Meet the PlayBook
The RIM BlackBerry PlayBook is here, and with it comes our first real glimpse at the BlackBerry Tablet OS. Come with me on a walk-through of the new interface, which looks and behaves differently from its tablet competition.
PlayBook Home Screen
Welcome to the PlayBook's home screen. The design is compact, and different in construction from the home screens of other tablet OSs we've seen ship so far: At top sits a status bar, in the center is the main navigation pane (which swipes along a horizontal axis), and below are the first six apps in each folder view.
PlayBook Home Screen, Vertical
Prefer to hold the PlayBook in a vertical position? No problem. Here's a view of what the home screen looks like in that orientation.
PlayBook App Menu
From the home screen, you can swipe up from the bezel to reveal the App menu. Within the App menu, you can swipe down to move through the list of installed apps, and then swipe left or right to navigate among the folder "tabs" identified along the top (shown here: All, Favorites, Media, and Games).
Status Bar: Introduction
The Status bar has various icons that provide quick access to features with a simple tap. The play button at left, for example, is a shortcut to the music player. At the far right, the cog wheel jumps to the full settings screen. Shown here is the orientation lock.
Status Bar: Wi-Fi
I'm not connected to a network while taking this screenshot--you can see that the Wi-Fi icon (as well as the Bluetooth icon, for that matter) isn't filled in. Tapping the Wi-Fi icon brings up this box; tap the icon again, and you go straight to Wi-Fi settings to initiate a connection.
Status Bar: Battery Life
Tap this pop-up, and you get a percentage estimate of the PlayBook's battery life.
Status Bar: Calendar
Even though the PlayBook lacks a calendar app, you can tap on the date at the top for a pop-up calendar and easy access to the alarm clock.
Prior to launch the PlayBook routinely had issues with memory leakage, according to RIM. In this image you can see the low-memory notification, which appears in the pop-up box only after you tap on the particularly subtle exclamation point at the top left of the screen.
Shutdown or Restart
When you press and hold the physical power button, you get the choice of turning off or restarting the PlayBook.
Camera Test: Sample Photo in Sunlight
In my walkabout tests, the 5-megapixel camera appeared to handle itself fairly well. It was as slow as molasses, but this vibrant picture taken in bright sunlight shows how street vendors in San Francisco are taking advantage of our home team's status as the reigning baseball world champs (PCWorld's offices are three blocks from the S.F. Giants' ballpark).
Image Gallery Menu
Images look sharp on the PlayBook, with great detail and color. Swiping down from the outside bezel reveals a menu with a shortcut to the camera app, a scrollable thumbnail view of the photos in that folder, a delete button, and a button to set an image as your wallpaper.
Vertical Images Display Inconsistently
One issue that RIM should fix relates to how vertical images display. This vertical image displays only in the horizontal, as shown here--I can't rotate the image, as I can in other mobile OSs. Some of my vertical images displayed fine, but others were stuck in the horizontal position. RIM says it is working on the problem.
Word To Go and PlayBook's Keyboard
Shown here is the handy Word To Go app, one of three productivity apps included on the PlayBook. The PlayBook keyboard disappoints: I don't like the fact that the QWERTY keyboard's keys are not staggered, and that it lacks autocorrection. But I do have to give the keyboard props for the pop-up and color change that show when you've pressed a letter.
E-Mail App No-Go
Since the PlayBook has no integrated e-mail app, it instead provides shortcuts to the Web-browser services for Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and AOL Mail. But not all is golden: AOL Mail had a graphical blooper (the garbled text shown here) when attaching a file, and since the Gmail offered on the tablet is the mobile version of the service, you can't attach files in it.
Also visible here is the swipe-down menu for the Web browser. See the Downloads icon? This is the primary way to access downloads on the device (the Pictures app and the Videos app each have a downloads folder, too).
Like Apple's iPhone, the PlayBook has a voice recorder, called Voice Notes. This app has a fun, retro-mic style, and it makes capturing and later replaying audio notes easy.
Sideload Content to the PlayBook
When you connect the PlayBook to your PC, it appears as a network drive, and it gets a PIN for secure connections. You can read and write files directly through Windows Explorer, or you can use the BlackBerry Desktop Manager software to facilitate moving music, videos, and pictures to the tablet.
BlackBerry phone users can tether the PlayBook to their phone using Bluetooth. This approach lets you use the mobile broadband you already have on your handset, instead of needing a separate plan for your tablet.
Oddly, the tablet offers no way to reach this display on its own--you can get to it only through one of the "To Go" apps. I wish that the PlayBook had a file browser, and that files always lived independently of apps. For example, a Word doc created in Word To Go lives in the Word To Go app on the device; however, when the tablet is connected to a PC, you can access that doc in the PlayBook's documents folder.
The Video app shows the videos you've captured, downloaded, or transferred to the PlayBook. I was impressed with how smoothly HD video played back, and how it instantly resumed when I returned to the player after using another app. It easily read an iPhone's .mov video files, too.
Kobo E-Reader App
The Kobo e-reader app is installed on the PlayBook, and it looks and behaves much as Kobo does on other mobile platforms--except that I often had to wait for it to do something in the background before switching pages.
Kobo: Book Sample
In this image of a Kobo e-book presented in portrait mode, you can see the text quality. I was surprised the text wasn't crisper, with better antialiasing, since text looks sharp and crisp elsewhere on the PlayBook.
One of the big preinstalled apps is NFS Undercover. The racing game looked good and handled well for the most part, though a colleague wondered if the graphics were a bit more jaggy than on other mobile OSs. I also found the accelerometer a little too sensitive (it shifted from landscape to portrait mode very easily).
Check the Weather
The installed weather app looks pretty, is packed with information, and draws on forecasts from Accuweather.
Music: Artists View
The Music player presents items in a pleasing fashion. Here you can see the view-by-artist list of music on the PlayBook. Although functional, this is the only music view that displays in a list format.
Music: Albums View
In contrast to the stark Artists view, the Albums view is highly visual, and takes full advantage of the PlayBook's 7 inches of screen real estate.
In this view, you can see the PlayBook's presentation of a playlist synced to the tablet through the BlackBerry Desktop app. The player itself lives at the bottom, with playback controls lined up in a neat row, followed by a song-playback progress bar and a volume slider. The controls are all highly responsive to touch.
Music: Create Playlist
As you can elsewhere on the PlayBook, you can pull down from the bezel to reveal a menu. Here, you can swipe among and select other music content, or tap the Edit icon to change or create a playlist.
Playlist Creation, Continued
Once you tap Edit, the PlayBook instructs you to tap on the song or songs you want to add to a playlist. But I wish that I could just finger-surf through my tracks and designate a song for a playlist by tapping on the title directly.
Search for Music
Can't find what you want? Hunt for music in your library by using this search field.