PlayBook, hopefully in the future.
A financial consultant would tell you that money now is better than a bit more later. But how would that equation translate into the tech world? Would you prefer a device that offers a pretty awesome experience right away or one that has the potential to be a game changer when and if the manufacturer works on it. That, my dear readers, is the story of the iPad 2 and the BlackBerry PlayBook.
I’ve been using the iPad for over a year now and my continuous experiments to replace it with my laptop has always failed. Thus, when RIM announced the PlayBook, I saw a gleam of hope as a be-all tablet that might be the missing piece in my quest to abandon my laptop. And then the unfavorable reviews started pouring in. But that did not stop me from purchasing a grey import as it is yet to be launched in the UAE. The specs, the portability and with the few times I’ve played with the PlayBook at trade shows, had me convinced that RIM is on to a good thing. I’ve been using mine for a couple of days now and thought I’d write in my first impressions.
Let’s talk about the specs and the design of the PlayBook- arguably, its biggest strength at launch. The dual core 1 GHz Cortex-A9 processor along with 1GB of RAM packs in an impressive punch handling websites like Tbreak. Along with that the 7″ WSVGA (1024*600) multi-touch LCD with a16:9 aspect ratio does a beautiful job of showing videos- especially with the built in stereo speakers that produce better audio than most full-fledged laptops. If you prefer to watch your videos on a bigger screen, then the built in HDMI port is capable of out putting in full 1080P.
The PlayBook is available in 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB flavors. It features a 3mp front and 5mp rear facing camera, 6-axis motion sensor (gyroscope), digital compass, GPS, orientation sensor, 3.5mm headphone jack, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR. I really don’t know how RIM managed to fit all that into a tiny 7.6″ x 5’1″ frame, with a depth of 0.4″ that weighs under a pound.
The construction quality of the PlayBook is also incredible with a rubbery back giving it a nice grip. The front had a slightly larger bezel around the screen that not only gives you extra space to rest your fingers, but also supports gestures. You can tell that a lot of thought went into designing the PlayBook.
Where the disappointment begins is when you start using it. Starting off, the comparison to the iPad is inevitable- please ignore the fanboys that are giving RIM the green slip by saying it’s their first device. Judging by that way of thinking, the iPhone 4 is only Apple’s fourth phone- do you really want to compare that with RIM’s fourth device? That is not how it works. When you bring out a product to the market, you have to place your product amongst the leaders in that category and then try and best them. RIM has done a bit of that with the PlayBook. The hardware is amazing and so is the QNX Operating System- or at least the promise of it. However, they are not optimized as of yet and the continuous updates that have been rolling out are a proof of that. Things like selecting text, auto correction, etc. should have been part of the OS at launch. Hopefully in the future.
The second thing RIM loves pointing out is the incredible browser on the PlayBook with it’s almost desktop like functionality. Glad to see its working out for some but two of my most accessed websites- Gmail and Google docs don’t work properly. The tablet version of Gmail is insanely sluggish and i can’t even get the keyboard to show up in Google docs. Seriously RIM, if you are targeting the browser to be the best in class, at least check how one of the most popular webmail service is horribly broken, especially since there is no built-in email client. Hopefully in the future.
My third issue is that not everyone who wants a PlayBook is a BlackBerry user. I doubt RIM wants to release a product that is catered towards a market segment that is losing market share quarter after quarter. Gmail doesn’t work well on the browser so at least give me a native app to have my email on the device outside the browser. Also, I’m sure that many people that use an alternate email solution that can be properly accessed in the Playbook’s browser might still want to read their email where they don’t have a data connection- say in a 3+ hour flight or at the beach. Hopefully in the future.
Moving on, even people that do have a BlackBerry, the Bridge functionality is less than an optimal experience. The PlayBook should have shined in this area but the sluggish nature of Bridge makes me think that I am using an under powered Android tablet instead of the dual core monster that the PlayBook is. And what about one of the best aspects of my BlackBerry- the BBM? Hopefully in the future.
Last, but certainly not the least, is the limited number of apps which I am sure will increase tremendously in the weeks and months ahead. I kept thinking that with a mighty browser, my apps usage will become secondary- I was wrong. Take my above example for an email app. I would also very much like an app for Twitter, Skype, Wired magazine and many other things that might be functional in a web browser but not very convenient on a smaller device, or one that can’t be online all the time. I’ve put together a video showing off the PlayBook- some of the things that it’s great at and areas where it lacks.
It seems that my article has turned into more of a rant than a first look so I’ll stop here. I’m not giving up on the PlayBook because I think that RIM has made a brilliant device that is just not ready yet. I will continue using this purchased unit until it is officially released in the UAE by the end of Q2. And I give RIM these next couple of months to sort the PlayBook out and make it into a device that many of us want it to be. If they don’t, then the Samsung Tab 8.9 will be waiting for me.