Two months ago it might have seen crazy to speak of the iPad 2 and the BlackBerry Playbook in the same sentence. The iPad 2 is the grand-daddy of the tablet world and the Playbook was received like the poor step child. No native email, contacts or calendar - only useable with a BlackBerry Smartphone - the list was lengthy and the comparison of the two tablets was not a fair fight.
Enter Playbook 2.0. Now we are back to square one and the battle is on. Much is new in Playbook 2.0 and much is improved from when the Playbook first hit the shelves last April.
One factor that we are not looking at for the "competition" but users should think about is price. Currently, a 16GB iPad 2 will set you back $499.00 and a comparable PlayBook 2.0 can be had for $199.00.
So, now its time for the ultimate battle - it is David vs. Goliath - Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Mohammed Ali. There will be 10 rounds in this battle. We will use the 10 point must system - meaning that the winner of each round gets 10 points and the loser gets a lower number. We will look at both devices in detail and put them to the test. Will it be a knockout? Will it be a draw? You might be surprised to see the results....read on.
Round One: User Interface and Gestures
Ding Ding Ding.... Let's keep it clean.... FIGHT!
The iPad set the bar for user interface. It is clean, simple and powerful. While it is debatable who invented "Pinch to Zoom," there is no question that this feature is buttery smooth on all iDevices. Add the swiping through pictures and the ease of moving apps and you had a very easy and intuitive interface.
iOS 5.0 added some great new features. Now, four fingers swiping up will bring display the mutil-tasking bar and a four finger "closing pinch" of the hand will close open apps if these gestures are activated in the Settings app.
That leads to one major interface flaw that still plagues the iPad 2 (and all iDevices, for that matter;) To adjust settings of any application, you need to first leave the application and then go to the Settings app and make adjustments. You then need to go back to the app you were "tweaking." At times, this process can be quite cumbersome.
PlayBook 2.0 adds to some great features that have been there since launch. PlayBook 2.0 also does a bit of iPad imitating with the enhanced functionality of the App Dock now located at the bottom. Users can choose which apps to move in and out of the Bottom dock. The process is remarkably similar to that of the iPad - just touch and hold until the icons shake and then drag them to a new location in the dock.
Where the PlayBook really shines is the many gestures available. Where the PlayBook can be a challenge is in the multiplicity of gestures the user needs to remember.
Swiping to "wake" the device is very cool and convenient. Swiping from the lower left hand corner to the center will bring up the keyboard. Swiping from either corner (while in an app) to the center will show the Status bar.
One feature that the PlayBook gets spot on is the "swipe down from the top" gesture which brings up the Settings app from the Home screen and brings up the Options menu from within any app. This gesture becomes intuitive and extremely useful especially in the Browser, Calendar and Message apps.
RIM likes to refer to the experience of making these tasks simpler as "BlackBerry Flow." The PlayBook almost seems to know what you want to do and makes tasks easier and more intuitive.
Possibly the most powerful and fun gesture is the "Swype up" to reduce an app and then the swipe up to "throw away" and close the app. While this is very WebOS like - it works and its great.
Round One Tally:
Both devices shine in many areas, but when looking at the totality of the gestures and the user interfaces of both devices the PlayBook takes this round with 10 points and the iPad comes in a close second with 9 points.
Round Two: App Organization
When the PlayBook was introduced, we had different views available from the Home screen - All, Favorites, Media and Games. Apps could be moved into each category giving us some sense of organization to the apps.
PlayBook 2.0 has taken quite a few cues from the iPad 2. The App dock (as mentioned above) is now a place to store up to five apps. The PlayBook 2.0 also lets us create folders by simply holding an app until they start to move and then dragging the app onto another app. Folders can also be placed in the App dock giving you access to a full folder of apps right in the App dock.
Swipe up from the App dock and all remaining apps are displayed. If you have more than one page worth, simply swipe to the left to get to the next page.
App organization on the iPad 2 is now, quite similar to the PlayBook 2. Apps can be organized in folders and folders are created in exactly the same manner. Folders on the iPad can hold more apps than the PlayBook, but you can't reproduce the clean look of the PlayBook when the App dock is at the bottom and only the wallpaper is viewed above. The iPad always has apps or folders populating the entirety of the screen.
Round Two Tally:
Both devices are very similar when it comes to app organization, using folders and having the ability to populate a dock with "Favorite" apps or folders. It is hard to pick a clear winner in this round so both the PlayBook and the iPad 2 get 10 points.
Round Three: Multi-Tasking
When we thing about multi-tasking, we usually think about our desktop or laptop and all the windows from all the apps open at the same time. It is easy to just jump from the Word document to an email we are composing to the website we were just viewing.
Given the limited memory and the hardware constraints of many tablets, true multi-tasking can be a challenge. Multi-tasking actually came late to iOS since Apple felt they could not do it "right" in the early iterations. With iOS 5 on the iPad 2 and OS 2.0 on the PlayBook, we can now really compare two very different ways of working with multiple apps.
There has been much written about "true" multi-tasking on iOS devices. For argument's sake, let's say the iPad has very good "limited" multi-tasking built in. To get the most out of multi-tasking on the iPad 2, users should enable Multitasking Gestures in the iPad Settings app. This will allow you to move between your open apps by simply using four fingers and swiping.
I have tried this with about a dozen apps open at once and, for the most part, I could successfully swipe between the apps. If I was matching a movie, it would pause when I swiped to a new app and then I would have to hit the Play button again to restart.
The other way to multi-task on the iPad is to double click the Home button or, if multitasking gestures are enabled, move four fingers up from the bottom to reveal all "running" apps. This is a bit clunkier than simply swiping, but it is the only way to actually see which apps are open. This is my biggest grip with iOS multi-tasking - when you swipe through apps, you don't really know which one is coming next - only by using the second method of seeing all open apps and then choosing the right one can you figure it out.
When you iPad starts to slow down, you may want to close and app or two. The only way to do this is to bring up the list of running apps, hold down until the little "x" appears and then touch the "x to delete it.
The bottom line is that you can multi-task on the iPad, but you have to go through a few steps to get back to the specific app you are looking for.
I have always been a fan of WebOS and its multi-tasking abilities. The QNX software on the PlayBook takes one of the best features of WebOS and improves upon it. Start an app on the PlayBook and then just swipe up from the bottom of the screen. You now see all of your open apps right before you. Just swipe left or right and touch the app you want to go back to - that's all there is to it!
Perhaps the coolest feature of multi-tasking on the PlayBook is the ability to keep your apps "active" in the background. In the Settings menu, you can select the Application Behavior dropdown menu to read Showcase, Default or Paused. When choosing Showcase, even though minimized, a vide keeps playing while you look at all of your open apps.
I have found that I could actually have more open apps on my PlayBook than on the iPad. When I do need to close apps on the PlayBook, I just swipe the minimized app up and away. This "throwing" away apps is not only cool and visually fun, it makes it much easier and quicker to keep only the apps I want open at all times.
Round Three Tally:
Both the iPad 2 and the PlayBook 2.0 can multi-task. Both have the hardware to handle multiple apps open at once and both can allow for plenty of apps to be simultaneously running. The PlayBook just handles multi-tasking better. It is clear that the PlayBook was designed from the ground up to multi task; for the iPad, multi-tasking seems like an afterthought that was tacked on. Seeing the app minimized on the home screen and still running is cool and helpful. Swiping through open apps to find just the one you want is way more efficient on the PlayBook.
The PlayBook gets a perfect 10 in this round and the iPad gets an 8.
Round Four: PIM Functions - Contacts and Calendar
If you use your tablet to help manage your life you will need a solid Contacts app and a powerful Calendar app to help get that done. Both the iPad 2 and the PlayBook 2.0 can handle each of these functions, but they go about it in fundamentally different ways.
Let's just get this out there...the PlayBook has, hands down, the best Contacts app available on any mobile platform at this time. Now, it took a while to get here as early PlayBook users were required to use the BlackBerry Bridge and connect their BlackBerry to see their contacts. Now, there is a native Contacts app right on the device.
What's so great about the Contacts app on the PlayBook 2.0? When you set up your Contacts or Calendar app on the PlayBook 2.0. you are prompted to input your login information for your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Email accounts. The PlayBook then "sucks in" all your data and groups it together by contact.
For example, if I search for Kevin in my Contacts app, I see his PlayBook video chat address, his emails, his LinkedIn and Twitter pages and a full bio pulled from LinkedIn. Whatever I touch launces the appropriate app.
Along the right hand side of the Contacts app are soft keys for: Information, Status Updates, Company Information, Shared Meetings, Shared Connections, Shared Locations, Favorite contact indicator, Edit and Link - to link to even more accounts for Kevin.
PlayBook left, iPad right
The Options are staggering and the usability is incredible. I can see Kevin's Twitter update from the Contacts app. It is easy to search and scroll through contacts and the usability of the information present is further shown when using the Calendar app.
The Calendar app on the PlayBook also adds some new features to the tablet world. When the calendar is launched, the default view shows the month. Days on which you have appointments are shown in larger, bold numbers. The Day view is shown to the right of the monthly calendar. You can choose the Weekly or Daily view from the top left hand corner. Choose Agenda from the top right of the app and your appointments for the day are listed.
One of the coolest feature of the Calendar app is the People view which you can select from the top right. If you have a scheduled meeting with a contact on a particular day, select the day and then People view and the list of people you are meeting with shows up. Just touch the Contact icon and you go right to the Contact app. Imagine you have an important meeting and you need to do a bit of research on him/her before you meet. If a meeting invite was created and they are listed under People, you just go right to the Contact app from the Calendar and can read up via LinkedIn or Twitter or wherever you need to go to get the information.
To sum up, the core PIM functions of the PlayBook give you more of a "social hub" for your contacts and appointments.
Contacts and Calendar are two, isolated and not interconnected apps on the iPad. Not that that is inherently a bad thing, but the integration of a "social hub" present on the PlayBook is not an option on the iPad.
The Contacts app is functional if not underwhelming on all iOS devices. On the iPad, visually, the Contacts app looks very nice. Imagine a large address book and you can visualize the iPad 2 address book. Touch the Search box and type in a name and the contact info shows up on the right side of the address book.
When I look at Kevin's info on the iPad, I can touch an email address to send an email or touch the URL for his LinkedIn profile - but I can't do any of the options I spoke of above like I could on the PlayBook.
One nice feature on the iPad Contacts app is that I can see all of my "groups" in my address book (assuming I have set up groups in either my google or iCloud account.) I can't create a new group on the iPad, but being able to see the various groups is welcome.
The Calendar app on the iPad has lots of eye candy built in. I can easily shift between Day, Week, Month, Year and List view by touching the corresponding button at the top of the screen. I can also "flip" through the pages of my calendar like a book - a very cool graphic feature that is both intuitive and fun.
Setting up a new appointment is just like any other iOS device. If I choose my iCloud calendar I can invite attendees to meetings - but I can't do that if I select one of my Google Calendars.
In the upper left corner I can touch the Calendars button to see all of my synced calendars and decide which ones I want to actually "see" on the app itself. One differentiating factor between the iPad and PlayBook calendars is that all of my Google subscribed calendars showed up on the iPad while I had trouble locating them on the PlayBook.
Round Four Tally:
This one surprised me a bit. Now, realize that my primary phone is an iPhone 4s and I wrote a full book on the iPad 2 - I was not expecting to be blown away by the PIM features of the PlayBook, but I was. Quite simply, the merging of all data in the Contacts app and the ability to have a People view in the calendar make the PlayBook 2.0 PIM functions superior to the iPad 2 experience. The PlayBook gets another perfect 10 and the iPad gets a 7.
Round Five: Media Capabilities
So far, the PlayBook 2.0 is off to an impressive start. Now, we come to the bread and butter of all things iOS related - Media Capabilities. You would expect, and rightly so, that the iPad would have a huge advantage in this round. In this round, we will look at both getting media onto the device as well as the "consumption" of media through the various players and apps once it is loaded.
iOS devices live and breathe media consumption. "iPod," after all, is synonymous with "music player" in today's vernacular. The one caveat with iDevice media consumption is that the user needs to buy into the iTunes ecosystem. (For the brave of heart, you can "jailbreak" your iPad, opening up more media options - but make sure you know what you are doing first!)
Assuming we use the factory settings, most of your media will arrive via iTunes. iTunes has the most extensive music library, a very extensive Video and TV Show library and tons of Video Podcasts and Music Videos to load onto your device. Most media costs you money, but there are always lots of freebies around.
We also need to consider the vast library of iTunes U video files - lectures and guides from top Universities - which are very informative. New to iOS 5.0 is the ability to use Wi-Fi Sync to get your music and videos onto the iPad. Your settings as to what goes on the iPad and what gets updated will be the same as when you connected via the cable - but now there really is no reason to have to plug the iPad into the computer to get music.
One more other very cool option on the iPad 2 is the ability to "Home Share" your complete media collection over your network. In a nutshell, just enable Home Sharing on your primary computer and put in your Apple ID and password in the Settings app for the Music and Videos apps. Once enabled, you can see all your home media content and essentially stream it through your iPad.
Once your downloadable content is on the device, the fun really starts. The Music app is beautiful and powerful. You can organize the view by Artist, Album or Song and you can display your view by your Playlists. You can also create a new playlist right on the iPad itself.
Once you find your music you have the standard music controls and the ability to repeat, shuffle or use the Apple Genius feature to find similar style music to what is currently playing.
Then you toss is all the available steaming music apps - Pandora, Slacker, Spotify and hundreds of others into the mix and you have quite a powerful music playing machine. Sound quality is also top notch.
Likewise with video, there is a plethora of content in the iTunes store to download. One very cool feature is the way iTunes movies handle chapters and divide the movie into quickly accessible chapters for jumping right into a desired scene.
The iPad 2's resolution is not quite "retina" quality but it is still 1024 x 768 which is pretty darn good.
You can utilize high speed scrubbing to move to a very specific section and you can adjust the picture from full screen to wide screen. If you have an Apple TV you can also send your video to your home theater using Apple's proprietary Airplay technology.
Toss in the Netflix, Flixter, ABC, XFinity and so many more apps that allow you to stream video content to your iPad 2 and you are never at a loss for media to consume.
Getting content onto the Plabook can be done in a couple of ways. If you utilize the BlackBerry Desktop Manager software, you can easily choose music, videos and photos from your desktop library to transfer onto the device. Desktop Manager is a bit slower than iTunes, but it is effective for getting media on the device.
One advantage the PlayBook has over the iPad is the ability to use Wi-Fi Sharing to move files from your computer to the PlayBook or from the PlayBook to the computer. Just pull down the Settings menu and touch Storage and Sharing and enable Wi-Fi Sharing. What is very cool about this is that your PlayBook will appear as a connected device on your computer. Just click on (in this example - the Media folder) and copy and paste or drag and drop media from your computer to the appropriate folder. Using the Wi-Fi file transfer I could copy a non-iTunes movie file from my Mac right onto the PlayBook.
Music can be purchased from the 7 Digital Music store. It is organized well, but there is simply no where near the content you can find on the iTunes store. Prices were comparable to iTunes.
Videos can now be purchased at the Video Store powered by Rovi. The video store will keep track of purchased items and has a very small collection of movies and TV shows for download. Movies can also be rented from the Video store. Typically, new releases rented for $3.99 and could be purchased for $19.99 and some older movies could be had for $9.99. one gripe is that you can't just have all content stores tied to your BlackBerry ID. For example I had to log in three different times to buy an app, music or video.
The Music app on the PlayBook is certainly functional. The usual Play/Pause, Stop, Next and Previous buttons are present. Also present are the Shuffle and Replay buttons. Expand the bottom pane and you can see album covers for upcoming songs in a Playlist or on the album to which you are listening.
Testing the sound quality of the PlayBook compared to the iPad 2, the PlayBook came up a bit short. I used high end Klipsch Earphones and turned on the Headphone Audio Boost in the Sound settings on the PlayBook. The PlayBook was a bit weak in both the Lowest end the Highest ends of the register giving a bit more of a "muddled" sound on the sample tracks I tested. One unique feature of the PlayBook is stereoscopic sound which does enhance stereo output in certain circumstances.
Couple that with the fact that while Slacker Radio is included with the PlayBook, there is no Pandora, Spotify, NPR Music or many of the other iPad apps that are available as of yet for the PlayBook. (Later in this piece we will talk about side loading Android apps onto your PlayBook which can solve some of this.)
The Video Player app is also pretty "bare bones" but functional on the PlayBook. The usual video controls are present along with one feature that is not present (out of the box) on the iPad. Connect an HDMI cable to the PlayBook and your TV and then touch the Presentation Mode icon in the upper right hand corner and you have a very powerful presentation tool in your PlayBook. For PowerPoint presentations, this would be awesome! Resolution is 1024 x 600 - a hair under that of the iPad 2.
We know that while DLNA support is not yet present on the PlayBook 2.0, it is in development; meaning that wireless media streaming should be coming to the PlayBook in a future update.
No Netflix, no Flixter, no Cable TV apps mean that finding streaming video content is tricky. The fact that Flash Player is built in does give you access to some web based streaming content that is not available on the iPad. Factor in that Apple's battle with Flash is making HTML5 the video standard means that this distinction won't mean so much in the future.
Round Five Tally:
As expected, the iPad 2 delivered a knockdown to the PlayBook in this round - our first "standing eight count" of the fight. The iPad takes a perfect 10 in this round and the PlayBook gets a six.
Round Six: Email/Messaging
This is the area where the new OS in the PlayBook 2.0 changes the game considerably. Prior to the OS 2.0 upgrade, the only way to email or message was to "Bridge" your BlackBerry to the PlayBook. Now, native messaging means this is a good battle for these two tablets.
Earlier we spoke of the "imitation" of some of the best features of WebOS in the PlayBook 2.0. The PlayBook surpasses virtually every other platform with the inclusion of a unified messaging inbox. What that means is that in one place - the Messages app - goes not only your email, but also Facebook messages, LinkedIn messages and Twitter Direct Messages.
The beauty of this is that you don't have to open the dedicated app (i.e., Facebook or Twitter) to respond. You can respond to and compose messages in all of your logged in account right from the messaging app. Just touch the Titter icon along the left hand side of the Messaging app and send a Direct Message - it couldn't be easier!
Email only gets better! Touch the Compose button to send an email. What you immediately notice is that the PlayBook gives you a full rich text email editor. You can change the font, the size, the color and easily change the style of text right from the editor - just like using a full featured email editor. Attach files that are stored locally on the device, change the priority - you name it and you can do it from the PlayBook Email app.
Perhaps the best email feature is that you can swipe down from the top to see the Options menu and then select Compose Email up to four times! That means that you can have up to four separate email compositions going at any one time. You can then swipe up to minimize the app and do something else. That is a level of email power unmatched in any device today.
The PlayBook has one of the best predictive (link to swipe tech) text systems I have seen in a mobile device. When you start to type, the PlayBook will show you five possibilities for the word you are typing along the top of the keyboard. Simply touch the correct one and it is inserted into the email.
Connect your PlayBook via BlackBerry Bridge to your BlackBerry Smartphone and you can take advantage of your BlackBerry Messenger app on the PlayBook.
Email on the iPad is...well, its email - just email. You can set up multiple email accounts, you can have a unified inbox of email - but at the end of the day you still get only email.
The iPad offers some nice features for email organization - adding messages to various folders and the like. There are no rich text editing features, however, in the Email app.
Typing offers Apple's version of predictive text, which I find somewhat annoying. The ipad will suggest one word and you can touch the Space bar to accept that or try to touch the small "x" to get rid of it.
One built in iOS feature that is great which the PlayBook lacks is the built in dictionary. Just hold down any word in an email (or other app,) choose "Define" and the iPad will give you a contextual definition.
iOS 5 introduced a new way to communicate with your friends; iMessage. iMessage is in some ways similar to BlackBerry Messenger - it is "instant," you can see when your messages are delivered . You can attach an image to your iMessage and send that along in the body of your iMessage as well. iMessage can be sent to any iDevice - that means you can send it to the phone number of an iPhone or the email address used as the ID on any iPad or iPod.
You can certainly send Facebook messages, Direct Messages via Twitter and LinkedIn messages - but you will need to load up each app first to have that option.
We are looking at Video Chat as a sort of messaging/communication aspect of both devices here. Both the PlayBook 2.0 and the iPad 2 offer front-facing cameras for video chat. Both have video chat apps - PlayBook's is called Video Chat and the iPad used Apple's FaceTime.
Both video chat apps are proprietary - you can only use Video Chat with other PlayBook users and you can only use FaceTime with other iOS users. Clearly, if you have lots of friends with other iOS devices, the iPad 2 will give you more people to talk to via FaceTime. Anyone with an iPhone 4, iPad 2 or a newer iPod touch can use FaceTime on their devices.
Functionality is fairly similar on both devices. The PlayBook does a nice job of knowing which of your contacts have a BlackBerry ID for Video Chat calls - this is done automatically as all your contact data is sucked into the PlayBook. On the iPad, you need to specify your contacts for FaceTime. You can use your Apple ID or your iCloud login to set up FaceTime. You can call people using their iPhone phone number - assuming they are connected to Wi-Fi. You can also use an associated email address if they have that set up.
Both apps let you search your contacts and both allow you to move the smaller video camera on the screen so that it is not blocking the view of the person on the other end. One of the very cool features of the PlayBook is that you can minimize the app and still see the video while you swipe to see if you may have a message to check or perform another task.
Video chat is pretty much a wash between these two devices. The one are where the iPad has the advantage is that you can use the Skype app. We do hope this will be released soon for the PlayBook, but it doesn't look so good.
Round Six Tally:
After getting knocked down in the last round, the PlayBook got back up and delivered its own knockdown in this round. In fact, the iPad 2 was knocked down twice. The powerful Messaging app, unified inbox with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, rich text editor and more made the PlayBook an email king - BlackBerry email is back in a big way! The PlayBook gets a perfect 10 and the iPad 2 gets a 5.
Round Seven: E-Reading
The Kindle has revolutionized the way we read - no question about that. E-Books are now taking over as a preferred way of consuming books. There are options for E-Reading on both the PlayBook 2.0 and the iPad 2. Each options sort of forces the reader to "commit" to one particular e-commerce system (iTunes, Kindle store, Kobo store, etc.) The size of each device was also a factor in this round.
The iPad 2 is big; for E-Reading, that is both a negative and a positive. The big beautiful screen is a joy to use to read books. The size can make the iPad somewhat fatiguing to hold for long periods of time and that is something to factor in.
The iPad shines in the options available for E-Reading apps. The built in iBooks app is visually beautiful. It has a built in dictionary, the ability to adjust screen resolution, set for night time viewing, adjust fonts, search within the book and more. One of the coolest features of iBooks is the ability to literally turn the pages with a page turning animation - you can even see the words on the back of the page.
The iPad also has a Kindle app, a Kobo app, Comic Book readers, interactive kids books and more. With the new update to iBooks, you now have textbooks that are mind-blowing available for $14.95. In short, if it can be read, it can be read on the iPad 2. Add in the Newstand app and one of the thousands of magazines or newspapers to which you can subscribe and the quantity of content is staggering.
Out of the box, the PlayBook has a Kobo app - but not much else. The size of the PlayBook is much closer to that of an actual paper back book making it feel more natural in the hand. It is also much easier to hold with one hand as you hold your coffee cup in the other.
The Kobo app functioned well. Switching to night view (black background with white text) is very helpful - especially if you don't want to wake up your spouse/partner in the middle of the night. You can adjust the Font size, jump to the table of contents and use bookmarks to keep your place.
There are no page-turn animations, but you just tap on the right side of the screen to turn a page and the left side to go back a page.
The Kobo store has most of the popular titles and most of the public domain works for free. The problem is that the Kobo app is the only "official" app available now. This brings us to the issue of "unofficial" apps. If you have been reading about the PlayBook on CrackBerry, you may be familiar with the fact that the PlayBook 2.0 has a built in - behind the scenes - Android player. Some Android apps are available in the BlackBerry App World, but you can "side-load" Android apps - by following the directions very carefully - onto the PlayBook. Now, this is not for the faint of heart - but it is not too difficult. Once you side-load the Kindle app, you will be able to utilize the Kindle reader and have access to your library.
Round Seven Tally:
E-Reading is not a strength of the PlayBook. I love the size and I like the way the books look on the screen, but the iPad simply has too many options for consuming printed material. We seem to be going back an forth with knockdowns in this battle. In this round, the PlayBook goes down hard and the iPad 2 wins by a score of 10 to 5.
Round Eight: Photography and Videography
Neither the PlayBook or the iPad will replace your SLR any time soon. You will also look like a major league geek if you go around taking lots of pictures using a tablet. That being said, both the iPad 2 and PlayBook 2.0 have built in front and rear facing cameras. Both shoot HD video and both can manage your photo library.
The PlayBook comes with a 3MP Front facing camera for video chat and a 5MP camera for stills on the back. The PlayBook will shoot 1080P HD video as well.
The camera is pretty bare bones but it does offer some nice options.
Taking a picture is pretty straight forward on the PlayBook - just choose the Photo or Video icon (in this case, Photo) and then touch the Camera icon to take a picture. The picture goes right into the Camera app (the equivalent of the Camera roll on iOS.)
Swipe down from the top and you have the options for image stabilization, 16:9 or 4:3 aspect ratio, Action (for a moving subject) or Whiteboard (for an image that can be used with a whiteboard.)
Image quality was about what you would expect from a 5 MP portable camera. There is no flash so you are somewhat limited as to the pictures you can take. That being said, I took a couple of indoor shots with the PlayBook and the exposure seemed OK.
Taking video is as easy as touching the Video icon and then the start button. Press the Stop button to end the video. You then need to swipe down from the top and select Videos to see your videos. There are no editing functions built in to the PlayBook 2.0.
The Pictures app is where you go to manage your photos on the PlayBook. There you will find your Camera Pictures folder as well as folders (or albums) of all the pictures you loaded on the device using Desktop Manager. Touch an album to see all the photos in the album. Touch one image to fill the screen. To have the pictures displayed in a slide show, touch the large Play button in the middle. To go forwards of backwards, touch the appropriate icon.
Swipe down from the top in any album to see all the pictures in that album, to delete a photo or to set a photo as your wallpaper.
There are no photo or video editing capabilities at this time in the PlayBook Pictures app. You do have the option, however, to connect your PlayBook via HDMI to your TV and use the PlayBook in presentation mode to display your pictures.
The iPad 2 has a much lower, .7MP camera on the back of the device and a .3 MP camera on the front. The front camera is used for Skype or FaceTime video chat and you might want to use the rear camera for a quick picture - but you will be disappointed with the image quality. The iPad 2 shoots 720P video out of the back camera lens, which is most likely the way you would use the device.
You can zoom in by touching the screen and getting the slider bar, but the more you zoom the lower the already poor picture quality will be. The only option in the Options button is to have a grid on or off.
Once you take the picture, it goes into your Camera roll. From there you can easily Email it, send it via iMessage, Assign it to a Contact, Use as Wallpaper, Tweet it, Print it or Copy it.
You can also choose Edit and Rotate, Enhance, fix Red Eye or Crop it.
Choose Video instead of Photo, touch the Record button and start to record your video. One area where the iPad shines is in the options after the video is taken. You will see a timeline of the video at the top of the screen and you can simply drag the handles to "trim" the video. From there you can Email the Video, send it via iMessage, Send to YouTube or Copy it.
You view your Photos and videos in the Photos app. The Photos app organizes your pictures into several different views depending on how you synced your device. For example, if you have a Mac and synced some of your Faces albums to the iPad, you will have a tab that says Faces. Similarly, photos are categorized into Events, Albums, Places and Photo Stream. What is nice about Photo Stream is that if it is enabled on any iDevice or Mac, any picture taken on any device goes into this cloud based Photo Stream which then adds the picture to all your other connected devices. You can also choose to create a slide show, customizing the transitions used and which music to use from your device - you can even send the whole thing to your TV using AirPlay.
PlayBook (left) vs. iPad (right)
Round Eight Tally:
This was a tough round to call; the iPad 2 has a horrible camera, but great photo and video editing built in. The organization and options after a photo or video are taken are also more plentiful and more intuitive on the iPad. The PlayBook as a pretty decent camera - certainly way better than that on the iPad 2. Where the PlayBook falls flat is in what you can do after you take a picture or video. With virtually no editing or transmitting options all you can really do is scroll through your pictures or have a basic slide show.
Since most of us won't really be using the camera for taking lots of pictures but will using the video perhaps for HD video, this comes down to what you can do after the photo or video is taken. That being the case, the iPad 2 wins this round by a score of 10 to 7.
Round 9: Web Browsing
One of the features users are looking for the most in their tablets is a good web browsing experience. Historically, it would be hard to put a BlackBerry web browser up against an iOS browser, but the PlayBook and its QNX operating system (maybe Torch browser)made for a very capable browsing experience - but how capable?
The iPad 2 uses an optimized version of the mobile Safari browser. Launch the browser and the iPad screen fills up (rather quickly) with a full featured browsing experience. Pinch to Zoom works like a charm on the Safari browser, scrolling is smooth and fast with very little if any pixilation.
The options within the browser are limited; you can view Bookmarks or your History by touching the Bookmarks icon. You can also view those article you have saved to your Reading List.
Touch the Action button to Add a Bookmark, Add to the Reading List, Add to Home Screen (web clip,) Mail Link to Page, Tweet or Print.
You add new tabs by touching the "+" icon in the upper right hand corner. Safari works very well through multiple tabs.
All that being said, the important thing about the iPad browser is that is just works and works well. Web pages loaded quickly and scrolling through the page, touching hyperlinks and zooming in and out works just as you would expect. Having the Google Search bar right up top next to the address bar made navigating to a new site very easy.
Fire up the PlayBook browser by touching the Browser icon. Web pages loaded up reasonably quickly. The most touted feature that the PlayBook browser has which is missing on the iPad is Flash support. Now, for some this is not a big a deal, but even on our own CrackBerry.com site, having Flash support allowed for much more dynamic content in the ads to the right of the page. Flash also allows you to experience video content that would not be available on the iPad 2.
Scrolling through web pages was very fast and reasonably smooth. I did experience some lag - some pictures had trouble loading when I would fly through a page. Pinch to Zoom worked very well on the PlayBook which is a good thing. The 7" screen often needed to be expanded for my aging eyes to clearly make out the text.
There are a few options available in the upper bar of the browser. A Reader icon is at the top left; if an article is available in Reader Mode, touch the icon and it will be displayed in a cleaner, easier text based reader mode.
Touch the Bookmark icon (Gold Star) to see visual thumbnails of your bookmarks. Next to that is the Add icon - touch that to Add to Bookmarks or Add to Home Screen (web clip.) To the right of that is a Full Screen icon that will take away the Title bar to give you maximum viewing of the web page.
Swipe down from the top to see the Browser Options. You can see a visual of your open tabs, add a New Tab, see your Downloads from the web and access the web Settings. Settings can be customized for what to show when you land on a new page, what your Home Page should be, your default Search Engine as well as font and coding options.
In the Content tab of the Settings, you can Enable Flash, Load Images and Enable Java Script. You can allow Permissions for Location based queries from web sites and adjust your Privacy and Security settings. All in all, the PlayBook Browser offered more in the way of adjustments and settings than did its iOS counterpart.
The most important part of browsing the web, however, is the smoothness and speed of the browsing experience and the visuals of the page. This is where the 7" screen of the PlayBook has a disadvantage. Pages still looked, well...small on the PlayBook. More real estate would provide a better web experience. It is important to note that in the independent HTML5 Test, the PlayBook ranks highest of any mobile device.
Round Nine Tally:
Both devices offer a quality browsing experience. The size of the iPad 2 gives it a huge advantage over the PlayBook 2.0. Couple that with a smoother scrolling and zooming experience and quicker load times and, even though the PlayBook gives us Flash support - the iPad 2 just squeaks by in this round. The iPad gets a 10 and the PlayBook gets a 9.
Round Ten: Gaming
Both the iPad 2 and the PlayBook 2.0 have powerful processors, good graphic chips and plenty of memory to handle visually stunning games. Both offer accelerometers to allow you to say "steer" a car just by turning the device.
The PlayBook comes pre-loaded with Need For Speed Undercover and Tetris and there are many other apps available in BlackBerry App World. Apps from big time companies such as Electronic Arts and Gameloft can be found for both devices.
For purposes of comparison I looked first at identical games on both devices. The two I chose first were Angry Birds and Need for Speed.
Need for Speed was a joy to play on the PlayBook. This was one of those games where a slightly smaller device proved to be a real plus. I always enjoyed playing racing games on the iPhone, but found the iPad a bit big to hold and "steer." The screen size of the PlayBook, coupled with the great resolution and powerful processor made Need for Speed really shine. Load times were quick, frame rates were very good and cut scenes played beautifully. What I really enjoyed was minimizing the game and having it run in the background while I checked an email.
Angry Birds is Angry Birds. That being said, load times were very quick, and the game play was very smooth. I could pinch to zoom out or in easily to give me a better view - just like on most other devices. One area where the PlayBook surpassed the iPad 2 was in the graphics. At least for Angry Birds, the PlayBook was sharper and crisper than it was on the iPad 2. As far as pricing goes, Angry Birds HD is $4.99 for both the PlayBook and the iPad.
The challenge for the PlayBook in this round is in selection. App developers simply don't put out the volume of apps for the PlayBook as they do for the iPad. Some of the games are of a very high quality, but they are few and far between. There is also a lot of "junk" to be found in games for the PlayBook. We certainly hope that now that Android apps are supported on the PlayBook, more of them will find their way into BlackBerry App World.
iOS has really exploded as a true platform for mobile gaming. Many developers have released HD versions of their most popular apps which take advantage of the added horsepower and graphics capabilities of the iPad 2.
I tested both Angry Birds and Need For Speed to give a true comparison of "identical" games on both devices. Angry Birds, as I mentioned above, didn't seem to "pop" on the screen as much as it did on the PlayBook. Graphics were certainly smooth and pinching to zoom in and out looked great. Load times were about as fast from screen to screen as they were on the PlayBook.
Need for Speed looked great on the iPad 2. The game was fluid and steering was precise. Where the experience breaks down a bit is with the overall size of the iPad. For games like this, I find the iPad to be too big. I feel kind of like a moron holding and steering my iPad - it is much more comfortable on the iPhone and on the PlayBook.
Where the iPad 2 shines is not only in the quality of games like Infinity Blade, Dead Space and so many others. From music games, artistic games, strategy games and so many more - the iPad 2 shines as a Gaming device. The PlayBook simply cannot compete with all the available apps for the iPad.
Round Ten Tally:
Both devices really do excel as Gaming devices. Angry Birds even looked better on the smaller screen of the PlayBook and Need for Speed was easier to control on the PlayBook.
The iPad 2 not only looks and plays great (although its size is not a plus for all games) but it has thousands of quality games from virtually every major developer and studio to load on the device.
The PlayBook now supports Android apps and more and more of them should make their way into the BlackBerry App World. You can also follow the link above to learn about side-loading Android apps onto your PlayBook. BlackBerry is still giving away PlayBooks to developers who will write apps and over 6,000 responded. Hopefully, that means that BlackBerry users will soon have many more apps from which to choose.
After all is said and done, the iPad 2 wins this round based mainly on the volume of apps available for download by a score of 10 to 8.
iPad 2 vs. PlayBook 2.0 - And the Winner Is...
After 10 rounds of head to head fisticuffs, here's where things stand.
TABLET SMACK DOWN TOTALS:
One Round is a Tie
iPad 2 Wins 5 Rounds - Score: 89
PlayBook 2.0 Wins 4 Rounds - Score: 85
The Winner - iPad 2
Which should you buy? Keep Reading...
Closing Thoughts - Picking the Tablet Best for You
This was a very close, hard fought battle. The PlayBook 2.0 jumped out to an early lead due to the superior multi-tasking abilities and the stellar (best in the business) PIM functions. The Contact and Calendar integration is truly ground breaking on the PlayBook 2.0.
The iPad 2 took the Media (Music and Video,) EBook, Gaming and Photography rounds - which is not surprising.
When looking at the results, we see two very different, yet, very good devices. It all boils down to why you want a tablet and how you plan to use it. Last year, Kevin wrote a very important piece about the Hierarchy of Smartphone Needs. That logic can certainly apply to the world of tablets as well.
For content "consumption," the iPad 2 reigns supreme. If your primary reason for getting a tablet is to watch videos, have lots of streaming music options and have more "entertainment" apps than you can shake a stick at - it is hard to beat the iPad 2 and will be hard for some time.
For content "creation" and content "management," the PlayBook is the best tablet on the market today. If you want to read and send emails, have unified messaging, have true contact integration and management and a better "typing" experience - the PlayBook is the best in the business.
Now you have a difficult choice. An iPad will manage your media and excel in consuming content, but it struggles in the core PIM functionality that those with busy lives crave.
The PlayBook gives you really unparalleled PIM functionality, a great predictive text keyboard, true contact and calendar integration - but it is just OK as a music and video player and lacks the media options found in the iPad 2.
So, even though the iPad 2 wins on points, the strengths are really so different that the user needs to decide what is her/his own hierarchy of needs for a tablet.
One last consideration, but not insignificant, is price. At $199.00, the PlayBook is a steal. No, it doesn't do everything the iPad 2 does. However, it does much of what the iPad does and does it better. In other areas, the capabilities of the PlayBook will only grow. With iPad 3 around the corner, we still don't know how high the bar will be set in the future but we are eager to find out!
I cant help but think that when Moses walked down the mountain, he was holding not one - but two tablets. Each was unique and each has served humanity quite well since then. There is room in our world for two stellar tablets to meet all of our tablet needs.