After Apple's success with the iPad, every smartphone manufacturer seemed to want a slice of the newly created tablet market. First in line were the Android tablets that were packed with features but were held down by sub-par usability. The Blackberry Playbook stands on the other end of the spectrum. It's a highly usable device that oozes quality but is strangely bereft of features especially for users who don't own a Blackberry phone.
Through the duration of my review, the Playbook amazed me and frustrated me in turns. Here's what I thought of it.
For some eldritch reason many of the Playbook's features depend on a Blackberry handset essentially ensuring that to get full functionality from the Playbook, you need to own a Blackberry smartphone.
A larger screen-size and the ability to have a larger sized device allow tablet-makers to pack in good specs under the hood and the Playbook is no exception. The tablet is powered by a 1GHz dual-core processor and a dedicated GPU. It supports Wi-Fi but unfortunately not 3G. The Playbook also has a GPS chip built-in but there is no pre-installed navigation app apart from the standard Bing Maps.
The Playbook has a 7-inch capacitive display with a resolution of 1024x600 pixels. It also has dual-cameras- a 3MP front-facing one for video-chats and a primary 5MP camera.
The Playbook runs the first version of Blackberry Tablet OS and as a result has a completely new UI and method of navigation. Apps are taken care of by the Blackberry App World store and that store consists of apps that have been developed for the Playbook. I was also informed by RIM reps that in the future the Playbook will be supporting select Android Market apps but that's not yet possible. At present though, although the quality of apps in the app store is pretty good, the numbers still need some bolstering.
The Playbook's OS has been designed wholly around the concept of multi-tasking. Instead of using widgets that you can move to a designated homescreen, you can instead place entire apps on the multi-tasking pane. As a result, the apps continue to work even when minimized just like a minimized window on your desktop would. The Playbook's multi-tasking capabilities are quite frankly astounding and I ran more than 10 apps simultaneously including an HD video, a game and the browser without witnessing any slowdowns. A neat addition is that you can continue to interact with the apps even when they are in their minimized state within the multi-tasking pane.
The Multitasking Pane on the Playbook.
The Playbook doesn't offer any telephony features either but you really can't hold anything against it for that since you really won't be using such a large device as a phone.
I reviewed the 16GB version of the Playbook and along with that the 32GB and 64GB variants are also available in the market. The Playbook however doesn't support memory cards. The tablet uses a microUSB slot to connect to the PC and also offers a miniHDMI port.
The Documents to Go office suite comes pre-installed on the Playbook that allows you to edit and create Word docs and Excel sheets and also allows you to view PowerPoint presentations and PDF files. The major drawback of the Playbook is highlighted in its productivity features. For some eldritch reason many of the Playbook's features depend on a Blackberry handset essentially ensuring that to get full functionality from the Playbook, you need to own a Blackberry smartphone. As a result, there's no calendar/scheduler app pre-installed on the Playbook and instead it uses the calendar app on the Blackberry smartphone.
The feature known as Blackberry Bridge essentially creates a bridge between your Blackberry handset and the Playbook over Bluetooth letting you use your favorite Blackberry apps such as email, Blackberry Messenger, Blackberry Contacts and the aforementioned scheduler/organizer app. If you have a supported Blackberry handset (we tried the Curve 8320 but it didn't work. However, the Tour 9630 and the Curve 8520 did), then it works really well. However, if you are among the majority of human beings that don't own a Blackberry phone, then you will be locked out from using plenty of features. One of the stark examples is the complete absence of an e-mailing app on the Playbook. If you don't have a Blackberry phone, then the only way you will be able to access your email is through the browser.
The Blackberry Bridge menu.
Bridge also allows you to access media files on your Blackberry phone and play/view them on the Playbook. I tested this feature and it worked fine when it came to pictures and music but it seemed to have issues recognizing video files.