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Invariably many will compare the Blackberry Playbook to the iPad 2 and other major players from the Android camp. But owing to the fact that the Playbook is nearly half the screen size of the iPad, one wonders if RIM (Research in Motion) really intended for the Playbook to be a serious competitor to the Apple iPad and Motorola Xoom.
The BlackBerry Playbook represents Research in Motion’s maiden voyage into the slate tablet market. This tablet is a 7” device that ships with a 1GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM and 802.11n Wi-Fi support. The entry level RIM Playbook comes with 16GB of storage and costs $499; the 32GB and 64GB versions cost $599 and $699 respectively.
On the front of the device is a 3-megapixel camera and on the back is a 5-megapixel one that is good enough to capture 1080p video. Measuring just .04-inch thick, 7-inches wide and 5 inches tall, the BlackBerry Playbook can be easily palmed by most persons and is even small enough to fit in some large pockets.
A close examination of the Playbook will reveal that it has no navigation buttons on the front. In fact all the navigational controls are software based. However, on the top edge of the device you will find a tiny Power/Wake button. No doubt, most users will find the buttons annoyingly small, if not impossible to use when the tablet is in a case.
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Interface and Ease of UseRating
To use the Playbook, and by extension the new BlackBerry OS, you will have to learn a new set of gesture commands. For example, swiping upward from the bottom brings up the apps, while swiping downward from the top brings up the menus. If you have multiple programs opened, a left or right swipe is all that is necessary to move between them.
Those who will use the Playbook for simple text entry will be very happy with how nicely spaced and uncluttered the onscreen keyboard is, especially when used in landscape mode.
Unfortunately, if you need to type anything more than the letters of the alphabet, a comma, or a full stop this keyboard will frustrate, as you will need to use the symbol key to enter quotation marks, dollar signs and other special characters as these are not readily available on the keyboard.
Unlike other first generation mobile operating systems the RIM Playbook OS comes with copy and paste. The feature uses a pair of blue tabs that the user drags to highlight the text to be selected. The selected content is then stored to the clipboard from where it can be pasted to other applications or text input fields.
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You really notice how well the new OS works when cycling between opened applications as there is no noticeable lag or glitch when transitioning. However the browser seems a bit slower than that of the Apple iPad 2. The slight performance lag can’t be blamed entirely on the device’s support of Flash though, owing to the fact that performance is also slower when accessing non-flash content.
A casual battery life test reveals that the Playbook can run for more than 7 hours of continuous video playback with the screen brightness set just below 70%. That is well short of the 10 hours that is possible on the iPad2. But as we said before, this is not a direct competitor to the iPad. That said, it is possible to get days of use out of a single battery charge if the device is only used a few moments a day to check emails, contact and memos.
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There is no doubt that the Playbook’s browser is one of its best features – this can be attributable to the fact that the browser was built from scratch for this platform so it doesn’t have the same issues that other mobile browsers have while rendering pages.
Those who consume their fair share of Flash based media will be happy to know that the browser comes with Flash Player 10.2 and that it works well. All the ads, animations, games and video will work just as they do on computer.
Though the browser is handicapped by its relatively small 7” display, the pinch to zoom feature and generally intuitive touch screen gestures make using the browser an overall pleasant experience.
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Network, Email and Messaging ServicesRating
For now, the BlackBerry Playbook only has Wi-Fi support, but RIM has plans to bring 4G models to the market later this year. Understandably many faithful BlackBerrry users will pickup the Playbook and expect to use it to access their email and message in much the same way they use a regular BlackBerry phone, but they may be disappointed by the limitations that the Playbook has.
The Playbook has no apps dedicated to accessing e-mails, calendar items, messages, contacts, tasks, or memos. To use these legendary BlackBerry services you will need to pair the Playbook to a BlackBerry phone via bluetooth. For the Playbook to connect to a BlackBerry phone the phone must be running BlackBerry OS 5 or 6 and both devices (Playbook and phone) must be running an app called the BlackBerry Bridge.
BlackBerry Bridge allows BlackBerries to use the Playbook as a large monitor to read emails, BB messages, contacts and memos. There is also another advantage that this system offers, particularly in situations where data security is of utmost importance. Because the Playbook doesn’t store data that it accesses from the phone, there is little risk of sensitive information getting in the wrong hands if the Playbook is lost, which is a major selling point that RIM is sure to make when pitching the Playbook at corporate customers.
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The fact that the Playbook doesn’t have dedicated e-mail, calendar, messaging, contacts, tasks, and memos apps will no doubt be a turnoff to many would-be owners of the Playbook, particularly those who would have considered buying a slate tablet that has BlackBerry’s legendary messaging features. The tiny Power/Wake button could also be a deal breaker for many would be owners; the button is simply too small and will definitely frustrate all but those who have small fingers.
Thankfully RIM got more than a few things right with the Playbook, one of the standout features being a mobile browser that could be considered one of the best, even when compared to the iPad 2 browsing experience.