BlackBerry PlayBook Review

By on June 22, 2011
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Great from a hardware point of view- not too sure about the software.

Good: Fast hardware, beautiful screen and excellent gesture based operations
Bad: OS feels incomplete, lack of built-in email and calendar functionality, Not many good apps.
Price: AED 2,099 (16GB), AED 2,699 (32GB) and AED 3,099 (64GB)
* The price is the Suggested Retail Price at the time of review. Please call a retailer to confirm the latest price for this product.

Coming to the software side of things, the PlayBook is based on the QNX operating system which is supposedly one of the most robust and secure operating systems found in cars such as BMW. RIM bought QNX some time back and has been hard at work making the PlayBook around it.

Honestly speaking, my first impression of the PlayBook wasn’t that great. But then came a couple of software upgrades and the product started getting better and better. My review is based on the OS version that was released by RIM just a few days back. Let me start off with a video showcasing the interface.

As you can see from the video above, moving around the Playbook’s OS is extremely easy and very intuitive- to the point where you start wondering why other tablets are not using this gesture based system that feels so natural. Moving between apps and swiping from the sides of the screen to pull up the status bar or the keyboard are wonderful ideas by RIM and works beautifully. Simply put, it’s the best multi-tasking you can get on a tablet at the moment.

The second best thing about the PlayBook is the browser. Flash is built into the OS and RIM has definitely worked on optimizing the browser to get it working about as good as a desktop browser. I had no issues loading up which has a couple of flash based ads showing on it. What the browser doesn’t support is multi-tasking within its tabs so if you have something streaming on a tab and switch away from it, the streaming stops.

To get your emails and contacts on the PlayBook, you need to have a BlackBerry device which is a bit of a shame. At the moment, the PlayBook uses a Bridge to connect to your BlackBerry Smartphone which in turn lets you see all the emails, contacts and calendar on your device along with accessing BBM. RIM has promised native clients for these functions soon so hopefully this won’t be a complain much longer. The following video shows the Bridge aspect of the PlayBook.

The applications catalog for PlayBook is growing by the day. When I initially purchased the unit, there was no Facebook or Twitter app however, Facebook is now integrated in the OS and you can now purchase a Twitter client from the App World. What is a bit of a shame is that all apps currently designed for the PlayBook are through Adobe’s Air framework which is not as fluid as some of the native apps- for example, the lag in scrolling in apps such as Facebook is quite noticeable. Also worth pointing is that Arabic in Facebook appeared broken and RIM has promised Arabic support in a future firmware upgrade.

RIM has also promised a native development kit as well as a Java development kit which will help developers put out apps that should work smoother and be compatible with the BlackBerry OS for mobile phones. Even Adobe is expected to update the AIR framework which should also result in a better experience. Also on schedule is the Android Player from RIM that could technically allow you to run Android apps on the PlayBook- opening a whole new door.

Last but certainly not the least, battery life on the PlayBook is decent and you should be able to get over seven hours out of it. The charger that RIM bundles with the PlayBook manages to charge the tablet within a few hours. What I wasn’t too impressed with was the amount of battery the PlayBook would lose in standby mode. Even if you don’t use your PlayBook at all, the unit can lose all it’s charge within a few days. The iPad on the other hand can last weeks.

In closing, the BlackBerry PlayBook is a good tablet that has potential to be a LOT better. I’ve seen some of that with software updates over the last couple of months. RIM has certainly done well on the hardware site but really needs to get native PIM apps, a native SDK and the promised Android player as soon as they possibly can because they have some fierce competition with the iPad 2 and other Android based tablets like the ASUS Transformer. Until then, the PlayBook is mostly for die hard BlackBerry fans.

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Abbas Jaffar Ali is the founder of and a blogger, geek and self-declared tech pundit who can't stop talking about technology. Find him on twitter as @ajaffarali

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