After the launch of the iPad, every big manufacturer has been trying to create a tablet computer. The latest is the BlackBerry PlayBook from Research in Motion (RIM).
The adoption of the iPad by businesses globally, must have set alarm bells ringing in RIM, whose primary market still lies with enterprise users. The company faced a lot of pressure to create a viable iPad alternative—one that would be focused on business use as well as appeal to more general users.
The BlackBerry PlayBook largely delivers on both counts. The device is portable, and an excellent tool for working with office documents. It also has a no-fuss HDMI connector for presentations, along with the best tablet browser yet.
Let’s play: The PlayBook works well for office tasks, but is sorely lacking in apps at launch.
On the other hand, the PlayBook has very few apps at launch. It has on paper around 9,000 apps to draw on, after duplicates and e-books are removed from the count, but the best apps are already on the device. While the PlayBook comes with Facebook, YouTube and decent media apps along with excellent tools for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, it has no Skype, Kindle and official Twitter client. Neither did the iPad, of course, but when it launched, there was no competition. RIM says it is working on plugging these gaps.
The smaller size of the PlayBook is a selling point. Compared with the iPad 2, it’s almost half the size (see table for details) but is also surprisingly heavy for its size. A thick bezel around the screen sets it apart from other tablets.
Also see | BB Playbook vs Apple iPad2 (PDF)
The bezel is more than decorative. It’s one of the touches that the new QNX operating system (OS), which is making its debut along with the PlayBook, brings. Unlike the iPad or Android, there is no home screen button. Instead, the touch screen extends beyond the visible screen, and swipes that begin and end on the bezel are used for system commands—swipe down to call the home screen, up to close an app, or diagonally across to access notifications, for example.
It’s less complicated than it sounds, and QNX is a smooth and intuitive system, every bit as easy as iOS or Android, but very distinct from them.
The size also means you can slip it into your trouser pocket or a handbag quite easily. It also means that you can use your tablet to take pictures from the serviceable if not spectacular 5 MP camera on the back. This is in contrast to the iPod quality camera in the iPad 2.
The browser is stable, has tabbed browsing and supports Adobe Flash, so you can look at charts in Google Analytics or watch a streaming movie or play Farmville easily. The PlayBook has a serviceable, if not spectacular, apps for video, music and books, along with PlayBook-to-PlayBook video chat and an excellent document-editing suite, so you’ll never be stumped when faced with an Excel sheet.
Unfortunately, the App World is pretty empty at present. There is already a good collection of games available, but more are clearly needed. While reliance on the Web is a good thing, many of these apps are why the iPad is such a compelling device, and unless RIM can incentivize development in a big way, it’ll always lag behind the iPad. There are around 9,000 actual apps available to BlackBerry users, once you take away the themes and the e-books. Compared with the 100,000 iPad apps on the App Store, this is nothing.
The other problem is that unless you’re a BlackBerry user, you don’t get your email and calendars delivered to the tablet. The PlayBook allows you to connect your BlackBerry using Bluetooth, to share its 3G connection, contacts, calendar and email, but there’s no other way to activate these things.
The Bluetooth-based BlackBerry Bridge bleeds the battery on the PlayBook, and at around 6 hours of use to a charge, it’s not exactly setting any records to begin with—and seems outright puny compared with the iPad, which can go nearly twice as long.
Starting at Rs28,000 for the 16 GB model, the PlayBook matches the iPad in price, and for people who already own a BlackBerry, it’s a great tablet. For enterprise users, the added security of the BlackBerry Bridge and the built-in document-editing options that help you deal with everything related to MS Office are a great advantage. For those who want to use it more casually, the older but cheaper Galaxy Tab is a good option—it also comes in the convenient 7-inch size.