BlackBerry Bridge Tethering Feature

By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2011-04-18 Print this article Print


For those addicted to their BlackBerry-easily identified by the permanent notch in their pants' waistlines, from the clip for their device holder-the decision to purchase a PlayBook is perhaps an easier one. Via the BlackBerry Bridge tethering feature, the PlayBook can display a nearby BlackBerry's emails, calendar and other vital information, which disappears once the smartphone is taken out of range.

For early adopters, BlackBerry Bridge is also the only access to anything resembling a native email and calendar app. While the PlayBook's home screen offers shortcuts to Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, Gmail and AOL Mail accounts, these all open in the browser. RIM is promising a native app that consolidates email across various accounts, but it could take months before this appears. In the meantime, those who live with their BlackBerry practically grafted to their hand will have a decided advantage over those who chose an Android, Windows Phone or iOS device.

Although the PlayBook currently lacks a built-in 3G connection, those wanting WiFi on the road can tether the tablet to a Bluetooth-enabled device. In other words, the PlayBook (in its current form) isn't a stand-alone tablet like the others on the market; if you want the broadest possible functionality, whether to update your calendar or use Bing Maps while in the car, you'll need a secondary device. This could prove a deal killer for some people.

As befitting a manufacturer for devices aimed primarily at business, the PlayBook offers a selection of built-in productivity software. Word To Go, Sheet To Go and Slideshow To Go allow the user to view documents and perform light edits. Adobe Reader displays PDFs very handsomely on the PlayBook's 7-inch screen, although the gesture controls can prove frustratingly unresponsive at moments.

When it comes to transferring files, the PlayBook is essentially the world's most expensive USB stick. After connecting the tablet to a PC, and installing the appropriate driver, a window pops up with a list of folders. You can drag files to and from those folders for seamless loading (and off-loading).

BlackBerry's App World does feature a selection of additional productivity apps, but that storefront feels positively sparse in comparison to those offered by Google and Apple. Presumably, HP will make a concerted pitch to tablet-app developers once its webOS-based devices begin rolling out this summer, and Microsoft could do something similar once it begins a harder consumer-tablet push in the United States. RIM is in something of a double-bind here: While the company could embrace support for Android apps in order to compensate for its current lack, that runs the risk of strangling any developer enthusiasm for its homegrown platform.

In any case, if apps are indeed the key to a particular device's popularity, then RIM finds itself in something of a poor position-and likely hoping, as with the native email app, that additional time and work will somehow fix the situation. Given the aggression of RIM's competitors in the space, though, that time is probably limited.

On top of lacking games, native email support and a broad selection of apps, the PlayBook is also a little buggy. The browser crashes, occasionally, and the screen sometimes refuses to obey your increasingly frantic finger-swipes. The clock on eWEEK's review unit refuses to budge from 14 minutes behind. The Bing Maps app requires a bit of wrestling. One hopes that future updates will iron out some of these minor kinks.

If you own a BlackBerry-or belong to a company that's BlackBerry-centric and obsessed with mobile-device security-then the PlayBook is probably worth your consideration. BlackBerry-free individuals and companies, though, may want to hold off until RIM bakes more functionality into (and removes some of the bugs from) the platform.

In essence, the PlayBook feels like a work in progress. The question is whether people will give RIM's device the time it needs to develop into a full-on tablet competitor.


Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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