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April 28, 2011

BlackBerry Playbook Review: My First Impressions


I was lucky enough to get my hands on BlackBerry’s (News - Alert) first tablet, the Playbook, and while I haven’t been using it for more than a couple of days, I wanted to get my first impressions out, assuming they will change as my experience with the device progresses.

For starters, let it be known that I have been a faithful BlackBerry user for the past six years, and while I have dabbled with the iPad here and there, I do not use a tablet on an everyday basis.

The tablet itself is aesthetically pleasing. All black and with a squared shape, it is very reminiscent of BlackBerry’s newest smartphones, including a durable rubber backing for protection. The smaller, seven inch tablet, which most critics assumed would be insignificant compared to the almost 10 inch iPad, didn’t seem like a disadvantage at all, surprisingly. I found the tablet to be smaller in comparison, but after using it for a couple of hours I got accustomed to it and found myself content with the size of the screen. 

However, I was a little surprised at how heavy it feels. Weighing in at just about a pound, it feels much heavier, but the PlayBook definitely feels sturdier than an iPad and I was less worried about something happening to it as I threw it in my purse when on-the-go.

I’ve been getting a lot of feedback from people around the office, some of whom are religious iPad users, others who don’t utilize a tablet daily, and the outcome was grim. Being a BlackBerry user myself, I think it has to do with people being accustomed to the interface of their own mobile device, but many agreed that the interface of the PlayBook isn’t intuitive enough for first time users.

The primary gesture that is used to go back to the main menu is a quick swipe from the bottom of the screen to the top. I didn’t find it hard to pick up, not being biased to any other tablet, but others who tried it were disappointed. One of my co-workers suggested there should be a designated “home” button like on Apple (News - Alert) products, which in my opinion isn’t a bad idea.

The speed of the browser was impressive, and allows users to have a number of applications open at once. Video is definitely an advantage, since the tablet runs Flash and delivers a clear picture.

One thing I will say is that having a traditional BlackBerry Curve for my cellphone, the tablet definitely got me used (and ready to transition) to Ithe world of touch interfaces. I was always skeptical about utilizing a touch phone since I am so used to having a BlackBerry keyboard. But the touch keyboard definitely offers the easy-to-type familiarity that only a BlackBerry user could appreciate.

Another thing I really like about the PlayBook, something I noticed when first reviewing it at a BlackBerry event for the tablet back in March, is that because the tablet is smaller, you can hold it in two hands and type on the keyboard using your thumbs, rather than your index fingers (as most tablet users find themselves doing), especially when holding it vertically.

Another benefit I gained from the PlayBook is that it helped get me interested in BlackBerry’s App World again. I don’t think I ever really gave it a fair shot, since downloading apps often caused my Curve to slow down, but seeing the interface of App World in a larger setting made me re-evaluate my reasons for denying it. I found myself updating the software on my phone and downloading a couple of new applications afterwards.

One thing I plan on investigating further is the BlackBerry Bridge option that allows you to sync your BlackBerry smartphone with the tablet using Bluetooth technology. Getting the two devices synced was basically effortless as I was prompted to scan the barcode of the tablet and link it with my phone. In the past, I’ve had issues with scanning barcodes, but I had no trouble at all this time.

The Bridge allows you to have access to your BlackBerry phone’s email, contacts, calendar, memo pad and tasks. The biggest selling point, in my opinion, is if you do not have a 4G PlayBook, you can utilize your Internet connection from your phone to access the browser on the tablet when in areas without Wi-Fi; an option I found to be very beneficial considering my phone is not a 4G hotspot. One feature I have yet to figure out is the ability to sync my BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) with the device, which was advertised as an option.

The battery life on the tablet is pretty good, offering about seven hours of use and lasting me throughout a day of continuous use.  

In terms of tablets, I’d say this one has a fair shot. But I stand behind my initial statement a couple months back, that I have a hunch that this tablet will only appeal to current BlackBerry users. In terms of mobile devices, consumers either remain brand loyal or choose interfaces they are already familiar with. The BlackBerry Bridge feature is definitely a positive additive for BlackBerry users.

The PlayBook turned out to be a great companion for running errands as I used it while waiting at the doctor’s office, while getting my oil changed and even while I got a pedicure. I will be traveling for work next week and am really interested in seeing how much I take advantage of the tablet during my time away from the office.

Stayed tuned for a more in-depth review as I have some more time to explore what the PlayBook has to offer.


Stefanie Mosca is a Web editor for TMCnet. Previously she worked as a freelance copy editor for Digital Surgeons LLC. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Quinnipiac University and a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of New Haven. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.



Edited by Rich Steeves
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