Product Review: The 16GB BlackBerry PlayBook

I’ve been looking for a replacement for my Sony Pocket PRS-300 ebook reader for a while. I’ve had it for a couple of years and, although there isn’t anything wrong with it and I’ve been happy with the reader overall, it lacked some capabilities that I now wanted, which was to be able to read blogs and factual sites comfortably, without having to print whatever article I wanted to read out.

I could have read from my desktop or laptop PCs, but I don’t find that a comfortable position to read large amounts of text. I did try using my Nintendo DS Lite with the Opera browser cartridge, but overall performance was fairly poor, and it also lacked the ability to read any ebook formats without adding some homebrew software.

I had been considering two of the newest Kindles – the Kindle Fire and the Kindle Touch 3G – neither of which are available in the UK yet. The Fire had the advantage that its’ web browser wasn’t classed as experimental and it was in colour; the Touch 3G had the advantage of free 3G wireless built in. There wasn’t any way of testing either browser without buying the actual model – although the other Kindles currently available also had the experimental browser, that feature wasn’t available on the demonstration product. Amazon, when contacted directly, said that if I wasn’t happy, I could return the product.

I was looking in PC World at the various tablets and readers they were selling, when I noticed that the PlayBook was heavily discounted – £169 instead of the list price of £399. It’s available elsewhere at a discount too; according to the shop, apparently BlackBerry are trying to get more people to use them, and are discounting them to aid in this.

I don’t have any other BlackBerry technology, so lacked what appears to be a big selling point, the BlackBerry Bridge, which allows you to use your existing phone’s BlackBerry Messenger and internet connection.

The PlayBook is slightly bigger in every dimension and and more than twice as heavy as my Sony Pocket but (check on this) similar in size to the Kindle Fire. It was still possible to fit it in a pocket, although a large one.

Cons:

You have to have a WiFi connection to setup the PlayBook for the first time. You can’t just turn it on and play with the available offline features until you get a connection. It also doesn’t have an internet connection built in, like the Touch 3G does, although you can connect to the internet through a BlackBerry phone, using the BlackBerry Bridge, or other internet capable phone using Internet Tethering and Bluetooth.

There is no manual, and the pre-installed Help app often doesn’t seem to cover built in features. It also needs you to be online to access all the help topics.

As an ebook reader, it is inferior to the Sony Pocket in some ways – the Kobo reader only seems to work with Kobo books, and the Adobe Reader lacks the ability to remember where you are in a book, or the ability to make bookmarks. I was able to buy a Book Reader app for ePub (which is the format of most of my ebooks which aren’t pdf) and Kindle books, by Untangled Development, although there isn’t the PC library software that comes with the Sony Pocket. The app does have more customisation options than the Sony, although it would be good if it could handle more ebook formats.

Battery life is inferior to a pure ebook reader, which isn’t surprising as it is doing a lot more. Drain on the battery can be reduced by switching off functions such as WiFi and Bluetooth when they aren’t in use.

There are less apps available in the BlackBerry AppWorld than you would find for either the Android or Apple stores. There is a proposed Android Application Player app in development, but that has not apparently been released yet. Once it is, the number of available apps will vastly increase.

Pros:

It was really cheap. Probably a similar price to what the Kindle Fire will be in the UK when it’s released, but with more features.

The built in camera is pretty decent at 5 megapixels. You don’t really need more than that for purely amateur and a fair bit of professional photography. 10+ megapixel cameras are just silly for the average user. There’s also a facing 3 megapixel camera for video chatting.

BlackBerry Desktop Manager software is available from the BlackBerry site for free, and should be downloaded.

Do I think it was worth the full list price of £399? No, not really. For that amount of money, I would rather buy a new laptop. Do I think it was worth the amount it was actually bought for? Yes, definitely. The PlayBook, even with the disadvantages mentioned, does what I bought it for, for a similar amount of money to what a new ebook reader would have cost, and that doesn’t even consider all the additional features that haven’t yet been fully explored.

Overall, I’m happy with the PlayBook.

(c)eGDC Ltd 2012
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