Review: Blackberry Playbook with OS 2.1 Update

Internet tablets are becoming as much part of the household furniture these days as your TV, sofa or home computer. As the dispute between Apple and Samsung seems to hog the limelight, it’s important to remember that there are plenty of other alternatives out there on the tablet market. RIM’s Blackberry brand introduced their Blackberry Playbook to the market back in 2011 and whilst the little tablet that could had a huge mountain to climb in order to keep up with the competition sales-wise, technically the tablet boasts just as much day-to-day functionality as the big name rivals. On October 4th 2012, the Playbook operating system 2.1 was released giving the tablet a new lease of life, so will the improvements be enough to help improve its chances in the busy internet tablet scene?

For those who are new to the Blackberry Playbook, here’s a quick introduction to the hardware itself. The tablet is one of the smaller ones available on the market measuring around 5.1” by 7.6” with a 7” HD LCD touchscreen display boasting a powerful 1024 x 600 screen resolution supporting 3D graphics acceleration. Dressed all in black, it’s smart and professional looking, with a rubber slip-resistant back and weighing in at an impressively light 0.9Kg gives it an edge over other internet tablets, particularly for those who work and play on the move. Under the bonnet, the tablet is powered by a 1Ghz dual-core processor and 1Gb RAM, and depending on the model, can store up to 64Gb of data at a time. Not tech savvy? No problem, as we’ll break down the key functions of the tablet and see how the latest update to the operating system improves these features.
The most important function at the centre of any tablet is its internet browsing capabilities. The Playbook browser is not only vital for surfing the web, but is used to open many of the other features available on the device such as Facebook and Twitter. The crystal clear HD display is a clear winner as each webpage is presented with crystal clarity and vibrant colour. However, where the browser fails is with some of the busier websites available on the web. Sites which contain a high volume of pictures, banners, slideshows or integrated video often take a lot longer to load than some of the more basic ones.

The browser has been updated to fully support HTML5 and Flash player which for some internet users is often a deal-breaker when selecting their internet tablet. Sites which an Apple iPad would have trouble supporting, particular those which contain Flash video, work perfectly on the Blackberry Playbook. It’s a fantastic device in that respect as, alongside its HD video support, it’s a great way to watch your favourite flash sites on the move.
Of course, there’s more to tablet computing then merely browsing the web. Many use these portable pocket PCs as a way of staying in contact whilst on the go. Syncing e-mails from your account couldn’t be easier with the Playbook. Simply type in and verify your existing e-mail accounts using the Messages app and you’ll be able to access your e-mails on the move provided you are in range of a Wi-Fi connection. The new and improved keyboard makes composing new e-mails rather simple whilst the delivery system is fast, responsive and the device’s portability means that it definitely scores points over some of the larger, heavier tablets out there, particularly for those who need round the clock access to their e-mail folder. The same can be said for the Office functionality of the device as holding it sideways on means that your thumbs can quickly type messages or documents without having to balance it in the palm of your hand. In fact the new update includes a Documents To Go app works surprisingly well and integration with Windows and Mac based Office software is made simple by selecting a file type before creating your document. Also, the inclusion of the Print To Go feature means that you can easily connect your device to a wireless printer to save you the trouble of uploading your documents via USB.
The connectivity of the Playbook to other devices has also been improved with the latest update. Not only does the HDMI port make for an easy way to blow up your documents and presentations via HD TV or projector, but the compatibility with other Blackberry devices means you can remotely access the tablet through your Blackberry phone. The downside to this feature is that many smartphone users these days are too busy struggling to choose between the latest iPhone or Samsung that the Blackberry phone is slowly becoming a thing of the past.

To expand on your current selection of applications means taking a trip to the Blackberry App store, aptly named App World. Much like the competition, these apps are organised via category and lists of the top free and paid apps make it easy to see which apps are the most popular. Usually the most important apps are the Facebook and Twitter programs which are usually tailored to suit the tablet and operating system in question. It’s a bit off-putting to see many of the official Facebook apps available for a price rather than free, and whilst they are usually around the measly sum of £1, it is troubling when you consider that many of these apps are usually free in the Google Play store and even on the iTunes store. Even when browsing through the games store it was a bit of a shock to see the original Angry Birds priced at £5. Even the range of free apps available aren’t particularly appealing, with many of them acting as trial or stripped back versions of their premium counterparts. Thankfully for the technically minded out there, Blackberry has the solution. Most android apps are now compatible with the tablet and will run individually rather than in one player or window. Applications such as the Amazon Kindle or Wordpress can now be transferred to the device and run perfectly smoothly, so at least there is a silver lining with this problem. Considering the huge focus there is on apps across the board of all tablet computers, Blackberry’s latest update promised to bring more apps to the table, but sadly this is one area that the Playbook fails to beat the competition in.
The camera is another weak point of the Playbook. The machine sports a 3MP front-facing camera and a 5MP rear-facing camera. Considering the tablet boasts about 1080p HDMI support, we can assume that at least one of these cameras, while not taking video or pictures in full HD would at least deliver enough to show off the Playbook’s truly wonderful display. Sadly the images taken are blurry, grainy and not very flattering, and that’s just with the rear-facing camera. Similar to the iPad’s Facetime feature, the Playbook also has a video-conferencing suite included but the poor quality of the camera really spoils the video chat aspect of the device.

Last but certainly not least is the battery life of the Playbook. Having left the device on during the duration of this review, the longevity of the battery was actually rather surprising. Whilst not quite living up to the same standards of some devices out there, it certainly does a lot better than some of the cheaper models. Obviously there are a lot of variables such as brightness, time connected online and what functions are being used, but overall there’s a lot of power within the confines of this small, lightweight tablet, generally lasting around 7-8 hours per full charge.

The Blackberry Playbook has plenty of pros to coincide with the cons. Its size, weight and HD screen certainly make it one of the most portable devices available on the High Street today. The latest software update to the operating system has certainly given it the facelift it needs to hoist itself in amongst the Goliaths of the tablet market. It feels perfectly natural composing e-mails thanks to the revised keyboard giving this an automatic bonus amongst those who take their work with them on the go. However, a weak selection of overpriced apps, a mediocre browser and a woefully poor camera mean that perhaps more casual tablet users will find very little enjoyment out of the Playbook. Still, the latest update provides the Blackberry with just enough tricks up its sleeve in order to perhaps win over the hearts and minds of those who are looking for a slightly cheaper, more flexible alternative to the iPad.

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