Tablet Quest: Why I Chose a BlackBerry PlayBook (Again)

After months of research, scouring dozens upon dozens of written and video reviews on the most popular tablets, tinkering with display models in retail stores, and talking to people who own them, my quest for the ideal tablet computing device has led me to two rather obvious conclusions:

  1. My ideal tablet device does not (yet) exist.
  2. The tablet that comes closest to my ideal is one of the least popular tablets to hit the market: the BlackBerry PlayBook.

Ironically, I once owned BlackBerry PlayBook (16 GB). I loved the hardware, I loved the operating system, I loved the size (7"). I even shot some decent video on its HD camera. The one thing I did NOT love about it - and what led me to eventually sell it over 6 months ago - was its severely lacking app library compared to its competitors.

Then began my tablet quest.

At the time, I still had a work-issued iPad 2. And there is no doubt that Apple makes very good, very popular tablets. But I soon missed the smaller, easier to hold PlayBook, the stereo front-facing speakers, the better cameras, the true multi-tasking of the PlayBook OS, and other things that I really loved about the PlayBook. I eventually got another job and I had to leave the iPad behind.

But I missed having a tablet. I knew I didn't want something as big as an iPad, so I looked at other 7" tablets, but for one reason or another, I didn't find any of them appealing enough to purchase. Here are the tablets have been on my list, what I liked and did not like about them, and why I eventually passed them up:

Nexus 7

  • Price - starting at $200, arguably the best value in a tablet as of the day I write this post
  • OS/User Interface - get the latest Android OS updates straight from Google. A "pure" Android experience without any bloatware or interface layers added
  • Apps - access to Google Play with an app selection second only to Apple's App Store, and it's still growing
  • Beefy specs - quad core Tegra 3 processor and 1 GB RAM, ideal for resource intensive games and apps
  • Camera - no rear-facing camera, and the front-facing isn't even HD
  • Limited storage options - only 16 or 32 GB available, not expandable
  • Speaker location - on the back towards the bottom

Why I passed on it

I currently own a Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone. I already get to enjoy the benefits of a pure Android experience and OS updates straight from Google. I didn't want to have a tablet that felt like larger version of my phone, I wanted some variety.

Kindle Fire HD

  • Price - starting at $200, a lot of bang for your buck
  • Beautiful HD screen
  • Easy access to Amazon's great media content and services
  • Speaker location - not front-facing but better than most
  • App selection - weak. Amazon is using a forked version of Android and their own app store.
  • OS/User Interface - Clearly designed for media browsing and consumption, but not much else. Many reviewers said it was sluggish.
  • Limited storage options - like the Nexus 7, only 16 and 32 GB models available and not expandable

Why I passed on it

I love Amazon, and I really liked the idea of being able to have better access to their media content and services, but I want to use a tablet for more than just media consumption and shopping, which it's clear is the main focus of the Kindle Fire HD. If you want to use it for productivity or presentations, for example, the functionality is limited. Also, the overall look and feel of the hardware didn't appeal to me, with the exception of the HD screen.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0

  • Expandable storage - add up to 64 GB using SD card slot
  • Built-in stylus and stylus support - one of the strong points of the Note 8.0. I could definitely see myself using it for jotting quick notes or drawing diagrams.
  • Split-screen support - Samsung's attempt at multi-tasking. Allows you to have 2 apps displayed simultaneously on the screen with a movable bar separating them. Only supported by a handful of apps, but I like the concept and would definitely make use of it.
  • Beefy specs - quad core CPU, 2 GB ram, definitely some good processing power and speed
  • Price - Starts at $400, pricey for a 7-8" tablet
  • Cheap, plasticky feel - I don't mind plastic, but the smooth, plastic back on this device feels and looks cheap
  • OS updates from Samsung, not Google

Why I passed on it

This was my favorite of the Android-based tablets I looked at. I really liked the nice, vibrant screen, expandable storage, great specs, and stylus features. But what it came down to is that it wasn't worth $400 to me. I'd want a more quality (less plasticky) look and feel at that price.

iPad Mini

  • Apps, apps, apps - this is really the bread and butter of iPads. The app selection on iOS is still second to none. Android is catching up in some ways, but you still can't beat an iPad where apps are concerned.
  • Thin, quality construction - Apple makes quality products that look great, and the iPad Mini is no exception
  • Screen area - the most screen area of any tablet in its class
  • Battery life - hard to beat compared to its peers
  • Cheaper and smaller than iPad
  • Screen resolution - not a Retina display
  • Scratch and dent prone - the back is prone to scratching and denting.
  • Lightning connector - I'm sure it's very fast, but it's yet another proprietary cable that you can't use with any other device or even older iDevices
  • iOS is looking and feeling dated compared to other mobile OSes
  • Older internal components - it's iPad 2 hardware crammed into a smaller form factor

Why I passed on it

I came very, very close to getting an iPad Mini. The main reason? Apps. Hands down, this is the main strength of iOS devices. That said, the iPad isn't quite as versatile as I want it to be. iOS (still) does not support true multi-tasking and is looking rather long in the tooth, compared to other mobile OSes. There's only one port and you have to use adapters depending on what you want to do. For me, this could be problematic. For example, you can't charge it while you have it connected to an external display. The screen was another turn-off. If I'm going to get an iOS device, I want a Retina display. But would a Retina display be enough to sway me? At the end of the day, probably not.

So with the iPad Mini, it really came down to the apps. Did I want access to Apple's gargantuan library of apps enough to overlook the things I disliked about it? I agonized over this question for a while, but ultimately decided the answer was no. Apps aren't everything (to me).

So why did I go with the BlackBerry PlayBook (again)?

Like I said, apps aren't everything

Apps are, perhaps, the most important aspect of any mobile device. They enable you to use the operating system, computing power, and hardware of your device to do what you want/need. The PlayBook is severely lacking in this area, but - at least to me - apps aren't everything.

Hardware matters. Things like the quality of a tablet's design and build, where the speakers are located, or what kind of port(s) it has may not be very important to most people, but they're very important to me. If I'm going to invest hundreds of dollars in something I want it to be the best quality possible and last long enough for me to be able to get some kind of return on my investment.

It's a sad commentary on recent "innovation" in the tablet industry when a 2 year old tablet still has among the best overall hardware of any similar-sized tablet on the market today.

Operating System

I believe the PlayBook OS is, by far, the best of any tablet out there. Things like bezel swipe gestures and true multi-tasking make the PlayBook a joy to use and are sadly absent in its competitors. In my experience, Android and iOS really can't compete with PlayBook OS as far as features and functionality. The following video is a quick demonstration of some of the things the PlayBook can do:

BlackBerry 10

There is a very good possibility that BlackBerry 10 - the OS running on BlackBerry's newest smartphones - will be coming to the PlayBook. This would breathe some new life into the PlayBook and enhance its functionality and usefulness.  But even if BlackBerry decides to pan the PlayBook completely, its current OS has enough functionality and features that I could be very happy with it for a while yet.


I'm picky about audio quality. Most of the time I'm fine with using ear buds or headphones. Other times, I prefer to listen to the built-in speakers while I watch a video, or just listen as I do other things. And sometimes I like to set the tablet down while it's playing audio.

Rear-facing speakers in tablets like the iPad and Nexus 7 limit your options, here. If you're holding the tablet and using/watching it, the sound is projected away from you. I actually found myself cupping my hand around the iPad's rear speaker to try direct the sound towards me. Not very practical. You can't lay the tablet down on a soft surface like carpet or a bed if you need to see the screen, too. Your only option in that case is to use a hard surface like a table or counter.

The Kindle Fire HD comes closer to my ideal, as the sound from its rear speakers can also project out the sides of the device, but the sound is still projected away from you.

The PlayBook has stereo speakers mounted on the front on either side of the screen, probably the most optimal location for speakers on a tablet. The sound is always directed upward and toward you, no matter whether you are holding it or laying it flat on a hard or soft surface. And for a mobile device, the PlayBook's speakers are of surprisingly good quality.

Adobe Flash Support

Android used to support flash, but has officially ditched it in favor of HTML 5. You can still run flash on Android, but it takes some doing on your part. iOS never supported flash and never will. The PlayBook, however, supports flash out of the box and will run it like a champ. Some websites and online video services still use flash, and the PlayBook is the only 7" tablet that can easily run this content with no extra effort on your part.


The PlayBook's multitasking and HDMI out functionality makes it a strong candidate for running presentations, which I think will come in quite handy in my current profession. Most tablets allow you to connect to external displays/projectors, but usually the display is mirrored. If you want to do a professional, dynamic, seamless presentation using multiple apps, without showing the home screen or app switcher on your presentation display, you have to go with a PlayBook. Clearly, this is another area where the PlayBook excels.

My smartphone can pick up the slack

Since I sold my last PlayBook, I have acquired a Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone. It's not the latest and greatest Android phone available, but it is able to take full advantage of Google Play and its vast Android app library. It should help me compensate for the PlayBook's poor app selection. I can also use it as a WiFi hotspot and connect my PlayBook to it when I'm on the road.


At the end of the day, this is probably the biggest consideration for me. I love gadgets, but I have a family to provide for and more important financial goals to reach. With every technology purchase I make, I try to find the absolute best value for my money.

I would never have bought a 64 GB PlayBook at its list price of $699, but due to its unpopularity, the price has been drastically cut. A new 64 GB PlayBook currently sells on Amazon for $190.00. That's a great deal for what you get, considering 64 GB iPad Minis are going for $530. At $200 the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD offer a quarter of the storage capacity.

Then there are accessories. PlayBook accessories are also relatively inexpensive. For example, 2 rapid-charging dock stands, 2 HDMI cables, and a Bluetooth keyboard case cost $70 total on Amazon.

So for a total cost of $260, I could get a 64 GB PlayBook plus the accessories above. For that same amount I could get a 16 GB Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire and maybe an accessory or two. I'd need another $50+ to get a 16 GB iPad without accessories, or an additional $140 to get a Galaxy Note 8.0 with no accessories.

From a price standpoint, the PlayBook made the most sense to me.

I'm a fickle tech geek

The problem with being a gadget and technology lover is that technology is constantly evolving. Almost as soon as you buy that "cutting edge" gadget, a newer, more "cutting edge" gadget emerges to knock it off its pedestal. If money were no object, I would gladly own the latest and greatest gadgets. But like most people money is a finite resource.

But even if I had all the money in the world, I fully admit that I would probably never be completely satisfied with the gadgets I owned, even if they were the latest and greatest. So why spend huge amounts of money to have the latest gadgets when I know I'll be tired of them soon, anyway? When the time comes to replace my PlayBook, I'll feel a lot better about having spent only $260 on it.

In short

There are some great tablets in the 7"-8" range, each with their own unique merits and weaknesses. After carefully considering the most popular models, I realized that none of them provided the experience I'm looking for. But I remembered my experience as a former PlayBook owner, and I realized it still comes the closest to my ideal, offering the best combination of my preferred features and functionality at a great price.

So, assuming the tracking information is correct, as of this Wednesday I will once again be a BlackBerry PlayBook owner. And this time around, I know I'll have no regrets.

Am I overlooking something? Want to share your experience or insight? Please leave a comment!


  1. Great review, Dallin! I'm definitely going to get your opinion the next time I'm preparing to buy, um ... anything.


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