Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Quick Review of the RIM PlayBook

So here is my initial review of the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook.  Concise.  No bull.  Geek centric. No apologies.  And not 100% serious either. 

The Name

The name PlayBook wins hands down.  How quickly have we forgotten the 'uncomfortable' name iPad from just a year ago?

Winner: Doesn't really count but it is funny.

The Box

Apple boxes are works of art.  Shiny and minimalist.  The PlayBox is also nice and it uses recycled cardboard which is better than shiny these days.  RIM includes a neoprene slip case that is pretty good.

Winner: This doesn't really count either but I will give a half point to RIM for including the slip cover.

Video Playback

The PlayBook can play WMV (Windows Media), FLV (Flash) and other common video formats.  The iPad plays only a small subset of specially encoded H.264 videos.

Winner: RIM 

Web Browsing

I spend 90% of my time using websites. The iPad can't show Flash content - or worse - it is forced to show limited HTML content in place of Flash.  I generally don't like Flash.  But I hate being shut out of websites even more.

Winner: RIM


Size is a personal preference  Some people like the iPad's size.  Some don't.  I have several notebook computers.  The iPad is too close in size to my other more powerful and versatile  notebook devices.  I really don't need another 11" display.  I like the portable size of the PlayBook.  I also appreciate the modern 'widescreen' 16:9 aspect ratio.  Apple chose to use a more pedestrian, 1960's style 4:3 aspect ratio.

Winner: Tie but I personally prefer the PlayBook


I think the Apple iPhone is innovative and groundbreaking.  I've had 3 of them - and have found all of them useful.  But to me, an iPad is just a bigger iPhone.  I find it odd that the iPad has the same controls and functions as an iPhone.  The iPad screen is so much bigger.  I think that calls for a different user interface in many situations.  So far, Apple has chosen to simply bring forward iPhone functions and declare them as 'new'.  The Playbook has added new gestures and functions specifically targeted at tablet users.  Apple gets the innovation mindshare but RIM is actually delivering.

Winner: RIM


Both lack SSD and USB ports.  You can't even copy a file on an iPad.

Winner:  Tie - they both lose. Tablets need much more work in this area!


When I'm not using a web browser, I use email 5 percent of the time and 'apps'  the other 5 percent of the time.  On my iPhone I have bought about 100 apps.  I use two or three regularly.  For something that is used so infrequently, I am surprised so much importance is associated with apps.  Also Apple censors apps, eliminating many competitive choices.  iPad users cannot use universal video apps like VLC or even other popular web browsers  like FireFox or Chrome (I will have much more to say about this in upcoming posts).

Winner: There are more iPad apps so Apple wins here.  I expect this to change when more open Android tablets apps arrive on the Playbook.  

Operating System

Apple says they added multitasking to the iPad this year.  In fact they added a simple task manager that is reminiscent of the 1992 version of Microsoft  Windows.  That's acceptable when iOS is  used on phones.  But on a tablet computer, iOS it is fairly lame.  Just look at the running apps  page on your iPad after a day or so to see what I mean.  The PlayBook has a new OS that does some very elegant multitasking. The task switcher has a nice 'cover flow'  view to show running applications.  Managing apps is simple and understandable.

Winner:  RIM (not even close)


The PlayBook does not include an email application.  The justification:  RIM could not get a secure business email solution running in time.  We geeks know that they could have - and should have - supplied a POP3/IMAP email client for personal e-mail.  No excuse RIM - you blew it.

Winner: Apple.

3G Wireless

The PlayBook has WiFI only.  An iPad can use 3G wireless as long as you pay for a separate data plan.  On the surface, the iPad would seem to win.  But I am a geek!  Anytime I am using the PlayBook outside my home I have my phone with me. I only need WiFi to connect to my phone's mobile hotspot so I can share its 3G data plan. Here's the big irony: With some carriers Apple prevents you from tethering your iPad to your iPhone's hotspot unless you pay an extra fee. My PlayBook shares my iPhone's data plan via WiFi just fine.  I do not want separate data plans for every device I own.  Apple's 3G feature is not appealing to me at all.   

Winner:  I'll call it a tie but RIM wins for me because its WiFi works better than an iPad with my iPhone!


The PlayBook asked what WiFi network I wanted to connect to (I chose the WiFi hotspot on my iPhone!), signed me up for a BlackBerry ID, updated my tablet OS and let me start using the web browser immediately.  On an iPad, Apple insists that I connect a sync cable to a computer running iTunes to get started.  WTF?

Winner: RIM

Final Score

RIM: 5.5   Apple:2   Ties: 2


Geeks should get a PlayBook.  My mother should  wait.


This review was partially tongue-in-cheek.  I will make new posts over the next few days to better describe a good, modern tablet.  At first glance, The RIM PlayBook seems much closer to my ideal tablet than the iPad.  Come on back.  I promise you will be entertained :)


  1. Hey Geek:

    I thought these things had HDMI and micro USB ports. If so, have you tried hooking it up to an HDMI monitor with an external mouse and keyboard? I.e. can it replace the big ugly pc on the desk?

  2. Nice geekreview Craig. A few points:

    USB connector – sure it’s there. A Micro USB (and a micro-HDMI connector too). Connect the USB to your computer and it charges the PlayBook battery. Run the BlackBerry Desktop software on your computer and you can back up your data, and sync your media like an MP3 player. Makes it easy to swap media files among your computer, PlayBook tablet, and BlackBerry smartphone (if you have one… what!? An iPhone!?).

    Also, when connected, a PlayBook mapped drive appears on your PC. You can open up the file system and copy, paste, delete, and mess around with the files as if it’s a flash drive. Don’t want to connect with cables, you can do this wireless with Wi-Fi file sharing. Just open up an Explorer window and navigate to the IP address your wireless router assigned your PlayBook, as in \\ipaddress\devicename.

    Email – forget about POP email clients for now. If you have a BlackBerry smartphone, you can use BlackBerry Bridge and your email, calendar, contacts, tasks (all your Outlook stuff) syncs with the tablet via Bluetooth. You can read and reply to your email on your computer, smartphone, or tablet, and the read/unread mail will always flagged the same. Keeps you from going insane.

    3G wireless – the whole point is to use your existing BlackBerry data plan. Well, you have an iPhone (or several) so you use Wi-Fi. But most geeks would have their PlayBook automatically detect some frequented Wi-Fi hotspots, and when none are within reach, Bluetooth with a BlackBerry smartphone. So you can browse the Internet on the PlayBook using the phone’s 3G. The phone and tablet are always paired, so there’s no need to reconnect.

    Oh, and one more geeky thing to do… play Need for Speed in bed with ear phones plugged in (yeah, the white Apple ear buds will do). To see the power of the symmetric multiprocessing, try playing it while minimized.

  3. I should have been more clear about my USB use case: I want to use USB drives to quickly move data on and off my PlayBook. The Micro USB port will need a dongle - not ideal.

    Anyway... I took my shiny new PlayBook on a business trip for the last day an a half. Connecting to open hotel WiFi was flawless. But I could not connect to my LEAP secured corporate WiFi. Still trying to figure that one out.

    It would have been nice to take extra data files on USB keys or SSDs but it was not a show stopper either. I just connected the USB cable to my Mac and was able to transfer files in a few minutes.

    I tested PowerPoint presentations via the HDMI port. It worked fine. Most but not all animations work No big deal - it works about the same as Keynote for .ppt files- about 99% accurate. The PlayBook actually saved one of my presentations today when the stage PC didn't have sound for a video I was showing. I just started the video on my PB, turned up the volume - and ta da, we had sound.

    POP Email is important for non-business users. RIM shouldn't ignore them. They might be the best PlayBook customers down the road. Look at BB popularity with teenagers! Similarly, RIM should embrace non-BB phone owners. I am very happy using the PB with my iPhone. I will write about some of the unexpected advantages over the next few days.