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BlackBerry PlayBook Review: Good Hardware Seeks Great Software

Author: Matt Smith
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: BlackBerry

Display and Audio Quality, Camera Quality

Display and Audio Quality

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The small 7” display on the PlayBook boasts a resolution of 1024x600, which is a fair bit less than what you’ll find on 10” tablets like the iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 10.1 but on par with the 7” Samsung Galaxy Tab. Although a higher resolution might result in somewhat finer details, the quality of the display is not in the least bit compromised by resolution.

Like all tablets, a coat of gloss is painted across whatever you happen to be viewing. However, BlackBerry is the only company to so far take a major step in combating the problem, in this case by offering a backlight that is extraordinarily bright. This makes it possible to use the tablet outside on a sunny day, although I would not go so far to say the experience is enjoyable in direct sunlight. If you can find some shade, however, glare won’t be an issue.

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Unfortunately, this calibration in favor of brightness has consequences for image quality. Test images revealed that the black level performance of this display is quite poor. Indeed, this problem was severe enough to be significantly visible in contrast test images, which obviously faded into shades of gray before they should. Because of this, there is a clear degradation of quality when viewing images or videos with dark colors –they tend to bleed into pools of featureless black, and much detail is lost.

Audio quality is also reasonable, but lacking in detail. The speakers, which are visually obvious thanks to the slits on either side of the tablet’s face, are loud enough to be used in an environment with a moderate amount of background noise. However, as they approach maximum volume there’s some distortion, resulting in loss of detail when listening to music and any video clip with audio content beyond voices. The experience is adequate, but nothing more.

Camera Quality

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Photography with tablets is often a problem due to their larger size, as it’s quite awkward to try and take a picture with something large, long and thin, supported on either side by wobbly human arms.

The small size of RIM’s tablet makes this a potentially better candidate for quick pictures, but unfortunately it’s hampered by an exceedingly poor 5 megapixel primary camera. It’s obvious from photographs that the sensor isn’t up to par. Significant noise is apparent in any image that’s not taken in an extremely bright room or outdoors mid-day. To make matters worse, there is no LED flash to compensate. Most indoor images are a muddy mess as a result, particularly after the sun has gone down and you’re forced to rely on artificial lighting.

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Using the front-facing 3 megapixel camera didn’t provide better results, particularly where noise is concerned, but this is more acceptable considering the expected usage of that particular camera. If you’re simply looking to snap a quick pic or video chat, the front-facing quality will be fine so long as you’re in a room with decent lighting.

Video quality was acceptable, but suffered from a lack of sharpness which, again, is probably due to a lackluster sensor. Although capable of recording 1080p content, the actual quality of video recorded at that resolution certainly isn’t up to the standard of quality most users will associate with 1080p.

July 15, 2011 | 02:52 PM - Posted by schmidtec

One thing about using an instant messenger: imo.im ||| You can use imo.im by using the Browser. I've used it for Skype, and even used it for a Skype Video call. Save a shortcut to the Home Screen and it's as good as a native app.

July 15, 2011 | 04:20 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

Thanks for the tip! I did not realize that, as I use it on Android.

July 15, 2011 | 04:55 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

I'll admit that it does certainly look nice!

July 15, 2011 | 10:15 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Agreed. Holding it and using it I feel that it is the best form factor for a tablet, even over the iPad.

August 21, 2011 | 10:00 PM - Posted by John Hanks (not verified)

I'm not sure what video issue you had and why you didn't compare it to the iPad's anemic video and audio.

Most reviewes that I've seen note that the audio is best in class and the video is great. I've taken quite a few videos on my Playbook and also copied some onto it that were taken on a Blackberry or with a digital camera and everybody that I show it to remarks how clear and good the video is. I usually have brightness set to about 50% too.

The lack of a camera flash is a problem for sure, but with enough ambient light, they pictures sure look good.

Maybe I missed it, but did you note how easy it is to transfer files back and forth via USB or even via WiFi in another room?

You also mention in passing the Blackberry Bridge, like it's nothing important. The ability to hand a Playbook off to someone else and switch their PIM stuff to their Blackberry is a Plus in many situations and if I lose mine or it's stolen, my email and stuff is not on it.

Are you aware of the Bridge Browser and Tethering?

For sure, we need a few more apps for the Playbook, but it's still quite useful as is. I was camping a couple of weeks ago and came down from the mountains into town. I tethered to my Blackberry and VNC'd into my server to make a change and fix a little glitch.

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