RIM’s PlayBook is without a doubt, one of the most misunderstood and under-appreciated devices ever launched.
From its poorly planned debut and lacklustre feature set, to the dearth of available apps (compared to other platforms) and a lack of cellular data at launch, the PlayBook has had a rough ride.
But RIM isn’t giving up on the PlayBook – as evidenced by the newest 4G/LTE version – and neither should folks who want to use their tablet for work and play.
Despite its shortcomings, which incidentally are fewer and fewer as time goes by, the BlackBerry PlayBook possesses two features that make it unique in the tablet landscape. One of those features is the ability to tether your BlackBerry smartphone to the PlayBook, giving you full access to your BlackBerry’s features but on a much bigger screen.
The second is BlackBerry Balance. Balance lets you create a complete separation between work and personal tasks on the PlayBook, a truly outstanding feature that neither Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android platforms have been able to deliver.
Sure, you can enable parental controls on these devices, but these restrictions disable apps completely instead of creating a virtual wall between work and personal apps. It’s the baby-sitter or nanny approach to control.
With BlackBerry Balance, once you’ve indicated that you want to create a “work” container, you can lock the Messages, Contacts, Calendar and Work Browser with a single password. Once locked, these applications are no longer accessible, but the rest of the tablet’s apps remain available – even a secondary instance of the web browser for personal browsing.
This ability to put all of your sensitive work-related info behind a locked door is a boon to families and anyone else who finds that their tablet ends up being passed from one person to another. RIM’s realization that our tablets – even more than our phones – are becoming shared devices, is a brilliant insight.
It’s not without flaws, however. The first being that in order to use BlackBerry Balance, you need to connect your PlayBook to an enterprise email account which is running RIM’s proprietary software on the back-end. If you just use a blackberry.net email address, or a POP email account like the one give to you by your ISP, the feature isn’t available to you.
Balance also plays somewhat heavy-handedly with your locked apps. For instance, if you have a work account and a personal account set up in the Messages app, once locked, you can’t access either. RIM needs to (and claims to have plans to) find a way to only lock that which is work-related, leaving all personal data accessible.
These limitations notwithstanding, BlackBerry Balance is easily the most compelling and unique feature on the PlayBook. I doubt it will be long before Google and Apple catch up, but in the meantime, RIM has a killer app on their hands.
At a time when the company is holding its breath for the next 4-5 months until it can release the promised line of BlackBerry 10 devices, it needs all of the help it can get.
The new 4G LTE PlayBook launched by RIM yesterday, with all three major carriers, is essentially the same PlayBook the company released a little over a year ago. To say this is a “new” PlayBook would be overstating things. Other than the 4G/LTE cellular data connection option indicated in the model’s name, the only difference is the processor, which received a modest speed bump from 1 GHZ to 1.5 GHZ.
Literally everything else about the 7″ tablet remains the same. Even the box it ships in.
So you’d think that this slightly updated PlayBook would be priced in-line with the non-LTE versions you can find on store shelves today i.e. $229 for a 32GB model. Nope, not even close.
Turns out the 4G/LTE PlayBook, which only comes in the 32GB capacity so far, retails at most carriers for the astonishing price of $549 without a contract.
Let that sink in for a moment…
If you want a PlayBook with 4G/LTE connectivity and a slightly faster processor, you’ll be shelling out an additional $320, or put another way, 139% more.
Just to be clear, this is not an indictment of the tablet itself. The PlayBook, while still under-appreciated by much of the tech media, and certainly not a fan-favourite with consumers, in nonetheless a very good tablet. To see how well it has aged, check out Marc Saltzman’s comparison between the PlayBook and the brand-new Google Nexus 7. The addition of 4G/LTE is a really great option – much like other 4G/LTE devices, it absolutely blazes along. In downtown Toronto at mid-day (peak network usage time) I was able to get speeds of 35Mbps download and 5Mbps upload. Not too shabby.
But poor sales numbers forced RIM to heavily discount all models of the PlayBook, thus changing the landscape dramatically. No longer were we to compare the PlayBook to its larger and more expensive competitor – the iPad. Instead, especially here in Canada where the Kindle Fire isn’t on sale, we now see the PlayBook as a great alternative for people who don’t want an ereader and a tablet – the PlayBook is small enough and inexpensive enough to be both (precisely the territory Google is hoping to exploit with the $209 Nexus 7).
All of which means, unfortunately for RIM, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.
There is no world now, in which a 32GB PlayBook with 4G/LTE is worth $549.
The very most RIM can expect to people to pay for this mobile speed premium is $130 – the same price difference that Apple slaps on all 4G/LTE versions of the iPad – which means a new 4G/LTE PlayBook should actually cost $359. Coincidentally (or perhaps not) that is exactly $10 more than the 3-year term subsidized price of the new PlayBook: $349.
Now, I know there are folks out there who will point out that even at $549, the 4G/LTE PlayBook is still $100 cheaper than a comparably equipped 16GB iPad which only has half the storage. That’s absolutely correct. But don’t forget, Apple’s latest iPad is a technological tour-de-force with a screen resolution unmatched by any tablet. And even if comparisons to the iPad were meaningful (they aren’t at this point in time), it can’t change the fact that RIM’s own discounting of the original PlayBook has created this unfavourable situation.
RIM, expecting the backlash from the 4G/LTE pricing, has decided to throw the carriers under the bus. “RIM works closely with its carrier partners on its product launches. Pricing, plans and contracts are determined by the carrier,” according to RIM’s agency, Brodeur Partners of New York.
This seemingly out-of-touch-with-reality pricing might be, in some twisted way, RIM’s way of getting you to buy a BlackBerry. I know, sounds wacky, but hear me out:
For $99 on a 3-year contract, you can get RIM’s range-topping Bold 9900 4G. It may not have LTE speeds, but it’s still a great device for productivity. And because the PlayBook’s biggest draw for BlackBerry owners is the ability to tether the two devices seamlessly, sharing one data connection, you could pick up a 32GB non-4G/LTE PlayBook for $229. Since you’ll already be paying for the monthly carrier charges on the Bold, there’s no need to pay again just to provide the PlayBook with its own data connection.
If RIM still has a surplus of PlayBooks it’s trying to get rid of, which the current pricing seems to confirm, this strategy might make sense: in giving people lots of incentive to buy BlackBerrys and PlayBooks together instead of just PlayBooks on their own, the company addresses two problems at once – getting rid of their soon-to-be-obsolete BlackBerrys and surplus PlayBooks.
It’s a long-shot, to be sure, but these days – sadly – everything about RIM is looking like a long-shot.
I like the PlayBook. Especially at its current $200 price point for 16GB. Everyone I’ve spoken to who owns one still enjoys using it and has no regrets. But I can’t get behind a $320 premium for 4G/LTE connectivity, the value simply isn’t there.
The first Canadian location for the high-end European design marque that takes its pedigree from the legendary sports car manufacturer, will open in Toronto on June 14th.
Beyond giving Bloor Street shoppers access to an exclusive collection of sunglasses, footwear and even tobacco pipes (people still smoke these things??) Porsche Design will be the only place in Canada where you can pick up the most expensive BlackBerry ever created: the somewhat blandly-named P’9981.
If this sounds familiar it’s because RIM actually debuted the angular smartphone months ago to a much more discerning crowd in Dubai.
At the time, I was irked by the Canadian company’s decision to ignore its home town (loosely speaking) instead choosing to go half way around the world to introduce their new gadget. But in hindsight, maybe it was the right decision. Given that the Porsche Design P’9981 retails for a cool
$2,000 $1,800 you can’t blame RIM for wanting to test the product with a group of people who think nothing of spending that kind of cash (and more) on a single night in a hotel.
I’m no more convinced that RIM can justify the price on the P’9981 now than I was then, but it seems like now is an especially bad time for the company to be putting the focus on a high-end BlackBerry when clearly, a much different strategy is needed.
But hey, if you have an extra two grand lying around, and you’re in Toronto on June 14th, why not drop by 77 Bloor St. West – it will be the one place you can pick up the BlackBerry that is a guaranteed collector’s item: It will either be the last model before the company springs back from one of the worst chapters in tech history, or it will be a flashy reminder of the company that once had the tech world by the horns.
Unless you’ve been sticking with the same CD collection you’ve owned since the 90s, or you’re one of the hardcore vinyl-collecting crowd, odds are good that most of your music is now sitting in MP3 or AAC format on your PC, MP3 player or smartphone. And while each of these devices are great for organizing your tunes and listening to them privately, they lack the group-listening vibe afforded by our stereos, boomboxes and home theatre systems. Fortunately, there’s never been a better time to widen your music’s horizons. Here are three ways you can get into the wireless streaming game so that you can enjoy your music wherever you are in your home and on any existing audio device.
1. RIM BlackBerry Music Gateway ($50)This tiny black module is the absolute cheapest and easiest way to get your digital music to flow through the speakers of your choice. As long as your music is stored on a smartphone or other device that is Bluetooth 2.0 (A2DP) compatible, you can pair it to the Music Gateway and then connect the Gateway to your home stereo using the included mini-jack audio cable. The Gateway needs power but you can use the same Micro-USB cable and AC adapter that you use to recharge your phone. The music is controlled straight from your smartphone. Bonus: If you own an NFC-equipped BlackBerry such as the new Bold 9900, you can skip the Bluetooth pairing process by simply tapping the phone to the Gateway – voila! Instant streaming. Keep in mind however, that Bluetooth streaming isn’t as flexible as Wi-Fi. Bluetooth typically maxes out at 10 m (30 feet) whereas Wi-Fi can often extend up to 300 feet, particularly when used outside.
2. Apple Airport Express Base Station ($99)The Airport Express might just be Apple’s best kept secret. This all-white unit, which is about the size and shape of a deck of cards is deceptively simple: A plug for AC power, an ethernet port, USB port and an analog/optical mini-jack. But the list of things it can do is impressive. Most relevant to this discussion is that it can turn any stereo system into a Wi-Fi (or wired) receiver for your iTunes music whether you keep that collection on your Mac, PC or iOS device. Apple’s AirPlay technology which recognizes the AirPort Express on your home network, treats the Base Station as a set of speakers that you can “push” your music to from your iTunes software.
Want to stream your music to multiple stereos? Simply add more AirPort Express Base Stations. Each one can be labeled according to whatever makes sense e.g. “Living Room”, “Kitchen” etc. and if you’re streaming from a PC or Mac, you can have them all receiving the music simultaneously. Each AirPort Express can be muted or volume-controlled from your computer, but it’s way cooler to do it remotely using your iOS device with Apple’s free “Remote” app. Want to stream from your iOS device instead? Again, each AirPort Express will show up as AirPlay devices in any app that supports AirPlay e.g. CBC’s Music app. The AirPort Express has some other cool features up its sleeve beyond music streaming: it can repeat the Wi-Fi signal from an Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station, giving your Wi-Fi greater reach; it can act as stand-alone wireless router when connected to your DSL/Cable modem via ethernet or if you’re in a hotel room with only wired internet access and finally it can act as a print server when a printer is connected to the USB port – now everyone on your network can print to the same printer.
3. Sonos Play:3 ($329) plus Sonos Bridge ($60) Long before Apple started to hype their AirPlay technology, Sonos was inventing the gold standard for wireless home audio. The company has been refining their very successful formula for years now and they’re still the company to beat when it comes to liberating your music. Every Sonos system starts with their $60 Bridge. It doesn’t look like much and it only does one thing: create the SonosNet proprietary wireless network, and allow Sonos devices to access online sources of content. From there however, Sonos users have unparalleled choice. You can buy Sonos Connect receivers that connect directly to your stereos or other powered speakers. Or, you can buy a more powerful Connect Amp which as the name implies, houses an amplifier so you can attach virtually any pair of bookshelf speakers. Or, if you want a more portable solution, their Play:3 and Play:5 speaker systems are all-in-one sound systems combining a wireless receiver, amp and speakers. N.B.: You don’t actually need to buy the Bridge as long as you’re ok with positioning the Play:3 in a location where you can wire it to your router with ethernet cable. In this situation, the Play:3 can create the SonosNet network and act as the Bridge on behalf of the other Sonos devices in your home.
While more expensive than Apple’s AirPlay scenario, Sonos offers more options too: Each Sonos unit can be individually controlled even letting you choose to stream the same or different music sources to each device. You can also access far more content – in addition to your iTunes collection, you can access subscription services like XM radio, Slacker, LastFM and others. Another plus is that if you keep all of your music on a Network Attached Storage device (NAS) you don’t need your computer to be constantly on to get to your music. Sonos can access it directly. Finally, some Sonos devices can be used as AirPlay devices, as long as you buy an AirPort Express and your Sonos component has line-in support (N.B.: The Play:3 is NOT equipped with line-in). Once connected and configured, the AirPort Express that is connected to your Sonos device will show up as an AirPlay speaker on your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad.
The entire Sonos network of gear can be controlled from any Android or iOS device through the free downloadable app. Sonos used to make a dedicated controller, but apparently the market for these dried up once people began buying app-driven gadgets. No surprise – you can pick up an 8GB iPod Touch for less than the Sonos controller and you can play Angry Birds!
Now that RIM has managed to sell a decent amount of their BlackBerry PlayBook tablets, it’s time for something a little different.
Check out their newest addition to the PlayBook line of accessories: the BlackBerry Mini Keyboard. It’s roughly the same size as the PlayBook itself, it has a 30-day battery life and can be recharged from any Micro-USB connection including the one that shipped with the PlayBook, and it connects via Bluetooth.
And none of those specs are a reason to buy this $119 keyboard, which by the way, ships with that stylish case pictured above.
No, the real reason you’re going to want this keyboard is the integrated touchpad placed right below the space bar. This one feature not only make using the PlayBook for productivity much better than the tablet on its own, it might just make it the PlayBook the best productivity tablet on the market, period. I say this of course without every having tried the device, but if the description from RIM is accurate, this is the rare exception when an accessory dramatically improves the functionality of the original device.
Consider: The touch pad enables full mouse control when using an app called Citrix Receiver – designed to connect you to a remote Windows machine so you can have complete remote-control of that desktop. This means you can move the PC’s cursor, click by tapping, right-click by two-finger tapping and scroll vertically by swiping up and down on the pad with two fingers.
The result is that, unlike using bluetooth keyboards with the iPad, you no longer have to reach for the PlayBook’s screen when you want to interact with an on-screen element. Basically, it turns the PlayBook into a proper laptop replacement, at least from an ergonomics point of view. The trackpad even works when navigating the PlayBook’s homescreens and apps.
The BlackBerry Mini Keyboard goes on sale next month for $119, but you can pre-order it now from The Source and save yourself $20.
Update, Monday February 27: RIM and/or the NHLPA appear to have fixed the problem described in this post and all of their videos now look as good as the ones included at the bottom of the article. Thanks to reader Kyleigh for pointing this out!
This is PlayBook 2.0 week, the week when everyone who owns a PlayBook gets the opportunity to upgrade their OS to a version that finally brings the 7″ tablet up to snuff with the other tablets on the market. High-fives all around right? Well, yes – and no.
Given the celebrations, it would definitely seem to be the right time to get the word out about the PlayBook with a marketing effort that speaks directly to consumers. And if it could highlight one of the great features of the PlayBook – like the fact it can shoot 1080p HD video from both the front and the rear cameras – something which it’s biggest competitor, the iPad 2, still can’t do -so much the better.
It was with this goal presumably in mind that RIM launched its partnership with the NHLPA – the folks who represent the professional hockey players of the NHL. The partnership has led to a new website where fans of the game can come to watch up close and personal videos of their favourite players, all shot using the PlayBook.
But this is where things take a nasty turn. The videos are horrible.
I’m not referring to the content. I daresay that NHL fans would happily watch any video that gave them a glimpse inside the private lives of their hockey heroes which the short video clips certainly deliver.
I’m talking about the actual video quality. They look like they were shot using a VGA-quality webcam and then streamed over Skype using a heavily throttled connection. The frame-rate appears incredibly low – I’d guess somewhere around 15FPS (video needs to be at least 24FPS in order to look smooth) and in many places the audio goes out of sync with the video.
In one of the videos, New York Rangers goalie Martin Biron shows off his new mask. He dons the mask and proceeds to shake his head vigorously side-to-side to demonstrate how well it fits. At least, we assume that’s what he’s doing. But if it wasn’t for the shaking sound produced by the neck-guard rattling, it would be impossible to tell: his masked face simply blurs a little -it’s like watching a high-speed train pass one foot in fr0nt of your face.
When you consider that the PlayBook is actually capable of some fairly decent video capture, it’s hard to imagine how these videos ended up looking so bad.
If I didn’t already know better through using a PlayBook to shoot video, watching these clips would not convince me to buy. In fact quite the opposite. Which is really a shame because OS 2.0 really is an amazing upgrade. From the new Mail, Contacts and Calendar apps which are all now native to the OS, to the clever social integration which lets you compile a contact’s professional, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn info all in one handy location – this update finally delivers on many of the promises the platform made when it debuted last year.
A part of me actually wonders if this ultra-low-fi video was intentionally created. Each clip starts with a very jerky animation of the NHLPA’s logo followed by a BlackBerry PlayBook. Unlike the videos that follow, you can tell this was a stylistic choice and not some limitation on the part of the designer. But why? Why create a series of videos that make your product’s capabilities look so inferior? For despite the PlayBook’s advantage in the resolution of its twin cameras, many viewers will wonder if the iPad 2 produces a better result.
I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the intent was not to focus on the PlayBook’s video quality but just to generally get people talking about how cool the tablet is. But in the campaign’s inaugural week, the video is the only feature we’re given to discuss.
Or perhaps this is merely another indicator that RIM still needs to work as much on its marketing activities as it does on its products.
Check out some of these YouTube videos that have been shot with the PlayBook and decide for yourself if the NHLPA’s behind-the-scenes footage is a good testament to the device’s capabilities.
You’ve got to hand it to the guys and gals at CrackBerry.com – they’re on a roll. First they publish some leaked photos of the as-yet-unannounced BlackBerry Superphone codenamed “London”, and now they’ve posted some similarly leaked photos of the next OS that will power the make-it-or-break-it devices from RIM.
Makes you wonder if these “leaks” are leaks at all, or a clever guerilla marketing effort designed to create some buzz for the beleaguered tech giant.
It makes sense if you think about it: Given all of the negative press RIM has received as of late, it certainly can’t do any harm to let it slip out that it is indeed working toward a new and improved hardware and software system if only to give some hope to those thinking of jumping ship.
And in a best-case scenario, the company can use the informal feedback from reader comments and blogger reactions to gauge whether they’re on the right track or need to do some last-minute course-corrections. I know that’s certainly not how Apple would go about product development, but RIM can’t claim (unlike Apple) that they have an innate sense of what the user wants before the user knows (or at least it’s been a long time since RIM has shown this prescience).
You can see all of the leaked shots over at CrackBerry.com and make up your mind if you think BB 10 is headed in the right direction. My initial reaction is yes, I like what I see. There’s no question the new UI borrows heavily from iOS, but then again so did Android. Some things just work. But RIM has also borrowed from Android too with the homescreen widgets concept, demonstrating what Steve Jobs was once quoted as saying: “Great artists steal”.