We picked up the BlackBerry PlayBook on launch morning here in Canada and, now that we’ve had about two weeks to play with it, these are some key things that stood out to us.
1. The Screen, Bezel Gestures & Multi-tasking
Though it took a few tries and repeated use to remember which directional swipe would trigger what interaction, we loved the fact that the black frame around the screen was designed to support your interactions. It took a bit of learning to realize that a swipe down from the top would bring up a settings menu that is specific to the app you’re in (but if you’ve used an Android device before this isn’t new for you).
Using these bezel gestures makes multi-tasking a whole lot easier than on an iOS device because a simple swipe from the left or right will bring up a previous or next application so that you can pick up from where you left off. The sequence of applications is determined by the order that you opened them up in, so there’s a bit of remembering to do on your part, or you can just swipe up from the bottom to zoom-out and reveal the stream of applications you have currently running.
Tip: We commented in a previous post about the teeny tiny power button, well you may never have to use it again with this neat trick: Swipe down diagonally from the top-left corner to wake up the device from sleep mode. Likewise, other diagonal swipes will bring forth other features and utilities.
Wonder Point: A diagonal swipe up from the bottom-left will bring up the keyboard. But it doesn’t automatically find the input field for you, so you have to manually navigate to the input field on the screen and tap on it to get your cursor where you want it.
2. The Size, Weight, and Hardware
We found that the overall size of the PlayBook was really manageable. A little on the chunky and heavy side, but this is the first generation after all. Small enough to fit in a purse or smallish messenger bag, it was easy to carry around and use on the go. The weight however was not a plus point. At just around 1 pound, we thought it was heavier than it looked, but when compared to the Galaxy Tab (another 7-inch tablet) the weight was pretty much right on par.
In terms of the hardware, it is elegant and clean. The matte surface on the back of the device is really nice to the touch and the silver Blackberry icon adds that little bit of texture that shows that they were paying attention to the details.
Wonder Point: With smartphone sizes seemingly getting larger and larger, I wonder if the PlayBook’s size is perhaps too similar to a smartphone?
3. The Camera
The front and rear facing cameras work really well. It’s got a pretty sleek interface and is super easy to switch back and forth between camera and video. Another plus point to the size of the device is that it’s much easier to hold up with both hands and snap a quick photo than the larger tablet devices out there.
Tip: All photos and other saved things on the device can sync wirelessly with your blackberry, if you have one. But depending on the OS of your phone all apps may not be backwards compatible.
4. The Browser
The PlayBook browser is actually pretty sweet. Navigating between tabs is a breeze, because in the swipe-down settings view it gives you a thumbnail view of your tabs. Unlike the iOS environment, you can go between tabs without changing views and losing your place on the page. The PlayBook browser has smooth scrolling and fluid zoom interactions, even the subtle blue loading bar was treat to experience.
Tip: The PlayBook browser is HTML5 and Flash compatible! So watching videos in any format is not a problem. And if you’re hooked on any Flash based games on Facebook this might be a big plus point for you.
Wonder Point: I thought it was a little weird that the browser crashed several times when I was testing out the Flash video capability. After a good recharge though, this issue didn’t happen again.
5. The Apps
The playbook comes prepackaged with various apps: Kobo eReader, Voice Notes, Weather, YouTube, Facebook, Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo, Twitter, and a slew of others. The nicest part for Microsoft Office enthusiasts is the Office Suite To Go: which includes Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. Better yet, this baby comes bundled with Adobe reader.
If the prepackaged apps aren’t what you’re into, then it’s easy enough to explore the BlackBerry AppWorld and download others. Something to note though is that not all apps for the PlayBook are made to function in both landscape and portrait view. Which can get frustrating if you’re used to turning the device into portrait orientation to quickly type something out with your thumbs.
Tip: Our favourite built-in app is the calculator. For starters it has a great user interface design, with a virtual paper printout showing previous calculations on a realistically textured paper. This was one of the nicer mobile calculators that these fingers have touched. TAT — aka the recently acquired The Amazing Tribe from Sweden, who also happened to be the ones to design the original Android OS — were behind the UI design of this beauty. Lets hope TAT gets to play with the UI’s of other PlayBook apps because this one is a definite winner.
Wonder Point: When comparing Apps to Apps, it looks like Apple is definitely winning. But now that BlackBerry has the PlayBook out, we wonder how long it will take for them to catch up. Without out Apple’s current strict system of quality control for the AppStore, will the BlackBerry AppWorld catch up to the same caliber of apps that Apple has influenced? Perhaps once they open up submissions to Android applications things will improve…
So what’s the difference between the PlayBook and other tablet devices?
Well, if you are a Blackberry smart phone user, in the business world or just looking for a portable tablet device then the Playbook will serve you well. Again it pairs nicely with your phone, and is small enough to fill in where your heavy, not-exactly-mobile laptop cannot. There is more play in the interactions because you’re constantly exploring what the device has to offer. But there is definitely an element of productivity and functionality that is built-in because of the nature of the pre-packaged apps (Word, Excel, etc.) Just as playbooks are used in football as strategic tools, it seems that the BlackBerry PlayBook is a tool that was made to help you be more efficient.
This is a huge stride in the right direction for RIM in the tablet space. If Apps are your thing, the PlayBook definitely comes armed with all of the Microsoft office related apps, but you may have to wait it out a bit longer for the novelty and game apps to catch up. So which tablet would we recommend? Well, it all depends on your use. If nothing else, the bezel gestures, smooth UI and multitasking capability makes the PlayBook a big contender in our books.