Playbook 2.0 – What I think as a techie

Last Christmas, I got a gift of a Blackberry Playbook from my wife, even as I gave her an Apple iPad 2, making it a very techy Christmas. At the time I considered writing up a review of the device with some slight comparisons to the well-known iPad, but I decided to hold off for one big reason. The Playbook as it was released, was really an incomplete product and a big patch was due in February that was supposed to fix many of its deficiencies. So, I decided to hold out.

The patch was released this week and I’ve now had a few days to play with it and get some notions as to where the Playbook is going to go and how it stacks up. So, what’s my verdict right off the bat? Thumbs firmly in the middle, totally sitting on the fence, a slightly disappointed sigh of….eh?

Let me start with the things I really do like about the Playbook so I don’t simply sound like a complete hater of the product.

The hardware of the device is excellent. It’s a very comfortable 7 inch device, easy to carry with a great ergonomic form factor that I have found much easier for long term use than the larger IPad. It’s screen is gorgeous and big enough to easily watch movies and videos on. It has a great full featured web browser that has NO limitations on its web content as it actually supports Flash content. This was a major upside over the Apple and perhaps the ONLY thing it had over the iPad when it was released (ignoring that terrible launch commercial with Queen blaring in the background). The touch screen is smooth and responsive, though the flipping from landscape to portrait viewing could be a bit smoother.

By far the best thing about the Playbook is how it interacts with your PC. No bloody iTunes trying to take over, you don’t even need to use the Blackberry Desktop app. You just plug it in and you can drag and drop your data through Windows Explorer. It even works across the your network like any other device to share out with. That doesn’t even get into the new updates in 2.0 with Print To Go and a host of other improvements.

I won’t get into all the advantages of the 2.0 update, you can find them all over the web right now. Let’s just say that adding in the native email, calendar and contacts clients are well overdue and finally make it a product someone can buy even if they don’t own a Blackberry smartphone.

I like my Playbook and it now does travel everywhere with me. That being said…would I have asked my wife for one at Christmas without the massive price drop at that time?

Not a chance in hell.

Does 2.0 make me rethink that assessment and turn it into a must have device? Sorta? I don’t say that as a copout, but I say it because while they have finally added functionality that should have been there since day one, there are a host of strange issues that really make me wonder….RIM what the hell are you thinking?

You make these great smartphones, with amazing functionality that BB users have come to rely on. This isn’t a debate about what smartphone is best, I’m solely talking about what Blackberry users know their phones can do and what they want them to do. So here’s my question….

Why the hell would you make your tablet not able to do even the most basic things our phones can do after your big update??

In just a few days of use, here’s a short list of the hair pulling issues I’ve encountered so far:

  • no means to do a select all for your email messages so you can mark them all as read after downloading a huge load of email. I can do this on my BB Torch easily, why can’t I do it on the more robust playbook?
  • No means to sync to my Outlook directly to my playbook. If I want access to that data I still have to use the Blackberry Bridge tool that links to my phone. Why? Why limit the Playbook in this way so that a user has to have both devices? Yes, being tethered to my BB means I can browse the web when I don’t have a wireless connection, but why can’t I sync with my Outlook.
  • Even worse, why can’t I sync my calendar and contacts from my phone right across to the Playbook? This is just criminally stupid. In order to get my contacts from outlook into my playbook’s new native application, I had to export them from outlook to a .CSV, open a Gmail account, import them to that and then link the Gmail account to my playbook. I don’t want a Gmail account!
  • Why is the vital Bridge software on your BB phone not having an auto update to the new 2.0? Why did I have to go to the web app store and hunt it down for a manual install to get all the new features? Did no one think that maybe updating the app store at the same time the big release came out might be a good idea?
  • Still no native Twitter client??? Sure they do a great job of merging your Twitter and Facebook messages into the main client, but you are still stuck using the mobile web version of Twitter, when a native client has been available on the smartphones for ages.

I hate having to gripe about these things, because I still like the product a lot. The new features are excellent, especially the new unified messaging centre and even things like being able to remote control the Playbook from your Phone. The problem is there are so many little things that just seem like no one took the device out into the real world to test that is makes it hard for me to truly recommend it.

The Playbook is never going to compete with the iPad as an app device, even with the addition of some Android apps now available to it. It was never meant to be that. It should work as a lean and mean business tablet with some entertainment ability. The potential is still there, but this just seems like another lost opportunity for RIM when they really could have righted the ship on this sleek device.

I’ll keep using it and I hope it grows on me….but given the constant missteps from RIM over the past year, I can honestly say that when the time comes to replace our Smartphones, we will be seriously looking at the new Windows platform devices once Windows 8 is released.

Once more it just seems that RIM has wasted a lot of potential.

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One Response to Playbook 2.0 – What I think as a techie

  1. Hi Jason, let me have some fun with this discussion for a moment.

    I think the biggest challenge for RIM is that at the core level, they are a “business tool”. In the same way that most companies control what software and hardware can access their servers and networks, RIM understands that. Their mistake was to ever give into the demand of the phone companies and the average non corporate user and let the user define what the product could do. If I was a corporate customer, of which that is still the core base of RIM, I would want RIM to move slowly and carefully. Look on the Internet and do a search on synching iphone 4s or whatever it is called, with exchange server 2010. Big concerns there and it is solved only by adjusting the timeout delay. As a network administrator or in charge of the network, I would never have agreed to that willingly. They also point out that if you are going to do this workaround make sure you have as many iphone users on the most recent version and that the config file has been changed for them all. Talk about a huge demand on network administrators who have their “real jobs” to keep up with. You can’t push this one out to the user, you have to either give them permission or do it for them.

    Let’s also not forget that the synch with an iphone to the exchange server requires itunes. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want iTunes touching my computer, let alone touching my network. Talk about a memory and resource hog. All so you can translate from PC to Apple and back again. No thanks. Last comment we have to keep in mind. Outlook is the primary front end to all of Microsoft’s backend communcation tools, email and contacts/calendars being one of the important, but often a minor interfacel. When a “real” enterprise company like RIM allows their product and applications to touch Outlook, they had better make sure it works relatively seemlessly with the back end. Once again, who is their market – the enterprise or the consumer. Even Microsoft has figured that one out, they have two markets and they know it. That is why you have a “home” product and a “professional” product. No one would ever let a “home” product touch your network servers and active directories and synchronizing. So there in lies the challenge for RIM and this is not going to be an easy one to address and has to be done with great care, or they put their enterprise market at risk and if that goes down, they are dead.

    So thanks for the fair description of the new Playbook software and its update and let us all be patient. It will come and at the worst, RIM will become a company like IBM that is not in the business of hardware, but is a “solution provider” for the business world. Everyone thought IBM was dead years ago. The phone builders and android phones want access to the next new software (sort of like NT years ago), Rim knows that there is no point in battling Android, join them, and Apple has never played fair with anyone and look what they accomplished against Microsoft and Unix and IBM for that matter.

    Each one has its market. I view Apple as the entertainment toy for the world (there is a demand), Blackberry is the business product, but forgot what their roots were, and Android is the cheap man’s version of Apple, much like Microsoft was the cheap man’s version of IBM and Apple.

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