The BlackBerry PlayBook deserves a second look as an affordable tablet with enough under that capacitive touch screen in the way of hardware to compete against some of those better brands of tablets but a simple option may mar this reviewers recommendation.
Ease of Use, Performance: 1/5
Look & Feel: 5/5
How much I enjoy 2/5
Total: 3/5 Stars
Research In Motion or RIM as many have become fond of saying has released a new update in software to their PlayBook tablet and I have the fun task of reviewing this device and its newest operating system release. The PlayBook was first released in April of 2011 and has gone through a few updates in its proprietary operating system but the latest major update brought quite a few new changes.
I did not know much about the tablet and probably receive it because of this new software release but the tablet itself is a nice piece of hardware with its large 1080P video playback capable screen in the 7 inch display. The PlayBook has a lot of features under the hood with available 1 or 1.5 Gigahertz dual core processors depending on the cellular or Wi-Fi only version and comes with 16 to 64 gigabytes of storage.
The 1024 by 600 display is very clear and a great capacitive touch screen that is easily the best tablet device I have reviewed to date but one small feature in its software mars a recommendation, but more on that later. The playbook has its own app world direct from RIM with a wide selection of apps available directly from their App store but you can also use Android based apps with a simple conversion.
There are a lot of apps and games available and companies are constantly reformatting their Android based apps to fit onto the Blackberry system but even then you’re not limited to waiting for them to move to the new system. Apps are merely needing a simple switch to a new format with some tinkering to the settings in order to get most of them to work on the PlayBook so many android apps can simply be converted using an online website for use on your PlayBook.
The PlayBook is very similar to other tablets and even with a different operating system many apps can still work on it with the simple conversion but the main deciding factor is not in your control when dealing with apps. Some Android apps work and others don’t so if there is a specific one you want or need you may be out of luck but I did find plenty of apps to keep the tablet at the center of my interest.
The PlayBook has all the usual hardware you would expect from a more than budget friendly device with a 3.5 mm audio connection near the corner of the same side that the power, volume up and down buttons and a play pause button are. The power, HDMI and dock connections are on the side opposite from the buttons but it is hard to say what side of this device is the top or side as the orientation can be any which way.
The tablet does something internally that some other tablets do not with the home screen along with many other screens rotating depending on how your tablet is oriented which is a nice feature. I know that many tablets do and don’ have this feature but it is these little things that often make one device more of a pleasure to use but another feature does mar this when it comes to basic usage and even affects the operating system and apps.
I wanted to use the tablet as a security monitor using the Logitech security app that allows me to browse my security cameras on the tablet but a feature of the tablet brought the use of the PlayBook as a security monitor to an end. The screen timeout is only adjustable to a five minute setting and that is the upper limit that you can leave it on without touching the screen or an app keeping it on.
Many apps and even native ones from RIM have the feature taken into account and have some part of their app making the screen active but some do not and even ones that are part of the operating system like the update. I found this out when an update came out during the review and I tried updating the tablet with the newest release only to have the tablet go to sleep and pause the update in the middle somewhere.
After five minutes the tablet went to sleep and continued the download when I woke it up from its nap, this was an update from the company and the update was actually paused because I did not reach over and touch the screen to keep it awake. Playing music has no effect on this but when I tried watching my security cameras the screen goes black and the program halts so the tablet is useless for many functions like a desktop clock and calendar.
You either need to find an app to keep the screen awake which I refuse to actually bother with or worse pay for one as I see this as part of the system and RIM should just add the choice to the already available menu options for screen timeout. I asked at the BlackBerry forums, RIM support and the Public Relations Manager I was dealing with for the review and did not get more than a cursory answer to my question.
I simply asked with so many customers on their forum wanting the unlimited timeout why the company does not simply add it but one response was that the company is concerned about screen burn in which was the only answer that made even a lick of sense. Other answers where simply the development team appreciates your feedback and future updates are in the works like the BlackBerry 10 release coming out next year but specifically no mention that the unlimited timeout feature will be added.
I asked in my last email specifically if an executive will give an answer on this as a manager may not have the authority to and we shall see where this question goes as I am sure to update this product in the future as more features become available. I just find it hard to believe and it seems to me that the company is saying that whatever features are here is what we have to deal with and it does not seem to be a big issue with the company.
I can just see a presentation in some conference room and a business suited person at the head of the table showing off his charts or whatever from his tablet and having his wristwatch set to beep every four minutes and forty five seconds to remind him to touch his tablet. While this may seem farfetched I did ask on the forums and one reply said that they had bought the PlayBook for work presentations and he cannot use it for this as the screen timeout interferes with his presentation and just makes him look bad.
Web browsing with support for H264 high definition videos and playing movies to an external monitor or TV screen becomes much less a bonus set of features when the device turns off after five minutes of use unless the app keeps it awake. For many apps this is not an issue like watching video with that external monitor or TV screen connected to the micro HDMI connect as the tablets screen shuts off during playback anyway.
But try to set your tablet as a desk clock and calendar and be ready for a disappointment but some apps will keep the device awake while others won’t, it really depends on the app and what it has been designed to do. This one feature trumps many of the best features I have seen as several times I have come across a use for the tablet that is knocked out of the water by the screen timeout and it gets frustrating to not get a real answer on this issue from the powers that be at RIM.
Other features that are excellent and can sway the decision for many about buying the PlayBook include the nice 3 megapixel and 5 megapixel cameras with 1080P video that works very well and the easily managed apps when using more than one. The general use of the PlayBook really is nice with simple gestures to close apps, go from one to the next when multiple apps are open and even go to settings for each app while the app is open makes a convincing argument for a purchase.
Moving files and syncing with your computer for music and movies works well with the program on your computer and it keeps things handy with one place to go to not only move files back and forth but to backup your PlayBook settings and apps. I am very impressed with a lot of aspects of the PlayBook and will continue to tinker with it as I find the tablet easy to use and quit handy for a lot of uses but I always wind up coming back to the one problem that keeps popping up.
I have been trying some cooking lately as I received a set of cookware and I was using the PlayBook as a recipe book with a recipe open on a website, I had to awaken or swipe the face of the tablet to continue cooking as the screen timeout would kick in. This one feature makes the BlackBerry PlayBook not a recommendation by me as it just does not work as an all-around tablet when you have to either keep waking the thing up or count on an app to keep it awake.
I will continue to try and find the answer of why RIM does not allow users to set what timeout they want instead of being hobbled and having to choose what RIM thinks is best for their product. I just hate to see a good choice in a tablet get so downgraded due to one simple issue and cannot understand why the company does not allow users to decide on their own.
PlayBook @ BlackBerry
Updates on the PlayBook
Video of PlayBook in Use