A PlayBook Sequel…

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(or BlackBerry and Android in peaceful coexistence)

BlackBerry’s ill-fated PlayBook turns five this week. I bought it when it came out and have loved the device since day one. (Heck, I still use it!) It may have been a disaster in the market, but it was and remains my favorite tablet. For me, the great screen and speakers coupled with a very fluid OS more than made up for the terrible app selection that plagues the platform that became BlackBerry OS 10 to this day. However, time marches on, and with BlackBerry’s excellent Android software from the Priv installed on a contemporary Android tablet, I think I’ve finally found hardware and software to replace my now ancient BlackBerry PlayBook.

The Hardware: Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 ($218CDN at BestBuy)

I’ve owned many tablets over the years. An original iPad, an iPad 3, iPad 4, iPad Air, iPad Mini 2, several BlackBerry PlayBooks, and a host of Android Tablets including but not limited to the Asus Nexus 7 (2012 an 2013) the EeePad Transformer, several Archos tablets, and a few others I’ve forgotten about along the way. Of all of them, Lenovo’s Yoga Tablet line and the BlackBerry PlayBook have been my favourites. In both cases, the hardware is fantastic. My latest, and the tablet that ends out being the best for running BlackBerry’s Android software, is the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3. It comes in 8″ and 10″ variants that both run at 1280×800. They sell for $230 and $300 at BestBuy. I opted for the 8″, as I have a 10″ Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 Pro from 2014 that does a decent but imperfect job of running BlackBerry’s software, and it seemed wasteful to buy the 2015 version, as it is much slower, has a better screen, and is otherwise practically identical to the 2015 version. So, on to the Yoga Tab 3.

I honestly think the Tab 3 is the best small tablet I’ve used. Then design is subtly refined compared to the original Yoga tablet. The speaker is much better, the hinge is stiffer, and the OS is faster. This still is a low-end tablet, so the build quality is still a little below the PlayBook but it’s much faster, and, when coupled with BlackBerry’s software, has a great virtual keyboard, the hub, a contemporary Web browser, and is a very solid upgrade for me. I even like it more than the iPad Mini2 I bought in late 2015.

Also, it retains the SD slot, so I can add up to 128GB fairly affordably.

There’s something about Lenovo’s hardware design with their Yoga tablet line that keeps me coming back to it. The Tab 3 is the fourth Lenovo Yoga-style tablet I’ve bought. The hardware has been consistently great, the software not so much. In true Android fashion, Lenovo has been rather terrible at upgrading their hardware to newer versions of Android. So, my original 8″ Yoga Tablet is stuck at 4.4, and the Yoga Pro 2 10″ and 13″ that I bought for work are stuck at 5.0. I suspect that the Tab 3 will be stuck at 5.1.1, which for my purposes is actually perfect right now. That’s because 5.1.1 is the version that works best with BlackBerry’s Android APKs.

The Software: BlackBerry’s Android Software on tablets

Using Cobalt’s BlackBerry Manager, I have turned this lowly, inexpensive Lenovo tablet into the BlackBerry tablet that will likely never be released. This is a shame, too, as the Priv’s BlackBerry apps that I have running on the Tab 3 work great. BlackBerry’s virtual keyboard is unquestionably the best available on the market, and their Hub, Calendar, Notes, and Tasks are better than anything I’ve used on Android. To this, you also get the added bonus of BlackBerry Search, the only on-device search app I’ve used on Android that’s any good at all.

The Hub brings it’s own MS Exchange support, which makes calendar, notes, and task integration a snap. I’m typing this in the Notes app and will be able to edit these notes properly using Remember on my BlackBerry Passport. I wish that BlackBerry would port Remember to Android, but it looks like they’re sticking with separate Notes and Tasks apps instead.

The Hub works similarly to the BlackBerry OS 10 counterpart. It’s similar but not identical. There are aspects of each that I prefer, but for sure the Hub is the best message manager on Android that I’ve ever seen. I am taken aback at how easily BlackBerry was able to come in to the Android space and quickly punch out Android apps that are orders of magnitude better than anything else that exists on the platform. Finally, we have an excellent and usable calendar, mail client, notes client, etc. Imagine how much they will be able to accomplish if they keep working on Android apps. It excites me, even as I am disappointed by the lack of development of BlackBerry’s fantastic OS 10.

One of the first features of the PlayBook that I appreciated was Bridge. Bridge was the original way that the PlayBook had PIM apps. It essentially gave you a remote view of your BlackBerry phone. (This meant mail, contacts, calendar, text messages, etc.) Bridge was rendered useless with the move to then newer BlackBerry OS 10 devices. BlackBerry has since released BlackBerry Blend. It’s Bridge taken to a new level, allowing Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android devices become remote views of your BlackBerry OS 10 phone. Blend is one of the reasons I stick with BlackBerry OS 10, as there’s nothing really like it for other platforms. Blend also works perfectly with the Tab 3, of course.

Daily Use

I’ve been using BlackBerry’s Android software on and off for a few months now, including intensively on an LG G3 for a few weeks at the start of the year, and am pleased with how well it works. What was missing for me was a proper, perfectly working version of the software on a tablet I actually like using. Prior to the Tab 3, the only tablet that worked perfectly with BlackBerry’s software was the 2012 Nexus 7, which was getting to be very slow and limited (due to the lack of SD slot.) The Tab 3 sounds great, is expandable, and runs the software flawlessly. It’s a great buy for anyone interested in what an Android-based tablet from BlackBerry might look like.

So, I’m actually pretty happy with this. The device itself was $250 CDN after taxes, which irks me given the $165 USD price tag and the mediocre speed of the device, still, the PlayBook is almost five years old now and is just too creaky for much of what I used it for.

Onward and upward. At least with the Priv APKs, BlackBerry is letting me have the software experience I’ve been looking for on Android. I hope they eventually start selling their apps in the Play Store. They’re fabulous and really do elevate the platform.

GoSaBe Blog - Apr 17, 2016 | BlackBerry, Hardware, Tablets