This week in Mobile News Manor #16: PlayBook and LTE

This is a peek into a technology writer’s home office, aka Mobile News Manor, discussing gadgets, apps, best practices using same, and ebooks. This week was PlayBook time.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor on

One of the primary benefits of being a technology writer is the ability to work in my home office, aka Mobile News Manor (MNM). It is a bustling place, with evaluation gadgets constantly arriving and going back to the vendors. As part of my daily work I spend a fair bit of time testing these gadgets for review, and also looking at new apps for various platforms to streamline my work methods.

This column is my look back each week to share pertinent experiences that I believe you might find useful. There is no telling what you might find in this column, but you’ll definitely get a feel for what it is like testing gadgets for a living. Welcome to the Manor.

Gadgets in the Manor

Two little gadgets arrived in the Manor this week: the BlackBerry PlayBook and the Novatel 4G LTE MiFi. The PlayBook is a 16GB WiFi model and the MiFi works on the Verizon network. I've spent more than a few hours with these two devices, and reviewed both of them this week.

I have been harsh in the past about the PlayBook, as early reviews were quick to point out its shortcomings. I agree with most of those reviews, but admit I'm finding the PlayBook is more useful in my testing than I thought it would be. The lack of a native email app at launch has been bandied about freely in the press, and RIM deserves getting called out on that omission. But for a Gmail user like me I am finding that the desktop quality web browser more than makes up for that email app omission.

I use Gmail in the browser on my desktop in both OS X and Windows, as I find it fits my work style better than using a client app. The PlayBook browser handles Gmail with ease, and I find the two-pane display on the tablet to be a good way to work with Gmail. Once I set up the PlayBook, I quickly found that the lack of a native email app didn't affect me in the slightest. I would feel differently about this if I used another email method such as Exchange, but I don't and it works OK for me.

The lack of apps in the App World is a definite problem RIM must address, and quickly. There's not a lot of stuff in the store, and there are holes in the way I use tablets due to lack of apps to fill them. I particularly miss apps for Twitter, Facebook and RSS feed reading. I do these tasks a lot on tablets, and while the full web pages are available for each, it's not as good as having dedicated apps to do them. The full New Twitter site works well in the PlayBook browser, but I don't even like using that on the desktop. I hope developers step up to the app challenge on the PlayBook, as it is my number one problem with the tablet.

I like how easy it is to connect the PlayBook over WiFi to my Mac and Windows systems. It's a drop-dead easy way to move files back and forth with no wires, and it's come in handy more than once. I wish all tablets had this capability out of the box, without requiring apps to do.

I don't have an active BlackBerry phone so I can't test the BlackBerry Bridge to link the PlayBook to a phone. I'm hearing differing accounts from users on how well this works, and I'd like to test it myself. This is a vital piece of the BlackBerry puzzle for the PlayBook, and it needs to be bulletproof in operation.

The Novatel 4G LTE MiFi showed up this week and it gave me the opportunity to compare it with my Samsung 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot I bought a week ago. These two gadgets are now sold by Verizon to sling its 4G connectivity to other devices, and I've been using the heck out of it since picking up the Samsung.

My testing comparing the two devices show them to be pretty much equal, and I wouldn't have a problem recommending either of them to those looking for a Verizon mobile hotspot device. I'm happy with the Samsung once the original defective unit was replaced, and have experienced no issues with the Novatel MiFi at all. I am hearing that the Novatel cannot be used as a hotspot while it is plugged into a laptop via USB for charging, and I intend to test that myself. That could be a potential negative for those considering one of these two gadgets.

App of the week and great ebooks »

App of the week

I was playing with gadgets so much this week I didn't play with new apps as much as usual. The Sonos folks, producers of the wireless audio systems, released the Android app to control the sound system and I picked it up. I use the Sonos at home and love it, and the Android app now makes it simple to completely control it from either my Android phone or my Galaxy Tab.

My wife has long been able to control the Sonos system from her iPhone, as an iOS app has been available for some time. Now that I can do the same from my Android devices, we're already having remote control wars with the system. Music regularly changes in mid-song, and the volume has a tendency to go up and down seemingly at whim. We'll have to develop some rules for using the apps if this keeps up.

Ebook of the week

The ebook of the week is the latest novel by Michael Connelly in his Mickey Haller series. Connelly is a master storyteller, and The Fifth Witness is the best book I've read in a while. The story is as full of action and plot twists as any novel, and told in a way that insures rapid page-turning. I enjoyed this novel so much, right down to the surprise ending that turned the whole story on its ear. I highly recommend The Fifth Witness.

I see on my calendar that April 26 is the U. S. release of the latest Nic Costa novel by my buddy David Hewson. This series is one of my favorites in the mystery/thiller genre, as evidenced by its release being noted on my calendar. I can't wait to read The Fallen Angel, as the Nic Costa series is simply superb. Fans of David's work don't want to miss this novel, which according to online reviews is the best so far. How much am I anticipating this book? I just hit the pre-order button on Amazon, only to be told I already did that.


Another week in Mobile News Manor draws to a close, and as always I enjoyed sharing it with you. I'll be back with the next edition of the column the same time next week. I love sharing the week with you in this column, and I hope you get something to take away with you each week. If there is something you'd like to see me cover in this column, let me know in the TalkBack. While I love writing this column, it is for you. Have a good holiday weekend.

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