The BlackBerry PlayBook is a tablet with a speedy 1 GHz TI OMAP 4430 dual core processor, an attractive 7 inch, 1024 x 600 pixel display, and a new operating system that’s been designed for touch. But the PlayBook hasn’t gotten as much attention as competing tablets running Android or iOS in recent months, and it turns out the tablet’s not selling very well.
That’s a shame, because there are some things that the PlayBook actually does better than many of the other consumer tablets on the market. Joe Pawlikowski takes a look at a few of them in this guest post from the editor of BBGeeks and AndGeeks.
BlackBerry has become something of a punchline in recent years, and they set themselves up for plenty of jokes with their tablet PC. It wasn’t a complete product upon arrival, and even then it seemed long overdue. RIM announced it about a year ago and didn’t release it until this past April. Without native email and without a robust array of applications, it appeared that the the PlayBook was, to borrow a phrase from an analyst, dead on arrival.
Yet the PlayBook has impressed on many levels. It’s incomplete, yes. No one can deny that. But the potential is there. Once RIM releases the necessary upgrades it just might climb the tablet ranks. Until then, here are three things that it does particularly well — better, even, than Android tablets.
We’ll start with something of a cheapie. The BlackBerry PlayBook actually doesn’t have a contact management system of its own. Oh, it’s coming. RIM has long said it plans to have native email, calendars, and contacts available for the PlayBook in September. That could mean any day now. In the meantime, the only way to manage contacts on the PlayBook is by bridging with an existing BlackBerry smartphone.
But, since 1) almost all PlayBook users are also BlackBerry smartphone users, and 2) native contacts will drop soon enough, we’ll count it among the things the PlayBook does well.
For starters, Android’s contact management system is, to be kind, not good. It syncs with Google Contacts, which might sound great in theory. But it fails in execution. Google records all people you’ve interacted with and places them in your address book.
That makes for an unwieldy experience. When I open up my Google contacts I have 786, and the list starts with dozens of (Unknown) listings. There are ways around this, of course, but by default the address book is borderline unusable. The only saving grace is the Favorites tab, where you can add preferred contacts. It also lists your most frequently contacted people.
Many BlackBerry users have synchronized their Google contacts with their devices, which would seem to make the same kind of unwieldy list. But this is not the case.
The PlayBook contacts program is laid out very well. I has an alphabetical tab list to the left, making for easy browsing. A search bar atop the list makes it easy to find contacts with just a few keystrokes. The card next to the list means you can find contact information as quickly as possible. It is how a contact list should look. It might not be possible on a smartphone, because of the view. But on a tablet it works perhaps better than any other.
(To be quite frank, I like the contact management system better on the PlayBook than on the iPad, so it’s not just a distaste for the Google contact system.)
Make no mistake: The Android platform does handle multitasking well. This stands in stark contrast to the iPad, which provides the bare minimum in multitasking. Why Apple left that out of their OS for so many years, and why it still lags behind other platforms, is a mystery to the modern tech geek. Yet it remains one area that they’re weak. On the complete flip side, the PlayBook multitasks with the best in the industry.
With Android, each open application remains open, which allows you to flip among apps without any of them closing (as they might in iOS). This is convenient for many functions, especially listening to music while playing games and other similar functions.
But with the PlayBook multitasking is right in front of you, as though you’d hit a permanent ALT+TAB. Users can flip through these open panels with ease, browsing among all open apps. The multitasking panes disappear when pulling up the full applications menu, but they reappear after minimizing it.
The multitasking system on the PlayBook is more accurately compared to webOS, which runs on HP’s TouchPad. They both feature the easy-to-browse panels that make for a true multitasking platform. The only wonder here is how quickly Android adopts something similar. It feels like an intuitive inclusion for a tablet.
Document Creation and Management
Here we get to the main difference between the PlayBook and Android tablets: purpose. Android tablets can serve different purposes; that’s the beauty of the platform. But they mostly target the consumer market. While RIM has attempted to lure the consumer market with both its smartphones and its tablet, it remains a more attractive product for business users. One of the reasons is the ease of document creation and management.
A few years ago, when RIM launched the BlackBerry Bold 9000, they partnered with DataViz to put basic Documents ToGo softare onto BlackBerry smartphones, with an option to purchase the full version. But with the PlayBook that has changed.
The full version comes standard on all new PlayBooks, meaning that the most powerful mobile document application is part of the package. Documents ToGo is available on the Android platform, but it does cost money. That there gives RIM the leg up.
That’s not to say that document creation and management is dismal on the stock Android. Google has come a long way with the mobile version of Google Docs, and tablet users are starting to get more out of that. But Documents ToGo is simply a more powerful application at this point. That it comes standard on the PlayBook is a big advantage. And, given the differences between the tablets overall, RIM will gladly take that.
The Overall Difference
While RIM’s product does come out ahead in these three regards, it generally trails most Android tablets by a considerably margin. It might have a leg up, or several legs up, on the lower end Android tablets, but the ones that are starting to hit the market now have serious advantages.
RIM will help bridge the gap with its October update, which will include the ability to run some Android apps. But it will not bring access to the full Android Market, which will leave the PlayBook a step behind these new, more powerful Android tablets.
When it comes to multimedia, perhaps the most popular feature of any tablet, Android comes out ahead. With streaming services such as Netflix, it stays ahead of the PlayBook. It also offers more games, more apps, better web browsing options, and a more friendly development environment than the PlayBook.
Given all that, combined with the variety of tablets on the Android platform, it’s easy to see why it comes out ahead of the PlayBook. But that shouldn’t sell RIM’s product short. It’s lacking now, but it will be a much more viable consumer and business product following its October update. It still won’t match the Android, but it can still excel — at least in the three areas described.