BlackBerry PlayBook raises the bar

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RIM’s new tablet is light, nimble, powerful and has enough features to tempt the most hardened Apple fan

The BlackBerry PlayBook is a handsome piece of kit, which looks great and feels good in the hand. It has a very wide bezel, but there’s a reason for that. The bezel is partly touch-sensitive, so you wake the screen, for example, by swiping your finger from one edge to another; there’s no Home button here as there is on the iPad. You can also wake it with a power button mounted on the top edge of the device.

The same swiping-from-the-bezel movement is used to switch from one app to another. One stroke from bottom to top shrinks the active window to a smaller image that sits alongside other active apps. This works well, and if you were watching a video or playing a game when doing this, the powerful dual-core processor has no trouble continuing to play it in the reduced window until you flip to another program.

This is multi-tasking simply and effectively executed, courtesy of the new ‘QNX’ operating system RIM is using for its tablet. When you want to close a program or app, you flick it off-screen (a similar process is used on HP’s upcoming TouchPad, with a lot of ideas taken from the former Palm webOS interface).

It’s a deeply satisfying way of controlling things. Stroke downwards from the top and a full menu drops down.

Display time
The screen is high-resolution and supersharp, so games and video look very impressive in high-definition. However, it can be tricky to see the display if you are outside on a sunny day, even when the PlayBook’s brightness is turned on full.

The BlackBerry Desktop software makes it easy to synchronise your music and video collection with the PlayBook, or at least it does if you’re a Windows user. Mac compatibility is coming later, so for now you can only connect it by using a micro-USB cable and drag-and-drop content onto a Mac instead.

Next to the USB connector is a mini HDMI-out socket. With this, you can mirror the content of the PlayBook on, say, a TV – great for playing movies, gaming and useful for playing a presentation; the PlayBook isn’t just about entertainment.

RIM is known mostly as a business company, so it’s no surprise there are strong enterprise capabilities alongside its multimedia skills. As it’s also a BlackBerry, you would expect exceptionally tight security to play a part in the software design.

Safety first
RIM is so concerned that sensitive business data contained in emails is not lost if a PlayBook is misplaced, it developed a system called ‘BlackBerry Bridge’. This connects the tablet to your phone via Bluetooth and lets the PlayBook see, edit and delete emails on your handset. If you break the connection the data disappears from the tablet.

This means that to make the most of the PlayBook, for now, you need a BlackBerry phone as well. For those without one, RIM will release a native email client for the PlayBook in the next few months, along with BlackBerry Messenger, contacts and calendar apps that can run independently.

It’s also rather vital to point out that the PlayBook only has a Wi-Fi connection. There’s no SIM-card slot, so you’ll either need to tether it with your BlackBerry, or carry another smartphone that can share data via Wi-Fi.

Connecting the PlayBook to another device is simple to do and shows just what its internet browser can do. The browser handles multiple pages with ease and arguably better than the iPad. To switch from one page to another, you simply stroke the screen downwards and a row of thumbnails appear along the top of the display.

Full article in Mobile News issue 492 (July 4, 2011).

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