I recently received a Playbook from Blackberry due their developer promotion. They wanted  more developers to code apps for their platform so they sent a free tablet to everyone who published an app on the App World in a certain time. I was one of the lucky developers who struggled themselves through the publishing and approving progress and I received the Playbook a few days after they had sent it to FedEx.

I really was looking forward to use it because I always wanted a tablet, though I wasn't expecting too much of it. I own it now since 4 days and wanted to share my thoughts about it. Warning: I probably will often compare it to the Android platform because I'm an Android enthusiast and I use it daily.

The box and outside

Besides the tablet, the box contained a charger and a USB cable. The tablet was smaller than I expected but after a while I was really satisfied and now I really like the 7" LCD display. The display is great, it has a resolution of 1024 x 600 and bright colors, perfect for watching videos and movies. The big border around the display is touch sensitive too, which features I'll come to later. Left and right from the display are two speakers. On the top there is the power button, volume rockers, a play/pause button and a 3,5mm headphones jack. On the bottom is a micro USB port, a HDMI output port, and port for a dock. Even though it's not that big it feels a bit heavy (0.9 lbs /425 g). You can't remove the cover, therefore you aren't able to remove the battery too. There is also no slot for an extra SD card so you have to manage it with the internal storage. There are 16GB, 32GB and 64GB versions, I own the 16GB one. It also has 2 cameras. The front facing one has 3MP and the back facing camera has 5MP. You can record 1080p video with it. The image quality isn't perfect but better than a lot phones and the shutter is pretty quick. I'll take some pictures outside soon and add them here so that you can make your own opinion.

A few additional specs: 1GHz DualCore,  1GB RAM, GPS, Gyroscope sensor. Source. And a word about the battery. It is okay and you can use your tablet a whole day or even longer without charging. I charged it about two and a half times in those four days and my family and I used it nearly all the time.

That's all about the outside, now about the software.

OS + Look & Feel

The UI is pretty simple. It runs very smooth with nice animations. As I already said the border is touch sensitive too and has an important function. Depending from where you swipe from the outside to the inside you have different features. The left, right and bottom border is multitasking related and the top border app related. If you swipe from left to the center you switch to the previous running app, from right to the center to the next. If you swipe from the bottom up the current app minimizes and you'll see all running apps with the screen how you left it in a horizontal list. You can close those apps or launch a new one from the app drawer. In my opinion this is the best feature because it always works without any latency, no matter if the current app freezes or you play a CPU intense game. You always get a fluid animation and can quickly switch applications. I even like it more than the multitasking on other mobile OSes. They did a great job there. The last swipe, from the top to the center will show you a menu which relates to the current app. For example in the browser you see all tabs and an usual browser's navigation as you would expect it. On the home screen it will show the settings.

The keyboard isn't that good because it's hard to reach the keys at the middle of the screen with my thumbs. If I'm not mistaken you can download other keyboards from the App World but as far as I know there aren't many.

Home screen

On the top of your home screen is a clock, a button to launch the settings app, WiFi, Bluetooth and orientation-lock indicator where you can dis- or enable those settings and a battery indicator where you can change the brightness, restart, turn of and put it into standby. On the bottom is a dock with a few apps (customize-able) and the app drawer with all apps.

Native apps

There are plenty of pre-installed apps on it. The standard apps like: Images, Video, Music Player, Camera, Email client, a browser, contacts and calendar app which are compatible with your Google account so you can sync your Google contacts and calendar. There's also a file manager, adobe reader, Docs To Go, Bing Maps which compared to Google Maps isn't that great. No offence MS :) The installed social apps are Facebook, Twitter and Youtube but Facebook and Youtube aren't that good designed and Twitter is just launcher for the browser. Though I must say watching videos with the Youtube app is much better than on Android, it loads pretty fast, even high quality videos. There is also a Video Chat app which allows you, yes you guessed it, video chat or just voice chat with other Blackberry product owners. I haven't tested it yet but I'll hopefully soon. Oh yes, and there is a really beautiful weather app.

Browsing experience

The loading time of pages is pretty standard, not outstanding. The JavaScript performance isn't that great. I ran the Sunspider 0.9.1 benchmark and it got a total score of ~2225ms. It's not that bad but I think with another JS engine (V8) it can be much better. Chrome would kick ass on this device but you shouldn't expect that Google will ever care about Blackberry that much.

The browser also supports Flash (currently 11.1) which is overwhelming. Compared to the Android browser flash loads faster (on Android sometimes doesn't even load). You can watch streams, surf on Youtube, etc. It is just working great.

All in all I like the browser, it could be a bit faster and they could rethink the layout to make a better use of the screen but I was really impressed by the Flash support.

Gaming

On the basis of a dual core you can expect a great gaming experience. I played NFS Undercover and Tetris which were pre-installed, Modern Combat and Asphalt 6 which are both by Gameloft and downloadable for free. One thing what I don't like about playing 3D games on smart phones is that you have these detailed 3D scenes on this small display and then you obstruct the view because you have to control the game somehow with your thumbs or the accelerometer. Gaming on a tablet is much better, because you have a bigger display and see enough.

I already spent a couple great hours playing NFS and Modern Combat online multiplayer and it was a blast. If you already own a Playbook you should take a look at PewPew and Run In Crowd, those are nice too. If you know a fun game I would appreciate it if you would post a comment.

App World

App World is the name of the App Store, Market or Play Store, depending which company you send your whole money to. Basically where you download your apps :) This part is a little bit more critical. Even though the PlayBook is a great device with a great OS on it there aren't many apps in the App World, or I just can't find them. In the Android Market Play Store there is an app for everything you can imagine and then 3 versions of it.

The interface isn't that good either. I think it doesn't look to good and the search could be improved too. It feels like a little chaos browsing on the App World and trying to find an app. About the free - paid ration it seems that most of the good apps are paid, more than you would except if you're used to the Android's Play Store. But if you're like me and don't mind about spending 3$ for a good quality app you won't have a problem.

The only disadvantage here is the lack of apps so for you the glass is half empty but this is now our job, developers who received a PlayBook, to fix this. The PlayBook is like an awesome car without fuel.

Other features

Another great security feature is that you see the app's permissions at its first start. There are also checkboxes if you don't want that a certain app has this permission. For example Facebook requests for access to your files on your SD card and the camera.

In the settings you can enable file sharing via USB and WiFi.

Conclusion

You might have noticed that the positive aspects outweigh but please mind that this is just my personal opinion. I have used it since 4 days and stuff could be wrong due the lack of research. Summarized I love it. It's a great tablet and if you are planing to buy one I can totally support that. Before I had it I thought I wouldn't  write apps for it but after I used it one day I was overwhelmed and it convinced me that I'll soon begin to dig into some BlackBerry code. I also thought about making a video to show some features but I think I already explained the most important stuff.