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The BlackBerry PlayBook: A Working Review

RIM's tablet is tarnished gold- intensely useful but peculiarly hobbled.

Apr 29 2011, 4:54pm CDT | by

The BlackBerry PlayBook: A Working Review
 
 
 

I've had the PlayBook for a full week now. I've already given my initial findings and shown off the excellent video camera at a Mumford & Sons concert. Now it's time for my full review. Just how well does the PlayBook measure up to extended use?

Specifications

The PlayBook was designed with the executive's 'little black notebook', a moleskine or something similar, in mind. And it does a good job of reflecting that spash, elegant design asthetic. The rubbery back cover feels solid in your hands but grips well. The silver BlackBerry logo on the back is tasteful but not ostentations. After weeks of using the iPad 2, the PlayBook's 7" screen seems rather small. It almost feels like a giant smartphone, a fact only enhanced by my uncanny ability to fit the PlayBook in all manner of pants pockets.

I may actually be addicted to finding new and creative ways to stow this tablet. It is so much more comfortable to browse with than a smartphone, that I find myself challenged to bring it everywhere I possibly can.

In Use

Power: The PlayBook's 1 GB of RAM certainly makes itself known. I can actually "zoom out" of a Playing 1080p video to monitor the feed from my camera at the same time as I wait for a new email to pop up in my browser. I've noticed some slowdown upon actually jumping into the camera app, but the PlayBook is undoubtedly the most robust multitasking tablet I have ever used.

Versatility: The PlayBook has a couple of advantages over the iPad. It is smaller, and thus much easier to take with you wherever you go. It has a superior camera and a superior form factor for using that camera. I've had great success sticking a tiny mic into my PlayBook's audio port and carrying the tablet around with me as a voice recorder for doing interviews and fieldwork. Sadly, the PlayBook is hampered by a lack of useful apps. My iPad 2 is loaded with image and video editing tools and note-taking apps that RIM's tablet just doesn't have. As long as the PlayBook lags behind on apps, it will be the less desirable tablet.

Media: The above image is from a work weekend out in the middle of West, Texas. We were building and painting a pyramid-shaped tent and used the PlayBook and my Supertooth Disco speakers as 'DJ'. I've also used the PlayBook to manage my music for a ten hour drive down to Marfa, Texas and back up to Dallas, It performed splendidly, and I found the PlayBook's music app to be quite adequate. I prefer loading files onto the PlayBook rather than the iPad 2. Dumping my files in the 'Music' folder is easier than worrying about iTunes.

The PlayBook handles 1080p video like a champ, and even lets me switch between that and a video game with minimal slowdown. I found the speakers a bit tinny compared to the iPad 2, but quite adequate for close-quarters viewing and listening.

Camera: I love the PlayBook as a camera. For one thing, it fits comfortably in your hands and doesn't strain you during long video shots. Media isn't as easy to send from the PlayBook to other devices (no Email option) but the overall convenience and quality are impressive. Here's a picture I took of a Texas sunset, eclipsed by cloud cover.

And here's a picture of the smoke rolling off a Texas brushfire, taken from a moving car.

Longevity: The PlayBook battery is not quite up to snuff with the iPad or iPad 2, something that becomes obvious when you start watching video or browsing heavily. That said, I never had an issue getting through a day of heavy use. I generally charge it every other day- and it charges quickly, too.

The Browser: Is buggy compared to Safari, but not as buggy as my Evo's stock browser. Flash compatibility is alright, but I still come across a large number of sites with big broken areas on them. And YouTube videos frequently require several reloads before playing. I've also noticed that the PlayBook will often force me to re-login to Gmail several times before letting me in, even when my password is correct.

 

Verdict

Pros

  • +Great form factor
  • +Fast and very powerful multi-tasking
  • +Excellent camera and file storage

Cons

  • -Terrible at sharing media
  • -Buggy browser and mixed flash support
  • -No meaningful app selection
 

Conclusion

The PlayBook might be the ultimate diamond in the rough. It features fantastic hardware and great stock features, but with a disappointing app selection and a handful of weird bugs thrown into the mix. I can't recommend this tablet to the average consumer at its $499 entry price. But it may end up worth that a month or two down the line when (if) RIM gets a handle on their app situation. For now, I'd hold off on a purchase unless you KNOW you prefer the 7" form-factor...or you have a BlackBerry phone with someone besides AT&T.

 

8.0
10
 

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/5" rel="author">Robert Evans</a>
The excitement about new smartphones, tablets and anything mobile drive Robert to unearth the latest rumors and developments in this fast moving space. He adopted 4G as soon as it become available and knows where the mobile market is going.
Robert can be contacted directly at robert@i4u.com.

 

 

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