BlackBerry Bridge, which lets you access data from your BlackBerry on the PlayBook tablet, is one of the main distinguishing features of the PlayBook. What practical uses does it have on the road? Our PlayBook Roaming series continues.
Ever since the PlayBook appeared, the Bridge software has been controversial. It isn't true that you have to use it — the tablet works perfectly happily on its own when connected via Wi-Fi, and with that done you can do pretty much anything that's possible in a browser (including accessing Flash content, something that's not possible on the iPad, for instance). But it is true that you need to run Bridge if you want a mail client that isn't browser-based, or if you want to make use of a 3G connection via your phone. (You can, of course, use a 3G hotspot to get the same effect.)
Back when the PlayBook first came out, I noted that I'd like to see it become more independent from the BlackBerry, and that remains the case. But with that said, in the context of the PlayBook Roaming experiment, having the link to my BlackBerry is a definite plus.
I can't say that I've made extensive use of the Bridge Browser option, but that's because most everywhere that I've been where I've wanted to use the PlayBook, there's also been Wi-Fi available, so I've used that instead. But I've done quite a lot of calendar and email management on the road, and in that context the larger screen on the PlayBook is a definite boon.
My calendar is pretty crowded at the best of times, and doubly so when I'm on the road and jumping between different planes, trains and appointments. While it is all synced to my BlackBerry, on busy days I can do a lot of upward and downward scrolling to see what I need. On the PlayBook screen, it's much easier to get a sense of my day at a glance, and the week and month views are also more useable.
The same screen-size advantages would apply to using a web-based calendar such as the one that goes with your Google account, of course. However, one big advantage of the phone/tablet link is that you don't have to be connected to make the calendar accessible — a big advantage if you're tweaking your schedule on a late night Underground train.
Reading lengthier emails on the PlayBook screen is also helpful, though years of practice at BlackBerry-based email management, and the fact that the interface is already very cleverly optimised on smaller screens, meant that I didn't pursue that option as much as I might have otherwise. To my mind, it was the calendar that was the real gain here.
Tomorrow, we'll look further at which contexts it makes sense to use the PlayBook, and when the phone itself or the laptop are a better choice.
Bonus PlayBook hint for the day: When you've finished using Bridge, making sure to switch Bluetooth off on your BlackBerry (if you're not using it for other devices). It isn't a massive consumer of power, but every little bit helps.