BlackBerry PlayBook: A Few Kind Words for a Forgotten Tablet

A year ago the BlackBerry PlayBook could have been a contender. The seven-inch tablet from Research in Motion could have carved out a nice market niche for itself if RIM could have delivered useful apps to go with the PlayBook’s sleek hardware and user-friendly operating system (OS) software in a timely fashion.

Unfortunately it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that RIM finally delivered the PlayBook 2.0 OS, which included top-notch e-mail, calendar and contacts apps. Unfortunately it all comes very late in the game, maybe too late. Now we have a brand new, hot-selling iPad from Apple and a raft of new, powerful Android tablets. The PlayBook is now deeply discounted, and is not exactly on the top of most tablet buyers’ wish lists.

Still there are some good things to say about the BlackBerry PlayBook and in a recent interview with radio host Mark Laiosa on WBAI-FM in New York, I go over some of the aspects of the new apps and the new PlayBook 2.0 operating system.

Link to audio clip: http://www.box.com/embed/tl9v4ztitlpt8a6.swf

Text Copyright 2012 Stadium Circle Features
Audio clip courtesy of WBAI-FM

BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0: RIM’s Last Shot?

PlayBook OS 2.0 download in progress

BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 is finally here. At long last PlayBook owners have a reason to crow about their units–instead of quietly sliding them away each time someone nearby pulls out an iPad.
But OS 2.0 is late–possibly too late to save the PlayBook.

From the moment it debuted last April, the BlackBerry PlayBook has been a heartbreaking disappointment. While its hardware and sleek design have garnered kudos for the seven-inch tablet, it unfortunately debuted without essentials like e-mail or contact-management software or a calendar. It also had an app store with a selection which made the worst of the Android Market seem like the Works of William Shakespeare.

At that time Research In Motion promised that a new PlayBook OS with e-mail, contact and calendar clients and an Android emulator that would allow the PlayBook to run popular Android apps would be ready by last June. Then it was October. We’ve been waiting ever since. Now it’s here.

Today BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0, with all of the above trimmings, finally becomes available as a free over-the-air download. And it’s about darn time.

If you were lucky enough to preview PlayBook OS 2.0 at the 2012 International CES in Las Vegas in January, you already know that this upgrade is a must download. The new OS is a head-and-shoulders improvement to the original quirky, limited-use operating system.

BlackBerry booth at 2012 CES

The new PlayBook e-mail, contact and calendar clients shown at CES are things of beauty. They have easy-to-use interfaces and smooth integration with social media services. The versions shown at CES looked like finished products even then–not just prototypes.

In terms of productivity, the new software offers a high level of cross-app integration, thus eliminating steps in doing basic tasks like setting up a meeting and inviting attendees. PlayBook OS 2.0 will also be more manageable than the previous version and will allow users to create their own folders.

One area where the PlayBook has always outdone other tablets like the iPad is in its still camera and video capabilities. For example, the video below was shot at the 2011 New York International Auto Show with the PlayBook’s five-megapixel rear-facing camera.

This video was shot at 720p resolution, which is not even the best the PlayBook can do: It also supports recording at 1080p and 480p.

The BlackBerry PlayBook also has a three-megapixel front-facing camera, which, combined with its microphone and stereo speakers, would make it a terrific videoconferencing solution–if it could only run Skype in addition to the little-known tablet videoconferencing apps in BlackBerry App World. But that may change soon.

As far as PlayBook-compatible Android apps are concerned, don’t expect to get access to the Android Market. Android apps need a little tweaking as well as approval from RIM before they will work on the PlayBook.

These PlayBook-approved Android apps will show up in BlackBerry App World along with those designed specifically for the QNX-based PlayBook OS. Thus, installing an Android app on the PlayBook will be no different from the process currently used. Right now only a handful of the most popular mobile apps are available as native apps for the PlayBook. This short list includes Facebook, Groupon, Evernote, Kobo and YouTube.

As of today, suggested pricing for the BlackBerry PlayBook is significantly reduced from the original levels, which ranged from $499 to $699. A PlayBook with 16GB of internal storage now retails for $199, the 32GB version is $249 and a 64GB unit is $299.

BlackBerry PlayBook tablet running PlayBook OS 1.0

If you’ll be upgrading a PlayBook as soon as OS 2.0 is available, keep in mind that an OS update is a serious upgrade. Before you start, back up important data elsewhere, make sure your unit is charged, keep it plugged in to an AC adapter during the upgrade process and make sure you have a reliable data connection. Once you start, follow the instructions to the letter. An aborted OS upgrade could chew up your data and turn your PlayBook into an expensive paperweight.

So how did your unit survive the OS 2.0 upgrade? Let’s hear about it.

Text and videos Copyright 2012, Robert S. Anthony, Stadium Circle Features

Paper PC Picks: Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile Speaker

It’s time for another season of Paper PC Picks, a selection of nifty gadgets and other electronic gear that make quality gift selections for the holiday season. These innovative products are culled from the hundreds spotted at trade shows and press events and during one-on-one meetings with tech-company representatives. 

So let’s get started, in no particular order, with another season of Paper PC Picks.

The Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile Speaker looks glitzier than your average Bluetooth wireless speaker, but at hefty prices starting at $300, does it really sound that much better than its cheaper competition? The answer, after a few minutes with a few units, is an easy “Yes.”

The Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile Speaker can handle the rumble of deep bass and the clarity of sharp high notes even though it’s about the size of a large, thick hardcover book. The reason for the audiophile-quality output is the internal design, which was engineered to minimize distortion and other audio maladies. During a recent Bose press event in New York, the media got a chance to look at an exploded view of how the SoundLink units are put together.

For example, at the center of the exploded view above are two waffle-shaped passive radiators responsible for enhancing deep bass tones. They’re installed opposite each other, which cancels out the internal vibrations they would otherwise produce, thus allowing the energy they conduct to be used for clear bass, not internal rumble and rattle according to Bose.

Also built in are four neodymium transducers used for high and middle audio frequencies. According to Bose, the 5.1-by-9.6-by-1.9-inch SoundLink is durable and designed to withstand reasonable amounts of moisture, including salt fog, which makes it usable on the beach. The internal rechargeable lithium-ion battery runs up to eight hours on a two- to three-hour charge, according to Bose.

The point of the Bose SoundLink Wireless Speaker, according to the Bose representatives at the press event, is to produce the best possible mobile sound out of the audio locked inside smartphones, iPods, tablets or other Bluetooth-enabled devices. The unit has a solid feel to it, but isn’t heavy at 2.9 pounds.

The pairing process to connect the SoundLink to my smartphone wasn’t difficult. Within moments clear, rich music was emanating from the unit. While it will pair with many devices, they need to support the Bluetooth A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) to work with the SoundLink–or any other Bluetooth wireless speaker. The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, for example, doesn’t support A2DP even though it does have a Bluetooth wireless adapter and thus failed at my attempt to connect it to the SoundLink.

Like other Bluetooth products, you have a range of up to 30 feet between the speaker and the Bluetooth-enabled audio device. You can also connect an audio device via an audio cable. A USB port is provided for future firmware upgrades.

The $300 standard version of the Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile Speaker comes with a fold-over dark gray Cordura nylon cover which doubles as a stand while the $350 LX version has a dark brown leather cover. Covers in other colors are available for $30 (nylon) and $50 (leather).

Expensive yes, but Bose doesn’t compete in the bargain audio market. If you’re picky about the quality of the music you listen to, the Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile Speaker may be worth it.

Text, video and first three photos Copyright 2011
Robert S. Anthony, Stadium Circle Features
Photo of four color cases courtesy of Bose