Review: BlackBerry PlayBook

Posted: 25/05/11

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I was lucky enough to get my hands on my new BlackBerry PlayBook tablet a few weeks before they officially arrived in the UK. With a fanfare of marketing hype and promises of speed and a form-factor to die for, I was expecting quite a lot!

The 16GB device arrived and I pulled it out of the box to charge up ready for use... No UK plug on the charger, doh! Well it was shipped to me from the USA, so I'll have to let RIM off on this one. I found a replacement adaptor for the charging cable and left it for a few hours to fully charge.

It was heavier than I expected, but the build quality felt good - it didn't feel fragile or flimsy. The form-factor was spot on; smaller than the iPad, but not so small that the screen size is no bigger than my mobile phone. 7" tablets could be the sweet spot...


On starting it up for the first time - the depressed power button on the top of the device isn't the easiest to press - the boot sequence does seem to take an age too. There are a few mandatory steps to configure the device, though nothing I wouldn't expect from a first run on a mobile device.

Something I did find a little irritating is once you get to the home screen you're forced to go through a couple of practice exercises (showing you how the fairly unintuitive pull down/up, click close, swipe left and right menus work), but I couldn't find a way to get out of it! Don't get me wrong, opting not to put a home button on the device isn't a bad thing, but even now, I'm still finding myself getting lost.


Accessing BlackBerry AppWorld was relatively simple, but there isn't an awful lot in there at the moment. Glaringly absent are apps for services like Gmail and Spotify. Another bellwether app missing from the store was any connotation of Angry Birds - surely a reminder of how minor this platform is right now. I was also miffed to see that there was no stock mail app on the device, leaving you no way to syndicate your various mail accounts, and the omission of a calendar was even more puzzling.

While it was a shame not to see any of the major UK papers or the BBC in the app store, Al Jazeera have come along and filled the void with an outstanding news application. They've made excellent use of the screen real estate available to the PlayBook, and many of the articles are accompanied by a full-screen video report - the quality of which is very high.

As far as app reviews in App World go, RIM really need to clean this up. Far too many reviews contain obscenity and soliciting (with BBM pin supplied)!


RIM offer a number of approaches for developers wanting to target the PlayBook. You can develop apps using the QNX APIs, Adobe AIR or Android. The latter two are the most appealing, as they offer developers scope to include the PlayBook in a larger application deployment strategy, covering a wide range of Android or Flash capable tablets. From the Adobe AIR 2.7 standpoint I found their implementation was solid and apps perform extremely well. Of all the AIR implementations on mobile devices, this has to be the best I've seen so far.

Having developed and submitted an app for PlayBook, I can safely say the hardest part was signing my compiled application. RIM are big on security, so their signing process requires you to jump through a couple more hoops than the other platforms do. We I to benchmark it, I'd say it's about as fiddly as Apple's certificate/provisioning process, with an extra hurdle of needing to recompile your app if signing fails (which is inevitably will a couple of times!)

In summary:

Good things:

Great build quality and form-factor.

HDMI out.

Build apps on QNX, Adobe AIR or Android.

Flash Player 10.3 browser plugin.

Responsive touch screen.

Somewhat open and friendly developer relations.

Bad things:

No DRM = no premium video services.

Battery conservation needs some work.

No stock email app.

Code signing for app submission is hard.

Limited availability of device APIs.

The PlayBook shows a lot of promise, but it needs to go back in the oven for longer - in its current form it doesn't solve any of the problems they (a) said the device would solve or (b) do what the leader tablet can do. That said, the PlayBook isn't far off. As a competing product you need to at least match the leader's product to be relevant, and surpass it to be successful. A real winner for them could be the 1080p HDMI video capabilities, if they can just back that up with some solid DRMs and a couple of services that provide movies, then they've got a hugely desirable tablet device. Some peers have said they may not keep their PlayBooks. 'm going to keep mine because I think it still has potential: I reckon RIM still have a few ideas up their sleeve, and as a developer, it has some great performance under that unassuming exterior.

BlackBerry PlayBook

Keywords for this post: blackberry, playbook, rim, tablet, qnx, air, adobe