The BlackBerry PlayBook Reviewby Anand Lal Shimpi on April 13, 2011 9:00 PM EST
The PlayBook Browser
Two years ago RIM acquired Torch Mobile, a development house that happened to be a significant contributor to the WebKit project. WebKit also happens to be the foundation for both Google Chrome and Safari (both Mac and iOS versions). Torch Mobile had its own WebKit based browser called Iris, which eventually got folded into BlackBerry OS 6.0 and launched with the BlackBerry Torch.
The PlayBook expands upon Torch Mobile's work with one of the strongest parts of the BlackBerry tablet experience. The PlayBook's browser technically supports tabs however the tab bar isn't always visible as it is with Honeycomb. The PlayBook handles browsing multiple web pages better than the iPad, but not nearly as well as the Xoom.
Scrolling is incredibly smooth, even on Flash enabled web pages. Scroll down too quickly and you'll get an empty screen that takes a moment to catch up with your scrolling. It's not uncommon to see this on iOS, it happens less with the iPad 2 and it seems to happen more with the PlayBook.
Web page compatibility is ridiculously good with the PlayBook's browser, partially due to RIM's excellent implementation of hardware accelerated Flash 10.2. Corner cases that wouldn't work on Android or iOS work perfectly on the PlayBook. While I personally prefer the UI of Honeycomb's browser and the size/screen of the iPad 2, the PlayBook probably offers the best browsing experience from a pure software standpoint of any of the tablets.
RIM's tablet browser passes the Acid3 test and scores higher on the HTML5test than both the iPad 2 and Honeycomb. The PlayBook user agent comes up as: Mozilla 5.0 (PlayBook; U; RIM Tablet OS 1.0.0; en-US) AppleWebKit/534.8 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/0.0.1 Safari/534.8+.
Nearly all websites treat the PlayBook as a desktop browser and don't force you to a mobile version of the site. This is true for video sites as well, like Hulu and YouTube.
Having full Flash functionality built in to the browser is nice. You can disable Flash entirely if you want to, but leaving it enabled doesn't really impact performance all that much - even scrolling with Flash ads in place remains pretty smooth.
Sites that depend entirely on Flash work on the PlayBook, although controlling pure Flash sites can be a problem. Case in point: Pandora. The web version of Pandora is fully functional on the PlayBook, albeit slow to load. The trouble comes in when you try to use Pandora's integrated scroll bar or actually switch stations. Pandora is optimized for a mouse driven experience, not a touch UI, resulting in a lot of frustrating tapping and really slow scrolling. It's workable, but definitely not desirable.
Flash video players also work on the the PlayBook within its browser. I was reading an article on abcnews.com the other day with an embedded video. I just tapped the video and it started playing immediately. The same for embedded Hulu videos in Facebook. The YouTube website also works, although RIM ships the PlayBook with a dedicated YouTube client for better browsing.
The problem with embedded Flash video is the same as the Pandora issue: control. You can't really hover to expose controls with a touchscreen so what you end up doing is a lot of quick tapping to try and bring up controls, change the setting you want and get back to playing the video. It's frustrating and doesn't work all of the time. None of this is RIM's fault, but now that tablets are at the point where they can start to behave like notebook/desktops web developers will have to rethink the way they build websites. The web is still the unifying platform between all OSes, it's just a few steps behind in becoming touch optimized.