Sunday, January 1, 2012

PlayBook FAQ: Questions from New PlayBook Owners

I've received a lot of questions from folks just getting started with using the PlayBook so I thought I'd pull together a quick FAQ based on the questions people have been asking me.  I may do some longer posts to dive into detail on some of the topics if you are interested, just let me know.  Also if you have a question feel free to add a comment to this post and I'll do my best to help out.   If you are looking at some apps to get started with check out my previous post.

Q1: How do I transfer files to my PlayBook from my PC or Mac?
A1: There are 4 basic ways to do this.
  1. Wired: Simplest method.  Use the USB wire to connect to your PC or Mac, and your PB should show up as a disk drive (Drive Z:) and you simply drag and drop files as you would any disk drive. If it doesn't show up automatically, try loading your BlackBerry Desktop Manager and the PlayBook should pop up as a Z drive. 
  2. Wireless:  To do this you need to do some setup work once but once setup it's very handy to be able to wirelessly via wifi  move files without wires anywhere on your home network.  The setup is basically done by going into your PlayBook Settings.  Selecting "Storage & Sharing" and then turning "Wi-Fi Sharing" ON.    In most cases this will all you need to do.  However, if you have customized your home network with a unique Workgroup name or are establishing additional Password protection, you will need to click on Properties and modify the workgroup name to align with your home networking Workgroup.
  3. Desktop Manager:  You can also use the BlackBerry Desktop Manager to transfer files, and synchronize files with your PC.  Fairly straight forward to do this, but personal preference is to be able to do this without having to load another piece of software. 
  4. DropBox: is basically providing a cloud solution to access files.  I love DropBox as I can access key files from any browser anywhere. 

Q2.  What video formats should I use for best viewing on my PlayBook? 
A2.  The official BlackBerry documentation states a wide range of video formats, and the 2.0 release will likely add several more.   The receommended format is in .MP4 (H.264 Video + AAC audio) and to take advantage of the 1080p output to HDMI, you'll want 1920 x 1080 resolution even though the tablet itself won't be able to take full advantage of that resolution.

Q3.  Any recommendations on how to convert videos for the PlayBook?
A3:  There are several video converting tools out there for the PC and Mac.  On the PC, my favourite is FreeMake Video Converter which is a free piece of software that has a simple UI, and a specific PlayBook setting so you don't need to fuss with the settings.

Q4: How can I make my battery last longer?
A4: There are basically 3 things you can do.
  1. Reduce Brightness on Screen (Click the Battery and use the slider to reduce brightness)
  2. Change the Multitasking Behaviour (Click Settings, The General and Select Default or Paused) - Personally I always have mine set at Showcase as this is 100% true multi-tasking which I love. 
  3. Turn off wifi or bluetooth connections if you are not using them (click on the respective icons on top right to turn on and off)
Q5: How do I get access to the 2.0 OS?
A5: RIM has stated that the software upgrade which will be done wirelessly will be available in February 2012 so you can just wait... OR... If you can't wait and want access to the new OS and Android apps you can visit the beta site to install the beta version.  However like any Beta, you need to be willing to put up with bugginess and challenges.  If you are not a power user, I suggest just waiting until February release. 

Q6: How do I synchronize iTunes with my PlayBook?
A6: Use the BlackBerry Desktop Manager to synchronize what files you want to have on your PlayBook. You can also easily stream your whole music library with Orb as I've discussed in an earlier post.

Q7: I am having challenges with setting up BlackBerry Bridge.  Any advice?
A7: This can be a challenging issue, but my advice is to ensure that you have the latest OS on your BlackBerry (you will need 5.0 or better) and the latest versions of the Bridge software and your PlayBook OS.   You may need to remove the devices already paired and reset both devices if there is a problem.  If the problem persist you are likely going to need to call RIM tech support. There is also a decent post by RIM detailing how to leverage bridge fully

Q8: How do I reset the device?
A8: If you can still access the device you can press the battery icon and select reset.  If it is completely frozen, then hold down the power button on the top for 5 seconds or so and it should reset.  

Q9: How do I create an Icon right on my homescreen to access a  website without having to launch the browser?
A9: Simply go to the website in the browser, then select the star with the + sign and select Add to Home Screen

Q10:  How do I re-arrange, delete and regroup the icons on my home screen? 
A10:  Hold down the icon and you will be able to do all the above. 

Q11:  How do I copy & paste on the PlayBook?
A11: Hold down the text and use the two anchors to select the text you want to copy.  More detailed explanation can be found here.

Q12: Where else can I get help on using my PlayBook?
A12:  the official RIM site has several good "how to" type articles and a knowledge base which you can search.

So there are some of the questions I've been getting, but if you have other questions feel free to ask them and I'll do my best to get back to you.  As a few of my friends are owners of small businesses, I plan on writing up a post about how to use the PlayBook for small businesses in the near future too.

Finally, I stumbled upon this pretty good "getting started" with the BlackBerry PlayBook video which goes over several of the items I've mentioned along with some basic navigation must-knows.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Best Free Apps to Get Started with Your New BlackBerry PlayBook

For those new to the BlackBerry PlayBook, here are a few simple and free apps that I have been recommending to friends and family to go get started fast.  In fact, I'm giving away several PlayBooks for Christmas this year and this is what I am pre-loading on all of them....

Games... After all it's a "Play"Book

1. Super Air Hockey:  Play against a friend or against the PlayBook, this is a perfect example of  touchscreen simplicity.  Fun for all ages.

2. Fruits and Ninjas:  You got fruits.. You got Ninjas...  What else do you need?  In this game you slash through fruit with your finger making the world safe from dangerous fruit.

3. Doodle Blast:  This is a great puzzle game where you use virtual ink to complete the maze and capture the marbles.  You only have so much ink so you need to be strategic on where you draw the lines and let gravity do it's job.

4. Popcorn Rush: Touching the kernals will pop them into popcorn... The more you pop... the higher your score.  Just beware of the bombs!  Easy enough for all aged players.

5. Tile Breaker Free:  The best "breakout" type game on the PlayBook.  Simply move your finger to the spot you need your bat at and knock away those levels.

6. Assembler Mobile 2:  Great gravity based puzzle game.  Here's a hint...  Turn ON your "lock orientation" on your PlayBook to play this game on the higer levels. Otherwise the PlayBook will reorient itself while you are flipping it upside down.

7. Fly Squirrel Fly 2:  Pull back on your slingshot with a flying squirrel... and let it rip...  Silly fun as your squirrel goes flying through the levels picking up points and special abilities!

8. Bubble Birds:  The classic bubble popping game where you need to strategically put the coloured bubbles together and pop the series.  Clear them all and you are on to the next level.

9. Protect The Cheese:  Another puzzle game where you need to make sure the cheese doesn't hit the ground!  Fun for all ages.

Kids Stuff....  The Playbook Slices & Dices and can even babysit!

1. Coloring Book:  Simple colouring book for kids where they get to pick the pictures that need to be coloured and then simply select the shades and colour away.

2. MakeThemLaugh: A sound effects board so kids can make sound effects such as laughter, clapping, gasping, etc. Kids love to use the effects in their skits and plays.

3. Get Growing:  A TVO (TV Ontario) educational game that lets your kids plant and grow their own plants along with other activities.

Other Useful Apps

1. Scrapbook:  With pictures you've taken or downloaded you can use this native scrapbooking application to make scrapbook pages and share them with family and friends.

2. Piano:  Simple keyboard that you can also record your masterpieces.
This is perhaps the simplest of the keyboard like programs but definately my favourite.
3. iSpeech Translator:  Handy dandy language translator for everyday use.  Not only will it translate voice, but you can also translate text!

4. Sketchbook:  Need to quickly draw? Tthen sketchbook is a great app that allows you to do just that.  You can use whiteboard, blackboard or even a picture as the backdrop.

5. Vevo:  Music lovers must-have!  All the major videos and interesting info on your fave artists are all on vevo. 

6. Score Mobile: Sports lovers must-have providing loads of information, stats, game tracking, live blogs and a ton of other  features.

Once you've mastered these and want to transform your PlayBook into a mobile multimedia powerhouse, check out my earlier post on the essential PlayBook power user apps.  But for now, these should help you get started.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

3 Essential Apps to Become a BlackBerry PlayBook Power User

Congratulations!  You just got a brand new BlackBerry PlayBook for Christmas.  Now what are the essential apps you need to become a power user? Well, I've done my best to compile this list of what I would consider the essential apps to really leverage this remarkable tablet.  First, off let me state that I am assuming you already have your basics like BlackBerry Bridge installed and configured.

1. BlueBox:  Access & Manage your files between your PlayBook, PC and BlackBerry

Whether it's videos, music, powerpoints, spreadsheets, pictures, etc.,  BlueBox which provides a gateway into DropBox let's you transfer these files simply across any and all of your devices.  This means you can easily access key content via the cloud without using your storage on the actual devices.  For example, I can take a picture or video on my PlayBook, transfer it to DropBox and share it with just my family, or access it from my home PC in a couple of seconds.  Or I can save my spreadsheet from work, and hope on the train and continue working on it without ever having to connect with a wire.  It's simple, wireless and free!

2.  Orb Launcher:  Stream multimedia from your home PC to your BlackBerry PlayBook wirelessly

Streaming content is simple with Orb.  Basically you just download and configure the desktop Orb Caster on your PC or Mac and then you install & setup the Orb launcher from AppWorld and you are good to go.  Now your 5 Terabytes of videos on your home is accessible to your PlayBook from any Internet connection without taking up any storage on your device.  If you have a 16GB version, this is a must have!  You have access to all your music, pictures, movies, PVR'd TV Shows,  and even your security and Web cameras right through your PlayBook.  A nice aspect of Orb is that regardless of  the format, if your PC can read it, it will stream thanks to the Flash Support of the PlayBook.  Now how cool is that?!

Here is a video by the author of the Orb Launcher detailing how to configure your PlayBook and demonstrating streaming.

3. IMT VNC: Remote control your PC from anywhere!

Anything you want to do on your PC, you can now do on your BlackBerry PlayBook.  If you are like me, that can mean quite a bit.  For example, I have my multi-room sound system completely connected to my PC and with IMT VNC, this means I also have it on my PlayBook.  If you connect your PC to your HDTV you now have a remote control that can completely control everything.  No need for watered down apps, when you can access the real deal app on your desktop.  Now, to be fair I do have to caution that the usability on the tablet can take some getting used to (e.g. right mouse button) but having this control will definitely make you to a power user.

With these 3 essential apps, you are well on your way to becoming a PlayBook Power User.  If you have other suggestions I'd love to hear them.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Determining Which PlayBook is Right for You (16GB, 32GB, 64GB)

One question I hear often is, which PlayBook is right for me?  Is the 16Gb PlayBook enough? Perhaps the 32Gb or maybe the 64Gb?

As you probably guessed, it all depends.  With the only real difference amongst the PlayBooks being storage, (there is no difference in weight & functionality), you need to understand what you will store locally.  This is based on 3-dimensions: Content Consumption, Content  Building, and Fidelity

Content Consumption

The first factor to consider is how much content you want to access.  More storage means more movies and music and games etc.  Remember the PlayBook has the best resolution from a pixels per inch perspective and is capable of delivery video in true 1080P hi-def so having those really big files for optimal resolution and quality is going to take up a large amount of storage locally.  If you are using your PlayBook as a high fidelity multimedia powerhouse a 64GB is definitely the way to go.

Content Building

Considering the portability of the PlayBook and the phenomenal 1080P video recording compared to the iPad's 760/30p video and bulkiness, creating videos is quite popular.  This resolution comes at a cost and recording an hour's worth of footage can easily get up to a few gigabytes in no time. However, keep in mind that with no flash, you will be limited to only outdoors and brightly lit environments and today's video recording devices are so small and convenient that I typically only use PlayBook recording for ad-hoc times, which usually doesn't require hours of recording.  Besides video recording, you are unlikely to create gigabytes of content so from this perspective unless you knowingly are planning on doing a lot of video recording you can get by with a 32gb or even 16gb assuming you will transfer your content elsewhere.

Fidelity and The Cloud...

As a parent,  I occasionally succumb to the need for video to help entertain the kids. At home I have 1TB collection of videos and music files on an external 1TB hard-drive to draw from.  Obviously, I can't fit all of that on my PlayBook.  However, leveraging the built-in flash capabilities of the PlayBook along with some free software from Orb and the fantastic Orb Launcher available in App World, I can easily stream content from my house to my PlayBook so I really don't need all that storage.  The compromise however is fidelity.  If you really need that 1080P resolution, you will lose some of that while streaming a compressed file but the quality via Orb however is pretty decent and I have to say, my kids have always been quite happy that I have access to everything at home. My point here is that if you don't need high fidelity for everything and have either wifi access or a really really good data plan, then a 16GB or 32GB might just do the job.

What do I have?  Well currently I have a couple of 16GB PlayBooks but I will definitely be getting a 64gb once the new models come out.  For most folks though I suggest a 32GB, which will allow you to easily carry a bunch of HD videos so you can plug into HDTV's  along with lots of lower resolution where you don't require as much fidelity.  Combine that with some direct streaming of content from your home or cloud, and you're pretty much set..

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Navigating the BlackBerry PlayBook With Gestures

When you bought your new PlayBook and set it up, you were forced to learn 2 gestures.  The "swipe up" from the bottom bevel for Home Screen, and the Apps menu "swipe down" from top bevel.

However, if you are like me, you probably were anxious to start playing with the PlayBook and didn't bother to look at the help or setup to find the out the other gestures.  Using the PlayBook is a lot like golf.  Anybody can just go ahead and pick up some golf clubs and hack around but your enjoyment and ability to master the game vastly improves if you learn the basics.  The same holds for the PlayBook.  

Here is a link to a one page printer friendly PDF chart of all the gestures!

Below is chart you can refer too as well.  Happy PlayBook'n

Keyboard Pop  – To bring up the keyboard at anytime even when not prompted just swipe diagonally up/right.

Swipe – To scroll through a list, pan across a webpage, move between pictures and more, just touch the screen and slide your finger up and down or right and left.

Pinch – To zoom in and out of a webpage, picture or other content, touch the screen with your finger and thumb and pinch them together, or spread apart to zoom in and out.

Drag – To move an item from one place to another, touch and hold the item for several seconds until it starts shaking. You can then slide your finger to the position where you want to place the item.

Home Screen and minimize apps – Swipe up from the bottom frame onto the screen to view the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet home screen, which will allow you to open a different application and view other applications you are currently using.

Show the menu – In many applications, you can find additional features, options, and help in the application menu. To access this menu, swipe down from the top frame onto the screen. Once you are finished, just tap away from the menu to close i

Switch between apps – You can flip between your open applications without having to return to the home screen. To do this, while viewing an application, swipe in from the left or right frame onto the screen. You can then swipe left or right to move between open applications.
Show the status bar – You can peek at the status bar without leaving the app you’re using currently, which is really handy. This is a great way to quickly check your notifications, see the time, keep an eye on your battery power level, change system options, and more. One of my favorite tricks is to use this gesture whenever I want to enable the orientation lock feature. To do this, swipe in from the top-left frame onto the screen.
Close an application – The first step is using the gesture that allows you to view the home screen, which is swiping up from the bottom bezel. You can then touch the application window that appears and flick up to close the app. You also have the option of tapping the X that appears to close the application as well.
Switch between views on the home screen – Swipe left or right in the lower part of the home screen to change between views such as All, Favorites, Media or BlackBerry® Bridge™, for example.

(Thank-You CrackBerry for original content and images)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Mindmaps: My Favourite Professional BlackBerry PlayBook App

The PlayBook for me is first and foremost a professional tool.  Sure I play the games, and often find sticky fingers on my PlayBook from the kids using it to play DoodleBlast or PopCorn Rush.  But what I love about my PlayBook is that I can show-up to meetings (which I have way too many of) and my hands are completely free.  I got my BlackBerry on my side and my PlayBook in my pant pocket or my Jacket Pocket.

When I pull out my PlayBook, I get a few glances but when I start to zip around on it in a meeting, that's when I notice people around me starting to look over my shoulder. 

A typical meeting, will have someone running through a deck that they e-mailed.  I am an impatient person so I tend to download the deck myself and flip through the slides as I see fit without waiting for the presenter to get to their point.  I do this while my responding and composing e-mails, doing my BBM and I've even had the audacity to browse the web for facts that will either dispute what the presenter is saying or support them.  AND I DO THIS ALL AT THE SAME TIME!  Why doesn't RIM do a better job demonstrating/marketing why "true" multi-tasking is so important?  

But back to the main point of post.  The other app which I use religiously is Mindmaps by Vandewalle Bram.  If you are familiar with mind mapping you will find this to be a great intuitive tool.  It's custom built for the PlayBook and it's beauty is it's simplicity.  I've tried all the other mindmapping apps out there for PlayBook but by far, I always come back to Mindmaps.    If you are not familiar with mindmapping, I think you will find with a little practice that you will be able to understand complex ideas, process large amounts of information, and even solve challenging problems with the use of mind maps which provide a synaptic understanding of concepts. 

If you are new to mindmapping, there are several sources to learn about it. Mind Mapping is a great compliment to the tablet, because, let's face it...  VIRTUAL KEYBOARDS SUCK compared to real keyboards but mind-mapping doesn't require you to do a ton of typing, you just need to jot down the key trigger word.

This application allows me to quickly relate concepts, and provides me the base tools to organize those concepts by shapes, icons and colours.  A simple "+" to add and "-" to erase quickly allows me to build branches and tap on my virtual keyboard.  I can pinch to zoom, pan across the map, and quickly find centre.  Once I am done, I can export this to FreeMind which I love on my PC and do further editing if required, or render it as a .JPG to quickly share with my colleagues. 

Something I am looking forward to trying is actually facilitating a session with a live mind-map hooked up to a big-screen monitor/projector all on my playbook.  It's great way to brainstorm with a bunch of people working on a single map.  Of course when I do that, I won't be be able to do all that other cool multi-tasking stuff...

So what are your favourite PlayBook Apps?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sonos Application for BlackBerry PlayBook

Do you have a Sonos Wireless HiFi Multi-Room System and would love to control it through your BlackBerry PlayBook?  Well that sounds like me.  I searched high and low for an app, but to this date there isn't any app for the PlayBook from either Sonos, RIM or any 3rd party developer. 

Luckily for you, I've figured out a way to actually control your Sonos system with your PlayBook!!!

The trick is to take advantage of the PlayBook's awesome web browser, leverage remote PC system, and use the Sonos Desktop Controller.  This way you will be able to basically control your PC running the Sonos Desktop Controller! Here are the steps to do this so you can control your Sonos system from your PlayBook

Step 1: Install the Sonos Desktop Controller on your PC or Mac.

Step 2: Install Remote PC Software & Complete Registration. 

I personally use LogMeIn, as I find the fidelity a bit better than other options. 

Step 3: Access your PC from your BlackBerry Browser by going to and log in. 

Now just type in your ID & Passwords, and you are all set!

Of course you can do a lot more than just use Sonos with LogMeIn but for me, this was what I was really looking for!  You will need to change the resolution a little bit and play with some of the settings to optimize it for your PlayBook, but it is pretty cool and now you can control your Sonos system from your PlayBook!

Now until RIM comes out with a PlayBook Android Player as they promised, this will get you by!

Hope you find this useful