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PlayBook 2.0: taking on BlackBerry’s real contender

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Gadget wraps up its coverage of BlackBerry DevCon Europe with a hands-on preview of the upcoming PlayBook 2.0. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK had a brief altercation with the beta version.

It is probably the fastest Gadget Ten Question Tablet Test we’ve ever conducted. After a demonstration of a beta version of the PlayBook 2.0 by Vivek Bhardwaj, Research in Motion’s Head of Software Portfolio for Europe, Middle East and Africa (see Playtime at RIM), he allowed Gadget to try it out. In a brief wrestling match with the device, we quickly ran it through as much of the Test as we could.

Bear in mind that this is by its nature not a conclusive review, but rather a foretaste. When the final version is reviewed, it will be given a comprehensive test.

1. General look and feel (aesthetic judgement, differentiation in look and feel)

The PlayBook 2.0 is identical to the first version, which is not in itself a bad thing. The one aspect of the original that received general praise was the build of the device, both in terms of solidity and elegance ‚ a tricky combination. The market was calling for a different software experience: the positive hardware experience remains a differentiator.

Score: 8/10

2. Keep control (How effective are the control buttons ‚ hardware, software, on-off)

As with the original, the round On button is separate from and differentiated from the clustered volume controls and Play/Pause button. However, it is still tiny, and can still be mistaken for a headphone jack in the dark. On the other hand, once you’re used to the idea that it lies alongside the cluster, the fumbling will end. The combination now looks rather elegant.

Score: 6/10

3. The sound of one-hand tapping (Can you comfortably hold it in one hand and operate it in the other? i.e. a weight test)

Again, no change here. A satisfying heft, yet a lightweight device. It’s easy to hold, with enough of a bezel on the edge to accommodate your thumb, and the virtual keyboard remains satisfyingly uncluttered.

Score: 8/10

4. The Angry Birds test (How responsive is the device in interactive tasks?)

The first version failed this test completely. However, 2.0 is fast, responsive and even fun. Angry Birds finally feels as if it is made for the device. The stand-out experience is Need for Speed, ‚Optimised for the PlayBook‚ : it handles twists and turns like a well-oiled machine.

Score: 8/10

5. The tablet gender test (How well does it multi-task?)

The PlayBook allows multiple apps to be opened at the same time, and they can all be displayed ‚ and clicked to open or X’d to close ‚ by a swipe up from the bottom bezel.

However, the device seemed to get confused when too many items were opened simultaneously, switching from landscape to portrait mode, which made it difficult to view open apps. When working properly, the panel displaying apps is still clunky and unappealing.

Score: 6/10

6. One to rule them all (Can it replace a PC or laptop? Does it make your life easier?)

PlayBook 2.0 brings to the BlackBerry user a sense of what the iPad brings to the iPhone user. No, not limitless fitness and food apps, but the ability to match up apps on the phone and tablet. With RIM’s massive push into the developer community, most of the popular apps for other platforms will also be available on the PlayBook.

The device is WiFI-enabled, which raises the question of why 3G is not enabled. Indeed, the 3G chickens came home to roost during the test, when WiFi went down, and it wasn’t possible to access Internet content.

The PlayBook is strongly geared to the enterprise market, and the inclusion of DocumentsToGo, the app that provides Word and Excel functionality on a mobile device, will be a powerful incentive. However, the 2.0 beta was not entirely satisfying on the latter score. For example, in Excel, the virtual keypad that comes up when you are ready to type into a cell defaults to the ABC keys, rather than to 123. It is a timely reminder that the first Windows spreadsheet program was called 1-2-3, and not A-B-C.

However, that is a minor quibble in the context of a device that matches both the consumption needs of the CEO and the productivity needs of middle-management, not to mention the entertainment needs of the kid in all of us.

Score: 7/10

7. Live long and prosper (How’s the battery life?)

It was not possible to test battery life in the time available.

Score: unscored

8. Sound and vision (Video and audio quality?)

Video was one of the strengths of PlayBook 1.0, and 2.0 seems to match up. Audio is also adequate, with dual front speakers still giving a solid stereo experience. It includes a headphone jack and Bluetooth capability for wireless headphones.

Score: 8/10

9. The new new (innovations and unique features)

PlayBook 2.0 offers two powerful differentiators:

Score: 9/10

10. The Price Test (Is it competitively priced?)

Ah, there’s the rub. At $400-$500, they could barely give version 1 away. Now that RIM know they have a contender on their hands, will they succumb to the temptation of premium pricing? In short, will they shoot themselves in the foot just as they catch up in the race? Watch this space.

Score: unscored

In conclusion

Total score: 62/80 – 77%

A brief try-out of the PlayBook 2.0 delivered a score of 77% – substantially higher than that of the first version, close to the high scores achieved by the Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, and higher than the best 7‚ device we have tried, the HTC Flyer. That isn’t the last world, however. When the final version of PlayBook 2.0 is released, it will be given a thorough testing to see just how nervous the competition needs to be.

* Arthur Goldstuck’s is editor-in-chief of Gadget and heads up World Wide Worx. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee.

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Featured

Hit the road with high-tech night light for bikes

Cyclists need effective lighting by night and day, writes JOEL DORFAN, in his test ride of the latest in high-tech from Fenix

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Since 2004, Fenix Light has been manufacturing quality lights ranging from flashlights and headlamps to lanterns and bike lights.

There are many folks who ride their bicycles at night for various reasons. Whether on-road or off-road, there is always the need to see the path ahead of you. During the day, it’s wise to have a really bright strobe light so others around you can see you coming. 

Enter the BC21R V2.0.

The original 880 lumen BC21R was released some years ago. Besides the main light, it also had two red lights at the side. However, there were several complaints about this older version. The main ones were:

  • Plastic construction – does not dissipate heat causing the light output to step down;
  • Rubber mount – stretches and perishes over time;
  • No helmet mount.

With the launch of the new light, now called the BC21R V2.0, the folks at Fenix have kept all of the good features and added a bunch more, as well as remedying all of the complaints from the original. In a nutshell, it offers:

  • 1000 lumen output
  • Removable 18650 LiIion battery
  • Built in USB Type-C charging port
  • Dual Distance Beam System
  • Battery level indication and low-voltage warning
  • All-metal heat fin; IP66 rated protection
  • Quick-release bike mount compatible with Fenix bicycle light helmet mount

The increase from 880 to 1000 lumens means that there is now better coverage of the road ahead. The dual distance beam system means that the areas both near and far are illuminated. They do this by graduating the top half of the front lens that refracts some of the light down towards the front wheel, allowing the rest of the light to illuminate the roadway.

When you do not need all 1000 lumens, sequential taps of the on/off switch will cycle through the different output settings of low, medium, high and turbo. In any of these modes, a double tap of the switch will put the light into strobe (alternating high and low output) mode. On a fully charged battery, runtime on Turbo is published as being 2 hours, and on low at 50 hours. 

Many lights today are sealed units. Once the battery stops taking a charge, the light would have to be discarded. The removable battery means that, once it reaches end of life ,it’s a simple matter of inserting a new 18650 battery. Also, should you be on a really long ride and find that the battery starts going flat, you could stop along the way and swap out the battery for either another fully charged one or two CR123 batteries. 

At any time, you can tap the on/off button, which will light up an indicator to tell you the current state of charge of the battery. This same indicator will flash red when it’s time to recharge the battery.

To prevent damage to the LED light source, temperatures are monitored and, if the light gets too hot, the output is reduced. This is not ideal when you are out on a ride on a hot evening. By changing the head from plastic to metal with cooling fins, however, the light will now remain cooler, allowing for full output for longer periods.

Instead of a stretchy plastic mount like on the older model, Fenix has now gone with a proper clamp type mount. This is secured to the handle bars using a thumb screw; and then there is a quick release that allows the light to be attached or removed from the clamp with ease. Two different-sized rubber inserts for the clamp ensure a good fit on different diameter handle bars.

A bonus of this type of quick release mechanism is that the light is now compatible with the Fenix helmet mount should one wish to mount it there. Also, should you wish to use the BC21R V2.0 as a handheld flashlight or to stop it being stolen, no tools are required to remove it from either the bike or helmet mount.

So how does the BC21R V2.0 perform in real life?

It puts out a very concentrated spot-like type beam optimised for distance. The lens setup ensures that most of the light is below the horizon where it needs to be, which also makes sure that it does not blind oncoming motorists. 

The light will start getting warm to the touch when stationary or when hand held. However, when cycling, the cool air passing over the finned head does keep the light cooler.

Being a single 18650 battery light, a ride of longer than about 90 minutes will see the light starting to reduce output. It’s the tradeoff of size vs run time. Therefore make sure that, if you’re going to need the full 1000 lumen output for an extended period, to carry a spare battery with you.

The older model cost $75, and the good news is that Fenix appears to have maintained this price even with all of the extra features of the V2.0 model. This places the BC21R V2.0 in the mid- to high-range of  single battery lights. Given the features and multi-use applications it’s pretty good value for money.

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Product of the Day

Hisense adds AI-cameras to handsets

Hisense has entered the AI-camera space with the Infinity H30, aimed at the mid-range market. BRYAN TURNER tests the new camera technology.

Click below to read the review.

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While many know Hisense for its TVs and appliances, it has an impressive lineup of smartphones. Its latest Infinity H30 smartphone packs a serious punch in the mid-range market, including features like a low-bezel screen and AI camera.

Out the box, the phone comes with the usual charger, charging cable and earphones. There is a surprise in the box: a screen protector and a clear case. A nice value-add to the already affordable smartphone.  

The polycarbonate plastic body feels premium, especially for a device in this price range. It has a colour changing body, depending on the angle at which it is held. The colour of the device we reviewed is called Ice Blue, and shimmers in darker and lighter blues. Aesthetically, this is a big win for Hisense.

The 6.5″ screen is a narrow-bezelled FHD+ display with good colour replication. Hisense is known for creating colour-accurate displays and it’s good to see it continue this legacy in its smartphones. The shape of the display is interesting, taking some design notes from Huawei’s Dewdrop display with what Hisense calls the “U-Infinity Display”. It makes the phone look really good. 

On the rear of the phone, one finds a dual-camera setup with fingerprint sensor. On the bottom of the phone, there is a speaker, a USB Type-C Port and a headphone jack. The speaker’s placement on the bottom isn’t optimal and the sound is muffled if one accidentally covers the single speaker area.

The 4,530mAh non-removable battery is very capable, providing a good 12 hours of medium usage (checking messages every half hour and playing an online game every hour) until it reaches 20%. The battery capacity isn’t the only power feature of the device; it runs on the latest Android Pie operating system, which includes AI power-saving software measures to keep background apps from using battery.

It is a little disappointing to see the device came with some pre-installed games. Fortunately, one can uninstall them. Hisense makes up for this by issuing Android updates and security patches as the come out. This, coupled with the MediaTek Octa Core processor, provides a good user experience for playing games and multi-tasking.

The H30 has a whopping 128GB of on-board storage, and it can be expanded even more with a MicroSD card. The 4G-LTE capabilities are perfect for most high-speed broadband situations, with around 40Mbps download and around 10Mbps upload in an area with good cell service.

The 20+2MP rear camera configuration is good at taking shots on Auto mode, but pictures can be better after figuring out all the camera modes available. There is a professional mode for those who want to be extra creative with their photography. It also includes a baby mode, which plays various noises to make a baby look at the phone for a better picture. The AI mode can be enabled to make full use of the processor in the device, and fif the camera mode to be selected based on scenes photographed. 

The 20MP front camera performs equally as well. This camera is the reason for the U-like shape at the top of the screen. The camera app has beauty-face filters, for those wanting a slimmer face or smoother skin.

Overall, the Infinity H30 is a prime example of a good phone in an affordable price range.  The camera is very capable, and the AI processing helps what would otherwise be a regular camera. The aesthetically pleasing colour saves the day, and makes this mid-range device look like a high-end flagship. The device is retailing for R5,499 from most major carriers.

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