Archives for February 2012

BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 Review

By Nevin Buconjic
For www.digitaladventures.ca 

With the recent launch of RIM’s Blackberry PlayBook 2.0 software update, the device now has integrated/improved email, calendar and contacts, Android support and other features.  Were the improvements enough to make the PlayBook a worthy competitor to Apple’s iPad, Amazon’s Kindle Fire, the NOOK Tablet, and all the other Android tablets on the market?

Since I already own an iPad 2, and a Barnes & Noble NOOK Color (7″ e-reader/tablet) I wanted to compare the PlayBook to my experiences with them.

First Impressions

The PlayBook is sturdy in your hands, and seems to be a good build.  It definitely feels different than the iPad 2 (which I am used to handling).  The PlayBook feels slightly heavier, even though it is a 7″ tablet versus the 9.8″ iPad 2, but the rubber backing allows for a comfortable grip.

While powering on the unit, I noticed it took several minutes to boot up.  I was not sure  if this was a normal occurrence, but I definitely did not expect it.  Being a tablet, I would not expect to have to wait over a minute to boot up — it reminded me of my Windows PC.  After additional tests, I have confirmed that the PlayBook takes over 2 1/2 minutes to boot up.  Compared to the 43 seconds it takes to boot my iPad, this is completely unacceptable.  If this is somehow an anomaly, and not common for other users, please let me know!

The first thing I did upon boot up was entered my email, and social media account information.  This was all accessible from one screen, and I quickly had signed up with each of my accounts.  I found this to be unique, as typically you would login to these accounts through their particular apps or websites.  In this case, the PlayBook used my information to pull in contact info from all of my Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts.

I opened the Contacts application and it was already full of contacts — all from my social media accounts.  I clicked on a few to see what information it had pulled.  It was really quite amazing.  The PlayBook had filled in the email, phone numbers, and birth date, as well as providing a brief bio of each person — including job title, and employer.  There were several icons to the right, which when pressed displayed more information pulled from the social media accounts — including recent status updates, shared meetings and common contacts.

It was both interesting and useful to have all of this information at my finger tips — without having to look for it online.  My only reservation was, the application had pulled in ALL contacts from the various social media services.  The problem clearly being — the majority our social media contacts are friends or acquaintances, whom we do not regularly communicate with, and do not even want to.  I did not want most of these “contacts” on my PlayBook.  I hope there is a way to mass delete or filter out many of the contacts — without having to simply delete the connection to Facebook or Twitter.  I will have to investigate this.

Next I tested out the integrated email.  I quickly drafted a test email and sent it to my other account.  No problems here, and the keyboard was decent — it seemed to display all the necessary characters, including numbers — all on one screen.  I did not have to hit the shift key in order to enter numbers, like I do on my iPad.  This was helpful.  I then set up a few meetings in the calendar for good measure.  Within minutes, the appointment reminder popped up on screen to warn me of an upcoming meeting.

My verdict on the newly integrated email/calendar/contacts applications?  I had no complaints other than that all of them could only be viewed in landscape mode — which I guess made sense here…but I am used to being able to choose either landscape or portrait view.  When receiving a new email, the PlayBook beeped, and a red LED flashed as a notification.  This works well, in case you walk away and miss the beep, when you return you will know there is an email or calendar notification waiting to be checked.

Games and Apps

Next I moved onto the BlackBerry AppWorld.  Like many of you, I have already heard that there are not a lot of apps for the PlayBook.  I was anxious to see exactly what was available.  After briefly reviewing the “featured apps” I clicked on the Games tab.  The first thing I noticed was there were three great games being offered for free!  These were Asphalt 6, Modern Combat 2, and Need for Speed Undercover.  I downloaded each one by one.  With an average size of about 450 MB the games took a while to download over Wi-Fi.  While I waited I began writing this review.

I’m not sure how these game downloads compare to my other devices, as I normally download large apps to my computer (wired Ethernet) which was faster , and then sync to my iPad.  It definitely seemed to take a long time, but this could be related to my relatively slow Internet service.

All three games provided excellent gaming experiences.  The 7″ screen provided enough room for decent game play, the graphics were solid and sound from the unit was also high quality.

I then moved onto free apps.  Since Facebook had already been installed, I moved on down the list.  Not a lot looked familiar.  There is definitely a smaller pool of apps to choose from.  But at the end of the day, of the hundreds of apps on my iPhone and iPad, I only use a handful of them.  So is a huge selection of useless apps really necessary?  I think most apps are a novelty, but there are definitely more useful, creative and fun apps available for other platforms, and part of the fun is finding these new apps.  I think this excitement is currently missing in the BlackBerry AppWorld.  This could change, however, as more Android apps get ported over, and more native apps are developed.

Social Media

Everyone knows that social media is very important to mobile users.  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube apps are taken for granted.   And new services like Pinterest are popping up each week.  The PlayBook does have a Facebook and YouTube app available.  I could not however, find a native Twitter app or a LinkedIn app.  No problem right?  Both have mobile sites, easily accessible on the Internet.  I fired up the browser and pointed it at Twitter.com — it would not load!  LinkedIn did work fine, however.

Eventually I did get Twitter to load properly.  I’m not sure if it was a Twitter or a PlayBook problem, but the browser did seem finicky — I seemed to have issues loading certain websites every once in a while.

Perhaps it is unfair to judge the PlayBook for not having native apps for all of the social media services, as I am used to with my iPad.  Hopefully as the number of PlayBook/Blackberry 10 users increase in the future, many of these companies will see the need to develop for the QNX platform.

Ebooks

Reading ebooks and other things is one of my iPad’s main functions.  I have apps for the Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iBooks as well as other reading apps on my iPad.  I love the variety, and ability to buy books from any of these services (plus I can price shop).  The only official e-reading app for the PlayBook is Kobo (a spin-off of Canadian bookseller Chapters-Indigo).  According to their website, Kobo has over 2.2 million books, newspapers and magazines and because I have purchased books from Kobo before, I know that it is a good service.

But how does the reading experience compare?  I prefer Kobo on my iPad because of the bigger screen, and the page animations — which the PlayBook version does not have.  However, one major advantage of the PlayBook version is the ability to buy books from within the Kobo app.  Apple forced all iOS e-reader apps to pay a percentage of ebook sales to Apple, if purchased within the app — so essentially every company removed their ebook stores from their apps.  Now iPad users must purchase ebooks from each company’s website and then download or sync the to the iPad.  This is somewhat of an inconvenience.

I have already purchased a number of ebooks from Amazon Kindle.  I can read these books on my iPhone, iPad or on my PC.  I assumed I could also read them on the PlayBook, as Amazon offers the ability to read your digital books right on their website.  This should be possible right from the browser on the PlayBook.  Unfortunately, I got an error each time I tried to open a Kindle book!  Not good.

Getting Work Done

The BlackBerry PlayBook is first and foremost geared to the enterprise user, so how well does it do for getting work done?  Well the PlayBook has some advanced features for using it directly with your existing BlackBerry phone — the Blackberry Bridge program allows you to link the devices, share information, use BlackBerry Messenger, and even use your phone as a wireless mouse and keyboard.

With the included Documents-To-Go I was able to create spreadsheets, presentations and Microsoft Word-compatible documents.  You can also edit existing Microsoft Office files.  Adobe Reader allowed me to read PDF files, including books in PDF format.  There were also many work and business type applications available on AppWorld.  I think the PlayBook works as a decent extension of the Blackberry phone, which will be helpful to existing BlackBerry clients.

Overall Impression

So after playing around with the PlayBook for a couple of days, I do think it is a decent tablet.  It is really good at some things, but just ok at others.  I don’t really see it as a fun consumer device.  But then it was initially built for and geared towards existing BlackBerry customers, and mostly business ones at that.

Does it compare to the iPad 2?  Not in my opinion.  There is just so much about the iPad that is better, easier or more fun.  But I think that at current prices — $199 for 16 GB and $249 for 32GB models, the PlayBook is in a different category.  At these prices, the fair comparison should be made to e-readers like the Nook Tablet, Nook Color, Kobo Vox or Kindle Fire.

I can say one thing for sure…the PlayBook blows away my Nook Color.  I got the Nook for Christmas 2010 — just over a year ago.  At the time it was the first affordable color tablet/e-reader — retailing for $250.  You can read my review of the Nook Color here.

The Nook Color, while fun at the time, is quite slow and not very user friendly as a tablet.  A recent OS update for the Nook Color allowed it to use Netflix and other Android apps — but it is still very clunky.  it is simply just really good at being an e-reader.  The Nook Tablet may be another story, but I have not tried one.  My wife now uses our Nook Color exclusively for reading books, and the price has been lowered to $169.

While all of these e-reader competitors are Android-based tablets with 7″ color screens, I think the real difference when compared to the PlayBook is that they are consumer devices made for reading ebooks, and accessing other multimedia like videos, movies and music.  They each have custom interfaces and controlled environments, including limited access to apps.  The PlayBook, on the other hand, is a true tablet — putting work and productivity first, together with media and fun stuff as a bonus.

If ebooks are your thing, you might want to look at the Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet, and even Kobo Vox before considering the PlayBook.  But if you are looking for a device which you can use for some work and some play, the PlayBook is a solid choice.  If you are already a BlackBerry user, then this is a no brainer.

On the other hand, if you have $500-700 to spend on a tablet, then the Apple iPad should be your choice.  While there are some limitations with the iPad, I simply can’t think of one  reason other than cost that would make you choose another tablet at this time.

The BlackBerry PlayBook cannot compete against the iPad, but neither can any of the other tablets on the market.  I think RIM realized this almost immediately (as HP did), but have persevered as the PlayBook is more than just a product — it represents  RIM’s future OS platform.

While the PlayBook’s discounted prices may not continue forever, I don’t think any 7″ tablets can be priced at more than $300, to compete.  Consumers have overwhelmingly shown that $200 is the sweet spot for any tablet, unless it is an Apple iPad.

Final Verdict

The Good

  • Compact device -easy to handle
  • Decent battery life
  • Great for multitasking
  • Plays music and video files and music/video store
  • New Android support — I will assume the number and variety of apps will increase in the future
  • Current low pricing makes it a good investment
  • Built-in HDMI for connection to your HDTV
  • Integration of social media services

The Bad

  • Not use to the different user interface, it was not always intuitive navigation
  • Browser issues — problems loading Twitter and could not read Kindle books online
  • Very slow boot-up time — over 2 1/2 minutes!
  • Touch screen response slow — sometimes did not register tapping
  • Smaller selection of apps

The Path

The trees rustled outside as the wind began to howl. The dark, cold night awaited the boy, as he slipped on his rain jacket and rubber boots. It was Devon’s job to bring in the firewood, to heat the family’s cottage. Usually he kept up with his chores, but occasionally, he had to venture out at night to stock up the pile inside.

He stepped outside and stared down the winding path to the woodshed. He hated going along there at night. The cottage was so secluded, there was hardly a sound, except for the rustling leaves as he progressed on the long walk.

The only thing between him and the darkness was his trusty flashlight, the one his uncle had given him on their fishing trip three years ago. Now scraped and dinged, he kept it with him beside his bed, and took it with him whenever he ventured out after dark.

His family had moved to their cottage after selling their home in the city. His father lost his job a year ago. Something about the economy and company downsizing. He hadn’t really paid attention when his mother and father fought at night, but he knew it started around that time. Within six months the house was for sale, and they were moving to this small, lonely town — where he had spent most summers for as long as he could remember.

As the wind subsided for a moment, he heard the hoot of an owl in the distance. It seemed like they were the only living creatures out in the darkness.

Up ahead, the beam of his torch pierced the fog, and he could see the woodshed getting closer. Normally he would run down the path, grab a handful of firewood, and run back, getting just enough to keep the fire stoked. But this time he needed a whole wheelbarrow full. It had rained so much in the last week, that he had really gotten behind. The last thing he wanted was to cause another fight between his parents, because he had not done his chores.

Things were tense enough at home. Since moving to the cottage, his father had gotten a low paying job at the local mill yard and his mother cleaned houses in town for extra money.

His parents had promised Devon that things would be ok. That this was a temporary setback. He hoped so. He missed his friends and even missed his old school.  His new school was much smaller, and all the kids seemed to know each other. He was an outsider, the big city kid, who “knew nothin’ about country life”.

He had only made one friend since moving here. Stuart Davidson had come up to him the first week of school, and offered to be his friend. Stuart was nice, but a little quiet and mostly kept to himself. Maybe that’s why he offered to be friends with the new kid — a chance to make a friend who didn’t already think he was a loser. Either way, it worked well for both of them.

Just two weekends ago, Stuart had slept over. The two watched scary movies all night, and ever since, Devon feared going to the woodshed alone. He could see the scary monsters from the movie, hiding in the darkness. Peeking out from behind the trees. This was the longest walk ever, he thought to himself.  Devon began to pick up speed as his imagination got the best of him.

“Just grab the wood, and run. Just grab the wood, and run,” he repeated to himself, as his light darted around him in every direction. As long as he had his light, they couldn’t get him, he thought…

Finally reaching the old woodshed, Devon quickly found the wheelbarrow, and started loading it with hardwood he and his father had cut up in the summer. Since money was tight, they cut down several trees on their property so they could heat the cottage all winter long.

Careful to grab only the thick ones, he continued to fill the wheelbarrow. The big ones were best, he thought, because they would burn all night. That way it wouldn’t be cold in the morning when he woke up. Then maybe his parents wouldn’t fight before his father left for the mill.

His father used to be happy, he remembered.  Before he lost his job, his father used to come home from work, smiling…even play catch or shoot some hoops with Devon before dinner. On weekends he would take Devon to a ball game, or to the museum and lots of other fun stuff.  Devon used to love spending time with him. But he was different now.

Devon could tell that his father losing his job at the company really hurt him. For a few months afterwards, he was still himself, but then he slowly began to transform. No more ball games, or outings on the weekend. And whenever his mother asked how his job search was going, he would get very angry, and say that he was trying his best, but no one was hiring.

Devon and his father began coming to the cottage more and more on weekends, fixing up the place a little. He didn’t yet know that his family would be moving here to live. His father was a proud man, and Devon could see that the things he would fix at the cottage would make him smile — even if it was just briefly. Like a feeling of accomplishment, however small. He needed that feeling. And Devon would do his best to help him, so they could get one or two things done every weekend.

Devon placed the last chunk of wood in the wheelbarrow. He picked up his flashlight and waved it around him. I don’t see anything, but I ain’t taking any chances, he thought. Fixing the flashlight into the pile of wood, he pointed it forward, so he could see the path as he ran back to the house.

He picked up his end of the wheelbarrow and began to run down the path. The front wheel zigzagged on the moist ground as he pushed with all his strength. If he could keep it on the path, without an accident, he could make it back to the house fast enough that nothing could get him.

The light bounced, as the wheelbarrow careened down the path, the sounds of rustling all around him. He began to pick up the scent of smoke from the cottage. He was almost there. Almost safe from the darkness that surrounded him.

He could see it now. The back door of the cottage was just ahead, a dim light shining through the door window. Just a few steps now. Suddenly, the wheel struck a tree root.  He lost control of the wheelbarrow and it crashed over on its side.  Devon and the firewood tumbled to the ground.

As he lifted his head, and wiped the mud from his cheek, a dark shadow emerged, blocking the light. Devon’s heart sunk for a moment, as the menacing figure moved closer. The monsters were coming to get him! Then, from the darkness, a hand reached out, and as the shape took another step forward, he saw his father standing before him.

“Let me help you, son,” his father said, as he stepped closer still.  “Ummm, thanks Dad,” Devon replied, his heart pounding in his chest.  Grabbing Devon’s hand, his father pulled him up from the ground. He had made it back to the cottage safely. The monsters didn’t get him this time.

As Devon and his father picked up the firewood and carried it into the cottage, he suddenly felt safe again. The warmth of the fire was reassuring.  “I appreciate you bringing in firewood tonight, son,” his father said. “I know we haven’t spent a lot of time together, since moving out here, but I want that to change. Things are going to start getting better.”

As his father stared into Devon’s eyes, he fought back tears. “I’m going to make it up to you and your mother. I promise.” Then Devon saw something he hadn’t seen in a long time. His father smiled.

“Put a couple of logs on the fire, while I get us some hot cocoa.  I’d like to hear all about what you’ve been up to lately,” he continued.

As Devon stoked the roaring fire, and curled up in his favorite chair, his father returned with two steaming cups.  As they talked more and more, Devon’s fear of the darkness began to fade. He knew his father would always be there to protect him, and that his father would never let him down.

2012 Goals Monthly Checkup

A month ago I posted my 10 goals for 2012.  It is still early in the year, but I wanted to take a look at my progress so far…to figure out where I need to step things up!

As a quick review, below are my 10 goals.  I have also placed either a pass or a fail beside each:

1. Get in shape. (FAIL)
2. Eat right. (PASS)
3. Grow my business. (PASS)
4. Finish my writing course (FAIL)
5. Publish something and get paid for it. (FAIL)
6. Expand my social networking reach. (PASS)
7. Grow my blog and bring in revenue. (FAIL)
8. Re-learn to code. (FAIL)
9. Home improvement projects (PASS)
10. Read more. (PASS)

OK, so as we can see I have five passes and five fails — but I think I should elaborate a bit to make things fair.

First of all, I definitely have not gotten serious about working out yet.  I haven’t had the motivation, and have simply skipped too many workouts.  I would say I have averaged two workouts per week — whether a cardio session on the treadmill or weights.  This is way below my goal of three cardio and three weight lifting sessions per work.  Need a lot of improvement here.

Eating right is a little easier because my wife is a great cook, and we eat pretty healthy for dinner.   I think my main problem if I do have one, is lunch.  I often bring sandwiches to work because they are convenient, but I know that if I cut out bread I can get in shape much quicker.  I also have to control my snacking.  But for the most part I eat pretty well.

Have I grown my business in the last month?  Well, its a little early to make much progress there, but I’d say I have indirectly, through goal #6.  Also, I am delivering a social media marketing seminar for the Community Development Corporation in March.

It is also too early to have finished my writing course.  I am giving myself the whole year to complete the course, but hope to finish it by summer. I have just completed assignment #2, however.  It involved writing a 1,500 word short story.  I am hoping to post the story on my writing page, in about a week — once I get it back from my instructor.  Along the way I do intend to enter one or more short stories into a competition and/or submit for publishing in a magazine.

Over the last month I have been focusing a lot of time on Twitter. I have been actively checking my twitter account, reading articles, retweeting, and posting more than I have in the past.  My followers have gone from 59 to 250 in that time.  I have a long way to go, but it is great to see instant results!  My initial goal was 200 followers, and my next goal is 500.  This will directly impact both my business and personal branding in the future.

Unfortunately, I have somewhat neglected my other technology blog — www.digitaladventures.ca during this time. It is very time consuming to run a blog, and since I have been supporting this site along with everything else, I have  not been able to put in the time writing about technology.  I need to improve in the future — especially if I want to increase readers, and revenue!

Re-learning to code is probably the goal which I have supported the least.  I started with good intentions, and even signed up with @codeacademy for free weekly lessons.  Unfortunately, I haven’t even finished the first lesson.  I simply haven’t had the time.  This will be a pretty ambitious goal…

I am waiting for summer before I tackle any major home improvement projects, however, I have already put up some artwork, and hung a number of pictures.  My dad and I replaced one of the baseboard heaters and will be installing a new thermostat for it. So just some little things so far, but definitely on track.

Finally, I had a goal to read more this year (ie. finish more books than I start) and I am definitely making progress here. Once I decided to get more involved in Twitter, I decided to read Twitter Power 2.0 by Joel Comm (click for my book review) which I had purchased a year ago — so I was happy that I could pick it up and finish it within a few weeks.  I am still reading multiple books at once — so it was nice to focus and get one done and out of the way.  I think a goal of one book per month would be reasonable, and hopefully more.

So there you have it.  One month into the year and I have made progress on half of my goals.  I definitely need some improvement, but I have made excellent progress in some areas.

Stay tuned for more progress reports and details as I progress along.  Thanks for reading!

 

 

My Big Screen Movie Debut

A year ago, in December 2010, I was an extra in a movie filmed in Sault Ste. Marie, Toronto and Scotland. The movie, Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy, is a follow up book to his best seller — Trainspotting. Some of you may have seen the movie or read the book. Ecstasy stars some well known actors including Billy Boyd, Adam Sinclair, Kristen Kreuk, Carlo Rota, and Dean McDermott.

I was in two different scenes that day — one scene, with Dean McDermott, and others was a boardroom scene where Dean and his colleague are pitching an ad campaign for Scotland Against Narcotics. If I had to estimate, it was about a 5 minute scene — very entertaining, and fun to be a part of. I did not speak of course, but myself and several others were part of the board being pitched to. Irvine Welsh was actually a board member as well!

The second scene involved me walking across the background of the scene, stopping to interact with another character (my brother in real life), and then walking off.  The scene was with Kristen Kreuk (Smallville)!

Needless to say, it was quite exciting and a great experience — and about 8-10 hours overall.

Fast forward to February 4, 2012 — the movie was premiering in Sault Ste. Marie, to a sold out crowd. The film has only been viewed at a few select locations to date, but will be premiering in Scotland in April and getting limited release in June. The movie turned out great, although I was in for some disappointment. Unfortunately both of my scenes were cut from the movie 🙁

 As is often the case, many more scenes were filmed than would actually end up in the final version. I was very surprised that the boardroom scene did not make it as it seemed like a major scene, to me anyway. But after seeing the movie, I could see that Dean’s character was downplayed somewhat, and the boardroom scene would not have added a lot to the final cut. The other scene as well was cut, with only a fraction of it being used.

While disappointed, I guess that is the way it works. AND we have been told that the boardroom scene will be in the “deleted scenes” on the DVD!  Better than nothing…looking forward to seeing it sometime next fall when the DVD is released.

Good thing I kept my day job! 🙂

Twitter Power 2.0 Book Review

Below is my review for Twitter Power 2.0: How to Dominate Your Market One Tweet at a Time by Joel Comm (@joelcomm).

I bought this book about a year ago, shortly after I first signed up on Twitter. At the time, I was already using other social media platforms like Facebook, blogging, and LinkedIn but I wasn’t yet sold on Twitter. I mean, it’s not that I thought it was just a bunch of status updates from people I didn’t know — I could definitely see where it would be useful for large companies, but for entrepreneurs and others?

But over the last year, I have really been thinking about and working towards growing my personal brand, since I have been doing more business consulting.  I am into many things outside of my day job — including writing, blogging, and consulting.  So I have begun promoting myself rather than my specific business.  I write a technology column for a local youth magazine, and regularly deliver seminars and presentations via local economic development and other business organizations.  The idea of promoting my personal expertise and brand really began to hit home.

Along with this change in outlook, came a new insight and appreciation for Twitter.  I started to follow more social media, business and technology experts and quickly began to see Twitter as a valuable source of information, opinions, statistics and more —  much of which I did not come across through my traditional news sources.

I began to get excited, and at this point I grabbed Twitter Power 2.0 from my bookshelf — desperately looking for Twitter strategies, tips, and tools. The beginning chapters were definitely geared to newbies, and had I read the book when I first bought it, perhaps wouldn’t have been so obvious or basic — but for a new user it is all good information.

But then it got really good.

I learned some really great strategies for gaining followers, and for being “interesting” on Twitter.  Through a combination of retweeting valuable posts from other experts, providing my own insights and information, as well as more personal or fun tweets, I began to pick up followers myself.

I am getting more involved in the Twitter conversation — providing comments and responses to other tweets, tweeting directly to the individuals that I follow — I have become much more active on Twitter.  And it is fun!

I particularly enjoyed Chapters 8 – 11 of the book. Now we were getting down to business!  From using Twitter to build your brand, to making money on Twitter and learning the best ways to use Twitter to drive traffic to your website, blog or affiliate links — this is the stuff I was looking for.

Then I learned about a whole bunch of third-party apps that would allow me to become more efficient at using Twitter. From how to follow multiple Twitter feeds at once, ways to post tweets across multiple social networks, to accessing Twitter’s own data to see trends and hot topics, there are many apps and services that can help you build your Twitter presence and make money.  Most of the services Joel talks about here, I was not familiar with. I have since begun to explore these and I am using several of them already.

Twitter Power 2.0 has not only answered a lot of my questions, but has provided me with a fantastic toolkit for growing and leveraging my Twitter presence.  Although some of the information is becoming dated (the book was published in 2010) I would highly recommend Twitter Power 2.0 to anyone looking to either more fully understand the power of Twitter or (and more emphasis here) anyone looking to take their social media presence to the next level.

I only wish I would have begun sooner!

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