PlayBook scores from various angles for BlackBerry users
by Alan Zisman (c) 2011
published in Business in
Vancouver July 5-11, 2011 issue #1132 High Tech
It’s become fashionable to comment how RIM is caught in a downward
spiral. The Ontario-based company, with its BlackBerrys, had several
years at the top of the smartphone market where its emphasis on
security and IT manageability made it a favourite of large enterprises.
But it hasn’t seemed able to respond to competition from Apple’s iPhone
or Android-powered smartphones. RIM’s releases have consisted of small
improvements to its Curve and Bold models and awkward attempts at large
In pre-announcing its PlayBook tablet, RIM promised to do better. A new
tablet OS for powerful multitasking. Best-of-show support for Flash.
Appeal to both business and home users.
When the PlayBook finally became available, though, reviews were
disappointing. Wired, for instance, headlined: “BlackBerry PlayBook
Tablet Lacks All the Right Moves.”
Most often commented: no built-in email application. Instead, users can
“bridge” their PlayBook to their BlackBerry and read the BlackBerry’s
email on the tablet’s larger screen. The new OS means zero
compatibility with BlackBerry apps. “There’s an app for that?” Not
quite yet – though selection at RIM’s App World is improving.
RIM loaned me a PlayBook for several weeks. Surprise! I like it.
It’s a seven-inch tablet. That makes it easier to tote around, lighter
and easier to hold in one hand than 10-inch competitors like iPad and
Xoom. The widescreen display (1024 x 600 resolution) is crisp; battery
life, at around eight hours, is good.
Like the Xoom, there are micro-USB and micro-HDMI ports for connection
to digital cameras and high-res TVs and projectors and front- and
rear-facing cameras that far outclass the pitiful resolution of the
iPad 2 cameras. Also like the Xoom (at least in Canada) – Wi-Fi only.
No 3G options. (PlayBook owners can tether to their BlackBerry’s 3G
connection. No extra charge.)
Unlike the Xoom, there are 16- ($499), 32- ($599) or 64- ($699)
gigabyte models – priced, in each case, $20 less than the equivalent
You can drag and drop files from a Windows PC or Mac (after installing
software) to a PlayBook either connected by
USB or across a Wi-Fi network.
At first glance, the clean, sleek hardware may present a puzzle. How to
get to the home screen for program icons? The PlayBook secret? The
frame surrounding the display is “live”; swoop from below the screen to
return home. Swoop down to display menus and settings. Swoop left or
right to move to another running application. Nice, once you know the
The home screen shows the top row of application icons (tap an arrow to
see the rest of your icons) – above that is a parade of running
applications. This makes it easy to switch to a different (running)
app, and there’s a little (x) under each, making it a no-brainer to
shut down any you’re no longer needing, freeing up memory – easier than
on an iPad or iPhone and much easier than on Android devices like the
The browser is fast with (like the Xoom, but not the iPad) convenient
tabs. Unlike the Xoom, it usually displays pages laid out like on a
“real” computer rather than mobile phone pages. (A very good thing!)
Flash support is the best of any tablet – better than on the Xoom, for
instance. Hi-def video watching, both on the PlayBook and connected to
a TV, was very good.
About that lack of email/contacts/calendar apps: I didn’t miss them,
since I access all of the above via a Gmail webmail account. On the
PlayBook that worked just fine, though I missed being able to share
documents or photos as attachments.
Reportedly, bridging (via Bluetooth) to a BlackBerry works fine, too,
though I couldn’t test it. RIM is promising “real” email (etc.) apps
some time this summer, if that’s important to you. Also promised for
the summer: 3G versions. And more apps.
PlayBook remains a work in progress, but if you use a browser a lot and
especially if you’re a BlackBerry user, it may be the tablet for you.