Now that the holiday season is starting to wind down, it’s time to get comfortable with the new gifts. A popular one, mainly thanks to its attractive (if inconsistent) $200 price point, is the BlackBerry PlayBook. Over the summer I had slapped together my top ten favourite apps at the time, but since then, selection has vastly improved. There are still some favourites on there that have managed to hold onto their spots, but a solid half of my current top 10 BlackBerry PlayBook apps are new entrants. New, bewildered PlayBook owners – gather ’round, fire up BlackBerry App World, check out these titles.
Since day 1, GeeReader has been my go-to app, and instantly made the PlayBook useful to me. Seeing as I live and die in Google Reader, having a smooth, full-featured app that helps me comb through my endless RSS feeds is an absolutely requirement on any device I use. Since the last top 10, GeeReader has had a big user interface upgrade and now has a pro version for a scant $1.99. GeeReader Pro includes sharing to Twitter, Facebook and WordPress, on top of the usual two-way Google Reader sync that’s still enjoyed in the free version.
GeeReader simply has everything I need to keep up to speed – full read/unread sync, starring items, view filters, sorting, swipe navigation between stories, and adding new feeds. While I might spend more time combing through RSS feeds than most PlayBook owners, I’d suggest even light readers should pick up the free version and start playing around with Google Reader; it’s a lot easier than navigating individually to your favourite sites on the native browser to check for updates, that’s for sure.
Blaq is still the King Kong of Twitter apps on the PlayBook. Since the last top 10, Blaq has added support for multiple accounts, search, lists, and reading an individual’s tweets (something that really should have been included from the get-go). On top of looking good and operating smoothly, Blaq is also among the first apps I’ve seen to make use of the PlayBook’s notification system for new tweets, followers, mentions and direct messages. The live streaming view is actually a great use for the PlayBook; most of the day I’m too busy in the browser to monitor a separate tab for Twitter updates, but having a nonstop stream pouring through on a dedicated screen lets me see things out of the corner of my eye that would otherwise be missed.
I’ll be interested in seeing how well Blaq holds its own when the deluge of Twitter clients come with Android app access, but I would say these guys have a pretty good head start; they’ve even tapped into Bridge so you can get updates when you’re outside of a Wi-Fi zone but paired via Bluetooth to a BlackBerry smartphone. Blaq is $1.99, and if you spend any time on Twitter whatsoever, it’s worth it.
Poynt was one of the first high-quality applications on the PlayBook, and has weathered the test of time. Since the summer, they’ve added support for events, so you can see what’s going on nearby, and buy tickets through handy browser links. The usual location-based search is still there for other categories, like people, businesses, movies, and restaurants. You can watch movie trailers, get business info, as well as find their location on through embedded maps. Gas prices are only available in the U.S., which is a bit of a drag. Poynt’s real polish shows when you pair the tablet app with a smartphone, so you can send over directions, contacts, and calendar items – great for when it’s not practical to lug the PlayBook out with you. The mechanism they use is a little roundabout, and it would be much simpler if RIM just gave developers some access to Bridge, but it’s good to see Poynt is pushing that use case. Poynt looks great, is incredibly useful, and, best of all, it’s free.
Why the PlayBook doesn’t include its own native file browser is beyond me, but odds are you’ll need one. So far, File Browser has met my day-to-day needs, offering all of the usual functions like copying files, renaming, and viewing thumbnails for images, but there’s also some more advanced stuff. For example, you can zip and unzip folders, sync up files across Dropbox, Box.net, and Google Docs, and even dig around in your BlackBerry smartphone’s memory and SD card if paired over Bridge.
$2.99 is a little steep for something that should be included with the OS, but if you’re looking for a free alternative, AIR Browser does the job just fine. File Browser has the added bonus of FTP file transfer, if that’s a dealbreaker for you.
Luko Remote is where the PlayBook starts getting interesting. By installing the $2.99 app on your PlayBook and a free companion on your PC, you can use the tablet as both a touchpad-style mouse, and a keyboard for your PC. All you have to do is pull up the native PlayBook keyboard, and start typing. Your words show up on top of the touchpad area, so you can catch typos easily. In addition to simple remote control, there are a lot of advanced utilities here, like a file system browser that lets you launch files on your PC through your PlayBook, a scroll bar (like the middle mouse wheel) for larger windows, easy sensitivity adjustment, and media controls.
The practical use cases for this are slim, but I imagine if you have a home media PC hooked up to your TV and you don’t want to run a cable or deal with a secondary wireless keyboard, this could be the fix. Luko Remote might also be handy for a desktop crowded with more than one computer running at a time, but without enough room for a second keyboard. In any case, Luko Remote gets big points for originality. Next up, I’d love to see Luko enable BlackBerry smartphones to act as the keyboard and Bluetooth mouse for the PlayBook.
This is my new favourite game on the PlayBook. Yeah, there are a lot of big-name, AAA titles, like Dead Space and now Angry Birds, but ToFu honestly strikes me as the most challenging, thought-provoking, colourful, and appropriate to the medium than anything else I’ve tried so far.
The simple puzzle game puts you in the hachimaki of a sticky, wobbly, tofu ninja. You pull him in a direction, then release, and he sails through the air until he hits something. Your goal is to navigate him through a series of devilishly clever obstacles to reach the big pink fortune cookie at the end. For $0.99, you get 140 levels, and each of them have a ton of replay value, since you can try to collect all of the zen orbs in each level, as well as complete the course in a set number of jumps for special badges. When it comes to fun, this is so far the best bang for buck on the PlayBook.
JeeoPlayer is another remote control app something along the same vein as Luko Remote. By installing an app on a PlayBook and a companion on a RIM smartphone, you can play your music stored on the phone through the tablet. This is an ideal situation for me, since most of my tunes are on my phone, rather than the PlayBook, which is too bad considering the tablet has such good speakers. It’s a bit finnicky, since you have to set up an account with JeeoSuite, then screw around with IP address settings once both your PlayBook and BlackBerry handset are on the same Wi-Fi network, but once it’s all set up, it works fine, minus a slight lag.
Now, the PlayBook will be getting stereo Bluetooth support in the February update, but that only means that you’ll be able to pump out music stored locally out to external speakers, not take music in and stream on the PlayBook’s speakers – the latter being the usual situation when you just have your BlackBerry smartphone and PlayBook with you. Hopefully RIM will be able to add two-way stereo Bluetooth in time for the update, but if not, JeeoPlayer will be here to fill the gap, free of charge.
The PlayBook comes preloaded with the Kobo app, but that’s really not enough to handle the demands of a truly voracious reader. PlayEpub has been my favourite e-reading app to date. It has a full range of visibility options, including switching from white on black to black on white, an extra level of brightness adjustment in addition to the system-wide display brightness, as well as font size and line spacing. You can also leave notes and bookmarks on particular pages, and download a variety of books directly from the Caliber online repository. PlayEpub faces some stiff competition with the cheaper Book Reader for EPUB (which supports a wider range of formats), but the clincher for me was quick access to sharing passages via Twitter and Facebook as well as translation just by highlighting the text. At $1.99 and a free trial to make sure it’s for you, PlayEpub is a pretty good deal, even for occasional readers.
Okay, this is another remote control app, but it’s the last one, I promise. In its current form, Bridge is still half-baked. Sure, it’ll be great when e-mail, calendar, contacts, and all of that other stuff can reside locally on the PlayBook on its own, but that doesn’t mean the idea of syncing phone with tablet is entirely flawed, it’s just incomplete. That said, I’ve tried using the PlayBook all day long with Bridge, and though it’s handy for reading incoming e-mails on a separate, dedicated screen without having to fiddle around with my phone, there are a lot of notifications that necessitate going back to the BlackBerry handset to check, like Facebook notifications, or text messages.
That’s where Phone Remote comes in. Like the other apps, you need to have a local Wi-Fi network and a companion app installed, but once set up, you can see and remotely control your BlackBerry smartphone from your PlayBook. My primary use for this was to clear notifications for instant messages that wouldn’t be caught by Bridge alone. The emulated screen on the PlayBook looks chunky, and the reaction times are slow, but it’s a unique offering, and one I’m willing to drop $3.99 on until something a little smoother comes around.
Evernote is a popular, simple note-store service the puts everything in the cloud, and makes it accessible across a wide range of devices. The web app is particularly good, and the version for the PlayBook is more than enough to reference old notes, and create new ones. There’s full integration with the camera and microphones so you can attatch pictures and audio, as well as any other files. You can also keep your notes organized by Notebook as well as tags. There’s no rich text editing unfortunately, so updates to notes with hypertext links need to be appended in a separate section. The really great implementations of Evernote generally have tight integration with native services (for example, by offering a “Send to Evernote” link in the browser menu), but I have a feeling we won’t even see that with the big February update. The biggest downer right now is the lack of offline access, and with a Wi-Fi-only tablet, that’s a situation you’re going to be out of coverage often enough. At least it can connect if you’re paired via Bluetooth to a BlackBerry handset.
While I’m still getting used to using the Evernote service on a daily basis, it’s a great place to keep all of your miscellaneous scraps of information handy, especially in lieu of any native stand-alone memo app. Combined with the BlackBerry smartphone version of Evernote, this is practically a good, Bridge-enabled memo app. Unless you use Evernote a lot, it’s free and supremely useful.
That’s it from my list, but what about yours, new PlayBook owners? Find any particularly great apps, or are you holding out for the great deluge of Android titles next month? Feel free to let us know your top picks in the comments.
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