After spending 23 hours in line, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a BlackBerry PlayBook. Okay, maybe I’m being just a little facetious, especially since I walked into my local Future Shop and walked out with one 10 minutes later. In fact anyone can, but I thought it was funny. Let me come right out and say, if you have come in with preconceived notions of this device, stop right there! Free your mind and give this device a chance. Granted, I’ve only spent about 12 hours with the device, but I will give my unbiased opinion and share my true feelings. The rest is up to you.
You can go into your local electronics retailers such as Future Shop, Best Buy, Staples, and even Sears to pick up the PlayBook. While I understand the strategy of making the device available at as many retailers as possible, what I don’t understand is the price point. The 16GB Wi-Fi PlayBook sells for $499.99, while an iPad 2 16GB Wi-Fi sells for $519.99. Even before I share my thoughts, I feel it is necessary to point out that if the base PlayBook had been released at $399.99 it could have created its own segment in the market. Unfortunately, that’s not the case and something I strongly think that RIM will come to regret when the dust settles.
Opening the box, I was aware that I needed to connect to my PC and am required to create a BlackBerry logon, (I already have one) but I was not expecting that it would require a Wi-Fi connection as well, before anything you have to download a 287 MB update and install it. It took me almost 10 minutes before I was able to use the device. It’s not a crime, but not the best start up experience either.
The first thing that hits you when you see the PlayBook in person is the size. I really wanted to make a remark about size really does matter, because I initially felt that the PlayBook was way too small and was really disappointed with the first impression, but I really wanted to reserve judgement for a few hours, I’m not sure if the iPad 2 has something to do with this, or if in fact the 7″ inch screen doesn’t do it justice , but I can imagine that when viewing documents and even this blog, the smaller form factor really leaves something to be desired. The other thing that hit me right when I picked it up was confusion, I will admit, that learning the gestures is a very quick and I would recommend taking the time to go through the tutorial for a pleasant operating experience, but for a few moments the device feels very foreign even in the hands of the most technically savvy. Watching people trying to gesture to the home screen was quite amusing while I was at the store playing with the display model, most including myself did not realize that the bezel is touch sensitive and required in the process. Once I got the hang of it, it felt very natural to go through the gestures to bring up multitasking. I started a song, loaded my webpage and then started playing Need for Speed without any effort at all.
The 5MP rear camera and the 3MP front camera really should be the minimum standard for a tablet device in this day and age. The two pictures below are some I took with the rear camera in medium lighting. I was quite impressed by the quality and the ease of use, and holding the PlayBook while taking a picture was very natural and was not awkward at all.
The browser is a full browser, it doesn’t load mobile editions of web pages and runs Flash very smoothly, I was quite impressed with RIM’s browser and how it performs. I visited all my favourite sites and found the experience to be quite like the one I have on my desktop. I tip my hat to RIM on that front. The PlayBook boasts a 1024 x 600 display resolution with a reported density of about 170 pixels per inch and let me tell you it looks absolutely stunning! Looking at pictures, watching a movie clip, and checking out HD YouTube videos really highlighted the awesome display but also quickly made me conscience of the smaller screen and really highlights the need for RIM to come out with a larger tablet.
I was however dismayed at how quickly the battery drained while I was using the unit. Even though I haven’t charged my unit yet out of the box, I watched it go from 50% to 30% within a few hours. I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt here, as it hasn’t had the opportunity to be fully charged and I was putting it through its paces. I’m sure everyday average use will give me a longer lasting battery and I won’t have it attached to the power outlet at all times.
RIM will find a target market for this device even though they missed their goal of being a direct competitor to Apple. When compared to the first generation of the iPad, I would agree the PlayBook is a step up on that technology. The Apps will come, a native Email program will come, I’m not worried about these things at all. I will point out that a tablet should stand on its own. I love the micro HDMI port but think the BlackBerry Bridge was silly. Its like having an iPad and needing the iPhone attached to it at all times, yeah, exactly. At one point I truly believe that the designers of the PlayBook and its shareholders thought it would dominate the market and take the company to new heights, and I promise that this is one of the few devices that gets panned in the eyes of critics but in spite of that will do well in sales. Just nothing in the neighborhood that either extreme is predicting. The build of the PlayBook is quality and they will find their niche market.
I know technical specs. I’m sure you know technical specs. Technical specs of the PlayBook are all over the internet, we’ve seen and heard about them at every turn. What you may not know is that sometimes, you get something that is greater then the sum of its parts. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here. At best what you see is what you get, but really, after spending the better part of a day with this device, two things really stood out during my experience, first, that there seems to be more of a curiosity factor when it comes to the PlayBook and up against all the other tablets in the market it can get easily lost , and second, it feels like the sum is lesser than its parts. I can’t believe that something that does things on equal footing or greater then the iPad 2 is this way, but in the end its true, no matter what they say, size does matter…