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A League Of Their Own

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For a name known only in American sporting parlance, the word PlayBook is an odd choice coming out of the enterprise-heavy stables of BlackBerry. With their new tablet though, it is clear that Research in Motion isn't just trying to do a me-too on the iPad. Instead, the PlayBook sports a brand new operating system mated with more than capable hardware, and versatile app platform that shows promise. Here's the lowdown on the first tablet that's truly excited me since the iPad…
 
What's Truly Great
Multitasking: Let's get this out of the way. The multi-tasking on the device is a revelation for what we've seen pass for multitasking on mobile platforms thus far. Swipe upwards while you're in any application and you can pull up all the open programs in a card-like interface not unlike Palm's webOS. Unlike other tablet OSs, including the iPad, the multitasking really works – it's amazing to start recording a video, swipe away to start a download and then start playing a game, and swipe back to see that the video is still recording! The magic really is in the implementation – while the PlayBook packs in a TI OMAP4430 1-GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM, specs similar to the iPad2 and top-end Android tablets – the experience is something else. 
 
What's Good
Gesture-enabled Interface: With a slightly enlarged bezel surrounding the 7-inch display, the PlayBook packs in a gesture-based user interface, so folks hunting for a home screen button may be a little confused to begin with. Fortunately, RIM makes you go through a tutorial when you set up the device, after which it's actually fun to be swiping up from the bottom of the frame, no matter which way you're holding the device, to reveal the home screen or switching between apps.
 
Form Factor: Despite its heft, I found the PlayBook's 7inch form factor was perfect for extended one-handed viewing and carrying around everywhere. Small enough to fit in a purse or jacket pocket, something you can't do with the iPad 2. It's heavier than the Galaxy Tab, though.
 
Multimedia: The bright and clear 1200x600pixel touch screen rivals the iPad2's, in terms of both media playback and responsive touch feedback. With the 1080p HDMI-out capabilities, you can take the PlayBook onto a big screen for stutter-free playback of HD movies etc. Added bonus, you can run a movie on the HDTV while doing something else (like browsing the web) on the PlayBook. Oh, and don't get fooled by the small speaker grilles – they're loud enough for small rooms.  Cameras (3MP front, 5MP rear) are a tad slow to get started, but results are above average, capturing stutter-free 1080p clips that play back well even on a largescreen TV. Video chat is nice (works via BlackBerry IDs), but needs PlayBooks on both ends.
 
Web Browsing: Tired of a stunted mobile web browsing experience? PlayBook's browser runs Flash 10.1 so you can run web video and games right from within the browser. The closest to a desktop browsing experience I've seen so far on a tablet, with the responsive pinch-to-zoom goodness that tablets have by now perfected.
 
Wireless File Sharing: When connected to your PC via USB, you can either drag and drop files to the PlayBook or use RIM's BlackBerry Desktop Software. If you're on a wireless network, you can also wirelessly sync files by turning on the PlayBook's Wi-Fi Sharing feature.
 
Pricing: With the pricing, RIM seems to have gotten the pricing right. Now if only they'd launched with a 3G version as well… the current models are Wi-Fi only.
 
Bridge Mode: If you own a ‘berry, you can securely tether the PlayBook and your phone (over Bluetooth) and access your corporate email, messenger (BBM), mobile internet, tasks and notes on your tablet. Turn Bridge off, and there's no trace of your email etc. on the tablet, perfect for enterprises that might look to share the PlayBook among different employees. Or for that matter, if you hand over the tablet to your kid to play Need for Speed….
 
Fast Keyboard: All touchscreen and no keys makes PlayBook a slow typist? Fortunately, it's a BlackBerry at heart, and the keyboard is fast and accurate. Within no time, I was barreling away at the keyboard. Bear in mind though, I've taken very well to good on-screen keyboards, so your mileage may vary.
 
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What's Not
Bridge Mode: Bridge may work well if you have a BlackBerry, but if you don't, the PlayBook effectively doesn't have a native email application. You could make the case that it makes the device more secure, but I'm pretty sure an app for your personal email would be very welcome. RIM says there is one on the way, though.
 
Apps: Before I dwell on the apps situation for the PlayBook, let me say this – I had a blast playing the bundled EA's "Need for Speed Undercover,", plus I liked the included Documents to Go for viewing and editing Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. That said, you have to ask what's next? Many of the other apps are just shortcuts to Web pages, such as Twitter and Facebook. Head over the BlackBerry App World, and you realize there is a massive paucity of apps for the platform, and until the 3rd party apps come, don't hold your breath – Android and iOS platforms offer infinitely more choice. RIM's said Android app support is on its way by year-end, which may finally help realize the PlayBook's potential of a solid business tablet.
 
Evolving Platform: It's a new platform, so be prepared for some rough ends as RIM rolls out updates to fix bugs and the occasional software instability. There were times I felt this product felt a bit rushed to the market, and some time and effort in getting more 3rd party developers on board would have allowed me to warm up to the PlayBook even more.
 
No 3G model: None, yet. On the cards, though, but unless you tote a 'berry, the PlayBook won't be very handy outside the house/office Wi-Fi. Factor that into the costs, and the pricing adds up.
 
Rating: 8/10
Price: Rs 27,990 (16GB), Rs 32,990 (32GB), Rs 37,990(64 GB)
URL: http://bit.ly/lo9w0F
 
Pocket Friendly Wonder
With digital SLR prices dropping and mirrorless compact interchangeable lens cameras seeing traction, is there enough of a market for the do-it-all superzoom category of prosumer cameras? Fujifilm certainly seems to think so, and the latest FinePix S3300 camera is taking the fight to the competition with its extremely attractive pricing.
 
On the specs front, the S3300 ticks all the right boxes – it packs in a 14 megapixel CCD sensor with dual image stabilisation. Translated, that means the camera a combination of high sensor sensitivity and CCD shift type image stabilisation, which stabilises the sensor against blue caused by camera shake. Pretty critical considering the headline feature of the camera is its 26x optical zoom lens, which starts at a very respectable 24mm wide angle and goes all the way to a monstrous 624mm. Add to that a 2 cm macro mode, which allows focusing on small objects as close as 2cm away from the lens.
 
This bundle of gear is packed into a plastic but rugged digital SLR-esque body which belies the price of the camera. Tipping the scales at over 500 grams, this is no featherweight, and while I'm all for premium heft, this one felt a bit too heavy, possibly due to the use of 4 AA batteries for power instead of a proprietary battery.
 
Performance at start-up was snappy, and the camera is ready to shoot in no time. Daylight pictures are pretty good, and offer great sharpness and vivid colours that are a tad too saturated for my taste. Indoors, the results are mixed, with the camera adding in a lot of noise to the images.
 
Take one look at the price, and you forget most flaws. At an MRP of under Rs 16,000, there is simply nothing with this kind of offering that comes within sniffing distance of the S3300. Recommended for the budget conscious buyer who wants it all.
 
Rating: 8/10
Price: Rs 15,999
URL: http://bit.ly/mmX1ir

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