If you’ve missed the story so far, I’m trying to figure out if my old, neglected BlackBerry PlayBook – with the benefit of new software, apps and accessories – can convince me I don’t need to rush out and buy the new iPad. I’ve worked my way through its various assets and now I’m at the final test before the big verdict: do the PlayBook’s various add-ons make it the best connected tab of all?
I’ve been trying to figure out how to go about this one. I had in my head a plan to attack the PlayBook from all angles with every accessory going, but in practice that grand plan only really boiled down to a couple of key peripherals. Unless you want cases. There are tonnes of cases. Do they add to the PlayBook’s worth? Read on to find out…
Mini Entertainment centre
Ok, so, if you’ve got a PlayBook, or are planning on buying one, you need one very important piece of kit: a Micro HDMI cable. Quick warning: don’t do what I did and end up (thanks to lazy Amazon-ing) with a Mini HDMI cable. This’ll do you no good. Got the right cable? Good – you’ve just unlocked one of the PlayBook’s best abilities.
Unlike the iPad, the PlayBook’s built-in HDMI output doesn’t require any fancy adapters to project itself onto your TV; the necessary cable costs about £4. Once connected, it’ll gladly and instantly mirror your PlayBook’s display in widescreen, which opens up some cool possibilities.
First off, it makes a nice little YouTube viewer. As mentioned in my previous post, there’s no Netflix support, but you can access Blinkbox through the browser, along with anything else video related that you might fancy.
Then there’s gaming. While the full repertoire of games still leaves a bit to be desired, I did have fun playing through Machinarium, Modern Combat 2 and Asphalt 6 on the big screen, using the PlayBook as a giant joypad. If you can get over the fact that you’ll have a cable running from it to your TV, using the PlayBook with your set is a seamless experience.
…Actually: near seamless. My only gripe is that whereas video content pumps its audio out through your TV, some games don’t, which detracts from the immersion. Weirdly, they also don’t let you adjust the volume on the PlayBook whilst it’s hooked up. It’s a small annoyance, but it’s worth mentioning.
Also, it seems weird that the Rapid Charging Pod dock doesn’t let you feed the HDMI cable through; I’d have liked to keep the PlayBook charging in a dock next to, and connected to, the TV, if possible.
World’s smallest MacBook
So it’s a good way of gifting web access to your TV, but that’s not what I was most excited about. Where I started to get excited was with the PlayBook’s potential as a mini computer. I’ve got an 11-inch MacBook Air, which I love because it’s about as small as you can get whilst still proving useful. Or is it?
See, just as I started writing this series of posts, RIM up and announced that it was launching a new accessory for the PlayBook: a Bluetooth keyboard. This piqued my interest. If I could start using the PlayBook as a laptop, it’d be even more portable (and therefore more awesome) than my Air. Right?
Erm… No. Not really. RIM sent me the Mini Keyboard for PlayBook to try out and, to be honest, it’s not quite as I’d hoped it might be. For a start, it took me about half an hour to get one to talk to the other over Bluetooth. I’ll admit that I was in an office with about 90 other Bluetooth devices, and that this initial setup is a one-time only thing, but it was just all a bit confusing and unresponsive. There’s a system of flashing lights on the keyboard that are all meant to mean something, despite seemingly being caught up in their own little light dance.
Either way, it connected eventually, and I was away. The PlayBook keyboard has a trackpad, which means that – should you wish to avoid touching the screen at all – you can use it to navigate around. This works pretty well – there’s even some gesture based antics such as two-finger scrolling. Similarly, the keyboard supports your regular shortcuts (Ctrl + C, etc.), which is nice.
But that’s about where the niceties end. The problem with such a small device is that the keys are small. They’re tactile, but when they’re that close together it becomes a real task to type for any length of time, which kind of negates the point of having a keyboard in the first place. Yes, you’ll learn over time, but I just didn’t get on with it.
Then there’s the fact that the case is built like a book, with a flimsy kickstand – rather than being something rigid that’ll stand up by itself. This is a poor choice for two reasons: one being that the kickstand easily folds itself flat if you push the case even the slightest bit (as in, if you tap the PlayBook screen too hard), and the other being that you can’t use it on your lap.
As a man who quite often needs to use a laptop, you know, on his lap – at keynote briefings and the like – this renders the whole thing useless. As it stands, the PlayBook keyboard case is a bit naff, and pales in comparison to the ones you can currently get for the iPad. It’s also damn expensive to buy at £80. Why would you care how portable your laptop is if you plan on using it on a desk anyway?
The one thing I will say that was quite cool here, though, is the fact that the Splashtop app is available for PlayBook, which means that for £9 you can project your PC or Mac’s screen onto it. The results you’ll get depend on your connection speed, but it’s cool to see a full OS beamed onto your 7-inch tablet.
This has amazing potential, but you’ll need the keyboard’s trackpad to navigate properly and then, as mentioned, that means you’ll have to be at a desk. Overall, as much as I like the idea of turning the PlayBook into a diddly workhorse, there’s nothing here that you can’t do far better and more comfortably on either the iPad or the Asus Transformer Prime.
So far my journey (yes, I’m calling it a journey) with the PlayBook has wielded very mixed results. Has it shown me enough joy to stop me from getting the iPad? Let me have a good long think over the weekend, and then I’ll provide my final verdict. As always, I’m keen to hear your thoughts: if you agree or disagree with anything I’ve said, let me know in the comments section below.
- Saving the PlayBook: The best connected tablet?