Lifehacker Versus Gizmodo: The BlackBerry PlayBook

Lifehacker Versus Gizmodo: The BlackBerry PlayBook

BlackBerry’s PlayBook tablet is one of the major gadget releases of the year. You’ve already heard Lifehacker’s thoughts on the device, but what does a dedicated gadget hound like Gizmodo editor Nick Broughall think of it? Find out as we go head-to-head.

NICK: Given you are the obligatory BlackBerry user in the office Gus, I guess the first question I should ask you is whether or not you enjoyed using the PlayBook during your demo?

ANGUS: I did, actually – though it has to be emphasised that the kind of “using” I was doing during the demo does not bear much resemblance to the kind of tasks I regularly put my Torch through on a daily basis. My big four apps on that device are browsing, email, Dropbox and WordPress, and I only got to really test out the former, so final judgement will have to wait. But the browsing and video playback looked grand. Any tablet device which supports Flash goes up in my estimation. And I didn’t get anything to properly crash, which is remarkable.

I did find that swiping on the bezel to access other running applications took a bit of getting used to, but then I really don’t like touchscreen interfaces anyway and think that multi-touch is the work of Beelzebub. You’re an Apple-loving touchscreen whizz; how did you find it?

NICK: I actually really, really enjoyed it. The time I had with it was obviously too short, but it’s clear that RIM has put a lot of thought into making the touch experience worthwhile. But while the bezel swiping was both intuitive and clever, I was mostly blown away by how natural the multitasking was.

Given that Apple and Google have been talking about multitasking for what seems like eons, this was really the first time when I found myself satisfied by the implementation. Launching multiple apps at the same time and being able to switch between them effortlessly is going to make the Playbook stand out from other tablets out there. When I compare it to the other 7-inch tablets I’ve played with, it stands mountains above them.

ANGUS: The implementation on the PlayBook is very smooth, but on one level I actually miss the way multi-tasking works on existing BlackBerry devices by holding down the Berry key – that shows up to a dozen apps without even making you scroll the screen, while the PlayBook actually makes you work a bit harder if you’re running that many things at once. I’ll be interested to see what happens when using BlackBerry Bridge to actually browse phone content on the device, which is another interesting option that the PlayBook offers but which we didn’t get to check out during the demo.

The one thing I really wish was going to be in the PlayBook right from the start was support for running Android apps. This isn’t going to appear until a later update, and it’s going to require apps to be resubmitted to BlackBerry’s own App World, which is potentially a bit of a downer. I guess I can understand BlackBerry wanting to encourage native app development in the initial stages, but being able to boast about a huge mound of Android apps as well seems potentially more valuable to me.

NICK: I agree, the Android implementation sounds like it’s going to be more problematic than useful, really. Also problematic from a consumer standpoint will be the BlackBerry Bridge solution. I can understand the reasoning behind keeping your email and contacts on your BlackBerry for security, but there are so many situations where it could be an issue – like if your phone’s battery goes flat and you need to access that information urgently through the Playbook. Fortunately, it seems as though webmail and consumer-grade email will be accessible directly from the tablet, so perhaps it won’t be too big of an issue – I’ll need a lot more time playing with it before I’ll know for certain.

ANGUS: Even ahead of the official PlayBook launch, we’re seeing some fairly stupid backlash. One criticism I’ve run into is the idea that the PlayBook makes no sense if you don’t own a BlackBerry. Quite aside from the fact that this often reflects a misunderstanding of how the Bridge technology operates, this strikes me as pretty moronic for two reasons. Firstly, unlike certain “magical” tablets I could mention, as far as I can tell you actually can use the PlayBook as a standalone device without ever having to connect it to a computer. And secondly, if there’s one thing we’ve learnt from the iPad, it’s that plenty of people love the idea of having a phone and a tablet that duplicate a lot of functionality. We could argue over whether that’s a sensible approach, but it would be hard to deny that it’s a popular one.

NICK: From my time spent playing with tablets of any denomination, “sensible” rarely comes into the equation. I still think that nine times out of ten I’d rather lug a smartphone with a good data plan and my laptop around over a tablet. It may be heavier and less compact, but at least I know that I’ll never have any situations where I can’t do what I need to do.

That said, the Playbook offered so much more to the seven-inch tablet space. Forgetting about the el-cheapo options from Telstra and Optus, the brief hands on time I had with the Playbook gave me so much more satisfaction than when I was using the Galaxy Tab, for instance. Much of it was software based, admittedly, but I did find myself thinking that the seven inch form factor could be practical after all, regardless of what Steve Jobs says…

ANGUS: I’ve said many times that I think seven inches is a great size for a tablet for travellers —it makes it small enough to be properly portable (and distinct from a netbook), but big enough to do things that don’t work well on a traditional phone. And there’s some neat design touches in the PlayBook that work well for travellers. It’s easy to access settings such as flight mode, and the choice of using either a standard charger or a faster, higher-speed dock offers a good range of options.

There’s no sense in applying Apple as the yardstick for whether the PlayBook is a success – I don’t think it matters how many million sell in the first week, and I hope the coverage we see reflects that (though I fear otherwise). Having solid competition in the tablet space is good for consumers across the board, and the PlayBook definitely makes it a more competitive space.

NICK: Completely agree. There’s so much potential in the Playbook, with features that far outstrip the iPad in terms of usefulness and practicality, it will be such a shame to watch the world gloss over it because it doesn’t start with the letter “i”. I can’t wait for a more in depth hands on…


  • Ugh, I think I’m going to puke. You wrote that with too much gratuitous back splapping.

    I disagree strongly on the bridge issue. Email sucks on the phone and works much better on the larger screen and that’s where the Playbook falls down for me as I don’t own a blackberry. And what else is missing if you don’t own a blackberry? Calendar, Contacts, tasks and memos are all missing.

    So what’s the point of the playbook then? Just web browsing and video? Two things that are pretty ordinary on the blackberry.

    • Each to their own, Bernard — but you seem very confident that the video is ordinary given that the device hasn’t been released yet. The point is made that we haven’t seen all the apps yet, and that we won’t know until we have. You appear to have made up your mind regardless. (Also, Bridge is for syncing to a BlackBerry — doesn’t mean you can’t access similar features via other apps or a browser. iDevices and Android support Exchange, but that doesn’t mean you have to use an Exchange server.)

      • Strange that you should mention the video being ordinary. I never said anything about that regarding the Playbook. Ah, hang on, maybe when I said Blackberry, I should have said “Blackberry Phone”. I thought it was obvious when I specifically said Playbook or Blackberry that I was discussing the tablet or the phone. Obviously not.

        I re-read the article and missed the part where bridge was only required for blackberry’s email. You suggest I can still use IMAP or Exchange, is that correct? If so I have to withdraw some of my comments. Though I notice with a slight smirk the comment of consumer-grade email even though it is what most businesses use (that don’t rely on blackberry phones).

        Hmm. I’ll check the gadget out when it’s in the shops. I’m also looking forward to HP’s offering.

  • Wow, this is a biased article. It’s strange that every other review that I’ve read mentions the lack of apps, the crashy web browser, the amazing lack of an inbuilt calendar, contacts or e-mail client, and yet neither the Editor of Lifehacker AU or the Editor of Gizmodo AU seemed to notice these features at all (or hardly mentioned them)? Could it be that they are just trying to talk up this “amazing” Blackberry tablet and glossing over all the flaws?

    I’ll give you a clue. When somebody says “it will be such a shame to watch the world gloss over it because it doesn’t start with the letter “i””, or “There’s no sense in applying Apple as the yardstick for whether the PlayBook is a success”, they are not an impartial journalist!

    I know it’s shocking to hear this Nick & Angus, but people buy Apple products because they are GOOD products that work well. Maybe the geeks miss the lack of a USB port and an “open” device, but the mass market doesn’t give a sh*t. Of course people will compare the Playbook to the iPad, but everybody knows they are going to do that, including RIM. If it loses out to the iPad, it’s because it’s a worse product for the average consumer, not because millions are drinking from the Apple chalice. It’s ridiculous to suggest that we can’t use the iPad as a yardstick. 12 months ago the iPad had barely been released, and yet now you’re saying that it’s got the market so sewn up that RIM doesn’t have a chance? This is hard to believe, more likely that nobody has yet made a tablet that even comes close!

  • Like many of the tablets released, including the iPad, the Playbook suffers from incomplete software and apps. The fact that Blackberry purchased a OS company from Canada last year could be the reason that the playbook software is different from the phone software. They needed to have this released as they showed it last year at a ress conference and have promoted it for the last year.
    As the Android, Ipad and other Rim OS and third party companies build apps for the Playbook, complaints will drop and the experience will hopefully be one that I want for a tablet, a business experience with entertainment as secondary in importance. Works with Microsoft Office, allows email, connects to a TV via HDMI for presentations. Travels easily in my suit pocket. I can’t wait for a finished version. But I will wait!

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