Blackberry Playbook Tablet, Initial impressions… Huh? no email client?
By Troy Saxton-Getty
So we finally decided to test the Blackberry Playbook Tablet from Research in Motion (RIM) and so far we are pleasantly surprised. The Playbook has been taking quite a bit of media abuse over the past month, the rumors, folklore and crazy RIM Co-CEO publicity hasn’t helped.
After a few days and many hours of working it into our usual test rhythm, we are mixed about it but mostly in a positive way.
So let’s explain:
Normally we test a tablet by holding it to the iPad (Gen one) original gold standard, second, we then add all the apps needed for our monthly routine, third, we configure 9 or so different email accounts, setup other social and communications type tools and finally, force ourselves to use it, day in and day out for an extended period of time.
Here is why we are reporting a mixed initial impression: The unit doesn’t compare to the range of tablets we have tested to date. It is missing several key things you would need in day-to-day work and personal use such as a native email client, contact management and a calendar of some sort.
Huh? How can this be?? This was our initial visceral response as well. So immediately we turned to as many RIM video interviews that we could find on the net with top staff and we found many telling the story and supporting the reason why the Playbook is “without”, out of the box. Not one interview really told the whole story, it took watching 5 full interviews to figure out the story to understand our initial gut check and how to get passed the void.
Yes, if you happened to be one of the 60 million Blackberry users, the Playbook has a special sync mode which pulls in your email, calendar and contacts. No, it doesn’t mean you have to be a Blackberry user to use the Playbook, it simply means, if you have a Playbook sync supported Blackberry, you have native email, calendar and contacts.
We can shed some more light on this: 60 Million Blackberry users don’t all have Playbook supported blackberry units, second, not all of them are hooked to Blackberry Exchange Servers (BES) and not all carriers support the free tethering mode for internet sharing that the RIM marketing department is spouting out, if anything, this rhetoric from them has caused all of the rumors abound” that it’s a Blackberry dependent device.”
Simply put, if you have a Playbook sync supported Blackberry model and you have it sync’ed up, you get more and cool functionality. If you have a corporate Blackberry Exchange Server, you have a very secure, fully integrated Playbook experience with your collaboration tools, aka email, calendar and contacts. We do not have a Blackberry device that supports the Playbook, so we couldn’t test this, but we will update shortly to get a chance to test the experience.
Does this mean its useless? Of course not, in fact, with a simple WiFi connection or a phone with a WiFi hotspot mode, you are all set. Except for the email, calendar and contact management client.
Huh? I know, crazy isn’t it, the device doesn’t come with a native email client, one that supports native Microsoft Exchange, IMAP, or even POP/SMTP. Nope, Nada.. Although we have seen two different 3rd party products in the release process with RIM’s AppWorld store and also we got confirmation from RIM support that a native email client is 60 days or so away from RIM directly, it still offers little here.
So this point alone makes it very tough to compare the Playbook to any other tablet in our lineup. No Calendar, No email client, no contact management, bummer, but thats about the only bummer, although a big one, a few months and it will be a mute point. If someone at RIM just said “Hey, we didn’t have the email, calendar and contact client ready but didn’t want to hold up getting the tablet out there” that would be completely understandable and for most, acceptable, instead, we hear a bunch of corporate speak and double-talk about it, even from both Co-CEO’s. Guys, just say the above line… over and over and it would make you look much better to us consumers and gadget geeks.
It’s small, fast, well built, has an amazing screen and the camera and video are awesome. it is really surprising how well the Playbook fits into your hands and the overall solid feeling it has.
With a 7″ screen it packs serious resolution, it reminds me of the iPhone’s Retina Display. 1024×600 WSVGA in a capacitive touch screen with multi-finger gesture capability, it is gorgeous! Our favorite so far…
It’s fast, a dual-core 1Ghz CPU with 1GB of Ram, running QNX Technology Blackberry Tablet OS with symmetric multi-processing, a custom built OS which is actually very nicely designed and easy to use. It comes in 16, 32 & 64GB versions, WiFi only at the moment, but 4G options for late summer release.
Full RIM Website details by clicking the link below:
The AppWorld Store reportedly has 25,000 apps, that may be true but we found it lacking with only a handful of apps in specific categories. So?? Yes, we found quite a few cool apps but only a few of the regulars we use across multiple OS/Platform types were there, but it’s clear, more and more are coming as Blackberry developers port their native Blackberry apps over to the tablet. We aren’t all that worried.
The web experience:
This is what we constantly heard from watching the Co-CEO video interviews, “We don’t need a native app or email client, most everyone uses webmail anyway and our web experience is so rich it won’t matter.” Well, our thoughts are mixed, if you only use one or two standard webmail accounts like gmail, Hotmail, AOL Mail or Yahoo you are pretty well off, the experience is rich and it works well.
If you try to use MobileMe for your Apple email via web, it doesn’t work with an even tough time trying to reply to a webmail message. If you try to use Outlook Web Access (OWA) it also uses the lighter interface (like all non-IE browsers) and on the Exchange 2007/2010 OWA, the experience is very usable for Calendaring, Contacts and email. (We suspect less useful on Exchange 2000/2003 OWA)
You can save all of these web links as bookmarks or even as icons on the home screen, it makes it easier to load each time, but if you want a rich email experience, you will be waiting for native email clients to appear, of the new stuff coming, none appear to offer a real Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync experience. Which means it will be a while before you can introduce the Playbook to a corporate/work collaborative experience fully sync’ing your email, contacts and Calendar.
Additionally, the included apps are decent and everything else appears to be addressed in some fashion. eBooks, Music and video purchasing are all available from providers such as 7Digital for music, Kobo Books and NFB for video which we have no idea how they stack up to Apple iTunes, Google or Amazon’s offerings. A bit more time with the Playbook and we will know more about the experience with these “other” providers.
Keep in mind, you can purchase from the mainstream non-DRM (copy protection) sources and the Playbook will easily play that content and you can simply connect the Playbook to your computer and transfer non-DRM content or ripped CD/DVD music and video. YouTube is an included app along with Slacker Radio, some games and the basic apps you would expect.
The Playbook’s web experience is probably the best that we’ve seen, although it’s still a mobile browser, it is closer to the desktop experience you would expect on your computer. This is why the company is saying “Use the rich web experience, we fully support native Flash, many video and audio formats right in the browser” and it’s true. Although we’ve been trained to find an app for everything, you can get to most of what you use through the Playbook browser experience. Even things like Pandora, etc. all work well via the browser.
When it comes to streaming video its a mixed bag on sources that work in the browser as of this writing.
Hulu doesn’t work but we found a work-around to view Hulu content, that is a nice touch.. although Hulu Plus is natively available on the iPhone and iPad now as an app and soon on Android, you have to fiddle around to get that content to work on the Playbook web browser.
We read that NetFlix was available for the Paybook, searched everywhere and couldn’t find an app, logged in with our account and it would not allow for streaming playback. Scratch another great win off the list for the Playbook for now.
All-in, we think the app and content markets will open up to the Playbook, it’s a great tablet, fantastic design, speed and form factor.
Only time will tell….
If you don’t care about the personal information management stuff, this tablet is really a nice product.
Clearly they released it before they had enough application and tool support, but we are glad they did vs. holding out for months to wrap up this other stuff.
The RIM Playbook has enough power to compete head to head as well as it will be a viable solution for a few years in this very rapidly advancing product space.
Tablets, can’t live with them, can’t live without em!