BlackBerry PlayBook Review - Apps Review

We might as well come right out and say it: when it comes to apps, the PlayBook is severely limited at the moment. BlackBerry anticipates having 3,000 apps in its own App World store for the UK PlayBook launch (compared to the 100,000 in the Apple and Android stores) and theoretically the tablet can run all the Android apps – all app developers will need to do to include their apps on the PlayBook is tick the proverbial box to allow it. However, as things stand only the basics are accounted for – the likes of Facebook for instance. Existing BlackBerry apps don’t work either.

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Not only does the PlayBook lack apps in its store, it also currently is missing some basic in-built functionality, most notably email and calendar apps. This is because the PlayBook has to an extent been designed as an accompaniment to a BlackBerry phone. You can link the two and use the PlayBook as the screen and controller for interacting with your phone’s email and calendar apps.

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This was done to make the PlayBook as secure as possible by having none of this data stored on the device – and of course all BlackBerry communications are already encrypted and sent via the company’s secure servers. It’s for this reason that the current PlayBook also lacks a 3G connection of its own – yes, this is a Wi-Fi only device. You can at least use it to piggyback off most phones’ 3G connections using Wi-Fi tethering.

The BlackBerry phone symbiosis is very nicely done, so if you are a BlackBerry user it’s a very worthwhile purchase, though you’ll always need to ensure your phone and tablet are within spitting distance.

BlackBerry PlayBook Gmail / Email

As email is not supported natively (there’s no SMS messaging app either though this is less surprising) it’s down to webmail to get things done, and there are even dedicated apps for Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, and AOL Mail, all of which open the browser to a custom version of the web services. Some are more successful than others. Gmail, for instance, has a nice split design, allowing you to scroll through your inbox on the left while viewing individual emails on the right. On the other hand, Hotmail requires you to navigate back and forth between messages and your inbox. All told, you can get by but it’s far from perfect, and of course if you don’t have a webmail service you’re up the creek.

The same goes for calendars and contact management – it’s online or nothing. And you can forget about integrating Facebook with Gmail or Twitter with Hotmail. It’s one web service at a time.

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This wouldn’t be so bad were it not for the web browsing being rather temperamental. Again, it ticks all the right boxes with support for full HTML5 and Flash, and is one of the most desktop-like browsing experiences going. However, not only does it regularly crash – particularly when viewing Flash content – but general usability is let down by sluggish performance. Turn off Flash and it improves immensely. Turn Javascript off too and it becomes decidedly sprightly but the latter is essential for most websites and the former is supposed to be one of the PlayBook’s big selling points.

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The bizarre thing is that Flash is actually incredibly well handled. It being easier to actually interact with Flash videos and games than on any other mobile platform (perhaps bar WebOS). It’s just performance and stability that can’t match it.

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