John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Blackberry Playbook review

The Blackberry Playbook has been a tale of unfinished software. I had discounted this device until I ran into an enthusiast on my trip into work that told a number of very interesting points that made me reconsider it. And to top it off RIM had a sale to get rid of excess inventory and IMHO to try and get past the horrible name the playbook has in the market. So for $199 for a 16G device I jumped on it before the sale ended. I was slow to make up my mind so by the time I decided to go ahead one of my few options was RIM direct.

The process through RIM direct was not the best I’ve ever had. They were slow to ship. Something they told me as they were backlogged from the sale. I ordered it on Nov 29th and they said 5-6 days. In the end I received it Dec 11th. The odd thing they never sent me a shipment notice, and never required a signature so when I wasn’t home they left it on the front porch in plain view. Good I live in a safe neighborhood. Otherwise someone would have got an early Christmas present. Funny enough the next day I received a notice that the device shipped.

As a level set my current tablet is a Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 (single core) running Android 2.2. My work Berry is an archaic 8830 so no bridge mode will be possible. I’m only at Version 4.5 of the OS and version 5 is minimum.

One of the things that changed my mind on the device was Android compatibility. This is key to me given the abysmal number of native apps for the device. That and email. I learned the beta is freely open and adds Android compatibility. When it first arrived it noticed there was a new version of the OS and it pretty much insisted on loading it. Silly since I was going to put the beta on it anyway. But I let it do it’s thing. The update process is smooth and slick. To get the beta you go to RIMs site, enter your PIN and email address. The playbook itself will then detect the new OS and allow you to install it. I did it straight off. Without Android this device is useless to me. Yet to be seen if it is useless to me anyway 🙂

Physically the device is a little thicker, boxier and heavier than my Galaxy Tab. The screen is brighter, crisper and move vivid.

Straight off one of the first things I notice is the desktop is devoid of useful information. No widgets, no calendar nada. The desktop is basically a visual task manager to allow you to start, stop and switch to running aps. This is a bad decision on RIMs part. What are we all butt heads?

In the continuing saga of unfinished software, if you can believe it, in today’s day and age the onscreen keyboard does not have any auto capitalization, no spell check, no auto correct. Nada. So your typing away on a native ap, say facebook and your on your own. Unbelievable. Come on.

The device includes the ability to mount it’s internal file space on a Windows compatible file share. While this works well it is dead slow. Averaging around 1MB/s on WIFI. Oddly enough the USB connection also mounts as a file share. With this I got about 4.7MB/s. I would have expected it to show up like a flash drive like most other devices. Trust RIM to do things a little differently. But at least you aren’t tied to something like iTUNES …

RIM have been terribly unsuccessful at get developers on board this device IMHO. It runs QNX, a different version of the OS from all other Blackberry products. So Joe developer that wrote something for the Berry’s has to recode for QNX. Now RIM are moving to make QNX the OS on all Blackberry’s sometime in the future, but come on. Was there really no way to make existing aps for Blackberry run in QNX? And yet you can do it for Android? Sad. So the net result of this is that there is a pathetic number of aps Native for the playbook. There is a facebook Ap. And it is reasonably current.

Out of the box the device supports DIVX/XVID and MKV video files. From the video screen you can manage your content and delete it locally. There is no need to go through any kind of itunes like program (ooo I was thinking of so many nasty adjectives to describe how much I LOATH iTunes) to manage your content. For me this is a MUST. The video player did not seem to remember when I left off. Something that is VERY annoying. Video playback even to HDMI was quite good. The high def movies looked stunning even on a 47″ TV! Unfortunately it does not seem to support DLNA.

The device comes preloaded with Need for Speed and while I am not a lover of the way it’s controlled it looks fabulous and plays very well on the device. It really showcases what this hardware is capable if there was good code available for it. Sad …

Bluetooth keyboard and mouse worked well within the native apps but the mouse did not pass into the Android apps.

The beta of the OS that is out now adds the Android compatibility but sadly still lacks email, calendar and contacts. Yet again a tale of unfinished software. I wonder sometimes if RIM have acquired the software designers from ATI 🙂

Android will be a game changer when this version of the OS becomes final. It’s hard to say exactly but from what I have read/heard Android apps that a developer chooses to submit to Blackberry will be available in AppWorld. They will show up just like any other ap. You may not even know that it is an Android ao. This has the potential of opening up the door to whole new world both for Blackberry as well as for the developer.

I will say right up front, the current state of Android on the playbook is for hackers and geeks to setup. The average consumer will be unlikely to have the time or patience to play with it.

For now, once loaded (another post on loading and converting aps is on the way) the Android ap shows up in the menu just like any other ap. The Android aps are all kept in an Android Player. The Android player is kept some what walled off from the other parts of the playbook. If a trap occurs in the player it shouldn’t take down the OS. And you can close all Android Aps in one action. The Android player include a back button to simulate the hardware back button on Android devices. For now the installs are static. Unlike on Android where you are informed when there is a new version of the ap available you will need to keep an eye on your favorite code and manually update it as you see fit.

Android Aps have access to the same file space as the playbook aps. So this means you can download content using Android aps (for example) and play it with native apps. A very nice touch. You do need to place content in the appropriate place (movies in movies folder etc) for the playbook aps to pay atttention to it.


December 16, 2011 - Posted by | Blackberry 10, Electronic gadget reviews

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