Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Blackberry PlayBook - A One-Month Review

I recently won a 16Gb Blackberry PlayBook; this was a Cool Thing on several fronts.  First, I'm an alpha geek, and not having a tablet of any sort just felt wrong.  Secondly, 3 of my kids have iPads through their high school, so I will admit to a wee bit of Tablet Envy.  Finally, I really wanted to see just how much the tablet form factor would help, hinder or change my style.  So, I've had this thing for just over a month, and I took it to Lotusphere 2012 to see how well it would work with my on-the-road style.

I work from home, so I spend most of my days sitting in front of multiple computer systems (namely a docked Win7 laptop, a WinXP desktop and various Ubuntu and Red Hat systems), so having a tablet really hasn't changed my daily work style to any significant degree.  It quickly became apparent that the tablet was really going to come into play as an away-from-my-desk tool, whether "away" meant attending one of my daughters' basketball games, traveling on business or attending a conference.

Having said all of this, let's just jump into some quick likes and dislikes with a few dollops of "meh":

LIKE: The form factor.  I have fairly large hands, and the PlayBook is easy to carry and hold.

LIKE: Clean wi-fi performance.  Even using the highly stressed/congested Lotusphere wi-fi service was a breeze.

DISLIKE: GPS.  The hardware is there, but GPS apps seem to work erratically at best.  Rumor has it that the GPS drivers/API are much-improved in the upcoming 2.0 release of the OS, so we shall see...

MEH: Bing Maps.  Unimpressive.

LIKE: Cameras.  Front- and rear-facing, easy to use, good results for the casual photographer. 

LOVE: Entertainment.  I loaded the PlayBook with 6-8 movies, 500+ songs, and 20+ games.  Whether it's in the car or on a plane, I love it. My one complaint is that it can be difficult to rewind/fast-forward accurately when watching a movie...

MEH: Documents To Go.  Yeah, they're OK, but I was hoping for something more full-featured.

LIKE: Adobe support, and I'm not talking about Flash.  Being able to load my conference slides onto a tablet for use with customers was FANTASTIC..."Oh, I have a few slides on that..."  As a frequent speaker, it's clear that my "past presentations" library will be permanently resident on my PlayBook.

LOVE: True multitasking - keeping Evernote, Word to Go, and the browser up all the time was a definite win during the busy times in the Lotusphere "Meet the Developers" lab. 

MEH: The touchscreen keyboard.  It's ok, but they're all "meh" to me.

DISLIKE: The categorized view of applications in the UI.  There's "All," "Favorites," "Media," "Games," and (if enabled) "Blackberry Bridge."  I'd like to be able to set up my own categories, but I see no means by which to do that.

LIKE: The web browsing experience.  It doesn't particularly scream, but it provides everything I want.

MEH: Blackberry Desktop Software.  It's somewhat cumbersome to sync media with the PlayBook; this UI could be MUCH better.  Props for reading/using my iTunes playlists, though...

DISLIKE: Incomplete Adobe AIR support.  The PlayBook supports AIR 3.0, but only if the application has been 'packaged' for the PlayBook; thus, one cannot simply install a straight-up AIR application like, oh, the AIR version of TweetDeck...

LOVE: Blackberry Bridge. Being able to read email from my Blackberry (via Bluetooth) in the larger form factor of the PlayBook's Messages application is VERY nice.  This also came up BIG as I was working in the Lotusphere lab; being able to spot-check email and calendaring in this fashion was fantastic.  If you have a data plan which permits tethering, you can also use Blackberry Bridge to leverage your Blackberry smartphone for connectivity when wi-fi is unavailable; I haven't had to do that yet, but I'm sure it will come in handy.

I'm very excited by the upcoming 2.0 release of the PlayBook's Tablet OS.  According to reports, it will allow for direct enterprise activation of a PlayBook against a Blackberry Enterprise Server (although I probably won't do that - I'd prefer to keep my tablet free of onerous security policies) and provide an "Android Player" to bring Android applications to the PlayBook.  I'm not a huge app guy, but adding Android apps to the list of existing PlayBook apps is a big step forward for the platform.  I'm looking forward to installing 2.0 next month.

So, in short - for this non-power user, the PlayBook does pretty much everything I need.  There's certainly something of a cloud hanging over the device--on both technical and strategic fronts--but I find it solid, entertaining and useful.

Blackberry - PlayBook

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