What? A review of a year-old product? I’ve decided to revisit my long-forgotten, oft-neglected PlayBook to see if, with the benefit of new apps, accessories and software, it can honestly keep me and my wallet from losing £400 on the new iPad. At £169, can it genuinely find a place as a cheap alternative? Over the next week I’ll be using RIM’s tablet religiously and reporting on a series of key areas.
Today it’s the tablet in general. Has the QNX OS 2.0 software made much of a difference? Is the hardware still competitively put together? Read on to find out.
Ah, the seven-inch form factor. I’ve always been a fan of the size of the PlayBook. I think there’s something about having a device the size of an actual Moleskin notebook quite appealing. You can (just about) hold it in one hand, its Kindle-like size makes more sense for eReading and your thumbs can reach across both sides of the screen for typing.
In this respect, I’ve always thought the PlayBook is a more easily portable machine than the iPad. There’s not an awful lot more in it, and I’d have the same bag on me either way, but still, personal preference is personal preference.
In terms of hardware, I still think the PlayBook’s handsome. I like the monotone rubberised back. The camera’s decent, the smooth bezel, meanwhile – with its touch-sensitivity and complete lack of buttons – is something I think Apple could learn from.
The downsides? The power button is unfathomably small and fiddly. That’s not a problem for turning the thing on, as that can be done by swiping across the screen, but for turning the display off it’s a bit of a nightmare: you actually need to use your finger nail. The bezel could lose a few millimetres all the way round, too, if I’m being picky. Which I am. I suppose you need a decent surface area for the gesture-based navigation to work, but the screen size to frame ratio reminds me a bit of the original Asus Eee PC.
Oh, and the battery life? While it’ll get your through a day of unintensive use, it isn’t as good as the iPad’s. But then the iPad is bigger and is mostly made up of battery, so that kind of makes sense. You know, because of physics.
OS 2.0: Better late than never
Well, well. Upon digging out the old PlayBook, I was promptly informed that there’s a new software update. I new this would be the case, but I wasn’t prepared for quite how much of a jump QNX OS 2.0 is in use. It’s mad – scarily mad – that RIM launched the PlayBook without it.
I can get why. It needed a tablet to hit the shelves fast, but the maths these day, with the benefit of hindsight, doesn’t add up. It’s now charging £169 for a fully featured tablet, but charged some £400 for one without even an email app at launch. Ludicrous for a company that made its name in email.
Still, the past is the past: I’m testing the PlayBook as it is now. And as it is now is pretty good. The proprietary mail app is a reasonable effort – syncing multiple accounts easily – the app panes can now be customised fully and you can now make folders, a la iOS.
BackBerry AppWorld, RIM’s app vestibule, has had a considerable facelift, and now has a front page full of names you might actually have heard of. In short, QNX version 2.0 is what the PlayBook needed to ship with. The fact that it didn’t can rightly be marked as one of the main reasons for its poor sales, but elsewhere, genuinely, the software is good. Like… the kind of good that people with their heads up Apple’s marketing backside probably wouldn’t believe.
But then I always knew that. The way you line up apps as WebOS-style cards and flick them about from left to right, or swipe up from the base to see them all running next to each other at the same time, is slick.
That basic operation hasn’t changed. The PlayBook’s not some quad-core monster; it has a dual-core 1GHz processor with just 1GB of RAM but, you know what? That can carry a lot of weight. It rarely, if ever, slows down, and that’s impressive. But if that was always the case, why haven’t I really used it for the last year? Is it because the software wasn’t right? Was it because, as mentioned, I didn’t until very recently see the point in tablets?
Or was it just that the PlayBook, for all its slickness, doesn’t have enough going for it? I’m still trying to find out. And to find out if enough has changed to make it now worthwhile, given its bargain-basement price. Treat this second post as a sort of refreshed look at RIM’s tablet; an ‘Oh, you’ve had a makeover, don’t you look nice?’ Tune in tomorrow when I’ll have the results of my first true test: my experiences using it as a day-to-day workhorse.
Saving the PlayBook: OS 2.0 rescues RIM’s tablet