Like webOS? If so, you're going to love what's hiding under the PlayBook's (healthy) bezels -- capacitive digitizers that recognize a variety of gestures. System gestures originate to the side of the pixels and terminate on the screen -- except for the swipe to turn the screen on, which has you dragging from one bezel all the way across to the opposite one.
To switch from one app to the next you can swipe inward from the left or the right, which pops the app out of full-screen and lets you move forward or back in the queue. A tap then maximizes your new favorite app. Or, a swipe up from the bottom gives you an even higher-level view of your running apps, which you can again zing your way through. Grabbing one and throwing it upward sends it to the garbage collector, or you can tap the tiny X that appears next to its name.
Swiping from the top of the app brings down a context menu, extra controls that let you save files in Word to Go or jump from one album to another in the media player. Finally, swipe in from either top corner of the screen and you get a system context menu that displays the date and time, simple media controls, battery and connectivity indicators, and a little gear you can tap to tweak your system settings.
Ultimately it's very intuitive to use and, even better, it feels really good. The dynamic action of throwing a frustrating application right off of the screen is quite satisfying, and the lack of any multi-finger antics certainly makes task-switching a far surer affair. Everything is quick and responsive -- just what you expect on a tablet that costs this much money.
At first blush, the keyboard on the PlayBook seems quite good. In landscape mode the keys are spread wide but still reachable by thumbs if you hold this tablet by its horizontal extents -- well, if you don't have particularly short thumbs, anyway. Flipped into portrait it's an even easier reach, but obviously a bit more precision is required.
However, spend a few minutes pecking away and things start to look rather more dire. Neither numbers nor special keys are available without digging into the symbol menu -- even the exclamation point and the question have been driven to obscurity. This means if you want anything more exotic than a humble period or comma you're going to have to go find it. In fact, typing "you're" right there required hitting the symbol key to find the apostrophe -- there's no system-wide auto-correction here (it only works in some apps), no long-presses for alternate characters. What year is this, again?
There is, at least, copy and paste, and it's well-implemented, using a pair of blue tabs to highlight the text you want. Drag them to define the bounds of your text and then your selection is filed away into your clipboard of holding. Annoyingly, though, a double-tap on any word doesn't highlight it.
RIM has provided a full Webkit
browser for you to get your surf on, and it's a reasonably good one. Pages load quickly and naturally are rendered in full desktop mode, with all the pinch-to-zoom goodness and snappy motion you'd expect. Flash Player 10.1 is on-board and works well. YouTube videos play perfectly fine and stutter-free when embedded within pages, though there is a dedicated YouTube app you can use if you like. Even Flash games like Bejeweled
play well, important if you're still riding that particular horse.
We should note that we noticed some weirdness in the browser with the most recent (third) revision of the PlayBook software we received. When the system was running under load, with numerous other apps hanging around in the background, the browser would frequently and disconcertingly close. It would simply disappear about half-way through loading whatever page we tried. Closing a few apps seemed to fix it, but behavior like this is always a little unnerving.
Yes, we're really writing about the calculator app here. It's one of the many apps on the tablet developed by The Astonishing Tribe
, a dev team acquired by RIM who previously worked to define much of the look and feel of Android. The calculator app in particular stands out with the team's patented style. Whether you're in standard or scientific mode, a "paper" tally prints each calculation, digital pulp that can be virtually torn off and disposed. Cute. Slightly more practical is the integrated unit converter, which means we'll never have to look far to get horsepower from kW, and the tip calculator could make your next night on the town go a little more smoothly -- assuming you didn't spend the entire meal playing with your tablet.
This is another of the TAT-developed apps, and though simple it shows some nice touches with overlaid transitions as you swipe from image to image. It's of course quite minimalistic, but a pleasure to use.
PDF and enterprises go together like executives and golden parachutes, so it's no surprise that Adobe is on-board here with a custom version of Reader. It's a PDF viewer at heart and, therefore, boring. But, performance is great, whether thumbing through boring statistics or pinch-zooming in on tables and charts, even with files laden with megabyte after megabyte of stock images of beautiful people smiling.
Open the music app and you have four big, handy buttons to choose from: artists, albums, genres, or all songs -- the latter for users who can't be constrained by such arbitrary classifications. Albums are simply displayed in a giant grid, tap one to play it, while artists and individual songs go into a long list. The lists are a bit unwieldy, especially since you can't jump to a certain letter, but there is real-time filtering via a search dialog.
Documents to Go suite
The PlayBook comes loaded with Word, Sheet, and Slideshow to Go from DataVis, giving you the ability to view PPT, DOC, and XLS files, even create the latter two right on the tablet. Viewing and editing documents is certainly easy enough and of course being able to do so makes for heightened productivity, but trying to enter Excel formulas using the on-screen keyboard will raise only your blood pressure.
Bridge was one of the last pieces of the puzzle to come together in the PlayBook, added mere hours ago, and it's one of the strongest yet weakest aspects of the device. Here you pair your PlayBook up with a phone running BlackBerry OS 5 or 6, which must itself be running the Bridge app. The two talk sweet nothings over Bluetooth and, once connected, a new suite of applications is enabled on the tablet.
In this way you get your standard productivity stuff: e-mail, calendar, contacts, tasks, and memos. There's also an option to run the Bridge Browser, viewing the web through the phone interface, but as of this moment that feature is simply busted -- the app crashed every time we tried it. The other apps, though, are good. Simple. They're exactly what BlackBerry smartphone users are going to want, but they're also exactly what non-BlackBerry smartphone users will want and, if you don't have a phone to pair, they disappear.
Yes, you can get to your web mail provider of choice here, but the lack of dedicated, basic productivity applications like these feels like a huge oversight. This is RIM expecting 100 percent crossover between PlayBook buyers and current BlackBerry owners, and that seems unnecessarily limiting. Yes, these apps are coming
, but they should be here now.
Non-Bridge productivity apps (e-mail, calendar, etc.) are the biggest omission, but other things are missing too, like that awesome scrapbooking app
from TAT that got us feeling all crafty. It's nowhere to be found. Also missing? The mysterious Android compatibility, support that is coming but sadly won't be working at launch. The ability to run Android apps could totally change the game -- or it could be a non-event. We won't know until RIM flips the switch and lets us all try it out.
Overall, the selection in App World and on the device itself is rather
limited at the moment. RIM is quick to point out that there are thousands of apps in the pipeline, written in some combination of Adobe AIR or HTML 5 or Java or within the PlayBook's native compilation engine. We're sure they're coming, but right now it's slim pickins.
Again, the PlayBook has three megapixels up front and five around the back, enabling 1080p MPEG4 video recording in a tablet and, we must say, doing a fair job of it. You're going to want a lot of light but, if things aren't too dim, video quality is quite good, as you can see in the sample clip above. Images, too, need a lot of light to keep the grain monster at bay, and the lack of a flash doesn't help in that department, but get the lighting right and the results are decent. Focus is sharp and images look bright. This is definitely a tablet that you could use to take some attractive photographs, if you can get over the social repercussions of waving this seven-inch viewfinder around on vacation.