This shouldn’t even be an option. After all, what does a BlackBerry geek need with an Android tablet? RIM released its own tablet, the BlackBerry PlayBook, and it’s tailored to the needs of BlackBerry users. Unfortunately, the PlayBook hasn’t yet developed into the tablet that we’ve envisioned since RIM announced it a year ago. That chances the scenario quite a bit.
To recap: RIM released the PlayBook without native email, contacts, calendar, and BBM. BlackBerry users can access them by bridging their smartphones, but non-BlackBerry users have to rely on web and third-party services. They had planned to release an update at some point, which they eventually announced as October during DevCon 2011.
Now that update has been delayed, which leaves users not only without these native features, but without the Android Player and the video store. It’s definitely cause for concern and worth a look at whether BlackBerry users might be better off with a different tablet if they plan to get one this holiday season.
While the iPad dominates the tablet market, I’m going to leave it aside in this article. If someone wants an iPad, chances are they already know it. Chances are they’ve known it for a while. It’s just the nature of Apple devices. We’ll instead focus on Android tablets, which are growing in number and quality.
Are BlackBerry geeks better served with one of these rather than an incomplete PlayBook? Here’s a quick comparison.
The PlayBook comes in only a seven-inch version, but the Samsung Galaxy Tab comes in 10.1-inch and 7-inch sizes. That leaves room for comparison on the smaller side, but on the larger side there just isn’t a matching BlackBerry product. Email, Contacts, Calendar Android tablets come with these three functions, via GMail, Google Calendar, and Google Contacts.
They’re rather simple applications that take care of these simple functions. This is where Android might have an advantage, since the PlayBook does not come with these functions natively. But for BlackBerry geeks, it shouldn’t make a huge difference. Again, BlackBerry smartphone owners can bridge their PlayBook with their BlackBerry smartphones and gain access to email, contacts, and calendars. This might seem like a pain, and I know many users complained about the idea of tethering when we first heard the rumor. But tell me, do you go anywhere without your BlackBerry smartphone? If not, the tethering burden shouldn’t be a heavy one.
At the same time, a tethered PlayBook has better platform for email, contacts, and calendars. While Android tablets do have a very good Gmail app, that’s quite limiting when it comes to mail accounts. Non-Gmail users have to either route their email through Gmail, or else use one of the webmail clients — which aren’t as good as the Gmail app. The Google Calendar app is fine and good, so there are no complaints there.
But, as I outlined in a guest post on Liliputing, the PlayBook does contacts better than Android. Despite the lack of an update, the tethering option does remain for BlackBerry users. While it’s not ideal, it still works well enough.
BlackBerry users will probably get more out of the PlayBook in this regard than an Android tablet. Multimedia
That is, you won’t find a Netflix app for it, nor will you even find specialty streaming apps like HBO GO. Hulu is blocked. The only popular streaming video platform available for the PlayBook is Amazon Instant Video.
Android does have the Netflix app, and they do have HBO GO. In addition, Google has set up a video store where users can rent movies. It might be tough to justify a $4 rental, but the option is still there. Again, RIM had a chance to offer a comparable product, but we’re still waiting on that update. It’s scheduled to come with the PlayBook 2.0 update, which we know is delayed until at least February. On the music side Android has the advantage as well, and in a much bigger way.
While you can load all the music you desire onto your PlayBook, you can’t take advantage of a number of services. There’s no Pandora app, for example (though there is Slacker). But at the same time, Google offers its Music Beta upload service, whereby you can upload your entire music library to the cloud and stream it anywhere you have an internet connection. They’re also adding a music store in the near future, with the possibility of song sharing. It stands to be one of the best music services in existence.
Eventually BBM Music songs will be available on the PlayBook, but that’s probably not happening until the 2.0 update. And, considering the problems RIM has had specifically with BBM on the PlayBook — it will not run natively even with the 2.0 update — there’s a chance that BBM Music is even further off. It’s not a deal breaker, but it is a shame that RIM has come up with a unique twist on a music service and can’t even offer it on the PlayBook.
Apps While native email, contacts, and calendar will bring necessary functionality to the PlayBook, there’s another aspect of 2.0 that might be more useful for the platform. The Android Player should make a number of Android apps available on the PlayBook, which will help expand its small, but quality, application library.
While the number of apps available for porting will be limited, the Android Player will still bring some much-needed app depth to the PlayBook. One of the biggest knocks on the PlayBook is its lack of apps. While it’s true that the PlayBook doesn’t have a large number of apps, it does provide quality in place of quantity. When researching for a number of articles on this site and others, I’ve come across plenty of superb PlayBook apps.
In fact, when searching App World I often find that the best looking apps — the ones that best match what I’m seeking — are for the PlayBook. It’s definitely a positive sign for RIM going forward, and it’s a nice perk for current and prospective PlayBook owners. Yet even with a small, high-quality app library the PlayBook doesn’t hold a flame to the enormous Android app library. There might be more low-quality apps to filter out, and not every app is perfectly compatible with tablets.
There really is an app for everything on the Android platform, and this is one reason why it’s starting to gain some traction in the tablet market. Still getting a PlayBook? I honestly started writing this comparison with an open mind. I have enjoyed my time with my PlayBook, but the delays have frustrated me — and other BlackBerry geeks — greatly. It’s becoming harder and harder to recommend the PlayBook to people, because it lacks so many essential functions.
I cannot, in good conscious, recommend it to any non-BlackBerry users. That’s a shame, because I thought I’d suggest it often this holiday season. That is, when we thought the 2.0 update was coming soon. Still, even after examining Android’s advantages in apps and multimedia, it’s apparent that the PlayBook does have some thing going for it. As with the BlackBerry smartphone, the PlayBook is a no-nonsense device that is quite frankly wonderful for business purposes.
In fact, when I’m going on a short trip and I’m going to work rather than watch a movie, I leave the iPad behind and take along the PlayBook. RIM has tried to shed the business-only pigeonholing with BBX, and it’s easy to see that they’re on the right path. The new BBX smartphones, and the PlayBook as well, will still be the best business devices on the market, but they’re going to add an element of fun that has been absent from previous BlackBerry models.
It’s unfortunate, then, that they haven’t gotten that off the ground with the PlayBook yet. But there’s hope still. A potential tablet buyer has a few simple questions to ask when purchasing one. BlackBerry owners who don’t need tons of apps, streaming video, or a high-powered music service will still do well with the PlayBook.
It’s frustrating that they haven’t put out the updates yet, but they’ll come in due time. And even then, the PlayBook’s hardware will hold up well enough to carry it for another year or so — until RIM releases its follow-up tablet. Those who want a tablet primarily for apps and multimedia, however, will be better off with an Android tab. Much as it pains me to steer BlackBerry customers away from BlackBerry devices, it’s a simple reality right now, and it’s not something that’s going to change for a few months.