The Blackberry Tablet PC is powerful, portable, fun and productive
While many companies have already launched their own tablet PCs, Blackberry tablet pc from Canada’s Research in Motion took their time when launching its very own.
Indeed, many pundits have declared 2010 as the year of the tablet pc, especially when Apple Inc. launched the iPad with a 9.7-inch screen that was entirely controlled by touch.
The same pundits knew it was only a matter of time when others would follow suit, and with the emergence of the Playbook in the market, fans of the wildly popular mobile platform now have a complementary tablet that will fulfill their need for a larger screen to show various media and apps.
Consumers who have never used a Blackberry before will also find the Playbook a very capable tablet.
It was natural that rumors about a Blackberry tablet PC were in the works. The first solid and clear proof appeared when RIM made a public demo of the device at the Adobe MAX event held back in October 2010.
The timing of the demonstration made it clear to everyone that the Blackberry tablet PC would highlight Adobe Air and Flash support, a feature that its closest competitor iPad clearly lacks. The Blackberry Playbook was finally released to the North American market on April 19th, 2011.
The Actual Device
Anyone with a Blackberry phone will attest to their superior-build quality, and this tradition continues with the Playbook.
The dark metal chassis adds to the premium feel, and a touch of rubber makes it much easier to handle. Four buttons line up on top of the device: two volume controls, play/pause, and a power button. Down at the bottom one can find the slots for micro HDMI and micro USB plus the proprietary charging port.
One will also find an indication of the internal memory of the device. The Blackberry tablet PC is available in 16, 32, and 64 GB versions. The Playbook may not be thinnest or the lightest tablet around, but its dimensions make it extremely portable and will greatly appeal to enterprise users.
While other flagship devices chose displays measuring around 10 inches, the Blackberry tablet PC has a seven-inch screen. The LCD works well in all conditions, and its pixel density provides a rich multimedia experience.
There will be arguments and counter-arguments regarding the size of the display. This also cuts the question of whether the Playbook is positioned as an enterprise companion or consumer-focused tablet.
The last but definitely not the least feature of the Blackberry tablet PC is its pair of cameras. A 5-megapixel camera is at the back, capable of shooting 1080p video. Up front is a 3-megapixel camera for self-portraits and video chat services. Both cameras handle their duties well, producing balanced pictures and very good video.
Under the hood, a dual-core 1 GHZ OMAP processor runs the operating system assisted by PowerVR on graphics. The combination eventually highlights the biggest differentiator of the Playbook, the software.
Operating System and Apps
RIM decided to arm the Playbook with an entirely different OS instead of modifying the successful mobile platform it already has.
This new operating system aptly called the Blackberry Tablet OS was made possible by the acquisition of RIM by top developer QNX. This move made it clear to everyone that RIM is not blindly jumping into the bandwagon and is making its own path to tablet success. The result is a highly responsive system with a very simple and intuitive interface.
The operating system of the Blackberry tablet PC takes its visual cues from Palm’s WebOS platform and improves it to make use of the added processing power and the larger screen real estate. The home screen is divided into three sections.
On top is a small strip for notifications including time, signal strength, and battery levels. The lower section shows a list of common apps while the center part of the screen shows apps that are already running.
At this point it is worth mentioning that the bezel of the Playbook is also capacitive, making for a wider range of touch gestures.
Multitasking takes advantage of the gestures. While running an app, one can slide a finger from the bottom bezel upwards to reveal the home screen and other opened apps. While still on the home screen, dragging any running app upwards closes it and freeing up memory. The on-screen keyboard works like a charm whether it is used in portrait or landscape mode.
The webkit-based browser renders websites quickly and accurately. Scrolling is very smooth, and one can also use multi-touch gestures to manipulate the page.
As expected the Blackberry tablet PC handles Flash really well, allowing many users to visit pages without the annoying warning. Websites like YouTube and Vimeo benefit greatly from this, as well as browser-based games.
Connectivity is generally not a problem since the Playbook has Wi-Fi (up to 802.11n) and is ready for 4G. Documents are handled by a suite of office apps with a dedicated word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation viewer. Simple editing of word and spreadsheet documents is easy enough, ensuring that that the Playbook is a productivity device.
It also comes with a very good PDF reader since PDFs are most likely an attachment to most e-mails. The media gallery takes advantage of the simple interface, and the video player works with most popular formats.
Another advantage of the Playbook is its ability to run Android apps, good news to everyone who has been wanting for more apps in the Blackberry App World.
Many people will find it surprising, though, that the most common apps like calendar or e-mail can only be accessed when paired over Bluetooth with a Blackberry phone running OS 5 or 6.
Both devices must run the Blackberry Bridge app; and as soon as they are linked, the Blackberry tablet PC launches e-mail, tasks, and other apps that are synced to the phone. There are obvious web-based run-arounds to this, but it clearly limits the appeal of the Playbook for non-RIM users. RIM has announced that these native apps will be deployed soon.
Summary and Conclusion
RIM’s Playbook is a solid initial offering that will lay the groundwork for the Blackberry tablet PC of the future. Extreme portability and top-calibre hardware complements a very robust operating system and apps. Some improvements are welcome such as a larger screen or more native apps, but old users and consumers new to the Blackberry environment will both find value with the Blackberry Playbook.