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BlackBerry Playbook Review




We’re all too familiar with Android tablets and the iPad so when we were introduced to the BlackBerry Playbook with its own mobile operating system, we paused for a while to re-think the UI, navigation and over-all usability. Read our full review of RIM’s BlackBerry Playbook after the jump.

RIM’s approach to a tablet is something that’s thin, light and very portable that’s why they invested in a 7-inch form factor instead of the more popular 10-incher segment. Of course, that’s not to say they might put up a bigger tablet in the future once this one pans out.

This move has its inherent benefits as well as disadvantages, depending on each individual case use. Larger tablets are more attractive to folks that look bigger screen real-estate whenever they want to watch movies, browse the web or play games. However, they are oftentimes heavy and bulky to carry around.

Like many other 7-inch tablets, the Blackberry Playbook offers a more jacket-pocket friendly mobile device (or for the ladies, the usual hand or clutch bag) light enough not to be too cumbersome for all-day use.

At first look, the Playbook does have that impression that it’s just a well-crafted digital picture frame. The glossy all-glass front panel and the simple, squarish design that’s devoid of any buttons or accent is the obvious culprit. The thick black bezel around the sides adds to the same impression.

On the top end, there’s a very small silver-metal power button beside the volume control and media playback (play/pause button) and at the far right, the 3.5mm audio port. At the bottom end are ports for the micro-USB and mini-HDMI. The absence of a micro-SD port is disappointing but how else can RIM sell the 32GB and 64GB variants if they’d include it, right? (That’s the same strategy Apple did with the iPad).

The tablet is very thin at just 9.7mm and weighs around 0.9lbs. It’s actually thinner than any other BlackBerry smartphone RIM has ever produced. The display crisp and bright and the screen is very responsive to the touch.

The Playbook runs on it’s own operating system, the BlackBerry Tablet OS, which is based on the QNX Neutrino OS. RIM will also be migrating to QNX with the upcoming BlackBerry OS 7 for their smartphones (with the upcoming BB Bold 9900).

IMO, the Blackberry Tablet OS truly represents what multi-tasking should be done on a tablet — applications actively run simultaneously on the screen and in the background. That means you can play Need for Speed while loading a YouTube video on a browser in the background and watch a movie at the same time. Oh wait, you can actually record videos with its 5MP camera in full HD while still doing all those.

The Playbook actually allows you 3 levels of application behavior — Showcase (all applications are active and never pause in the background, Default (an application in active in the background until another application goes fullscreen and Paused (all applications are paused in the background and activated when tapped). This setting helps you conserve power on the tablet.

The Playbook’s navigation relies on the edges of the screen (the bezel part) and gestures from that end activates several menus and controls the panels/windows for individual apps that’s running in the background.

It could be confusing at times but once you get the hang of it, works like a charm. The UI, while intuitive and elegant, could be a little challenging to some age group (my 7 year old niece had no problem navigating the iPad but I’m pretty sure he’ll easily get lost with the Playbook).

Central to the usability of a tablet is the collection of apps available to it. RIM has the BlackBerry App World for some time now but the number of available apps seems to be a bit lacking. Most of the basic apps are there — a native Facebook app, a couple of paid Twitter apps (Blackbird & Blaq at $1.99 each), the FourPlay app for FourSquare, Bluebox as a DropBox client and a few more. Prepare to shell out a couple of bucks to get the useful ones.

Compared to the Android Market and the iTunes App store, the BlackBerry App World pales in comparison. However, RIM is said to be working a software that will allow Android apps to be installed and run on the Playbook.

RIM BlackBerry Playbook
7-inch capacitive display @ 1024×600 pixel
1GHz dual-core CPU
1GB RAM
16GB, 32GB, 64GB internal storage
5MP rear camera
3MP front-facing camera
1080p Full HD video recording
HDMI port
micro-USB port
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
Bluetooth 2.1
BlackBerry Tablet OS

Unlike some tablets that offer a WiFi+3G variant, the Playbook is available in WiFi only models. What RIM did was introduce a built-in feature called BlackBerry Bridge — a wireless Bluetooth connection between your Blackberry phone and Playbook so you can connect to the internet using your phone’s 3G network. It also activates access to native email, calendar and BB Messenger. Would have been a nice idea but also crippling to many others who don’t own a Blackberry phone (gives us the impression that RIM made the Playbook for BlackBerry users only).

Here are some really nice features I found native to the BlackBerry Playbook:

  • WiFi Sharing. Allows the Playbook to share files and folders over local WiFi network so transferring movies, documents and music is very fast & easy.
  • Internet Tethering. You can connect the Playbook to any phone via Bluetooth and be able to use the phone’s 3G to connect to the internet (tried it with a Nokia E6 and t’was very easy; no need for Joikuspot).
  • Application Behavior. As mentioned earlier, this sets how applications behave in the background.

Movie and music playback on the BB Playbook is really good — movies run smoothly at 720p but you can hook it up to an external TV via HDMI for full HD 1080p playback. The speakers are placed smack in the front, right along the sides so the audio is directly straight to you (most other tablets put the speakers at the bottom or the back so the sound is often times muted or obstructed).

The built-in browser is pretty slick, fast and renders pages very well. It can even play YouTube HD at the full 1080p resolution and FarmVille for Facebook right on the browser.

Battery life is actually impressive for its size. The 5300mAh built-in Li-Ion battery can play about 6 hours of videos (that’s around 3 full movies) while browsing the web over WiFi on a single full charge.

The 5MP rear camera on the Playbook is arguably the best one I’ve tried on a tablet. It takes very decent stills and 720p videos. Here are sample photos and videos taken using the Playbook.

Don’t forget to tick the 720p video settings on YouTube.

The BlackBerry Playbook is a very promising tablet and is something worth waiting for. Simple, yet elegant design, sleek form factor, ideal weight and size, a powerful processor and flexible multi-tasking OS plus a selection of storage options up to 64GB. Its got its own share of shortcomings like the native BlackBerry features and the selection of apps in the BlackBerry App World (the BlackBerry Bridge is a useful feature when you’re already using a BlackBerry handset).

If RIM can really make Android Apps work on the Playbook, that would be awesome. RIM is also working on a software update to allow native applications (mail, calendar, etc) to work even without the BB Bridge.

The Playbook is not yet officially released in the Philippines but we’ve got word it might land in the country by end of July or probably early August. Globe Telecom is said to be the exclusive distributor of the tablet. The Playbook starting price is $499 for the 16GB model (it’s Php22k in Singapore so I’m guessing Php25k to Php27k here) and goes up to $699 for the 64GB variant.



Abe is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of YugaTech. You Can follow him on Twitter @abeolandres.

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40 Responses

  1. YuYu says:

    the playbook is not a blackberry device, as such, it should not wear the label. :P

    bb services only work when bridged w/ a BB phone.

  2. koolfire says:

    OS 7 is not QNX. according to RIM, the QNX powered BB might come out in 2012… OS 7 was supposed to be OS 6.1 until RIM decided to call it OS 7

  3. yuga says:

    @koolfire – last time I talked to reps on RIM from SG, I am told OS 7 is a combination of OS 6 and little bits of QNX.

    • koolfire says:

      oh ok…though i will still wait for their full QNX “supersmartphone” next yr than buying the 9900. im still satisfied with my 9780 :)

  4. I like the gadget and the way it was presented.

  5. luiboowee says:

    Damn! You mentioned it! So if I could play Farmville on this device, I could also play Empires and Allies by Zynga! Alright, I have decided. I will buy this one.

    I don’t like the idea carrying an iPad around like an envelop as if I’m a nurse carrying a docket/something.

  6. iwa says:

    rim is dying…..

  7. chinitoguy says:

    Its a great tablet but I would prefer an Android powered Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 which is still not available here or the upcoming Microsoft Windows 8 tablet which is expected to come out next year. That’s the reason I am not still interested on buying a tablet these days.

  8. 21 says:

    Did RIM copied the WEB OS!!!!!!! ????

  9. alain says:

    blackberry sucks but this is pretty cool.

  10. dragon says:

    Playbook is really interesting. But I think its a little expensive. The sample video you showed… that’s at Starbucks Magallanes right? :))

  11. Cocopako says:

    Nice one,

  12. Abby says:

    @sir yuga,

    have you tried Playbook with the updates? I heard it was released. There was supposed to be a webcam to webcam feature similar to skype?

    Looks pretty awesome. I’m thinking of buying it. I wish I could tether Desire to it.

  13. ocommon says:

    Mukhang pera pala infomax eh. 50k 64GB Playbook, ano sila, sinuswerte?

  14. raul barrios says:

    I’m a little worried about the OS they made, well business is business.

  15. ARL says:

    hope more app developers… nice tablet but im hesitant to buy, mura lang sana dito sa loaction ko ngayon, kulang lng tlga ng apps…

  16. yuga says:

    @abby – not yet but will try.

  17. wow, the camera quality’s quite surprising – ang ganda ng kuha dun sa ilaw; I didn’t expect Playbook’s photo quality to be that good.

  18. Earl says:

    Hi Abe, how would u rate it from 1to10 (10 being the highest)?
    With RIM admitting that the Playbook missing the target sales by as much as 90%, its a little bit concerning to a potential buyer.
    I believe the 1st gen samsung tab received better reception.

    It just makes me sad since i’ve always loved blackberry, but their tablet isnt as appealing.

    • Leigh says:

      Earl, we’re total opposites. I love the PlayBook but I dislike the phones. :D. I think its just a rumor, hasn’t RIM dispelled that? Competition is quite stiffer now. Its coming August to our shores maybe you could try one. Its just smaller if you got used to bigger tabs. Well, I hope they won’t be closing anytime soon before the device becomes outdated.:D

  19. Great post!
    i’m still thinking whether to buy a playbook or an android tab, your post makes it clearly :)

  20. ok, i really like your post, but why my reply is considered as spam?

  21. Mike V says:

    I am definitely getting the playbook over the samsung galaxy tab 10.1. why? because i love how the multi-tasking works on the playbook. its easy, its fun and it works!

    The only problem i have with it is the small power button. its tiny and small ridiculously microscopic that its rarely visible to the naked eye.

    Oh and there’s an oil slick problem on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1’s screen.

  22. Wow, this is great. I’d like to see this one in actual.

  23. The Real Mckoy says:

    In business sense, do tablet help?
    While many are talking about the features my concern are not those but the benefits:
    – presentation (input/output ports connector to projector)
    – push email
    – print interface/print drivers?
    – microsoft outlook synchronization
    – which one comes with stylus?

    Please point me to right direction

  24. DudoyDanilo says:

    question of the day is ano.. blackberry future in jeopardy. kasi.. iphone 4s release sa states sobrang popular. pero android user ako for 1 year na lang and i love it! intsik on youtube. astig question.. make me think talaga. http://youtu.be/T1CSqpBrUXM

  25. Karen Cruz says:

    Good evening. i just wanted to inquire about the price of the Blackberry Playbook? Many thanks.

  26. Bagiou Vero says:

    Just want to inquire where to get free calendar. My playbook don’t have calendar. Also why my playbook can’t read PDF File efen if it has an Adobe Reader. Thanks

  27. Annexia says:

    hi, question lng po if tablets any brand are applicable w/skype?

  28. jigsaw jimmy says:

    BB playbook suck!

  29. TECHIHUNT says:

    Excellent multi-tasking ability; Sleek and sturdy design; Sharp 7 inches screen display; Catches high quality 1080p video clips; Impressive loudspeakers
    -http://www.techihunt.com/blackberry-playbook-7-inch-tablet/

  30. Cecil b. says:

    i have a problem with my BB playbook… it just suddenly won’t turn on even if i charged it & i don’t know why? is there any service center for BB here in the Philippines? pls help…

    • AL says:

      Hi cecil,

      Got the same problem here. Suddenly, my playbook just shutdown and can not power it on or charge it. What was your solution to it?

      Many thanks,
      al

  31. nightwalker says:

    does it has a sim slot???it can be used for call and text??

  32. bryan says:

    blackberry playbook is now very affordable ,within 12k you can have it+

  33. Quennie says:

    Hi! Would you know of a BB service center who actually accepts the BB playbook for repair. Mine does not charge anymore and when I asked a service center here in Cebu, they said they do not do playbook repairs. Most of the forums about the playbook says this can still be repaired.

    Thanks!

  34. bevie says:

    hello! as you said from the review android apps can be installed to playbook so you mean users can use “google play store” of android to playbook once its installed? i really wanted to know if i can play candycrush saga to the playbook. how much would be the philippine price of this? thanks

  35. Ire says:

    My blackberry playbook camera doesn’t work, I can’t download and pay games from my Blackberry world, my tab’s screen light turns off and on, though i turned off the automatic backlight dimming option.

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