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BlackBerry PlayBook (64GB)
Product

BlackBerry PlayBook (64GB)

The PlayBook is a beautiful machine with an imperfect suite of apps, showing immense potential that could be realised with updates in the coming months.

View the official CNET review »

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What's in it for me: the final verdict!

August 26th, 2011

Initially, I mentioned that I didn't really know if a tablet would hold much appeal for me, as it seems stuck between a laptop and a decent touchscreen mobile phone ... well, I have come to a decision — but firstly, let's review some of the good, bad and slightly ugly.

Read more...

Summing it up, the BlackBerry PlayBook

August 25th, 2011

Top five things I like about this product

  • The clarity and quality of the screen — easy to read, brilliant pictures
  • The ease of operation — tethering to phone, set up for operation, swiping is intuitive and connectivity to PC is easy
  • The size of the tablet is not too big — it is very portable and light, great to go anywhere with you
  • The video, camera and sound is excellent, really excellent
  • Concept is brilliant for people on the go

Top five things I would improve

  • When I travel I would like to clear my pics from my storage card (CF cards, which are more expensive and store less data than an SD card). In some countries you travel to, you can get internet/computer access but it is very, very slow. I would like BlackBerry to consider installing a USB port on the PlayBook to be able to dump my pictures and data in.
  • Apps are important. On using App World I have come to the conclusion that there's a lack of apps and the quality isn't too high — even for those you pay for. The App World needs to ramp up Australian-based apps like football and soccer
  • Make sure the PlayBook can be tethered to all phones regardless of their operating system — even a 3G iPhone
  • Whilst the picture quality is good, the PlayBook produces photos that are a little dull and could be tweaked for colour contrast
  • Have dedicated email client for non-BlackBerry users

Would I recommend this product to family/friends and colleagues?
The BlackBerry PlayBook is what it is, an adjunct to a netbook or laptop, a "mini-me" version with a few less bells and whistles; for example, no dedicated email client. It's designed for highly mobile people, rail/bus commuters, students, business people who travel or spend time in airports and perhaps people who lack storage space. You can use it for home use, if you're short on space, but in my opinion, it would be easier to use your laptop. The upside is, you can leave the PlayBook idle and access it very quickly without having to wait to power up your laptop — it's great for checking out footy and cricket results, the TV guide or finding a recipe to cook up your fridge's offerings.

The apps are improving and increasing weekly. The Photo Editor app I purchased last week has just installed the filters, which weren't installed in the app when I first purchased it a week ago. (See my previous review)

PhotoEditor

The Photo Editor app's Pop Art filter has been applied to these images, which were taken on the BlackBerry PlayBook
(Credit: Barb Gannon)

There is a growing trend to restrict employee access to internet sites — internet filtering (due to hackers). The PlayBook can get around this problem with phone tethering and gives you the opportunity to access any site you may wish to visit without big brother watching you.

My colleagues, who are avid iPad users but aren't highly mobile, use their tablet to browse the internet, access email, do internet shopping, watch videos (whilst in bed), entertain kids in the car. The best use of the tablet mentioned was as an electronic babysitter: "We just play Toy Story to our two-and-a-half-year-old whilst we're out at a restaurant." What a great idea! The PlayBook does all of these things, too.

Over the weekend, I used hubby's BlackBerry mobile to tether to the PlayBook when travelling in the car for a weekend getaway. Who would have thought a few years ago that you'd be able to surf the net on a tablet, through your mobile phone's internet, whilst travelling 100kph in the Victorian countryside? It sure made time fly!

Yes, I'd recommend the PlayBook to people who want access to a bigger screen (as opposed to their phone), people who are mobile, who want data access, movies, entertainment, those who are space poor and those seeking something very light to port. I would definitely buy a PlayBook if I could load my pics to it whilst travelling, as I do like to review them. Carrying a laptop around is too difficult and far too heavy when on travel holidays.

I believe the PlayBook's sound, the picture quality, camera/reading resolution, design, intuitiveness and ease of use is just as good, if not better than the iPad. If there is good public support for the PlayBook it can only improve in leaps and bounds over time, particularly with its apps. The PlayBook's current price tag is still too prohibitive for my budget, at around AU$549 RRP (32GB); however, I would be prepared to purchase this if there were direct USB connections to upload my pics from my camera.

BlackBerry PlayBook top features review

August 24th, 2011


(Credit: Robert Wilson)

In his final TechProbe review of the BlackBerry PlayBook, Robert sums up his PlayBook experience by sharing his top five features, his opinions on areas for improvement and tells you whether he thinks the device is right for you!

Useful apps and app development

August 23rd, 2011

Usefulness of the PlayBook in a business context
The major area that BlackBerry has succeeded in is the business market. Their smartphones are superbly suited to keeping business people in communication with each other, especially when coupled with their BlackBerry Enterprise Server. To me, if the PlayBook is to succeed, it must also win with business-based customers. This, I fear, is one of the PlayBook's biggest threats to it really catching on.

The one area I find the PlayBook somewhat useful is its coupling with my BlackBerry 9700 phone and the larger screen for the BlackBerry phone applications like messaging and email. I am able to keep my phone in my pocket and the PlayBook couples with it automatically. This is neat, but to be honest, not compelling.

If I really needed to, I could edit a document or spreadsheet on the go. However, again the experience is not compelling. While I'm out of the office, I may move away from my reliance from my laptop after more experience with the PlayBook, but not just yet.

The range of applications available for the PlayBook
As the PlayBook is new to market as well as having a totally new operating system for most developers to deal with, it is of no surprise to me that the range of applications available is relatively small compared to the iPad. To me the issue is not the total number of applications per se, but the "range of choice" of applications. BlackBerry has done a wonderful job of garnering several thousand applications to be available, but I am still not able to get the applications that have been created by many organisations eg, banks, media organisations, governments and other businesses that have targeted only the iPad, so far. Even Android is struggling in this area.

VMware virtual machine

RIM provides a VMware-based virtual machine to run applications on your development PC. This provides push-based services such as access to email, calendar, contacts, tasks and notes, instant messaging, web-based applications and services, and enterprise applications.
(Credit: Peter Hayward)


Developing applications for the PlayBook
Being a professional software developer, I have been particularly interested in what RIM has done to assist developers with PlayBook application development. To be honest I'm disappointed and confused.

There are potentially three ways to build an application for the PlayBook. Two of which are available now and the last and arguably most important one, is not yet available.

  • BlackBerry Tablet OS SDK for Adobe AIR
    To successfully use this environment I have to purchase Adobe's Flash Builder 4.5. The story ends for me here.
  • BlackBerry WebWorks SDK for Tablet OS
    This is a command line-based development tool. Although I don't mind this, it is hardly the way to entice developers. And as it is largely HTML5 based, perhaps I should simply just concentrate on served, thin client HTML5 applications?
WebWorks SDK updloads

The PC-based development for the WebWorks SDK has some rather convoluted steps to compile and upload executables.
(Credit: Peter Hayward)

  • BlackBerry Tablet Native SDK
    Now my interest is piqued, but alas it's not available yet. I have requested entry into the BlackBerry Tablet Native SDK Beta program, but was knocked back because apparently it is "full". Now this is stunning and frankly disappointing. I've no idea how RIM expects the PlayBook to succeed without a supported, IDE-based development environment that can compete with the other platforms.
Development of an application

It is possible to develop applications, albeit not for the faint of heart.
(Credit: Peter Hayward)

Even though I love the little PlayBook, I do worry for its future.

Thanks heaps and heaps to CNET Australia for this opportunity to review the PlayBook, it has been exciting, a lot of fun and the kids have just loved it.

Apple iPad and BlackBerry PlayBook: a comparison

August 22nd, 2011

This week, I had the opportunity to get hands on with the Apple iPad to compare and contrast it with the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet that I have had the pleasure of using over the past four weeks.

Size

Apple iPad and BlackBerry PlayBook size comparison.
(Credit: Trisha Moss)

Apple iPad

Pros:

  • The iPad's large screen size is a big plus for viewing movies, photos and playing games.
  • The Smart Cover on the Apple iPad is absolutely fantastic. It covers the screen perfectly, and then folds back to become a stand. It attaches with magnets, so is easy to put on and take off.
  • There is an amazing number of apps available in the App Store for just about anything you can think of! These cater to both local and international audiences.
  • It can be tethered to an iPhone to use the iPhone's data for access to the internet.
  • A dedicated email program is available for you to sync your accounts. This email program also allows for multiple email accounts to be accessed.
  • There is a pre-installed contacts app.
  • There is a pre-installed calendar app available to set reminders, appointments and birthdays.
  • There's an attachment that allows an SD card to be inserted, so that photos can be downloaded directly onto the iPad.
  • You can buy an attachment to connect an HDMI cable to connect the iPad to the TV.

Cons:

  • The iPad doesn't have Flash, which makes browsing some content on web pages a pretty dull experience.
  • The "Home" button on the iPad can be accidentally pressed when holding the device in landscape mode. It becomes frustrating when playing a game or even viewing photos, etc.
  • The multitasking aspect of the iPad is not as simple to use as the PlayBook is easy to use.
  • The clarity of the photos is not quite as good as on the PlayBook (see image below).
  • The iPad is not quite as portable as the PlayBook, as the size of this device is much larger.
  • Not being able to drag and drop files and folders directly onto the iPad; everything has to be done through iTunes, except for photos, which must be transferred from an allocated computer. This is especially annoying, as my daughter (who came to visit me from NSW) wanted to add some movies to her iPad to watch on her return journey. If she had synced the movies to her iPad from my computer, iTunes would have wiped all of her original data off.

BlackBerry PlayBook

Pros:

  • Its compact size is much more portable than the iPad.
  • You can drag and drop files and folders from a computer to the device. This can be done wirelessly, so you don't even need to attach it via a cable!
  • Multitasking is excellent, and very easy to use — you can have multiple apps opened at once; ie, you can listen to music whilst browsing the web and receiving email notifications at the same time.
  • Swiping up and down from the bezel to access "Settings" and apps is easier than the iPad's "Home" button.
  • It has Flash capability to view content on websites.
  • It has very good quality photos and videos from both the front and rear-facing cameras.
  • It Can connect to a TV very easily via an HDMI cable.

Cons:

  • Unable to download photos onto the PlayBook.
  • No dedicated email program.
  • No Contacts app available.
  • No Calendar app available to allow for reminders to be set.
  • Not many apps available via App World, and most that I've tried are very poor quality in comparison to those found on iTunes, regardless of whether they are free or paid apps.
Photo quality

I took the same photos with both the iPad (left) and the PlayBook (right) and feel that the PlayBook's quality and colouring is superior.
(Credit: Trisha Moss)

Having used the PlayBook for over four weeks now, my opinion of BlackBerry has changed somewhat, as I previously saw the brand as quite niche and more suited towards a business professional. The PlayBook is a rather innovative product, and is one which I will continue to use. Having also bought a "smart style" cover from eBay for a mere $8, this means I can now prop the PlayBook up as can be done with the iPad, and it also protects it.

iPad vs PlayBook

iPad with Smart cover (left) vs. PlayBook with smart-like cover (right).
(Credit: Trisha Moss)

Overall

Neither the Apple iPad nor the BlackBerry PlayBook is perfect. They both have very good qualities about them, but also some large negatives. Of the two, I would probably lean towards the PlayBook. I would definitely recommend it to family or friends if there was an update available that added apps including Email, Contacts and Calendar. App World would also need to open up more useful and quality apps. Being able to view Flash websites, the ability to drag and drop files, its size and portability and camera quality are huge pluses!

I'm using the PlayBook regularly to access my email and browse the internet!

August 19th, 2011

I finally managed to get the BlackBerry Bridge application working on my phone (the BlackBerry Bold 9700).

BB Bridge

BlackBerry Bridge application.
(Credit: John Rathgen)

The BlackBerry Bridge application is designed to connect the PlayBook to your BlackBerry smartphone to access your address book contacts, email server, text messages, notes, calendar and appointments, BB Messenger, etc. It also displays real-time notifications when new emails and messages arrive.

Real-time notifications

Real-time pop-up of email notifications on the PlayBook, once it has been synced with my BlackBerry smartphone via the BlackBerry Bridge application.
(Credit: John Rathgen)

A new menu tab is created for the Bridge apps (below) for the imported items, and syncing is almost instantaneous. I'm finding this quite useful, and have started using the PlayBook regularly to access my email and browse the internet instead of using the phone's smaller screen. The PlayBook's size is convenient enough to take with you almost anywhere, whereas a larger tablet may be a little more cumbersome to store away.

Instant Sync

Menu tab highlighted for BlackBerry Bridge — displays instant sync abilities.
(Credit: John Rathgen)

As Skype is still not available in BlackBerry's App World, this week I explored a "back door" via a site called IMO, which pulls a lot of messenger sites under one roof, such as Yahoo, MSN, Facebook, etc. After playing around, I managed to get voice and video calls working, to my relief; however, having the Skype app would be great. Video and call quality are similar to Skype, so no problems there.

Speaking of apps, the BlackBerry App World is a little light (regarding Sport apps; ie, no World Cup Rugby, and the only Golf Tour score updates app was for the Asian Tour). In my humble opinion, the speed at which RIM increases the available apps in App World will be the making or breaking of the consumer desire for this device.

  • Pros: Bridge app quickly provides your main BlackBerry Phone features on a bigger landscape.
  • Cons: No Skype app, just a workaround (IMO); lack of apps, specifically locally relevant apps.
  • Overall: Still hanging in there to determine whether RIM is on the ball quickly enough to provide a consumer device that satisfies their ever-demanding needs, or whether it will be consigned to the business world.

The jury is still out!

August 18th, 2011

PlayBook and tethering
It's now the third week since I have had the PlayBook, which I have used for personal use by mainly playing with photo software apps, and I have found it difficult to use for everyday activity. If I could get Wi-Fi at work through tethering on the PlayBook, I would use it more — the reason being, I work in a business that has lock down in respect to Wi-Fi. I thought I could tether it to my 3G Apple iPhone, but the PlayBook cannot access internet through my 3G iPhone (on the 3 network). However, tethering works perfectly on a 4G mobile (Telstra network) and it works on my sons' Nokia mobile device, which uses 3's network. I would use this PlayBook for business if it was tethered to my work email through a BlackBerry phone.

Colleague and family impressions
I have shared the PlayBook with my friends, family and colleagues. In fact, for the first week I didn't get to use it much as my sports-loving, university-attending son hijacked it. He's used it frequently on his hour and a half round train trip to uni whilst tethering through his phone — doing what Gen Y do best, Facebook, sports accessing and watching YouTube. At uni, Wi-Fi is everywhere, so he has used it to download lecture notes.

Colleagues who are IT developers have played with it (they're Apple iPad users) and have been blown away by the screen clarity and general design; though, one person has said the lip of the frame "traps dirt" — he's right. Another colleague commented that the rotation (vertical to horizontal use) is much slower in comparison to the iPad (which I think can be put down to making sure that you actually want to rotate it, rather than mistakenly moving it on an angle). He also loved that he could read The Age newspapers on PlayBook as opposed to the iPad (as on the iPad it blurs when blown up).

Video chat
I thought I would try out the video-chat conference feature on the PlayBook. Alas, it only works for you to conference with others that have BlackBerry PlayBook tablets. However, I googled BlackBerry support and found easy directions on how to use it.

BlackBerry apps
I have read a fair bit about BlackBerry's App World and, unfortunately, the main response has been that there is a lack of apps available. I have come to realise, it's not just the lack of them, it's also the quality. Somehow I am not so ecstatic that I can access the US Citizenship Civics Exam, use drill references for those who serve in the Canadian forces or download a periodic table that won't tell you what "Zn" is, but rather redirects you to a Wiki page. These sorts of apps are useless to me.

Reference Apps

Reference apps available in BlackBerry's App World
(Credit: Barb Gannon)

I decided to take the plunge and bought an app from App World called Photo Editor for $2.50. Unfortunately, it doesn't work. There are no frames and the filter processing is unavailable, which is the only reason you would buy it. When you go to use the function it says they're "coming soon". I read the review after I purchased it (big mistake) — there's a lot of grumpy users out there, one person said "Come on BlackBerry, allow the full functionality of this app." I now read reviews before I purchase because the delivery is not usually in the descriptor.

BlackBerry should make sure that the paid-for apps work (nothing cheeses off a customer more than half-baked products) and that they do what they say they do.

Photo Editor

Photo Editor app in action — filters are "coming soon"
(Credit: Barb Gannon)

The best photo editing app available in App World is definitely InstaPhoto at $3.75, which has 25 filters to browse through.

InstaPhoto

Screenshot showing eight of the many InstaPhoto app filters
(Credit: Barb Gannon)

There are language apps that cost approx $1.25 and translate from French to Chinese, travel apps like the Hong Kong City Guide and Las Vegas Casino Map. I paid $1.25 for the Bangkok City Guide app (no customer reviews yet) and found it woeful, missing addresses and contact numbers for airports, restaurants and flight carriers. I can't say I am even sure if I was using it correctly. I struggled with the interface for 30 minutes then gave up.

The BlackBerry apps and the cultural bent of them have a distinct non-Australian/local flavour. To be fair, I believe BlackBerry is sponsoring Rugby (in New Zealand) so there's an Australian Rugby app on its way. Come on BlackBerry, bring out the Aussie Rules apps!

  • Pros: Definitely struggling to find something good this week — it would have to be the InstaPhoto app
  • Cons: North American-centric apps, free and paid for apps that don't function as per specs, lack of Sports apps for Aussie rules footy
  • Overall: You will increase your PlayBook use if you can tether it to your phone or if you have a BlackBerry smartphone.

Best apps, video conferencing and more ...

August 17th, 2011

This week, Robert takes us through BlackBerry's App World, third-party apps and video conferencing on the PlayBook.
(Credit: Robert Wilson)


Robert shares his top three pros and cons of the BlackBerry PlayBook
(Credit: Robert Wilson)


Robert shares his top five BlackBerry PlayBook apps, and provides a detailed review of the Android player.
(Credit: Robert Wilson)

Integration of the PlayBook with my BlackBerry Bold 9700

August 16th, 2011

I have had very little to do with Bluetooth devices previously and the few I have had experience with have left me less than impressed. So it was with a little trepidation that I approached seeing if I could get my PlayBook to communicate with the BlackBerry Bold 9700.

I needn't have worried. Pairing the two couldn't have been easier!


Enabling Bluetooth

Enabling Bluetooth couldn't be easier.
(Credit: Peter Hayward)

No 3G

The PlayBook is only available in Wi-Fi to enable networking and access to the internet. This does not concern me as I have a BlackBerry phone (Bold 9700), which makes connection possible between the PlayBook and the BlackBerry phone as well as for enabling tethered internet access.


Networking confusion

I have discovered that I am able surf the web three ways:

  • Via Wi-Fi
  • Via directly enabling Bluetooth "tethering" to my BlackBerry phone
  • Via the BlackBerry Bridge to my BlackBerry phone, also via Bluetooth.

Wi-Fi

Setting up Wi-Fi is straightforward except in one area that I found I had issues with. The PlayBook forced me to enter by hand, a long, complex WPA (encryption key) Wi-Fi password via the interface keyboard. As this was one of the first things I had to do on setting up the PlayBook, I had little experience with the keyboard's touch sensitivity and masked password entry, so it took me several tries before I was able to successfully enter the lengthy password.

I have set-up multiple Wi-Fi access points and I have found the PlayBook remembers the connection details, to each, transparently. Priority to the available access methods is also easily controllable.

All network-enabled apps work with no issues. Proxies are settable for each network connection.


Tethering

From the PlayBook Settings menu (see image below) I was able to directly enable Bluetooth "tethered" access to my phone. When this is done, all network-enabled apps work with no issues; however, one should be careful as mobile phone data costs can be high in comparison to other methods of internet access.

Tethering

Turn on tethering by pushing just one button. Simple.
(Credit: Peter Hayward)


Naming the PlayBook

Naming the PlayBook as a Bluetooth device.
(Credit: Peter Hayward)


BlackBerry Bridge

The PlayBook has an app called "BlackBerry Bridge". This application enables a series of applications that are found on the BlackBerry phone to be seen on the PlayBook. These "phone" apps are: Messages (email), Contacts, MemoPad, Tasks, Phone Files, Bridge Browser, Calendar, BlackBerry Messenger, Files (on the phone). In this mode the apps work brilliantly — especially since they are being viewed on a much larger screen. I can even leave the phone in my pocket whilst accessing all my information. Neat.

Bridge

There is a simple set-up process to enable the BlackBerry Bridge initially.
(Credit: Peter Hayward)

If Wi-Fi or tethering is not enabled on the PlayBook, the other network-enabled apps do not work. This is no hassle, it is probably done to ensure you don't use too much data from an expensive data source and also enables a high degree of networking flexibility.

I have found using the BlackBerry Bridge is really where the concept of using BlackBerry devices shine for businesses. More about this in my next instalment: "Usefulness of the PlayBook in a business context".

Bridge App

When the BlackBerry Bridge is enabled, access to your BlackBerry phone's apps is possible eg, email. Oddly, the PlayBook screen capture facility is turned off when the Bridge is enabled.
(Credit: Peter Hayward)

Checking out BlackBerry's App World, multitasking and more

August 15th, 2011

Coming into my third week with the PlayBook, I have been trying to explore its features and functionality as much as possible. Something new I tried this week whilst at a business meeting was the Voice Notes app. This app comes pre-installed on the PlayBook and allows you to record discussions or reminders at the touch of a button. I was very impressed with the quality of the recording in playback; the voices came across very sharp and clear.

I have also worked out how to wirelessly connect the PlayBook to my computer. This has become very convenient to transfer files and folders, so I no longer need to use a cable and I can do this from anywhere in the house. It doesn't work, however, if I protect the PlayBook files and folders with a password.

I also discovered that if I touch on any of the symbols at the top of the home screen there are more functions available such as turning wireless or Bluetooth on and off, setting an alarm, etc.

Calendar and alarm function

Screenshot displaying the calendar with built-in alarm functionality
(Credit: Trisha Moss)

I have been using the PlayBook on a daily basis. I mostly use it to surf the internet and check emails while watching TV. I also watched whole episodes of a favourite ABC iView program on the PlayBook. It was very impressive and I will continue to use the PlayBook to do this. I have also used the PlayBook to type articles in the Word to Go app and was surprised at how good it was and how quickly I could type on the touch pad.

I had my 25-year-old daughter use the PlayBook so that we could compare opinions. Within minutes she was familiar with the device and was impressed at how quickly web pages loaded. She liked the small size of the PlayBook and is now seriously considering buying one because of this. In fact, I'm letting her borrow it, along with the wireless broadband modem, for a month when she goes to Melbourne. She doesn't have a laptop and this will be so useful for her emailing, surfing the net and online banking while on the go.

I have also checked out BlackBerry's App World quite extensively. While there is an extensive amount available to download, there are some glaring omissions such as Skype, professional photo editing apps, eBay (although this is available for BlackBerry smartphones) and some of the terrific games that are available on the Apple and Android devices. Hopefully this will be rectified in the near future and the BlackBerry app market will offer more of these popular apps.

App Store Screenshot

Screenshot of BlackBerry's App World
(Credit: Trisha Moss)

The "Music app" on the PlayBook is very good and the quality that comes out of the speakers, located on either side at the front of the device is surprisingly good. You can sort your music by All Songs, Artists, Albums, Genres and you can also create playlists. Music can be played in the background while you are using other apps, too, and can still be controlled by swiping down from the top left corner and tapping on the Play symbol that appears along the top — this is multitasking at its best!

Music App screenshot

Pre-installed Music app on the PlayBook
(Credit: Trisha Moss)


Multi-tasking with music

Mutlitasking: scrolling through picture galleries while controlling the opened music app
(Credit: Trisha Moss)


The battery life of the PlayBook is a big plus, while the lack of calendar for reminders and a contacts app is a huge minus, but overall this product has enormous potential.

In my final review next week I'm hoping to write up a good comparison between the PlayBook and the Apple iPad, as I will be borrowing an iPad from my other daughter who will be staying with me.


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