Playbook, at it’s debut, opened to widespread negative reviews. The overwhelming perception was that Research in Motion (RIM) was a sinking ship, with a battered stock and the wizards from Canada had taken a first shot at scaling up a brand new Operating System (OS). It didn’t conform to the crowd and leading lights of tech web sites who have dubious standards when it concerns “conflict of interests”.
Despite the hoopla, RIM has probably managed to garner about 3% of worldwide tablet market share. It could be better or worse, if someone decides to contest this claim, but there is a huge difference between what is “shipped” and actual sales. Something that Apple and Samsung are adept in “make believe” and cost accounting practises to charm the press about “millions” of sold inventory.
The electronics industry strongly believes in refreshing their brands; most of the users are probably unaware that the present day hardware is good enough to run the “latest” software. Most of them are also unaware that high prices being paid for the product are way beyond the actual costs of production and moving in to market after taxes. Invariably, early adopters are only paying for the advertising costs. That’s why the “price cuts” once the brand recall becomes easier.
With this humbling back ground, I got a brand new 64 GB Playbook, once it’s prices were slashed. I have owned a Blackberry for over two years now; a curve 3G followed by Bold 9790 which is arguably the best phone I have ever used. I was naturally tempted to look at the offering from RIM with it’s promise of Blackberry Bridge (more on that later) and looked forward to see how best it could be integrated in my daily work flow.
The new Blackberry (BB) operating system (OS) is based on QNX, which is highly resilient and secure embeddable system with it’s own custom user interface (UI). It is here that it wins the contest hands down. Traditional marketing of Playbook has not focused on the cores of processor, the build quality or it’s display. To me, it doesn’t matter. Because the present day quad cores would not caress your hands (or ears) while using the instrument; it’s more of a marketing gimmick and it’s bound to be resource hungry when at the most you’d be using your phone to either make calls, text or play occassional Angry Birds. Quad core for Angry Birds? Seriously?
It’s the 7 inch screen and the form factor that’s the icing on the cake. It’s big enough to be held in hands, a bright screen display that can be easily read in direct sunlight and slides in my jeans back pocket. For those coming from Android or Apple world, it would be a little confusing to see a physical volume and power button. Rest of the tablet is entirely gesture based. It’s here where RIM holds it’s trump card. It’s deceptively simple without making it overtly complex.
The OS boots up in about a minute and a half during the time it displays wonderful fractals. If you have password locked the device (which is a good security practise), once you boot in the main screen, you are good to go. I have the basic Wifi model (the 4G LTE isn’t launched in India as yet) which has been discussed here.
The fun starts with Blackberry Bridge which is connection to your existing Blackberry Mobile through encrypted Bluetooth. With a huge OS update recently, it’s easy to access the text messages (in addition to emails, contacts, memo pad, Blackberry Messenger and Calendar). At times, when I need to access the Internet, I don’t have to tether it but rather use the “Bridge Browser” (the browser on the phone) through Playboook with the added advantage of bigger screen. This avoids the extra charges of Internet tethering. Further, bridge allows me to access files on Blackberry and Blackberry Messenger. The predictive text input is so far the best I have seen on the touch screens (though personally I prefer the physical keyboard on my Bold 9790).
The front and rear camera shoots in high definition beauty; stills as well as video. However, the human eye is sufficiently adept in distinguishing the “fine lines” of high definition. If you are serious about photography, buy a camera instead! The sound output comes from its reasonably good speakers; the standard mic output (3.5 mm jack) when routed through my headphones (I recommend Denon), sounds fabalous. The inbuilt player plays most of the video and music formats with a loud sound output that can be enjoyed with a group of people huddled around it. Needless to say, Flash is in-built for web (how fast we move towards HTML 5 and flash agnostic world is anyone’s guess) and there is a dedicated You Tube app that plays HD videos flawlessly (depends on your connection speed). Oh yes, you can copy and paste too!
Despite the intense multi tasking (I open up multiple apps/screens/browser instances), I haven’t seen my tablet lag or go belly up. The only time I had to forcibly reboot is when I had sideloaded Android applications in developmental mode, when it “mis-behaved”.
There is a standard micro-HDMI slot, a charging port (that uses micro-USB plug) interchangeable through the Blackberry handsets and a connector dock for the keyboard. I haven’t been able to get this accessory, so I wouldn’t be able to comment on it.
Why do the platforms crow about “thousands”/million apps? Some of the apps are mere “launchers” for the browser to interact while some are clones of each other. How many Twitter apps would you need to do the same thing on your tablet? That’s why I am amused at the sheer number. While Apple restricts you on it’s ecosystem (and so does Bllackberry, in a way), RIM has decided to run encrypted apps in future update. I would be happy for the developer who ought to get suitably rewarded for the efforts made. More so, with newer developments in the way apps can be coded for RIM, it has become easier to translate your idea into a product (as testified by numerous “jam sessions” held by RIM across the world). Android has a lot of piracy, the market is full of malware and is inherently insecure. Although the updates promise to rectify this, it is a huge fragmented market. Apple (and to that effect RIM) ensures uniformity for updates and product lines but app for app, it’s far more profitable to develop for Blackberry.
I primarily use my tablet as a reading device (I use Instafetch) since there is no native application like Instapaper for Playbook. It gets my work done with fairly simple settings. I have an epub reader (which also reads chm files) which does the good job of reading e-books.
Native pdf support comes from Adobe Acrobat which is insipid. I prefer to use Quopa’s PDF Reader with some degree of pdf manipulation like highlighting across text which is preserved across platforms. I paid after using it for trial and it’s worth it. I read a lot of journal articles in pdf which translates in true value for money.
Apart from these two, I haven’t found anything else to increase the utility of my tablet. Lack of Skype support is a problem but I find my laptop reliable to be used for it. There is Video Chat built in, but you would need another Playbook to interact with it. I am told that the next Blackberry Messenger update would come with Video Chat support as well. It’s not that I am carrying an elephant or iPad magically makes me look good on the cam in any manner whatsoever. I have sideloaded Flipboard (which sets up a pretty interface for RSS feeds) but it’s just an interface. That adds nothing to my daily workflow and I have found it’s support pathetic. (The queries sent to their developers for native Playbook app remains unanswered even after 1 week). I access my feeds through browser on Newsblur which is what a RSS reader ought to be.
Apps or hardware specifications is a pissing contest; more like a rat race where the principal protagonists are just rats. Death of personal computing is highly exaggarated by journalists looking to stir a hornet’s nest, garner more eyeballs on their pithy web sites while acquiring a cult status promoting the new tablet as the next best thing to sliced bread. A tablet cannot be a replacement for a PC, as yet. It is as best, a supplement.
That’s where Playbook cuts through the flotsam and the fluff. It is what it takes a real tablet with adequate form factor and hardware specifications to shine through. Highly recommended.
Dr. Berry, the pseudonym of a real life doc by profession, but a technophile in heart. He spends his free time dwelving in the world of technology. Loves BBM, but hates that some of his friends have to be reached through Whatsapp instead.