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Summary:

It’s easy to hate on RIM’s new BlackBerry PlayBook, but are some people overlooking the positives that RIM’s new tablet offers? Here’s a list of my favorite selling points, which actually provide a solid foundation for the PlayBook to mature and be successful in the future.

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It’s easy to hate on RIM’s new BlackBerry PlayBook. After all, it has relatively few applications available, doesn’t yet offer a native email client and requires a BlackBerry handset for the most basic of productivity apps. Yet, one analyst thinks that Research In Motion has already sold 50,000 tablets in the first day of availability. How could that even be possible given the scathing reviews and functionality oversights? Valid criticisms aside, there actually are some things that make the PlayBook an attractive device. Here are a few, based on my use of a review unit over the weekend.

  1. Stellar speakers. Mobile device makers often cut corners to save a few dollars by using wimpy speakers. RIM certainly didn’t take that route, and the effort can be plainly heard. The two speakers on the PlayBook are louder and better sounding than on any other mobile device I’ve used yet.
  2. A fresh, fluid user interface. Yes, the new interface on top of the QNX operating system looks much like that of HP’s webOS. That’s not a bad thing because it’s intuitive, simple to use and makes great use of virtual screen space as menus float off the top or bottom of the PlayBook. I like it better than that of Google Android Honeycomb tablets, which I find very computer-like and less fit for a mobile device that’s driven by touch.
  3. Wake with gestures. I’m not a fan of the very small power button that sits flush on the top bezel of the PlayBook, but it doesn’t matter. There’s no need to find and press the power button, because the tablet wakes up with a swipe gesture from one edge of the device to another. This is a great use of the touch-sensitive bezel around the PlayBook’s screen.
  4. Amazon Cloud Player on the web. No other mobile device I’ve used yet can leverage Amazon’s new Cloud Player service in a browser. At least none could before I tried the PlayBook. Thanks to Adobe Flash Player support, streaming audio from the web works on the PlayBook just as it does on my desktop computer. And it sounds good, too: See item number one above! One big downside is that music stops when you move to another browser tab or app. For now, you can’t stream those tunes in the background, at least not until the PlayBook gains Android software. Perhaps then, the Amazon MP3 app will work.
  5. A multitasking monster. Perhaps the best aspect of the new QNX operating system is how well it handles multitasking. Again, the interface emulates that of webOS, complete with the flicking of apps off the screen to close them. But it works and is effective. Plus, the hardware is easily able to keep background apps running, even when showing them in a minimized view.
  6. A speedy and useful browser. Based on WebKit, just like most other mobile browsers, the PlayBook is a great web surfing device. One tap removes the menu bar to offer a more full-screen experience, multiple tabs are supported and the zoom feature is peppy. I ran the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark and the PlayBook returned a result of 2462 ms, which lags slightly behind the iPad 2 and it’s score of 2097 (Note: smaller numbers are better). And the PlayBook’s browser score is comparable to the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, which earned a SunSpider score of 2256 ms.
  7. The camera is solid. The PlayBook’s camera sensor and Texas Instruments dual-core OMAP processor makes for a good combination. Still photos are quite usable and even 1080p video recording looks good at 30 frames per second. Here’s a brief video demo as I walked around the front yard on a breezy afternoon surveying how much landscape work and weeding I have to do this spring.
There’s no doubt in my mind that RIM has work to do in making the PlayBook a more attractive tablet. But the foundation for a positive PlayBook already exists as my list of likes supplements the optimism from Om’s initial PlayBook review. Now it’s up to the company to attract developers, add some missing features and continue maturing the already excellent QNX operating system. And that last bit is very likely to happen, given that RIM’s future smartphones will use QNX too.

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  1. You are missing the biggest seller for the PlayBook. It lacks stand-alone e-mail, calendar, and contacts apps, requiring a BB phone for this to function.

    What is an annoyance to you is a big plus to Corporate IT departments. While the reports of 50,000 units on day 1 are not surprising to me, I would be surprised if most of those units went to consumers. The PlayBook, especially in its initial implementation, is aimed squarely at corporate IT. I suspect several companies have ordered multiple units for testing and initial roll-out, which will likely occur much faster than the roll-out of iPads or other tablets.

    1. Kevin C. Tofel JAy. Monday, April 25, 2011

      Definitely a potential benefit for those in I.T. that have a BlackBerry, but it’s a hindrance for anyone else. And since I don’t use a BlackBerry, this couldn’t be on my list of likes. ;)

      But to be honest, I think the security aspect of the BB Bridge app is overblown and unnecessary. Other smartphone & tablet platforms do just fine in the enterprise because they support remote device management, full drive encryption and remote wipe. Why the need to keep all data off the tablet then?

      1. Your ignorance is showing. RIM has tied up the enterprise market because of their security.

        Considering Android and iOS devices can be completely blown open by visiting a WEBPAGE or receiving a specially crafted MMS, your argument is a moot point. You clearly don’t know what you’re talking about and should stick to reviewing consumer gadgets.

        1. Yup, I get that “stick to reviewing consumer gadgets” a lot. Usually from people that don’t realize I’ve done just about every I.T. job there is to in various Fortune 100 companies for more than 15 years.

          Having said that, I’m not saying that some I.T. shops don’t value RIM’s security approach. I’ve worked at some that do. My point was that RIM hasn’t “tied up” the enterprise market as you suggest. Estimates show that between 65 and 80 percent of the Fortune 100 have deployed or plan to deploy iPads. How can that be true if these same corporations must have the BB security? It can’t. Yes, RIM has something valuable to offer in terms of enterprise services and security. But it appears that many are happy with an alternative, which was the point I was trying to illustrate.

    2. Kevin is absolutely right here. I help companies deploy smartphones and tablets regularly and once they know that the devices can be locked/wiped remotely 90% are satisfied. In fact, the trends in business are 180 degrees away from the RIM approach. Office 365 and Google Apps are great examples of that. Companies want their people to be connected and productive wherever they may be.

  2. Jeremy Toeman Monday, April 25, 2011

    “There’s no doubt in my mind that RIM has work to do in making the PlayBook a more attractive tablet.”

    Kevin – seriously, that’s the harshest comment you’re going to make? We’ve all seen all the other reviews. Why go so soft? It doesn’t have EMAIL!@#!$!#$ The 50K unit quote is a *terrible* number, and we all know this whole thing is going to end badly. What’s the appeal here???

    1. Jeremy, the tablet is already meeting some people’s needs now (see Hari’s comment, for example) and has the potential to meet other’s needs in the future. Why is it wrong to suggest otherwise, when that’s my opinion? Not everything has to beat the iPad to be successful. ;)

  3. Kevin – I got myself a playbook this weekend and dude I am loving it. My ipad has been sitting idle is up for sale on craigslist. Tried playing Amazon prime movies and was blown away by how smooth and crisp the playback was. For a first attempt, this is way better than what Apple came up with. Polish up the software and add a few good apps and it will be a rockin tablet.

  4. WoW, I am planning to buy playbook now after reading your article ;)

  5. ah common.every body know its sucks..and even people dont like it…u better read this article about what people are ssaying

    “At a Staples store in downtown New York City, on Broadway, a salesman said all 10 PlayBooks it had in stock sold out within a couple of hours of opening at 7 a.m.”
    only 10 – oh boy u got be kidding me
    its browser sucks

    1. In your hands on experience, what about the browser sucks? Just curious.

  6. Browser is great… works well for me. There’s a lot to like about the Playbook, and frankly I don’t see the lack of a built in email client as a major problem. What is a problem at the moment is that you cannot edit attachments or documents that you access via the Bridge function (the connection to your phone). You can edit them on the phone itself; RIM even owns Docs-to-Go now! Why BlackBerry didn’t enable this feature from the start is a mystery and very frustrating. For me, and I imagine many others, the whole point was to get a document, edit it quickly, and fire it back.

    1. Always good to get more opinions. Just gave a read. Not sure about your comment on the core social apps “missing” from the Galaxy Tab (which you were comparing to the PlayBook in part): they’ve always been available for download, so I don’t get the point. Agree on most other observations. You mentioned the BT support issues for file transfers that limit to USB cable, but I suspect that too is part of the BB security mentality. Additionally, the device supports Wi-Fi file sharing (check the settings) although I haven’t tested it yet.

      You also mentioned that you have open up your home network if locked down to get the first update: mine is locked down and I didn’t open it up: again, in the settings, there is a method to join a closed, secure network. Definitely some things to be fixed for sure, which I mentioned in the post, but some things to like as well!

      1. I wasn’t able to test wifi file sharing either – not sure again if that’s an ad-hoc connection or done through a network share. I’ve always preferred BT as it works much simpler IMO.

        The reason I needed to open up my network is because I use MAC filtering and needed to add the playbook to my trusted clients list. True, in my case that would be a given for any device, but it’s always been something I’ve only had to do AFTER setup.

        Still waiting to get my hands on a Windows 7 slate… :-)

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