Tablets have become all the rage in the last couple of months, with Apple arguably pioneering the portable devices. As more and more companies enter the fray, Blackberry is no different, as they recently introduced the Blackberry Playbook.
The Playbook aims to merge entertainment and business, and in certain regards, they get it right. Before delving deeper into the device, it has to be said that the device works extremely well at first glance, but the longer one spends with it the more niggles start to crop up.
Going hands-on for the first time can be a bit daunting, as the system works rather differently to what Blackberry phone users would be used to. The screen is activated by touch, and the black border is also part of the activation area. The response isn’t as much as it could have been, with users often having to swipe up or down a couple of times before it registers.
But, the menu system works rather well, and it’s very easy to navigate around all the apps. A simple swipe upwards will expand the current menu and a swipe down to the bottom will bring up the system menu and setting.
It’s difficult to explain, but the bottom bar houses all the icons and app shortcuts, while a small strip at the top is used for the clock, Bluetooth and battery settings. The open area in the middle serves as a workspace, where all the open apps are located in the respective screens.
Since the Playbook is proudly multitaskable, any application can be “minimised” to the work area, while a second app is launched. Apps can also run simultaneously, with users listening to music through one app while browsing the web through the built-in browser.
The beauty of this function, and it’s rather astonishing, is that the Playbook can be connected to a television, and using the same multitasking power, users will be able to stream a video on the television while playing a game or browsing through pictures on the Playbook.
This comes in real handy when the family would like to watch a full HD film streamed from the Playbook by means of mini HDMI, while the user is busy with something else – it serves as a media centre of sorts.
A misconception that people have when hearing that the Playbook is developed by Blackberry is that users need a Blackberry phone in order to use it. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and it’s actually not necessary at all.
The only functionality that having a Blackberry phone affords, is that users can connect their phone to the Playbook though the Blackberry Bridge app. Having linked it with Bridge, users will be able to browse their phone’s messages, contacts, calendar, bridge files and BBM through the Playbook. It’s not revolutionary, but can come in handy at times.
Apps can be downloaded through App World, which comes pre-installed on the Playbook, but the device can only connect to the internet through Wi-Fi. It’s a bit of a let-down that it doesn’t support 3G on its own, but users can share their paired Blackberry phone’s internet connection through Bluetooth.
In terms of graphical output, the full HD screen is rather remarkable when it comes to watching videos on the device. The graphics are crisp and clear and the sound, presented through two speakers located on either side of the screen, provide for an immersive experience.
Speaking of fun, the device also sports two cameras, one in the front and one at the back – but no flash. It’s not a huge issue, as users won’t be going on holiday with the aim of taking pictures with the Playbook, but the thought would have been nice.
But there is a nifty app installed called Video Chat, which will allow users to make video calls to other Playbook users over the internet. The two cameras can be used to focus one on the user, while the other focuses on an object that the user would like to highlight.
It’s a really nifty toy, but alas it’s a toy nonetheless. Just like many other tablets, there isn’t a lot that makes the Playbook stand out; instead it only enhances the use of the Blackberry phone. It’s great to have, but in terms of real practical purposes, the reasons are rather waning. Although, users can play flash on it, with the help of Adobe Air…
It’s built in a sturdy frame and maybe slightly heavier than one would expect, but it’s built really well for its purpose. Whatever that purpose might be is entirely up to the user, but it’s a great media centre to play games on – even if we only got the 16GB version to play with.
By Charlie Fripp – Consumer editor