring around your own portable network anyway, this is something that you might want to explore too… I’m really happy with it so far.