BlackBerry PlayBook Paperweight

Yeah, the title kinda sums up my experience trying out a BlackBerry PlayBook.  Maybe it is a bit unfair an assessment, but reality can be a harsh judge.

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At least the Playbook works at Hooters in Chantilly

FOSE 2010
I didn’t have time to attend the whole expo, but I made time to attend ONE of the free classes – I wanted to see what the PlayBook had to offer.  The presentation was very insightful, as it explained how the PlayBook was truly set apart from its competition because it had a seamless user experience, but under the hood it was separating enterprise data from personal data. It also had security and encryption baked in via the BlackBerry Bridge to the user’s smartphone which would pick up all the BES policies and apply them to PlayBook.  All in all, that was fairly impressive – enough for me to actually be excited to try one out.

PlayBook Arrives
So, about 3 months later, my office did a trial with a handful of PlayBooks.  I was one of the lucky recipients…or so I thought.  I unboxed it, hooked it up and the ride went south from there!  Come with me down disappointment lane:

  • First thing Playbook did was demand a Wi-Fi connection.  Wi-Fi connections are not permitted at my office, so I had to pack it all up and wait until I could leave work.  If a customer has to leave the office to get their office-issued equipment working, that kinda sets the stage…don’t it? Yup. It do.
  • I took the unit home, and hooked it up to the Wi-Fi at my house.  Luckily, it connected… it downloaded the latest OS and worked whatever 20-30min of magic it needed.  Finally, I thought, I could start using it as intended.
  • I got into the car and drove to a location with a free Wi-Fi hot spot… I figured, the PlayBook should be ready to work on the go, right?  Wrong.  It couldn’t connect to the hotspot.  My cell phone connected.  My laptop connected. Playbook didn’t even SEE the network, and when I tried to connect manually it would complain that it timed out trying to connect.  Fail.
  • I then decided to try my cell-phone as a tether. PlayBook should be able to handle that. Nope. I tried a Wi-Fi tether, and PlayBook couldn’t see the network.  My laptop did, and connected without issue.
  • So, I made zero progress that day and went into work.  I contacted our mobile computing department and told them I was testing a PlayBook. They said, that was nice.  I asked if I could install the BlackBerry Bridge software on my phone.  They said no.  OK, for all the marketing at FOSE, there isn’t much people can do if the folks in charge of the BlackBerry phones say NO to the BlackBerry Bridge.  Again, this is reality…and in reality, not everyone can  install what they want.
  • This left me in a lurch whereby I have a device that depends on wireless in order to be productive, and it doesn’t readily tether or recognize Wi-Fi networks, nor can it be connected to the enterprise.  And this raises another issue… even if I COULD use the bridge software, 3G is not the fastest cat on the block.  It would be better to use Wi-Fi, but then how is BES policy enforced over Wi-Fi?  Answer… it probably isn’t.
  • I didn’t give up yet…I used the PlayBook to take notes in several meetings… but ran into yet more frustration because, there was no way to get my notes to my office network.  No wireless, no bridge, not even a USB port for a thumb drive.  As if that wasn’t enough, PlayBook’s keyboard ANNOYS me because to type numbers and symbols I am forced to go to a completely different screen instead of hit Shift or ALT like other devices allow.
  • Over the next couple of days, I tried the PlayBook at a number of venues.  It basically has a 50% chance of connecting to Wi-Fi.  I was thankful it worked at Hooters… “Sorry dear, I have to go to Hooters, it is the only network that is compatible with the Playbook.”  That’s worth SOME points.  But 50% is pretty abysmal, and to not have it work with my tether is pretty-much a showstopper.
  • Then there is the application selection.  PlayBook does not have nearly the inventory that iTunes and Android have on tap.  In fact, i would bet that Palm has more apps than PlayBook.  What apps are available are sometimes pricey – not uncommon to see price tags of $3 or $6… really?
  • Last but not least is the super stable OS they tout. I was playing Tetris. The OS locked. Nuff said.

The End
In the end, even though the base navigation seems intuitive, the GUIs seem responsive, and the potential seems impressive,  I think PlayBook is too little too late. I’ll be returning mine to the pool – maybe someone else will have better luck with it.  Until then, I am pretty happy with Android or my SSD-equipped Laptop which boots in about 10 seconds.  Better luck next time, RIM.

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