A Functional Bezel

The PlayBook supports all of the basic gestures we've come to expect from mobile devices with a capacitive touchscreen. There's flick to scroll, pinch to zoom and pretty much anything else you'll encounter on an iOS or Android based device. What RIM adds with the PlayBook are gestures that originate in the bezel of the device.

Any gestures within the 7-inch LCD area control the currently running app. Any gestures that originate in the bezel around the screen however are a different story. The first is the unlock gesture. Swipe up/down, left/right or the opposite direction when the PlayBook is asleep and you'll wake it up. There's no support for passcode locking and no physical unlock switch (although the power button will work in a pinch) - all you need to do is take one finger starting from a point on the bezel and slide it up or across. I've noticed that you have to be pretty committed when unlocking, anything less than swiping up/across 50% of the screen won't register as an unlock swipe. I suspect this is to ensure that no accidental swipes unlock the PlayBook when in your pocket/purse/othercavity.

Once unlocked, a swipe up from the bottom bezel will do one of two things depending on the state of the PlayBook. If you're at the home screen, swiping up from the bottom bezel brings up the entire app launcher instead of just the top row of apps. If you're in an app, a swipe up will reduce the active app to a thumbnail, expose the webOS-style task switcher and display a part of the home screen.

Swipe from the top bezel downward within an app and you'll either reveal a contextual menu for the app or you'll pull down the system settings page.

What about the left/right bezel? That's what you use to quickly switch between apps of course. Imagine an infinitely wide desktop where your viewport is big enough to hold on full screen app. To get to any active (even paused) app to the left or right of what you're currently looking at, just swipe left (or right) beginning in the bezel and you'll swap apps. If you only have one app running the OS will try to animate your current app sliding away but it'll bounce back, as if to tell you that you've reached the end of the horizontal list.

The bezel gestures don't stop there. Swipe up from the lower left corner and you'll bring up the PlayBook's virtual keyboard, in any app. This is a particularly puzzling gesture because you can bring up the keyboard even in apps that can't use a keyboard. And no, the keyboard shortcuts from the BlackBerry OS don't work on the PlayBook.

The lower right corner doesn't do anything but swipe from either of the upper two corners and you activate what RIM calls the peek gesture. The peek gesture gives you a quick look at the top status bar - including any notifications, date/time and battery status.

The bezel based gestures work well on the PlayBook although I'm not sure how long term of a solution this will be. Users tend to prefer thinner bezels - a direction I ultimately see all tablets going.

Introduction QNX: The PlayBook OS
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  • Ethaniel - Wednesday, April 13, 2011 - link

    ... great job, Anand. Reply
  • tipoo - Wednesday, April 13, 2011 - link

    Did you have anything running in the background there? Gizmodo and Engadget both got within 10% of the iPad 2's score, the one here seems to be much slower.

    Anyways, as usual this is easily one of the best reviews.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Wednesday, April 13, 2011 - link

    This may be a sunspider 0.9 vs. 0.91 issue, RIM said the same thing but 0.9 for some reason gives us the scores you see on the PlayBook vs. the competition (just re-ran again to be sure).

    I'm still waiting for a response from RIM as to why the relative performance comparison is much worse under 0.9. We've stuck with 0.9 to maintain backwards compatibility with our older smartphone numbers but if need be I'll switch over to 0.91 for tablets.

    I'm running 0.91 numbers now, let's see what I come up with.

    Thanks for reading and your kind words :)

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, April 14, 2011 - link

    This is definitely a 0.9.1 vs. 0.9.0 issue. I'm not sure what is causing the PlayBook to choke on 0.9.0. I will update the article with 0.9.1 numbers as well.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • 8steve8 - Wednesday, April 13, 2011 - link

    very high black levels on the screen is disappointing. (samoled/samoled+ is amazing)

    Also the bezel looks like its a huge percentage of the surface area, which is ugly.

    7" seems to be the worst size, too big for pockets, too small for ideal consumption of entertainment or web.

    The Base OS seems decent, although without email or calendar, we will have to give this another look in august.

    That said, I still find tablets a niche device that few situations actually call for. Usually I find myself wanting a physical keyboard, or at least more screen space while typing. Also if you have to constantly hold it up, or buy a stand, why not use little laptops laptops, the screens don't need a stand : )

    I find it a good device for a coffee table or any profession where you are standing/not at a table. Otherwise I'll stick to smartphone/laptop or desktop.
    Reply
  • Solandri - Thursday, April 14, 2011 - link

    The contrast ratio is the same as the iPad 2, so the high black levels is an artifact of the high white levels. In other words, if you turned down the brightness to match the max brightness of the iPad 2, the black levels should be the same as on the iPad 2.

    Along the same lines, I'm wondering what was the brightness setting during the battery tests. Usually reviewers do something like set brightness to half during the battery tests. But that seems a bit unfair since the Playbook's screen is so much brighter than the competition's. Wouldn't a more fair comparison be to set its brightness output to be the same number of nits as the iPad 2 in its battery test? In effect, think of the screen as the same as the iPad 2, but with the option to really crank up the brightness if you're outdoors in sunlight.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, April 14, 2011 - link

    So our old method was to set everything to 50%, but lately I've been doing brightness matching right around ~150 nits on these tablets.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • HilbertSpace - Wednesday, April 13, 2011 - link

    Conclusion page:

    "I'm glad to see RIM experimenting with form factors. After using the Galaxy Tab 8.9 at CTIA I felt that may be the perfect balance between portability and functionality. The 7-inch PlayBook "

    - something got mixed up there.
    Reply
  • Aikouka - Wednesday, April 13, 2011 - link

    I wonder if the browser would be better if you had the option to hide the menu/address bar? Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, April 14, 2011 - link

    You actually do have the option to hide the menu/address bar, it's in the upper right corner of the browser. That does improve things but it also makes it less convenient to navigate to the next website.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply

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