I've owned a Sony Pocket PRS-300 ebook reader for a couple of years and I've been pretty happy with it. I've been looking for a replacement because, although the Sony Pocket is fine, it isn't capable of internet access, which is what I've been wanting in order to comfortably read articles on factual sites and blogs. I've been printing out some articles that I wanted to read.
I don't find reading long articles comfortable on either a laptop or desktop computer. As an alternative, I considered using the Opera browser cartridge on my Nintendo DS Lite. Performance was, however, very poor, and the DS lacks the ability to natively read ebook formats, although it is possible to install homebrew software to do this.
There are two new Amazon Kindles that I had been considering, but neither are out in the UK yet. These are the Kindle Touch 3G and the Kindle Fire. The web browser on the Touch 3G, which is the same browser as on the older Kindle Keyboard 3G, is still classed as experimental, even though it's now been around for a while, which isn't totally reassuring. The Fire has a full colour display and the browser isn't classed as experimental. The Touch 3G also had built in free 3G as well as WiFi; the Fire only has WiFi.
The browser, which is probably the main improvement I wanted in my replacement reader, wasn't possible to test on the demonstration models as it wasn't an available feature, although when Amazon was contacted, they stated that if a Kindle was purchased and I wasn't happy with it, it could be returned.
I could have looked into purchasing the Kindle Keyboard 3G, which is available in the UK, but there didn't seem much point in buying a product I know has now been replaced.
Whilst browsing the selection of ebook readers and tablets in a branch of PC World, I noticed that the BlackBerry PlayBook, something I had never looked at before, was discounted by £230, being £169 instead of the full list price of £399. I've seen it discounted in other shops and online too, also usually well below list price. The assistant in PC World said that BlackBerry were trying to get more people to buy the PlayBook instead of an Android or Apple tablet, and were therefore discounting them.
This is the first BlackBerry item I've bought, so I'm not able to use the BlackBerry Bridge, which is probably popular with those using a BlackBerry phone, as the bridge allows you to connect to the internet using your BlackBerry phone and use BlackBerry Messenger on the PlayBook.
In terms of size, the PlayBook is bigger in every dimension than the Sony Pocket and about twice as heavy. It did appear to be similar in dimensions to the Kindle Fire though. I was still able to put the PlayBook in a pocket, although not quite as easily as with the Sony.
When you initially set up your PlayBook, you must have a WiFi connection that you can use to get online. It isn't possible to just turn it on and try out the available features until you can connect to the internet and agree to the license. Unlike the Touch 3G, but like the Fire, it doesn't have 3G built in, but does have WiFi. You can connect to the internet through your mobile, though, using the BlackBerry Bridge if you have a BlackBerry phone, or Internet Tethering if you have another suitable internet capable phone. Both use Bluetooth.
There isn't a physical manual. Not, admittedly, that uncommon with new devices these days, but the Help app that comes installed requires an internet connection to access the complete list of help topics, and also doesn't seem to adequately cover all the devices features.
Purely considered as an ebook reader, it has less functionality than the Sony Pocket in some ways. The installed Adobe Reader doesn't have the ability to remember your page in an open document and hasn't got the ability to add bookmarks. The Kobo reader that comes with it that allows you to buy books from the Kobo store seems to only work with books bought that way.
With a bit of research, I was able to find the Book Reader app, by Untangled Development, that cost £1 (or $0.99 in the US) and has the ability to read ebooks in the ePub - which most of my non-pdf ebooks are - and Kindle formats. Unlike the Sony Reader, the app doesn't have any library software for installing on your computer, although the installed Sony Reader Library software from my Pocket can still be used to help organise my books. There are more ways of customising the Book Reader app than the Sony Pocket had, though. Hopefully, in the future either Untangled Development will improve their app so it can handle more ebook types, or another app that can will be launched.
The battery life of the PlayBook is less than the ebook readers, which is understandable given that it is doing more than a reader. Battery life can also be lengthened by turning off things such as Bluetooth and WiFi when they aren't in use. It also can't be charged from a computer, but has to be charged from a wall socket.
With apps, you will find more in the Apple and Android stores than you will in BlackBerry's AppWorld. BlackBerry did announce that they were going to develop an Android Application Player app, but it appears that it hasn't been released yet. This would greatly increase the number of apps available. There are also some development tools available that allow developers to quickly package their Android apps for the PlayBook.
The PlayBook was pretty cheap. Its cost was probably similar to what Amazon will be charging for the Kindle Fire when it's finally released in the UK, although the PlayBook would appear to have more features.
There is a built in 5 megapixel digital camera, which also can take videos. This resolution is perfectly fine for most amateur usage and quite a bit of semi-professional or professional. The current trend in digital cameras is to push resolutions of 10 megapixels or greater, sometimes much greater, onto customers, when this is far too much for most people's actual needs. There is a facing 3 megapixel camera that can be used for video chatting also.
You can download BlackBerry Desktop Manager from the BlackBerry site for free, and I'd recommend doing this.
Whilst I don't think the PlayBook was worth the full list price of £399 - I'd rather buy a new laptop for that sort of money - I do think it was worth the amount I actually paid for it. Although I've mentioned a number of disadvantages, the PlayBook does what I bought it for. Its' cost was similar to what I would have spent replacing my existing ebook reader, and I haven't even begun to explore all the other features available. Overall, I'm happy with my new PlayBook.