Reviews -> Hardware -> Portable Devices
Test Center | 26 September 2011
For : Amazing performance, Blackberry Bridge, good media playback.
Against : Terrible app support, screen size isn’t ideal for content creation.
Verdict: A great tablet, but there’s not much to play with.
Rs 27,990 (16 GB)
Rs 37,990 (64 GB)
Dimensions (WxHxD): 194 x 130 x 10 mm; Weight: 425 g; Processor: 1 GHz dual-core Cortex-A9 CPU; Memory: 16 GB internal; RAM: 1 GB; Display: 7-inch TFT, 600x1024, 16M; Camera: 5 MP, 1080p video; Data: Wi-Fi N, Bluetooth, micro USB.
Contact : Blackberry
Phone : 9341002903
The BlackBerry PlayBook is supposed to be RIM’s savior, not only launching RIM into the red-hot tablet market, but also powered by the all-new QNX OS, as well as boasting of some great hardware specs.
Businesslike, tough, yet cool - this baby, featuring a 7-inch high-resolution 1024 x 600 WSVGA capacitive touchscreen with 4-finger multi-touch and gesture support, looks business-chic. The display is brilliant even in bright sunlight. With a back that’s sort of rubberized, this thing is built tough and could easily take a few nasty falls without a murmur.
Our review unit came with 16 GB of internal memory and 1 GB RAM, but 32 GB and 64 GB versions are available. There’s no support for microSD cards or SIM cards. The bottom of the PlayBook has a microUSB port for charging and tethering to a PC, an HDMI port that allows you to directly play movies, and a docking port. The PlayBook comes with two cameras—a 3 megapixel 1080p forward-facing camera, and a 5 megapixel 1080p rear-facing camera. While the PlayBook is definitely more portable than 10-inch tablets like the iPad2, it won’t exactly fit into your pocket. However, when you’re travelling cattle class on a packed flight, it’s definitely more usable compared to its 10-inch brethren.
Features and Performance
The Blackberry Tablet OS boasts of symmetric multiprocessing capabilities and is an admirable piece of software that didn’t crash on me even once. RIM is also constantly tinkering with the OS; in the week or so that we had the device, we received two OTA OS updates. When you add a 1 GHz dual-core Cortex-A9 CPU to the mix, the result is blazing performance. You get jaw-dropping multitasking capabilities, where you can have HD video, the Web browser, games and more open, and switch between all these easily.
A downward finger swipe from the top right corner brings up the system menu. Open apps appear as a series of smaller windows on the top half of the screen, and you can scroll though them. The bottom of the screen holds icons such as All, Media, Games and Favorites, besides Bridge when using Blackberry Bridge. A few minutes is all it took to get used to the swipes needed for navigation on the device. Although not as intuitive as the iPad, this one’s pretty darn close. The keyboard’s nice enough but one minor issue is that the gyroscope seems to often have a mind of its own. Speed of reorientation can be annoying and often you need to give it a thorough shake to get the screen into the correct position. The browser is perhaps the best RIM has built to date and is full-featured with full Flash support. With built-in support for HTML 5, this is almost as good as a standard desktop browser. We had no problems with Flash-enabled sites and the browser rendered text, graphics and video very well.
The PlayBook handles most media formats very well. The speakers are excellent and deliver good music reproduction and HD video playback is superb. You also don’t need to convert videos since it supports DivX and XviD formats, and you can use an HDMI cable to connect the Playbook to your HDTV and view videos. Of course, you’ll need a micro-standard type cable which is not included in the package. The 5 megapixel autofocus camera on the rear is a winner and delivered great pictures, even in fairly low light. Ditto with video recording in full HD 1080p.
Apps spoil the fairy tale
This is where the story goes sour. The PlayBook comes bundled with a decent set of tools for the average business user. The full version of Documents to Go comes with the PlayBook. There’s Word To Go, Sheet To Go and Slideshow To Go and these are quite good. The unit we received also came with a few Indian apps such as Zomato, Vogue and a Tarla Dalal cookery app. There’s also a nice video chat app that leverages the dual cameras, but you need another Playbook user in order to chat.
Peek into Blackberry App World, however, and unlike competing app stores where you can spend days browsing through what’s on offer, this one is visibly empty, especially on the consumer apps front. Unlike the iPad, which can run almost all iPhone apps, existing Blackberry apps won’t run on the PlayBook. We downloaded a few apps for kids and were appalled at the quality and UI. This is one area that RIM desperately needs to work much harder on. One way RIM wants to solve this problem is a plan to release emulators that will allow the PlayBook to run Android and Blackberry apps. However, this feature is still a few months away from being implemented.
Though native e-mail, calendar and memo apps are not available, if you are a BlackBerry smartphone user, you can simply use Blackberry Bridge to tether your smartphone to the Playbook, and you’ll be able to access your e-mail, calendar, Blackberry Messenger, memos and even browse in the absence of Wi-Fi connectivity using the Bridge browser. The process to connect to Bridge is simple and CIOs should be delighted because Bridge ensures that no data resides on the Playbook. The minute the Bridge connection is broken, the cache on the Playbook is cleared. Another reason CIOs might prefer the lack of native e-mail apps is that since users need to check e-mail through the browser when not using Bridge, no data resides on the tablet.
Connectivity and Battery
The currently available Playbooks offer only Wi-Fi and GPS. Future versions will offer 4G + WiMax, 4G + LTE and 4G + HSPA+, but these are months away from launch. Besides, India has just about started on the 3G journey, and 4G is at least a year or two away. RIM claims you can also use your smartphone as a tethered modem with the PlayBook. We tried it, but didn’t get 3G browsing speeds, which may have been because of service provider’s 3G network in Mumbai. Battery life is good and was something RIM has worked feverishly on. We got around 5.5 to 8 hours of battery life from the inbuilt Li-Po 5300 mAh battery with mixed use. Overall, this should easily be enough for a day’s worth of Playbook use.
We have to admit that the Playbook grew on us. In a line, it’s a great tablet with a lousy app store. While you can do your basic work on it, building a complex presentation from scratch or working on a complicated spreadsheet won’t be easy because of the small screen and touch input. So, like most tablets, it’s ideal for content consumption rather than creation. Since it comes from the Blackberry stable, quite a few enterprises may take to it because CIOs would love the security aspects of BlackBerry Bridge. RIM also may have set up the foundation for a future winner here. Unlike Nokia, which turned over and killed MeeGo, RIM has displayed the guts to innovate on its own and go for a whole new OS rather than adopt someone else’s. Priced at Rs 27,990 for the 16 GB version, the Playbook doesn’t come cheap and considering the lack of app depth, may be priced a tad high. If you’re a Blackberry power user or fanatic, you should try this one, but if you’re not, it might be a good idea to wait till RIM gets its apps act right.
- Ivor Soans