Tags: blackberry, Playbook, QNX, RIM, tablet
I picked up a BlackBerry Playbook today to test, review and attempt to integrate it into my business workflow. After all the hype, pre-release videos and hundreds of reviews I’ve read prior to its launch this week, I knew this was going to be the right tablet device for me.
Boy was I wrong.
Here’s a list of the issues I’ve seen/found with it so far:
- When you first connect the device to power and power it on, you’re prompted with a few questions on the initial screens. You can’t get past Step 1 unless you have an active wireless connection, full-stop. There’s no cancel button, skip, bypass or abort that screen. No wireless, no tablet. Period. You basically have an expensive piece of plastic and glass, but not much more.
- Speaking of powering the device on… if you plug the device into the wall power supply, or use a micro USB cable and plug it into a laptop, and then power the device completely off, it does not charge. What?! Even laptops charge when they’re powered off, that’s one of the major advantages of the charging circuit, is that it does not have to be powered on, to charge the battery. Not so on the PlayBook… it will only charge when powered on.
- No support for pairing the Playbook with any BlackBerry device, if you’re an AT&T customer. I found the direct download from CrackBerry’s site, based on one of the comment/reviews in AppWorld for the bridge. You can’t download it from AppWorld, it refuses you there.
In fact, the AppWorld page for the BlackBerry Bridge says: Supported Carriers: All carriers except: AT&T off on the right side.
Update: It turns out that the reason for this is because AT&T doesn’t want its customers to be able to use the BlackBerry phone + 3G to get the Playbook connected to the Internet, without paying AT&T more “tethering” charges. You’re supposed to pay them $30/month to tether the phone to any device, and apparently that includes the Playbook now. Ludicrous!
- The Playbook doesn’t “cache” the data from your BlackBerry phone onto the Playbook, it accesses it “live” from the device (ala the Palm Foleo, which Palm smartly killed right before launch).
When you disconnect your BlackBerry phone (i.e. you pair your BlackBerry phone with a bluetooth headset to make a call), you lose access to that data. This also means you have no way to have a calendar, tasks, memo, etc. while your BlackBerry phone is not paired (“bridged”) to the Playbook.
There are some “rumors” that seem to imply that native calendar, PIM, etc. apps are coming, but whether they’ll talk to or cache the data from the BlackBerry device itself is unknown.
- If you pair the Playbook to a BlackBerry phone device, the tablet disables WiFi. This means no YouTube, no podcasts, no web browsing, no Google, nothing. You can access your BlackBerry phone’s browser over the “bridge”, but it’s the default BlackBerry browser; not the full-featured, fast, graphics-enabled, enhanced, pinch-and-zoom enabled Playbook browser. You get a mobile browser using a 3G connection to browse the web, at a larger resolution.
The only way to get WiFi back after disconnecting the bridge and turning off bluetooth, is to reboot the Playbook. VERY un-user-friendly. What’s weird, is that the browser, Bing Maps, Slacker Radio, etc. apps all fail to find the network, but the standalone YouTube app seems to work fine. It doesn’t feel like a technical limitation but more of a contract one.
- The Playbook side of the application suite on the bridged connection have less functionality than the same apps on the BlackBerry itself. For example, you can’t dial a phone number while tapping on it in a calendar entry or contact (what?! no dialer on the Playbook?!), no Agenda view in calendar, no way to specify options for the camera, and so on.
- No way to access non-PIM data on the BlackBerry over the bridged connection, such as running KeePassX on the BlackBerry phone and accessing the .kdb data file on the Playbook, or playing Media files stored on the microSD card of your BlackBerry phone device while it’s paired to the Playbook over bluetooth.
- There is no flash on the camera, no options at all for the camera settings (i.e. “Close-up”, etc. like on the BlackBerry phone), very grainy photos overall, much, MUCH lower quality than on my Bold 9700, for example. Without options, I can’t tell it to change the whitebalance, specify a file size to save as, nothing.
- The screen depth on the Playbook screen is 16bpp (64k colors), not 32bpp (24M colors), and it’s very obvious and apparent when you use (or view) something that has that color palette in it.
Another obvious hint is the Playbook browser’s fonts look terrible at any high resolution, or when zoomed out. No anti-aliasing for the fonts, and without the color depth to make them sharp, it’s painful at high resolutions (tiny fonts) to read anything.
- The “Bridge Files” applet on the “BlackBerry Bridge” menu doesn’t let me do anything with any files on my BlackBerry phone device. It can’t view pictures, it can’t play videos, it can’t open documents…
I’m not sure what it’s looking for, but it’s certainly unable to do anything with any of the data on my BlackBerry phone’s memory card itself. It only sees directories, not files within them (I have a 32GB microSD card in my Bold 9700, and it can’t see a single file on the card, from ebooks to documents to any type of media).
- The “Messages” app over the bridge, does not have any preferences (again, less featured than the stock BlackBerry phone app), and does not let you prohibit downloading of images in emails. I specifically deny that on the BlackBerry phone side, but when you open the same email on the Playbook side over the bridged connection, it happily downloads all of the images embedded in emails, including the nasty web bugs and other garbage.
There is no Portrait view in the Messages app either, you’re stuck using it in landscape mode.
- The Calendar app on the bridged side lacks an “Agenda” view, something I’ve become very used to using on the BlackBerry phone side. Again, less features and function than the BlackBerry phone side apps themselves.
- I just tripped on this last one a few minutes ago.. there’s a 5-minute maximum standby timeout on the device, which you can’t change to anything higher, nor disable. If you’re playing media, such as a movie, slideshow, Pandora over streaming from the browser, keeping a flipclock open, etc., you get 5 minutes, then it turns itself off.
You have to hit the power button (or swipe), put in your passphrase/passcode (if your device is locked, and it should be), and then it starts playing again.
- Another one, related to the last… if you’re streaming Pandora or any media in a browser tab (using the native browser, not the bridged browser to your BlackBerry phone), switching to another tab will cause the media to stop playing. This means you can’t play music through Pandora, jump to another tab and keep surfing or doing anything else., even with Showcase mode on!
- When you pick up the tablet in its powered-off state and turn it on… the “Password Required” screen ignores rotation. This means that if you pick it up in portrait mode and turn it on, you have to unlock it in that mode, before rotation turns it to the other orientation (landscape).
- You can’t permanently remove “NFB” nor “Kobo Books”. Every time you delete them (by holding down your finger on one of them for greater than 3 seconds, then deleting them), the “Software Update” applet triggers another update, which forces them back down onto your device again.
This differs from some of the other apps that can be deleted and stay deleted, like Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, etc. NFB and Kobo Books seem to be “sticky”, and come back every time you delete them.
- Battery life on the PlayBook is very, very poor, lasting much less than my BlackBerry phone device itself. After full charge, the PlayBook lasts about 20-22 hours with moderate use, wifi on, bluetooth off.
IMHO, unacceptable, since it requires being charged every day, or multiple times per-day, and without a user-servicable battery, it cuts the overall life of the device down by a lot.
- This one is not so much a bug, as it is a security problem. There’s no way to tell the “Password Required” dialog to shunt the key-tap highlight. This means someone near you or looking over your shoulder, can easily know what keys you’re tapping and capture your password by just watching the pretty blue highlights.
There is an option under Options → Keybord called ‘Show Keypress Popup”, which when disabled will stop showing the zoomed keypress, but it still shows the keys you’re tapping by highlighting them in blue as you tap them.
Ideally the Options → Security tab should have an option to obscure keypress events, including the blue highlight. RIM, are you listening?
- I just tripped on another one: The PlayBook lacks any typing correction, hints or AutoText style shortcuts. Whatever you type is what you get, “raw”, unedited, uncorrected. This means it’s slow, painful and rife with typos as you go through typing a reply to an email or similar longer text. RIM, please update the OS on this device with AutoText, or at least inherit the shortcuts already used by those bridging their BlackBerry phone devices with the PlayBook. I’ve spent years building up hundreds of AutoText shortcuts on my phone, why can’t you just sync those over and use them on the PlayBook?
- The onboard, “native” Gmail applet
lacks the ability to rotate(update: latest OS v18.104.22.1680 fixed this issue, now native Gmail app can rotate) , not such a big issue, but it also ignores the right-side buttons on the compose or reply windows ([Save] [Send] on the right side, although [Close] and [Discard] on the left side work fine). Tapping anywhere around these buttons does nothing at all, they’re completely unbounded, ignored.
Also, since we
can’t rotate andare forced to use the Gmail applet in landscape mode, Why not use all of that empty space on the menu bar above the message and folder window for the Reply, Move, Label, Print, etc buttons, instead of putting them on a dropdown menu on the far right, accessible only via a teeny-tiny little tap.
Once you do pair it to wireless, it immediately fetches the latest version of the Tablet OS, as expected, installs and reboots it, no issues. It then asks if you own a BlackBerry device, and prompts you to download and install the “BlackBerry Bridge” software onto your phone. It offers the on-screen QCR barcode you can scan and download BlackBerry Bridge to pair it with your Playbook… except… if you’re an AT&T customer.
Once you install the version from CrackBerry and pair your BlackBerry phone to the Playbook (over bluetooth), it adds a new menubar on the Playbook that includes the core apps from your BlackBerry phone device; Tasks, Calendar, Memos, Browser, etc.
I’ve only been using it for about 2 hours, but that’s what I’ve found so far. I’m NOT impressed at all with it, and I certainly hope they start fixing these issues pretty darn quickly, or I’ll be returning it for a full refund.