Blackberry Playbook Review
There are already plenty of Playbook reviews on the web since it has been available for about 6 months now, but I figured it might be worth a new look.
A look at the Blackberry Playbook after 6 months.
Back when I first picked up the Playbook, I wrote a few articles on my website highlighting my likes and dislikes:
DVD MKV DIVX XVID for Blackberry Playbook | DVD Catalyst 4, the ultimate app for movies & tv on the go
Playbook vs Xoom | DVD Catalyst 4, the ultimate app for movies & tv on the go
1080 Video playback on Blackberry Playbook | DVD Catalyst 4, the ultimate app for movies & tv on the go
Xoom vs Playbook | DVD Catalyst 4, the ultimate app for movies & tv on the go
Since then, however, the Playbook has received more updates and has seen some fluctuation in pricing, which makes it worthy of a new look.
All my previous articles are based on the original $500 purchase price and my intention for this review was to take the new pricing into account. But, as Blackberry decided that their recent price adjustment was temporary, my opinions also take that into account.
Why did I pick it up?
The Playbook is “different”. It runs a unique OS, and it is in the 7″ form-factor I like a lot. Besides that, it has some additional features that I wish were available in other tablets.
For me, the main reason to pick it up was it was an (over-)hyped device, and in order to keep up with the market (and stay ahead of the competition), I wanted to make sure I was able to squeeze the best video playback quality out of it with DVD Catalyst 4. Similar to what I did with the Motorola Xoom, I picked up the Playbook and spent a few weeks tweaking and playing with it until I was satisfied with the results.
Because of my rather limited use for devices in general (video mainly, but some email/web), the OS, as well as device features like GPS, 3G/4G and all are wasted on me. I do have a Xoom 3G, but only because the WiFi wasn’t due for another couple of months. As long as it does video and has some email/browsing capability, I’m good with it. Anything more is either a bonus, or will never be used.
During the first 2 weeks, the Playbook fulfilled my needs. The lack of a native email app was annoying, but known, but the multitasking capabilities of the OS make up for that.
* The Playbook has a feature (Showcase mode) that is missing on just about everything else on the market. It actually lets you keep apps open and running while you are not using them. Of course, all other tablets have things like notifications, but when you are switching between apps, the apps you are not using enter a so-called “low power” state. You can watch a movie on a Xoom and when an email comes in you get a notification, but as soon as you reply to the email, it pauses the movie. The Playbook is the only tablet I know of that is capable of leaving the movie running while you are doing something else. This is great if you get to a boring portion of the movie and need to reply to an email or surf the web a bit. The movie continues to play, so you can hear what is going on, and switch back when it gets interesting again.
* This app switching is also quite cool. Another unique feature of the Playbook is that it actually makes use of the borders around the screen. Rather than swiping/touching just the view-screen area, which of course always results in smudges and streaks, especially if you are watching a movie with a bag of snacks, the swiping on the borders keeps the screen clean. It still smudges like every other tablet, and it actually is more noticeable on pure black, but at least it doesn’t affect the video experience.
* A 3rd feature I instantly fell in love with when I first got the Playbook is the WiFi Sharing. Enabling this setting effectively turns the Playbook into a network-drive, and it is a great way of copying over movies without having to actually hook the device up to a USB port. While all this talk about Cloud/Air Sync these days with new and upcoming devices is cool and all, these technologies are all initiated by the device itself, none of those actually let you start a transfer from your computer without actually having to touch your device.
Unfortunately, this last cool feature also leads me to the gripes and issues I ran into with the Playbook:
When the Playbook first came out, Blackberry was releasing updates almost every other day. Just like most other device-releases of 2011 (see my newsletters), the Playbook was released a bit too early, and along with many other day-one customers, I had a feeling I paid $500 to join their Beta-tester team. On popular forums like Crackberry, people rejoice whenever a new update came out, hoping it would finally turn the Playbook in the device what it was meant to be, but unfortunately, I believe that the original firmware it shipped with was still the best release, regardless of the memory issues it had.
The first time I used the web browser on it, it was actually one of the fastest web-browsing experiences I have ever had, but with every update it seems it just got slower. It still looks fast, because the progress bar jumps to the middle right away when you visit a web page, but from there, it is the same as you encounter on any other tablet.
The same with the WiFi setup. It worked fine for me with the early updates, but it seems that with every update it becomes more of a struggle to get it to connect. A few weeks ago, I took the Playbook to the hospital, and was hoping to connect to the free WiFi there to get some work done while waiting, but I spent most of the time to get it to work. When I came home, I couldn’t get it connected to my own network anymore, until I did a factory-wipe. And I never did get the WiFi sharing to work anymore since either.
Overall, I like the Playbook for my own needs, but for most people, the $500 for the 16GB version is just too steep. Sure, it connects to Blackberry phones, and lets you use the apps from your phone on your tablet (I have no experience on this, since I use a DroidX as a phone), but you can achieve the same with a $300 Android Tablet with any phone with some tethering capabilities over Bluetooth.
The apps, well there are a couple of decent ones, but only a very small amount really stands out from the Need 4 Speed and Tetris that you get with it for free. The rest, well, I’ve seen people sell apps in a similar way as quite a few devices are sold this year, “promised features”. Sort of like “We have this cool icon, and make it appear on your Playbook, we promise to make it do magic over time, but we want your money now”, similar as the Xoom’s original release with a MicroSD card holder (non-functional slot), the Nintendo 3DS with video playback capabilities, and of course the Playbook itself with promised Android app compatibility.
For video, the Playbook is great, for email, if you use Gmail like I do, you will appreciate the “Playbook” enhancements Google added to make Gmail work nicer on the Playbook, but at $500, you can do a lot better. In order to make the Playbook more popular, Blackberry will need to do something with its price, otherwise we will see a fire-sale similar to that of the HP Touchpad pretty soon. With the Amazon Kindle Fire having the same look and mostly similar specs around the corner and listed for only $200, I don’t think the Playbook will have much life left in the consumer market. for 60% less of the purchase price, I will gladly do without the apps-running-in-the-background, border-gesture, and the WiFi-sharing.
While I’ll go more into this next week, I ordered a Pico Projector a week ago that came in yesterday. Since it has HDMI, and the Playbook has HDMI as well, I did a quick test with it to see how it works. The lighting isn’t the greatest, but it does look pretty cool:
iGo Portable Projector
It works pretty cool with the Xoom as well