My First 72 hours with the Blackberry Playbook

In addition to owning an iPad and a Motorola Xoom, I have now picked up a BlackBerry Playbook and while I’ve only had it for 3 days, I did want to share my initial take on this tablet, especially from the perspective of having two other tablets.

I want to preface by saying that my observations below are based on my experience with the iPad and the Xoom and may be very different from someone who is buying the Playbook as their very first Tablet.

I also want to point out that I have never owned or used a BlackBerry smartphone before, so the Playbook is my very first experience with any BlackBerry device.

Unboxing the Playbook and Setup

I found the packaging to be very elegant and the device itself was inside of a black BlackBerry-branded pouch, plus it comes with simple getting started instruction sheets in three languages, English, French and Spanish. It also includes an AC charger and a USB cable, as well as cloth for cleaning the screen.

Much like the Motorola Xoom, the initial setup for the Playbook was straightforward and unlike the iPad and the iPhone today, which requires you to plug the device to a computer with iTunes, the Playbook does it all without a requiring a PC. Since I didn’t have a BlackBerry account, I had to create one for downloading apps, but the process was simple.

I’m used to swiping from left to right, so I did find the right-to-left approach of swiping on the Playbook odd as I went through the different setup screens. Once I got used to it, it was OK.

The Playbook quickly found my WiFi and connected to it and it only took a few minutes to download and install the 1.0.5 update. After that, I was up and running.

The Hardware

I’m very used to the bigger screens of the iPad and the Xoom and initially I didn’t know what to expect from the smaller 7" screen of the Playbook.

Overall the smaller form factor is easier to carry around the house and watching video on the smaller screen is a great experience. However for other things like composing a tweet on Twitter.com where you need to bring up the keyboard, the screen is too small because you can’t really see what you are typing. Here’s a screenshot:

The Power button has to be the worst design ever in the history of devices. Ok maybe I’m exaggerating but maybe I’m not. The button is located at the top of the device and while you can see it, pressing it to turn it on is a different story. Not sure who came up with this, but it needs to be improved in the next generation of Playbooks.

Having said that, the up and down volume buttons are very nice and when pushed together, you can take a screen shot, which is a really nice feature.

The speakers are nicely located in the front of the device and the audio quality is fantastic. I enjoy listening to music and watching videos on YouTube.

I also enjoy the feel of the virtual keyboard, much more than I do on the iPad and the Motorola Xoom. The keyboard has a nice tapping sound, which makes it feel like you are using an actual physical keyboard. However I did notice that tapping on the space bar twice in a row doesn’t result in a period like it does on most other devices.

The Online Help

While most users wouldn’t pay attention to this, I have spent the majority of my professional career in the world of Technical Communications, so I’m always interested in seeing what companies are doing in the area of Online Help to aid their users in familiarizing themselves with any product.

This is why I was very pleasantly surprised when I tapped the Help app and found loads of video tutorials for many of the applications included. For example, tapping the Getting Started option gives me a traditional tri-pane Online Help with multiple topics and videos, as illustrated here:

I find BlackBerry’s approach to navigating around the Playbook very unique and different from other tablets out there, so I credit these tutorials for helping me learn this new approach. I strongly believe that other devices should do something similar for their users.

The Music and Books Services

One thing I really like about Apple and Google is that they both have a single user id and password for just about every service, so once I setup my device, it knows who I am and I can begin purchasing apps, music, movies etc. Not so with the Playbook. In fact I was very disappointed that after I created a BlackBerry account for my devices and for the App World market, I had to create a separate one for Music and another one from Books. The Music store is managed by 7digital and the Books are managed by Kobo, which I’m sad to say, I’ve never heard of these two companies before. Again, I’ve only had my Playbook for 72 hours and haven’t explored everything so I’m not sure if there are other services that I’ll need to sign up for in order to get other apps to work.

The Web and Flash

Just like the Motorola Xoom and most other Tablets and smartphones out there, with the exception of the iPad and the iPhone, the Playbook comes with Adobe Flash built-in so you get the whole web experience.

I said this before and I’ll say it again, the idea that I can use a tablet to browse the full web and not worry about whether I can or can’t play Flash is priceless to me.

Here’s a screenshot of an episode on Adobe TV:

And here are two more showing an Adobe Captivate eLearning course with full interactivy running on the Playbook. More on what it’s like to take an eLearning course on the Playbook in a later post.

One final thing about the Playbook browser is that I wish it had a way to ‘Share’ the page you are browsing via e-mail or Twitter or other Social Networks. This is where Honeycomb tablets like the Motorola Xoom have the iPad and the Playbook beat.

The e-mail or lack thereof

The Playbook comes with the BlackBerry Bridge app, which allows you to connect over Bluetooth to your BlackBerry smartphone to gain access to e-mail, calendars and messenger. As I mentioned above, I don’t have a BlackBerry smartphone, so this does little for me or others, who are in my same situation.

I find it inconceivable how a company would ship a tablet without this basic function since e-mail and calendar is one of the most basic apps any tablet should be able to support. Having said that, I have read that BlackBerry intends to add e-mail support in a future update.

The Apps

As I said at the beginning, I’m very new to the world of BlackBerry, so I’m not very familiar with most of the Apps, especially those in the App World, so I will need to explore this as I go.

However I have tested most of the apps that are included and some of my favorite apps include the calculator, Camera, Videos, Podcasts and Help.

On the other hand I find the YouTube app very limited, especially without the ability to sign in, so I have been using YouTube.com instead. I was excited when I saw the Twitter and Gmail apps, but then I realized they were just shortcuts to Twitter.com and Gmail.com respectively. I would prefer native apps of these two services.

With the lack of ‘sharing’ support overall, especially the inability to e-mail links, I found BlueBox to be indispensable because it allows me to exchange files between my Playbook and my PCs and it’s based on the DropBox service.

Multitasking

Running multiple apps and switching between them is something the Playbook does very well. To see all the apps running, you simply swipe from the bottom toward the top, or you can also switch between them by swiping from the left toward the right or vice versa.

Summary

Even though it has only been 72 hours, overall I’m very pleased with the Playbook and feel that it has potential. BlackBerry seems to have a strong community and they seem keen on providing updates on a regular basis. However the company needs to provide e-mail support as soon possible and continue improving their apps in order to catch up with their competitors. Oh and of course they need to do something about that horrendous Power button in future generations of the Playbook.

I will continue to blog my experience with the Tablets I own in future posts, so please stay tuned.

If you have a Playbook, please share your experience by leaving a comment.

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  • zaman

    I really like the power button, I use it all the time. One thing that might help if it’s not working for you is to try the otterbox, the rubber buttons over the controls make it much much easier to hit. Also, the thing I have been finding is that for waking the screen up the bezel to bezel swipe works great, and for turning off or into sleep mode the controls when you tap the battery on the home screen are pretty good. I find that I don’t turn it off too much. Right around launch day, RIM said that native email would come in 60 days so that would be mid june.

    • HI Zaman, thanks for your comment and your tip for working around the Power button. I will try that moving forward and stay completely again from the button.

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