I’ve been waiting a while, but my free Playbook has finally arrived after submitting Solar Explorer to AppWorld one month ago.
The unit came in an elasticised pouch which will be good for keeping it safe on the go. It’s slightly larger and heavier with more bezel area than my old 7″ Galaxy Tab. The screens of the two devices are exactly the same size and resolution at 1024×600 pixels. The Playbook certainly feels as sturdy as the Samsung. The Playbook even appears to use real metal for the power and volume buttons, though I would have preferred it if the power button were a bit larger and closer to a corner to make it easier to find.
An unusual feature is the stereo speaker setup on the front of the unit. What a novel idea, having the speakers face the user so the sound doesn’t get muffled! They are good quality too, making the Playbook suitable for watching movies without using headphones, especially in an environment with background noise. My Transformer Prime has only one speaker strategically placed right where I’d be likely to hold it which is quite annoying at times.
The Playbook easily wins on screen quality compared to the Galaxy Tab. Colours and brightness are slightly better, but the pixel response is much better, which is important for fast moving scenes in movies or games.
The only minor problem I had was that RIM shipped me the US version of the device, complete with the US wall charger. The power supply supports Australia’s 240 volt system, so it was just a case of finding a $2 travel adapter to get it charging. I’d have grown old and died waiting for it to charge over USB.
There aren’t any buttons on the device besides power and volume, instead, the Playbook uses gestures to function as replacements for some of the standard Android buttons. Sweeping upwards from the touch sensitive bezel minimises the current app and shows the active tasks. Sweeping downwards from the top acts like a menu button, showing extra options for the currently active app. Both of these quickly become second nature, but I do miss Android’s back button.
The desktop isn’t as flexible as Android, which can be tweaked and changed in just about any way you’d like. The Playbook desktop always shows all the installed apps, sort of like using Android’s app drawer as the desktop. If you don’t want an icon showing, it seems you have to uninstall the app.
I have to wonder if the Playbook desktop might become unwieldly if I had lots and lots of apps installed, though apps can be stacked in folders by dragging them onto one another. On the other hand, I know a number of computer novices who have Android devices with desktops covered in icons and widgets, in many cases copies of the same ones all over the place, even things they don’t even use or want, because they don’t understand how to use it. The way the Playbook works would be better for them because it takes the decision out of their hands.
The Playbook comes with a couple of games pre-loaded, theres’s Need For Speed: Undercover and everyone’s favourite, Tetris, both from EA. Blackberry also offer two extra games for downloading, Modern Combat HD and Asphalt 6 HD, both from GameLoft, and both of which are amongst the best looking games around at the moment for tablets. I happen to also have these on my Galaxy Tab, but only Asphalt works on the Prime.
I tried starting Modern Combat on both 7″ tabs, but to be honest, it’s not worth comparing them. When the game is paused, they look identical, but when it’s running the image is so much crisper and smoother on the Playbook, that I just turned the Galaxy Tab off and put it back on the charger.
Next I tried Asphalt HD, Prime vs Playbook. Both ran the game incredibly smoothly though I have to say it looked slightly better on the Playbook. The Prime has a much brighter screen which washed the colours out a little, but it also has a bigger screen area and higher resolution which showed up weaknesses in the graphics. The game probably needs to be “Super HD” to look good on the Prime.
Because the Playbook launched a few months after the original 7″ Galaxy Tab, I had thought it would be comparable, but it’s not. The Playbook makes the Galaxy Tab look old.
It would be more realistic to compare it to a current model dual core Android Tablet, but only if that tablet featured quality hardware and construction and only if it’s running Ice Cream Sandwich. Older versions of Android just weren’t very user friendly, or missed key features.
I haven’t tested video playback capabilities, but the hardware is easily up to the challenge. The screen is excellent and the speakers are stand-out amongst the tablets I’ve tried.
Power users might find the Playbook’s OS a bit constrictive. It’s sort of like a slightly relaxed version of iOS. It’s great for casual users though, as the “restrictions” will stop them getting confused.
For gaming, nothing to worry about here. Game developers really haven’t pushed high-end portable hardware much, so I have yet to see anything that I think would make the Playbook struggle, with the exception of a couple of games written specifically for the Prime.
The Playbook’s only real weakness is a shortage of apps, though it’s not the number of apps that’s the problem, it’s the odd one or two must-have’s that are missed. RIM have thought about this and OS 2.0 supports porting and running Android apps on the Playbook. It works better with apps than games, but it’s usually the apps that are the must-have’s. This feature is going to make it easier for developers to test the AppWorld waters and learn that they’ll probably get more sales from one million Playbook users than they would from one hundred million Android users. No offence to Android users, it’s Google that strangles developers.
Overall, it’s an excellent device and it will be replacing my Galaxy Tab for daily use.