BlackBerry PlayBook: First Thoughts

Inside the box are the manual, carrying pouch, a micro-fibre cleaning cloth, usb cable, power adapter, and of course the PlayBook itself. 

Look and Feel

Being used to the iPad, the BlackBerry PlayBook looked miniscule at first glance, and my initial thought that was that it was too small to be as useful or as productive as the iPad. Everything changed when I actually held one in my hands. It was sleek, looked much more professional than any other tablets on the market today, and was very comfortable and felt sturdy while holding in my hands. While the screen itself was small, everything looked bright and crisp, the smart bezel absolutely ingenius and fun to play with. For those of you who are not familiar with PlayBook’s smart bezel, it basically helps you make finger gestures starting from the bezel itself, instead of having to just rely on the screen. While it really isn’t an issue on larger displays, it really helps with the smaller screen of the PlayBook by incorporating new and innovative ways of making gestures. One design flaw I have noticed was the power button – it is so small that it’s hard to press on it without using the fingernails. Other than that, the hardware is so beautifully designed that I have no other complaints. 

User Interface

Just to showcase what you can expect from the BlackBerry Playbook Tablet OS, let’s start off with some screenshots of the user interface: 

The BlackBerry PlayBook is powered by what is officially known as the BlackBerry Tablet OS, which is an operating system that is based on the QNX Neutrino real-time operating system. This means that the PlayBook is exceptionally good at managing real time multitasking, especially since it’s paired with a whopping 1GB RAM. Multitasking in real time means that apps are actually running in the background while you run another app on the foreground. Compared to this, Apple’s iOS only saves the state of the app, and actually puts background apps to sleep, not allowing them to be really running simultaneously with the foreground app. To test this out, I started up Need for Speed: Undercover, one of the built-in games that come with the device.


Once I was in a race, I minimized out of the game, and saw that the car was still moving in the app preview mode on the home page. It was amazing to see it still having access to the accelerometer, being able to maneuver the vehicle by tilting the PlayBook while it was in the background. 

The BlackBerry PlayBook also comes with Adobe Flash built-in, a feature that is also found in many Android devices. To test this out, I tried to stream flash video from the web via the built-in browser. It worked exceptionally well, streaming 480p videos without any noticeable lag playing back the video. It did lag up the device overall by a little however, the PlayBook becoming less responsive. Switching from portrait to landscape ode and vice versa also started to become a little laggy at this point. Although it isn’t the most elegant system for managing system resources, it was to be expected with other apps running in the background in real time, and Adobe Flash being notorious for being a system resource hog. 

Speaking of Flash, there was one interface glitch that I have discovered. While testing out Flash by playing with Speedtest’s web interface (written in Flash), I realized that switching from landscape to portrait mode and then back to landscape mode while in full screen flash brought up unexpected interface glitch: the flash application would no longer fill up the whole screen. Here’s a video to best expemplify this glitch: 

SAM_0886.MP4 Watch on Posterous

Other Things I Almost Forgot to Mention

Oh yeah. I almost forgot to mention the cameras on the PlayBook. It has two cameras, one front facing, and the other rear facing. The front facing camera is capable of taking 3MP photos, and the rear facing camera, 5MP. They are both capable of recording 1080p video. Another notable thing to mention is that it supports full 1080p video mirroring via HDMI, though I was not able to test this out as a micro HDMI cable was not available. 

Another thing is that although this is to be expected from a completely new platform, the App World contained a very small number of apps available to download. I expect this app availability number to increase over time, and RIM preparing a classic BlackBerry OS application emulator for the PlayBook is also a good sign. 

Lastly, one more thing that I was not able to test out was the BlackBerry PlayBook Bridge program, which allows you to tether a BlackBerry Smartphone with the PlayBook to enable email, calendars, contacts sharing between devices, and also enable access to the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). At the time of writing, RIM had not enabled this feature. It is unclear whether if all it will take is a back-end server changes, or a software upgrade for the PlayBook to enable this feature. 

Final Thoughts

Overall, the BlackBerry PlayBook is a joy to use. The interface is easy to use, the smart bezel gestures innovative and fun to use. Minor glitches are expected on a version 1.0 device, and even so, the PlayBook felt surprisingly close to a completed project rather than just another one of those devices that have been pushed to retail with the intention of providing *fixes* via software updates in the future. The smaller-than-iPad form factor is actually an advantage, rather than a disadvantage as many would have thought, as I can see myself actually using the PlayBook as a mobile device, rather than as a portable device as are laptops and iPads. 

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