Overall, the features provided by PlayBook OS 2.0 are a welcome update for any BlackBerry PlayBook user. For RIM's loyal base of business users, the e-mail and contact integration with LinkedIn is an attractive proposition. A few other enhancements, such as the ability to organize apps into folders, video chat with other PlayBook owners, and an application dock at the bottom of the home screen, refine an already great tablet experience.
Syncing media to your PlayBook from your computer isn't the simple drag-and-drop experience as on an Android device, or the time-honored iTunes sync of an iPod or iOS device. Instead, when you connect the PlayBook to a Mac or PC, a preloaded installer will pop up and run you through the BlackBerry Desktop software installation. The setup is fairly painless, and it gives you separate tabs for manually or automatically syncing various media, such as photos, music, and videos.
Another nifty advantage of RIM's software sync strategy is that it will take your PlayBook's unique BlackBerry PIN ID and map it to a persistent virtual drive on your computer. After the setup, your computer will maintain a wireless connection to your PlayBook over your home network, allowing you to send files to the device from the virtual drive on your computer. One use for this feature is quickly transferring a report or presentation to your PlayBook without taking it out of your bag and physically connecting it.
Out of the box, the PlayBook comes prestocked with some great apps and utilities. Basic features such as music playback, video player, camera/camcorder, and weather are all here and executed with an eye for detail. You'll also find quality apps for YouTube, Kobo e-reader, Bing Maps (using GPS), and games such as Need for Speed and Tetris.
The PlayBook's killer app, though, is its browser. Unlike iOS and Android browsers, which evolved from the world of mobile phones, the PlayBook's browser is a clean slate (no pun intended), and Web sites react to it just like a desktop browser. This means you won't be wasting any time on mobile versions of sites designed for the small screens of smartphones--a problem that even larger tablets such as the Motorola Xoom and iPad 2 can't seem to shake.
As the icing on the cake, RIM baked full Adobe Flash 10.2 support into the PlayBook's browser. All of the Web's video, animations, games, and ads (for better or worse) work on the PlayBook, just like they would on your home computer. There's even a privacy mode for the browser and advanced settings for selectively disabling cookies, WebSockets, and pop-ups. The only bad thing we can say about the browser is that it shoehorns the full Web experience onto a screen size that is ill-equipped to take advantage of it. With half the screen real estate of its iOS and Android Honeycomb peers, you spend a lot of time pinching fingers in and out to zoom pages and peer at an uncompromised Web experience through a 7-inch keyhole.
Other vital apps offered on the PlayBook include the full suite of Docs To Go apps for viewing and editing common document formats such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. In combination with the built-in HDMI output, the PlayBook makes a handy device for presentations. The PlayBook's video output has the unique capability of either mirroring the device's screen, or selectively locking content (such as presentation slides or videos) to the HDMI output while allowing the device to pursue other tasks or drive the presentation behind the scenes.
While the included apps for e-mail, contacts, and calendar (provided in the PlayBook OS 2.0 update) are more than adequate for most users, security-concerned professionals have another option called BlackBerry Bridge. By pairing a BlackBerry phone to the PlayBook (over Bluetooth) using the free BlackBerry Bridge app, users can momentarily pull over the BBM, Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, and Memos from their phone.
The upshot of this arguably convoluted system is that the sensitive data stored in these proprietary BlackBerry apps is never actually stored on the PlayBook. The PlayBook acts as a sort of tablet-size magnifying glass for interacting with these apps, but when the phone is taken away, no trace is left behind. For corporate users wrapped in layers of bureaucratic Enterprise and privacy concerns, the BlackBerry Bridge solution is a selling point that should (in theory) allow you to immediately integrate the tablet with an existing BlackBerry-based system.
Another advantage to the unique dance of device IDs that happens between the PlayBook and a BlackBerry smartphone is the way tethering is handled. In general, the PlayBook can be tethered over Bluetooth to any tether-friendly smartphone, thus accessing the Internet over the phone's cellular data connection. But when the PlayBook pairs with another BlackBerry device, the tethered connection is (in theory) indistinguishable to carriers, and shouldn't incur any additional charges your carrier may have in place for tethering.
Apps make the mobile world go 'round, especially when it comes to tablets. The PlayBook comes with RIM's BlackBerry App World preinstalled, allowing you to browse and purchase apps directly to your tablet.
The selection of apps available through the App World still trails the giant storehouses of Android and iOS, but the quality of content RIM has pulled in since the PlayBook's release is admirable.
Part of RIM's successful app catalog expansion is owed to the company's strategy of courting Android developers to port their existing apps into the App World catalog. With a minimum of tinkering, these apps run on the PlayBook, just as they would on a comparable Android tablet.
In the world of 7-inch tablets, the BlackBerry PlayBook is smoking fast and packed with a dizzying arsenal of hardware capabilities. There's a 1GHz dual-core processor under the hood, along with 1GB of RAM and fast 802.11n Wi-Fi support. Put it all together, and you have a tablet that responds with the same immediate, fluid feel of Apple's iPad 2.
We've already waxed poetic about the PlayBook's Web browser, but it's worth noting that page load times aren't quite as snappy as the iPad 2 or Motorola Xoom. Granted, in many cases it's spending extra time loading Flash content, but the delay is present even on sites that don't utilize Flash. With any luck, RIM will update and refine browser performance over time.
In terms of screen quality, audio quality, or video quality, we couldn't find much to complain about, though we wish the screen were bigger (and maybe a little brighter). Video output over HDMI worked flawlessly.
RIM doesn't have an exact rating of the PlayBook's battery life, but in our informal testing we were surprised at how well it held up, even under heavy gaming and multitasking situations. Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results. More tablet testing results can be found here.
|Video battery life (in hours)||Maximum brightness (in cd/m2)||Default brightness (in cd/m2)||Maximum black level (in cd/m2)||Default black level (in cd/m2)||Default contrast ratio||Contrast ratio (max brightness)|
The BlackBerry PlayBook is an important tablet. It's a strategically important product for RIM. It's a welcome addition to a tablet landscape that has been devoid of professionally-oriented products (outside of Windows 7 slates). And it's an important competitive gesture to both Apple and Google that a third way is possible and that there are still interesting and innovative things to be done in this space.
Is the PlayBook going to take a big bite out of the tablet market? Probably not, but then, few have. We feel confident saying that it is a much more powerful product than many of the high-end 7-inch tablets we've seen so far. It's a sure hit for the BlackBerry loyal, and a tempting option for those who prefer an uncompromising Web experience to the allure of apps and games.