RIM BlackBerry Playbook Review

Article Index

User Interface

The BlackBerry PlayBook runs on a new BlackBerry Tablet OS that we haven't seen on previous devices. According to RIM, this OS supports "true symmetric multiprocessing." The OS also comes with support for Adobe Flash Player 10.1, Adobe Mobile AIR, and HTML-5.

Users who carry a BlackBerry smartphone in addition to the PlayBook will get the ability to pair their smartphone with the tablet. In doing so, these users will be able to use the larger tablet display to securely view email, calendar, tasks, documents, and other content from their smartphone. The content remains on the smartphone and is temporarily cached on the tablet. According to RIM, this is done to eliminate any of the security and manageability issues that arise when corporate data is stored on another device.

     

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Although BlackBerry smartphone users can pair the PlayBook with their smartphone to get email, calendar, contact, and other PIM functionality, users who have a smartphone with a different OS are left in the cold. At this time, RIM does not include native email, calendar, contact, or task applications with the PlayBook. RIM has promised a software update that will bring native email, calendar, and contact apps to the PlayBook, though we don't know when this update will be made available.

You may notice the icons for Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, AOL Mail, and Twitter in the application listing. Unfortunately, these icons are web shortcuts and nothing more.

       

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Recognizing the availability of applications can be a key factor in a tablet's success, RIM has opted to take advantage of some of the apps that are already available rather than force developers to re-code everything for the PlayBook. To this end, the PlayBook will support BlackBerry Java and Android apps through two optional "app players" that will enable BlackBerry Java apps and Android v2.3 apps to run on the PlayBook. These players are expected to be available this summer.

As mentioned, the PlayBook supports multitasking. This functionality is slick, letting you quickly and easily switch from one application to another and back again. To access the home screen from any application on the PlayBook, simply swipe your finger upward from the bottom bezel to the screen. Within an application, you can access a menu for that application by swiping a finger from the top bezel downward to the screen.

     

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From the home screen, you'll see a list of applications. When only one line of this application list is visible, you'll see tiles that show the applications that are currently running on the PlayBook. You can flip through these tiles with a swipe of your finger. You can also drag the application list upward to see a larger view of all of the installed applications. These applications can be placed in various categories, making them easy to find and navigate. Above the home screen, you'll see the time and date along with various icons for screen orientation lock, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, battery status, and settings.

RIM included a full WebKit browser with the PlayBook. This browser supports tabbed browsing, which we appreciate. Pages loaded quickly and were rendered in desktop mode. While browsing, you'll get full pinch-to-zoom controls as well as the ability to double tap the screen to zoom in and out. Both of these finger-friendly controls are very responsive. As mentioned, the PlayBook supports Flash Player 10.1. We had no issues viewing YouTube videos that were embedded within pages. There's also a dedicated YouTube app on the tablet. The Bookmarks menu within the browser provides thumbnail views or a list of bookmarks with their URLs, depending on which view you select.

     

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One of the unique applications that comes with the PlayBook is the calculator. Of course, this app will add, subtract, multiply and divide just like any other calculator, but what's different about it is the sort of paper-like tally that sits to the left of the onscreen numeric keypad. The calculator can be used as a standard calculator, or you can switch to Scientific, Unit Converter, or Tip calculation modes. All in all, it's really a pretty slick application and it shows that RIM can provide cool and interesting features to standard, everyday apps. We're hoping RIM adds similar unique and interesting features to the upcoming email, calendar, and contact applications.

       

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