Archive for May, 2011

2011-05-23

BlackBerry PlayBook with Bridge – A great approach

As a long-time fan of the QNX operating system, I jumped at the chance to pick up a BlackBerry PlayBook. You can read my review but the short version is that, despite some early and obvious flaws, there’s a lot to like about the BlackBerry PlayBook. In my initial review, I mentioned BlackBerry Bridge and suggested that if you weren’t a BlackBerry smartphone owner, you should probably wait until native PIM and email apps before buying.

BlackBerry Bridge Apps

BlackBerry Bridge Apps

Well, I purchased a used BlackBerry 8900 (Torch) last week and have been playing with Bridge over the weekend. As I speculated, it brings a whole new level of value to the BlackBerry PlayBook. In fact, I would best that if more reviewers had been BlackBerry owners, initial reviews of the PlayBook would have been far more positive.

BlackBerry Bridge, as used on a Torch over the Rogers network, makes the PlayBook a fully-functional device. Not only that, the execution of Bridge is quite an elegant alternative to built-in native PIM and mail apps. While Bridge limits access by design, it very handily sidesteps a slew of potential security concerns and truly turns the PlayBook into a dual-function work and play device.

One difficult decision that I’ve had to make with both the Archos 70 and Coby Kyros was whether or not to configure the devices as fully-connected and integrated parts of my digital life. By this, I mean whether or not to sync the calendar, contacts, and mail to my usual accounts. Doing so is handy, I can look up an address or quickly check/edit my calendar, but it also means that I’ve had alarms in the bedroom at midnight for all-day events, and that I have to take care to lock the devices behind a PIN or password.  Because of this, I have ended out removing mail and disabling my calendar and contacts accounts on the Android tablets.

With Bridge, I don’t need to make this call. If the tablet is close to my phone, I get access to PIM and mail over Bluetooth. If the phone is off or away, I don’t have to worry about the distractions of work. Honestly, now that I’ve had a chance to use Bridge, I vastly prefer it to the normal Android tablet approach. Not only that, I don’t need to worry about setting anything other than Bridge up. No per-device mail, calendar, and contact setup.

Bridge Calendar - Month view

Bridge Calendar - Month view

If I lend the PlayBook to a neighbour or friend, I don’t have to worry about wiping th device first. It’s actually quite liberating.

So, Bridge is very cool. I think it’s been a real missed-opportunity by RIM. Rather than trying to duck the missing native apps, I think they should have talked up Bridge and touted the behaviour as an advantage of the platform. Perhaps they should have even provided reviewers with BlackBerry phones with canned dummy content to show them how well it works.

Having used Bridge, I’m convinced that RIM is onto something here.  Security of these tablet devices is a big unanswered question.  They typically aren’t as close to you as cell phones, and locking them down as one might a laptop limits their usefulness.  As a result, the potential for data loss is huge.  RIM largely sidesteps these problems with Bridge.  Perhaps instead of creating native PIM and email apps for the PlayBook, RIM should focus on bringing Bridge capabilities to iOS and Android, which would solidly position the PlayBook as a compliment to a smartphone.  They could even continue to give away Bridge for BlackBerry but then sell Bridge for iOS and Android.  As with the iPod/Mac halo-effect, this may gently prod potential users to the BlackBerry family of products, while keeping the BlackBerry smartphone as the centre of the attention.

2011-05-23

BlackBerry PlayBook: Great in sunlight!

I was very pleased to find that the BlackBerry PlayBook screen works perfectly well in direct sunlight.  This is certainly in stark contrast to most laptops and even many cell phones.  I will no doubt be taking advantage of this with Spring finally arriving in Kingston.

Thanks, RIM!

2011-05-12

Lenovo ThinkPad T420s Review

As I have said many times before, when buying laptops, I tend to stick to Apple, ThinkPads, and now HP EliteBooks.  Lately, I’ve found ThinkPad quality to be lacking and have been instead recommending EliteBooks.  My reasoning is that great build quality, keyboard, battery life, and warranty are the most important purchasing decisions for the people that I buy and recommend systems for.

Lenovo ThinkPad T420s

In general, IBM was very guarded about what it released under the ThinkPad name.  Perhaps understandably, Lenovo has been less so over the last several years.  They call the X120e a ThinkPad, the Edge-series, and more.  While the X300 and X301 were great, the X2xx series has been getting bigger, thicker, heavier, and I think generally of lower build quality over the last several iterations.  I use the following ThinkPads at work and home:  An X61, T60, R50p, and X40.  These are all older models.  I’m sticking with them because I have felt that they are superior to Lenovo’s offerings.  This appears to have changed with the new Lenovo ThinkPad T420s.  In my opinion, it is by far the best combination of size, weight, speed, battery life,  screen, and price of any ThinkPad in the last five years.  I was beginning to give up on the ThinkPad brand, the T420s has renewed my interest and faith in Lenovo’s ability to produce a true quality business-grad laptop.  Please, read on.

Hardware

The ThinkPad T420s is a 14″ laptop.  Despite the size, it is remarkably thin and light.  The default screen resolution is 1366×768.  The model I am reviewing has an upgraded 1600×900 display that I would absolutely recommend.  As configured, the T420s is as follows:

  • CPU: Intel Core i5 2540M (2.6GHz)
  • 8GB of DDR3 RAM
  • 14″ 1600×900 LED display
  • 3 USB ports, including one combo eSATA
  • Intel HD graphics 3000
  • SD Card reader
  • VGA and DisplayPort
  • GB Ethernet
  • DVD RW drive
  • ThinkPad Dock expansion option
  • 3.7 lbs with included 6-cell battery rated for 5.5 hrs

In my opinion, the last great ThinkPad was the incredibly expensive X301.  These machines were about 3lbs and had a 13″ 1440×900 display.  However, the size and weight came at the expense of expansion, power, and price.  As noted, these machines were very expensive, in part because of the 128GB SSD 1.8″ SATA SSDs.  They were also underpowered with a ULV 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo CPU.  Finally, their biggest flaw was the lack of a proper dock connection.  While the T420s is about a half a pound heavier, it addresses all of these shortcomings.  Like the X61 before it, the T420s has a standard 2.5″ SATA drive, it is a full Core i5 and yet still offers great battery life, and it can accept an optional ThinkPad dock.  It is also worth noting that it isn’t even obvious that it weighs more than the X301.  This machine has a great balance of speed and weight

The fantastic keyboard of the T420s

Screen, Keyboard, ThinkPad Light

As mentioned, the T420s has an optional 1600×900 display.  The extra screen resolution makes a huge difference to me.  This is a great resolution for a 14″ screen and is even a significant upgrade from the X300s 1440×900 display.  The display is also much thinner and brigher than previous ThinkPad displays, yet this doesn’t seem to affect build-quality.  Yes, this is a proper matte display.

Next. we have the keyboard.  In short, it is perfect.  If you are a long-time ThinkPad user, you will be delighted.  This is a traditional, excellent ThinkPad keyboard, not the odd chicklet-style used on the X120e.  The keyboard, trackpoint, and trackpad are great and are subtle improvements over previous offerings.  The ThinkPad light is present and accounted for.

Heat, Noise, Odd and Ends

I am very fussy when it comes to system noise.  This ThinkPad is among the quietest I’ve used, and I certainly haven’t felt it get very warm.

The extra width of the 14″ widescreen display has been put to good use on the T420s.  The great keyboard is flanked by the best speakers I’ve heard on a ThinkPad.  They still aren’t great but are a vast improvement over most ThinkPad speakers.  In the miscellaneous category, it’s worth noting that the included power adapter is nice and small – much smaller than any other stock Lenovo ThinkPad adapter I’ve seen bundled.  It is the usual T60+ style with the grey and yellow plug.

The T420s between an 11" MacBook Air and a 12" ThinkPad X61

Overall Build Quality

I’m happy to report that the T420s is also a standout with respect to build quality.  Despite being quite thin for the size, the laptop is very sturdy.  The thin display has a slight flex if forced, but is also very solid.  They keyboard is perfect, no flex at all.  The T420s incorporates the traditional ThinkPad black plastic finish over a roll cage, and the keyboard has the usual drip holes out the bottom of the laptop.

Cases Closed. Again, the MBA, T420s and X61

Linux Compatibility

I installed Ubuntu 11.04 AMD64 on the machine in a wubi install.  All hardware was detected and is properly supported.  Great job, Canonical!  I haven’t tested but would be willing to bet that there would be some issues with the new Intel integrated video in older releases.

Wrapping Up

I think that just about says it all.  This unit (type 4171-52U) was $1500 to start.  Upgraded from 4 to 8GB of RAM and with an 3-year NBD on-site warranty covering accidental drops, it was $1850 before taxes.  Not cheap but not terribly expensive either.  This is a great machine that easily lives up to the ThinkPad name and heritage.  I highly recommend this machine as a full-time, every day working machine and would be sure to get the high-res 1600×900 version.  In my opinion, Lenovo has produced the first great post-X300 ThinkPad.  It is an excellent meld of the X300 and T60 lines.

2011-05-09

Lenovo ThinkPad T420s: A ThinkPad worthy of the name

A new Lenovo ThinkPad T420s arrived today for someone at work.  I must say, this is the first ThinkPad that has impressed me since the X301.  This is a nice machine.  I’ll do a full review soon but all of the elements are there:  High resolution screen, great keyboard, ThinkPad light, optical drive, no bulging batteries, and a tough design.  I offer my congratulations to Lenovo. This is a very nice machine worthy of the ThinkPad name.