Review roundup: BlackBerry PlayBook a promising start, but not quite finished

Posted:
in iPad edited January 2014
Ahead of the Apr. 19 launch of Research in Motion's BlackBerry PlayBook, the first reviews have appeared, with reviewers recommending that consumers hold off on purchasing the 7-inch tablet due to the "rushed to market" feel of the device.



RIM remains on track to release the PlayBook in Canada and the U.S. next Tuesday, Apr. 19. The Wi-fi tablet has been priced to compete directly with the iPad: $499 for the 16GB model, $599 for 32GB of storage and $699 for 64GB.



Though reviewers had several upbeat things to say about the PlayBook, they remained concerned about the tablet's overall finish. For instance, critical email and calendar apps, a must for a device that is touted as the "world's first professional-grade tablet," are notably missing.



Admittedly, the PlayBook is able to access email and calendar features either via a bridged connection with a BlackBerry smartphone or through web apps, but reviewers found the tethering requirement unwieldy and cumbersome.



Reviewers also took issue with the bugginess of the OS, the lack of cellular data and the scant selection of compatible apps.







The New York Times



Writing for the Times, David Pogue wrote that the tablet "looks and feels great," but struggles because too many features "live on in R.I.M.'s playbook -- and not enough in its PlayBook."



The reviewer noted that the seven-inch form factor "has its virtues," but wished that the device had been designed to fit in the breast pocket of a jacket.



Pogue was impressed by three unique features of the PlayBook: HDMI Powerpoint presentations with a presenter screen, wireless music syncing and BlackBerry Bridge. Unlike the iPad, the PlayBook can send a PowerPoint presentation over HDMI while displaying notes and slide thumbnails on its screen.



After an initial USB setup, the PlayBook can receive music and photos wirelessly, even while in sleep mode. Pogue liked BlackBerry Bridge because tethering an internet connection is free, but the requirement felt like a crutch at times.



The PlayBook's QNX-based OS borrows liberally from iOS, Android and even webOS, Pogue noted. For example, just like the iPad, apps can be rearranged and removed by holding down one finger on an app icon until all icons begin to pulse.



Pogue lamented the lack of applications for the device, quipping that the PlayBook's motto should be, "There's no app for that." He was particularly surprised that the only way to do email, calendar, address book and BlackBerry Messenger on the PlayBook is by tethering to a BlackBerry phone.



"R.I.M. has just shipped a BlackBerry product that cannot do e-mail. It must be skating season in hell," Pogue wrote. RIM has promised those apps, as well as a slew of other missing features, such as 4G data, will be available this summer.



"Remember, the primary competition is an iPad ? the same price, but much thinner, much bigger screen and a library of 300,000 apps," Pogue continued. "In that light, does it make sense to buy a fledgling tablet with no built-in e-mail or calendar, no cellular connection, no videochat, no Skype, no Notes app, no GPS app, no videochat, no Pandora radio and no Angry Birds?"



Noting that the prerelease software was buggy and the BlackBerry Bridge feature is still in beta testing, Pogue remarked that the PlayBook "may one day end up in the pantheon of greats," but not before RIM adds the missing features and builds a robust application ecosystem.







The Wall Street Journal



Walt Mossberg of the Journal liked the user interface of the PlayBook, but remained unable to recommend it over a standalone tablet, except "for folks whose BlackBerrys never leave their sides."



Mossberg also criticized the lack of critical email, calendar, contact and chat apps, diagnosing the PlayBook as "a tablet with a case of codependency."



"In my view, even though Bridge is a neat technical feat, it makes the PlayBook a companion to a BlackBerry phone rather than a fully independent device," wrote Mossberg.



The reviewer also hesitated to recommend the tablet because it will launch with just 3,000 apps designed for tablets, compared with the 65,000 tablet-optimized apps available to the iPad on Apple's App Store.



Though RIM confirmed last month that it is working on an emulator for Android OS 2.3 apps, that feature is still in development and was not made available to advance reviewers.



Mossberg did praise the PlayBook for rendering Adobe Flash content "far better than any Android device" he has tested. "I couldn?t find a Flash video the PlayBook couldn?t handle, and it even breezed through a site written entirely in Flash, which other Flash-capable mobile devices couldn?t," he wrote.



Battery life is also a concern for Mossberg. With screen brightness at 75 percent and Wi-Fi on, Mossberg was only able to get 5 hours of battery life while continuously playing a movie.



Late last year, one analyst suggested that industry sources had told him RIM engineers were struggling to get the PlayBook battery to last longer than just a "few hours." RIM immediately denied the claim, promising "superior performance with comparable battery life."



Ultimately, Mossberg, like Pogue, advised interested customers to take a wait-and-see approach to the PlayBook. "I recommend waiting on the PlayBook until more independently usable versions with the promised additions are available," he concluded.



Bloomberg



"This isn?t quite hell freezing over, but it?s close: The makers of the BlackBerry have come out with something you might love," wrote Rich Jaroslovsky for Bloomberg.



RIM desperately needs the PlayBook to be a success, said Jaroslovsky, adding that "it deserves to be, once the software catches up to the hardware."



However, Jaroslovsky was hesitant to compare the PlayBook to the iPad, which sports a screen more than twice the size of the PlayBook, instead comparing it to Samsung's Galaxy Tab and Dell's Streak 7.



Jaroslovsky called the 7-inch tablet form factor "good-sized pocket"-sized. "In that realm, the BlackBerry instantly raises the bar," he said.



Though Jaroslovsky did not perform any specific battery tests, he noted that the battery still had "plenty of juice left" after more than two days of normal use.



Freed of the overshadowing comparison of the iPad, the PlayBook impressed Jaroslovsky, but the main drawback was that the PlayBook feels, and is, unfinished.



"Still, who would have thought that the maker of some of the world?s least exciting smartphones would have produced a product this slick?" Jaroslovsky concluded. "The PlayBook makes BlackBerry relevant again."



USA Today



"I?ve been testing PlayBook for about a week, and for the most part like it a lot, though the not-quite-final software in my evaluation unit got a little cranky at times," said USA Today's Edward Baig.



Baig missed the selection of apps available on the iPad, but noted that it's "a big deal" to have the ability to play Adobe Flash content.



Regarding the Playbook's 5-megapixel rear-facing and 3-megapixel front-facing cameras, Baig wrote that neither one shot great in low light and the tablet presented "momentary shutter lag" when taking still photos.



The reviewer also experienced several crashes, especially in the web browser and with the Kobo Books app.



Baig concluded that the PlayBook is "a good-looking and solid newcomer," especially for BlackBerry fans, while questioning whether it will succeed at taking market share from Apple's iPad.



Associated Press



According to Associated Press technology writer Rachel Metz, BlackBerry PlayBook has two out of three things needed to compete with Apple's iPad: "a gorgeous, easy-to-use device that people will love, a bustling app store and an attractive price tag."



Metz found the PlayBook "a pleasure to navigate and filled with cool features" and competitive on price with the iPad, while noting that it "isn't much of a competitor on the app front."



With respect to battery life, Metz got about six hours of use on a single charge while performing various tasks, including surfing the Web, streaming Internet radio, checking emails and streaming videos.



The reviewer noted the interface as "delightfully easy and fast" with responsive touch controls. However, she did notice a "few annoying quirks: For example, the PlayBook took a long time when scrolling through long documents or Web pages."



To sum up, Metz called the PlayBook an "impressive tablet - it has to be, considering the iPad's head start," adding that if RIM can "ramp up its app offerings, it will be an even heartier contender."
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 86
    smiles77smiles77 Posts: 668member
    Honestly, from the photos and videos from Engadget's review it looks like a very nice product. The interface is well done and very pleasing aesthetically while maintaining significant function; the built in apps are very well done and look polished and thought-through; the hardware is very decent; and RIM seems intent on updating the software frequently. On the whole, a much better product than anything I've seen out of Android Honeycomb so far.



    On the other hand, it lacks a large selection of quality apps, has pretty poor battery life, is costly compared to the rest of the market (while it's worth more, I believe $349 is the sweet spot for this tablet--even if in an 8 or 16GB version), and is just too small to really provide a significant advantage over the large touchscreen Blackberries RIM already sells.



    In summary: a solid first try. Now iterate and bring down price to be really relevant.
  • Reply 2 of 86
    alienzedalienzed Posts: 393member
    The iPad screen feels a bit small to me sometimes. I can't imagine what the playbook will really be 'useful' for.
  • Reply 3 of 86
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    With less than half the screen area, and poor battery life, it has to do a whole lot better than just match the iPad’s pricing! It has to cost less. That’s why the Kindle is not so bad. No apps, not much of a screen, but what it does it does well and... cheaply. The bargain basement of "it’s no iPad, but it was cheap!" is where competitors might find room, I think.



    Quote:

    Unlike the iPad, which can only mirror HDMI output, the PlayBook can send a PowerPoint presentation over HDMI while displaying notes and slide thumbnails on its screen.



    iPad 2 is not limited to mirroring; see Keynote: ”You can view the current and next slides, your slide notes, and a handy clock or timer on your iPad screen."



    Picture of a non-mirrored presentation being output to HDMI: http://www.apple.com/ipad/from-the-a...e/keynote.html (Scroll down to "Connect with the crowd.")
  • Reply 4 of 86
    myapplelovemyapplelove Posts: 1,515member
    Quote:

    Though Jaroslovsky did not perform any specific battery tests, he noted that the battery still had "plenty of juice left" after more than two days of normal use.



    If Moss got 5 hours via simply playing a movie, then this guy who was supposed to use the device elaborately to be able to review it, got "plenty of juice" after more than two days of "normal" use, it seems like that someone was scratching his balls during testing for two days instead of actually using the device. That takes care of the itch of course, but makes for really bad tech reviewing.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by alienzed View Post


    The iPad screen feels a bit small to me sometimes. I can't imagine what the playbook will really be 'useful' for.



    These 7" devices are to the ipad, what netbooks are to proper slim and light laptops, aka poorly functional crap.



    I like many others have amongst my devices a macbook, an ipad, a kindle and an iphone (replace this with any smart phone if you want), why the hell would I need a pocketable 7" tablet when for anything that needs to be done on the move in a small device I have the iphone? Why the hell would you need one when there's a 7" eink reader (not just one of course) to read your books, smartphones for the rest, and for a proper tablet experience the ipad isn't exactly going to break anyone's back when you put it in your bag?



    I am sure these things would sell, as netbooks did, but when it comes to actual usability...forget about it...
  • Reply 5 of 86
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by alienzed View Post


    The iPad screen feels a bit small to me sometimes. I can't imagine what the playbook will really be 'useful' for.



    I saw one today and it really felt small. The sales lady touted that it fits in a labcoat, and I was thinking 'is that an advantage?' The battery was running low as well.



    On the plus side the LCD looked sharper then the Ipad screen but that of course that is easier to do on a smaller screen. The black border was also touch sensitive and that could have some nice uses. Apple may want to do that on future models.



    Compared to the galaxy tab 7 I thought it was better, but compared to the iPad it can not stand up. The app selection is small an that is a deal breaker.
  • Reply 6 of 86
    macinthe408macinthe408 Posts: 1,050member
    Is Flash really all that necessary?



    If 'Angry Birds' is someone's only response to "Why do you need Flash?" just show them this HTML5 version:



    http://www.atlassian.com/en/angrynerds
  • Reply 7 of 86
    Youre right. Keynote/iPad can do more than just mirroring.



    On the main topic, Jobs would never sanction the release of an unfinished product to mass public. I would agree with Apple, better late/delayed rather than selling a crap product. Since this is not Apple (emphasis here is on RIM), they basically saying, meh... we don't actually care about over customer, we are just showing you lot we can make one too and yes, we are done trying. This is the best that we can do for the time being. We gave up. Next!





    On second thought, this is also like them saying that here, buy two of our products for the use of one of a similar kind. We can do with the extra money for our next job openings.
  • Reply 8 of 86
    myapplelovemyapplelove Posts: 1,515member
    flash will be dead in at the very most three years, it will be irrelevant in a couple of years, and in a year we will star seeing the first signs of it going away for good. For the time being it's a nuisance that adobe is dragging along, that has to be used very occasionaly by most people, and these uses most of the time have an app or non flash counterpart that is much better. So, I really don't see how anyone could base their purchase on flash alone.
  • Reply 9 of 86
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by myapplelove View Post


    If Moss got 5 hours via simply playing a movie, then this guy who was supposed to use the device elaborately to be able to review it, got "plenty of juice" after more than two days of "normal" use, it seems like that someone was scratching his balls during testing for two days instead of actually using the device. That takes care of the itch of course, but makes for really bad tech reviewing.



    [...]



    Classic. He just can't be ass to test it properly.
  • Reply 10 of 86
    myapplelovemyapplelove Posts: 1,515member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Splash-reverse View Post


    Youre right. Keynote/iPad can do more than just mirroring.



    On the main topic, Jobs would never sanction the release of an unfinished product to mass public. I would agree with Apple, better late/delayed rather than selling a crap product. Since this is not Apple (emphasis here is on RIM), they basically saying, meh... we don't actually care about over customer, we are just showing you lot we can make one too and yes, we are done trying. This is the best that we can do for the time being. We gave up. Next!





    On second thought, this is also like them saying that here, buy two of our products for the use of one of a similar kind. We can do with the extra money for our next job openings.



    to be fair the first gen mba comes really close to an unfinished product hitting the market, as does the first gen atv (the hobby!), but you are right these are very minor occurrences in some otherwise very mature releases. To me the crux is that if something can't be done well, reliably and consistently apple would rather leave it out, so kudos for that. Of course another facet to this is that when you are trying to innovate and create new markets (tablets say) you are not going to have to rush a half baked product, because, there's not that much of a rush when others are just following your lead is there? so you essentially don't put yourself in the position to have to rush a product to market in the first place.



    Oh and mobileme launch could qualify too for an unfinished product.



    //edit with a few additions to what I was saying.
  • Reply 11 of 86
    dickprinterdickprinter Posts: 1,060member
    I'm waiting for Solip to chime in. He must be reading all of the reviews, intently, just so he can give his objective, open-minded viewpoint.



    Looking forward to some informed opinion.
  • Reply 12 of 86
    So in order for this thing to get 3G data, do email, calendar, or basically anything that isn't web browsing that a business user would need, it has to go through a pain the butt tethering process? Does anyone else see this as a major issue?



    And on top of that, just to make sure everyone knows they have to tether, they made it a "feature".
  • Reply 13 of 86
    samabsamab Posts: 1,953member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by myapplelove View Post


    If Moss got 5 hours via simply playing a movie, then this guy who was supposed to use the device elaborately to be able to review it, got "plenty of juice" after more than two days of "normal" use, it seems like that someone was scratching his balls during testing for two days instead of actually using the device. That takes care of the itch of course, but makes for really bad tech reviewing.



    Moss is the ONLY reviewer to talk about 5 hours of battery life. No one else reported that number.



    Also the battery life for video playing depends a lot on the type of video, the type of codec, the type of codec profile and the bitrate. Anandtech did 2 video battery life tests on the playbook.



    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4266/b...book-review/18



    I don't know how Moss got his numbers when Anandtech got longer battery life on the Playbook with playing 1080p high profile videos --- which no other tablet can do at the moment.
  • Reply 14 of 86
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Dickprinter View Post


    I'm waiting for Solip to chime in. He must be reading all of the reviews, intently, just so he can give his objective, open-minded viewpoint.



    Looking forward to some informed opinion.



    Thanks but I?ve got nothing to add at this point. I did find AnandTech?s review to be the best technical review. They?ve been getting pre-released CE for awhile now. I?m surprised that AI keeps ignoring them.
    Some pros and cons from their review:
    Despite the PlayBook having a 1GB of LP-DDR2 memory on-board, this thing can run out of memory quickly - particularly when multitasking with BlackBerry Bridge apps. If you've got a web page loaded in the Bridge Browser, you'll only be able to open a maximum of three other Bridge apps before you run out of memory.
    This increased brightness may be a reason it has worse battery if using a GUI slider to adjust by a relative percentage. If we measure using the same output I wonder how it would fair. Anand staes the viewing angle is ?reasonable? but I?d expect him to note it was IPS or as good or better than the iPad if was of that quality.
    The PlayBook's brightness is high enough that we finally have a tablet that's usable outdoors in direct sunlight:



    Viewing angles are also reasonable:
    No surprise on battery life despite what I kept hearing about QNX?s efficiency. Is Flash really not ready for these devices or are they choosing to not ship with it so the reviews can be san Flash as not to degrade the performance and battery life even more? Why is Flash so great?
    With no native email client we had to modify our general use battery life test a bit for use on the PlayBook. Here we're just playing MP3s and going through our (non-Flash) web browser battery life test, there's no active email checking in the background (which is present on both the iPads and Xoom in this chart).
    I don?t think it?s a bad first effort, especially when you consider their previous touchscreen smartphone options. This is marked improvement in every way, but I don?t think it?s good enough to compete with Apple at this point, especially when it loses a lot of features if you don?t have a Blackberry to pair it with. That said, I think the Playbook has the potential to be a truly good product in the future? assuming they can stand by their promises.
  • Reply 15 of 86
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by sdh5019 View Post


    So in order for this thing to get 3G data, do email, calendar, or basically anything that isn't web browsing that a business user would need, it has to go through a pain the butt tethering process? Does anyone else see this as a major issue?



    And on top of that, just to make sure everyone knows they have to tether, they made it a "feature".



    They will reportedly be adding native email and calendar apps this Summer. The initial tethering should be pretty straightforward and simple using a QR code.
    I assume after it?s paired it will auto connect after that. Of course, that leads to your BB?s battery draining even faster than before so you?ll have two devices to watch out for.
  • Reply 16 of 86
    samabsamab Posts: 1,953member
    There is still quite a lot of optimizing to do --- the UI is still pretty much run by the CPU, not the GPU (at around 25:30).



    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8nlvSPLRAQ



    The indented power button has been criticized universally by all reviews --- which one review (don't remember which one) stated that the final shipping version of the Playbook will have the power button sticking out a bit.
  • Reply 17 of 86
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by myapplelove View Post


    to be fair the first gen mba comes really close to an unfinished product hitting the market, as does the first gen atv (the hobby!), but you are right these are very minor occurrences in some otherwise very mature releases. To me the crux is that if something can't be done well, reliably and consistently apple would rather leave it out, so kudos for that. Of course another facet to this is that when you are trying to innovate and create new markets (tablets say) you are not going to have to rush a half baked product, because, there's not that much of a rush when others are just following your lead is there? so you essentially don't put yourself in the position to have to rush a product to market in the first place.



    Oh and mobileme launch could qualify too for an unfinished product.



    //edit with a few additions to what I was saying.



    I?d say the original AppleTV had unfinished services. They did an odd thing when they demoed the until 6 months before the official demo and 8 months before it went on sale. They didn?t even have a proper name for it. I think that was all geared to get the content owners on board, but that took another year and half and it was too late for that AppleTV at that point. The success of the iTMS did them in because the content owners didn?t want to lose their control to Apple. I?m under the impression that Apple had to buckle to their demands on that one.



    I?d say the 1st MBA wasn?t unfinished, but was before its time which is something that has killed many great products. The HW was solid, the OS and apps were the well worn Mac OS X. The problem was the cost of the CULV CPU, it?s power requirements (along with all the 2007 components). Even now I think the MBA doesn?t have adequate duration, but it?s certainly a lot better than before.



    I?d say that MM problem was Apple?s inability to realize they aren?t a start-up. Along with MM they also released a new iPhone with ?3G', a new version of iPhone OS that was required to use the new MM services. This was a perfect storm on their servers and one they might have prevented if they had required a CC to sign up for the free trial, which is something they have been doing for a year or two now. Personally, I would have released to select .Mac users and then kept scaling until it was ready for the everyone else. They?ve been doing that with changes to MM for a couple years now.
  • Reply 18 of 86
    samabsamab Posts: 1,953member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by sdh5019 View Post


    So in order for this thing to get 3G data, do email, calendar, or basically anything that isn't web browsing that a business user would need, it has to go through a pain the butt tethering process? Does anyone else see this as a major issue?



    And on top of that, just to make sure everyone knows they have to tether, they made it a "feature".



    Pain in the butt tethering process also gives you FREE tethering. Carriers have no way to distinguish data that came from Blackberry email or from youtube video --- because they all came directly from RIM's NOC.



    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4266/b...book-review/12
  • Reply 19 of 86
    majjomajjo Posts: 574member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by macinthe408 View Post


    Is Flash really all that necessary?



    If 'Angry Birds' is someone's only response to "Why do you need Flash?" just show them this HTML5 version:



    http://www.atlassian.com/en/angrynerds



    There are still a lot of companies' websites out there that are still built on flash. I don't like it either, but its nice to know that i can enable flash on my phone/tablet/whatever-portable-device if I need to look up a company's product on their website or something.



    Quote:

    Thanks but I?ve got nothing to add at this point. I did find AnandTech?s review to be the best technical review. They?ve been getting pre-released CE for awhile now. I?m surprised that AI keeps ignoring them.



    ? http://www.anandtech.com/show/4266/b...laybook-review



    Anandtech is one of the few places I trust for tech news / reviews. Their articles are very thorough, informative, technical and unbiased. That said, however, I wouldn't consider them a mainstream source in the same league as NYT or WSJ.
  • Reply 20 of 86
    jd_in_sbjd_in_sb Posts: 1,460member
    RIM, the premier mobile email device company, is going to ship PlayBook without an email client? I can't think of a worse way to introduce your first tablet to the world. This whole pairing-your-blackberry-to-the-tablet-to-send-email concept sounds like the ill-fated Palm Foleo.
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