A tablet is just what its name suggests of its form factor, a tablet. - until the software and features come together to truly define one tablet from another. To illustrate what the BlackBerry PlayBook can do, here's a quick features video that we pieced together from our trip to attend the BlackBerry DevCon Asia 2011:-
On first looks, the BlackBerry tablet OS, also known as QNX, has a very clean and straightforward interface. It does bear some resemblance to the BlackBerry 6 OS found on its existing smartphones. For example, you have five tabs from which you can view your apps. They are categorized in the following order: All, Favorites, Media, Games and BlackBerry Bridge.
The BlackBerry tablet OS allows you to move apps across each tab by a tap and hold method, which is similar to how you do it on the iOS and Android platforms. Instead of the selected app "shaking" or "vibrating", you will see the app's motion mirroring a heart beating.
One unique feature of the BlackBerry tablet OS is its multitasking function. When you open several apps at the same time, these apps will be arranged in a row above the five tabs. You can swipe left or right to choose any of the active apps running in the background. From our testing, it can run up to a maximum of 10 apps at a given time. The PlayBook will automatically close one app if you open the 11th app.
To quit or close a running app, you can either tap on the "x" icon at the bottom of the app window or simply tap on the app and swipe upwards. We prefer the latter method as the motion is more natural.
Probably the most interesting feature of the PlayBook is the use of the black bezel for navigation. We have to admit that it is truly one-of-a-kind as it is very different from how we navigate the user interfaces of other tablets. To unlock the screen, simply swipe upwards from the bottom of the bezel. This action can also be used to minimise an app that you are currently on. To show the menu options of an app, swipe downwards from the top of the bezel.
The next feature is useful when switching between apps running in the background. Instead of minimizing the app and going back to the home screen, you can swipe left or right from the edge of the bezel onto the screen to move to the next app. If you want to know the battery status or the time, you can swipe from the top left or right corner of the bezel onto the screen.
Summary of Gesture Navigation
While this idea of using the black bezel for navigation is truly novel, a first time user of the PlayBook will not be familiar with these gestures. Existing tablet users of other platforms will also face a learning curve to use the PlayBook optimally. However, after a few days of usage and getting ourselves familiarized with the different gestures, navigating the menu on the PlayBook became a breeze.
One of the key aspects of the PlayBook is the BlackBerry Bridge app, which will more likely appeal to corporate users because of its security mechanism.The app is available for download on BlackBerry smartphones via the App World. It helps to establish a secure Bluetooth connection between your BlackBerry smartphone and PlayBook. Upon successful connection, you can access messages, contacts and calendar information from your smartphone on the PlayBook. The Bridge Browser allows you to open a browser window to surf the Internet using the data plan of your smartphone, hence eliminating the need for a separate data SIM or Wi-Fi connectivity. You can use Bridge Files to search and access documents stored on your memory card in the smartphone
The PlayBook acts as a bigger window for your BlackBerry smartphone, allowing you to view, edit and create content on the go. Any changes made in either device will be automatically synced between the two devices.
We feel that the BlackBerry Bridge is very useful for corporate users who are concerned about handling confidential information. However, the need for a BlackBerry smartphone to enable this feature is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it is extending the renowned security features on the BlackBerry smartphone to the Playbook. On the other, it is alienating those who do not own a BlackBerry.
The PlayBook supports Adobe Flash on its browser app, which is common among Android tablets as well.
The PlayBook, as the name suggests, is not all about work. BlackBerry packs some nifty entertainment features into the PlayBook. One of the more interesting game apps you can find on the PlayBook is Need For Speed Undercover, which is optimized for play on the tablet. The PlayBook has no problems running the game, thanks to its 1GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM.
The PlayBook comes pre-installed with the Kobo Books app where you can create an account, sign in and shop for eBooks.
The YouTube app is also preinstalled on the PlayBook for you to browse and view videos.
The BlackBerry App World also has more apps for you to download onto the PlayBook. Although it pales in comparison with the Android Market and Apple App Store, it is growing steadily. BlackBerry is also working on expanding the app ecosystem by providing tools for developers to port their apps over to the QNX OS. In addition, BlackBerry announced that the PlayBook can run Android apps, though no specific timeline has been given to see this officially supported. For now, you have to contend with what the BlackBerry App World has to offer.
Having reviewed several Android tablets and Apple iPads, we feel that the BlackBerry tablet OS can do much better in some aspects. First and foremost, you cannot organize the apps into folders on the PlayBook. If you have a lot of apps installed on your PlayBook, you have to scroll through a long list before finding the desired app.
This brings us to the second shortfall of the PlayBook, which is the universal search function that will certainly make finding apps much easier. The BlackBerry OS 6 already featured it in the smartphones, why not the PlayBook? Android and iOS devices are also sporting this useful feature. We really hope to see it being implemented in a future software upgrade.
As mentioned earlier in this section, the BlackBerry tablet OS has five tabs to choose from. We would have liked the options to add more tabs and rename them. While the existing five tabs are sufficient for average users, we are not sure if that is enough for power users. They are more likely to download more apps and therefore need more tabs to organize content into different categories.
Our last gripe, a minor one though, is the absence of widgets. After reviewing the Honeycomb tablets, we kind of like the functionality of widgets and how convenient it is to have up-to-date information displayed on the home screens. Forgive us if we sound like Android fan boys but who can resist the rising Android fever? Especially when there are positive aspects that other players can look to improve upon their own.