7 Things I Like About the BlackBerry PlayBook

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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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