Name: BlackBerry PlayBook
Specs: 1GHz dual-core processor, 7-inch 1024x600 WSVGA LCD touchscreen, BlackBerry Tablet OS, 16 GB, wi-fi, Bluetooth, Dual cameras, 1080p video recording, 1 GB of RAM
Price: $499 (as tested)
The Back Story: It's funny—besides the iPad 2, RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook tablet is the year's most highly anticipated tablet release. More so than the Motorola Xoom or any Samsung Galaxy model. Why? Not sure, really. It may be because BlackBerry is the last major mobile platform to toss its hat into the tablet war. It may also due to the current state of BlackBerry's parent company, RIM. Multiple surveys, studies, and news reports had the company ceding mobile market share to Google and Apple. Combine that with all the reports about what the PlayBook was going to have… and not have—no native mail app. Support for Android apps—and you found yourself with a product people were genuinely interested in. Yeah, most of them were interested in seeing it crash and burn, but that's besides the point. The fact of the matter is all eyes were on BlackBerry and its new tablet. We got our hands on one and played with it for a week along side an iPad 2 and a Galaxy Tab. Here's what we think.
Perfect size, fit, and finish for mobile use: The PlayBook measures in at 5.1-inches tall, 7.6-inches wide, and 0.4-inches thick. It's considerably smaller than the iPad 2 and roughly the same size as the Samsung Galaxy Tab. However, we found it to be much more solidly built than the Galaxy Tab. Yeah, it's a bit thicker, but it felt much better in hand. The back is a covered in a rubbery soft-touch material that makes it easy to grip. Also helping with the in-hand use is the 0.6" black frame surrounding the screen. It may not be the best looking tablet on the market, but it's one of the best to hold.
Great display: The PlayBook comes with a 7-inch, 1024x600 capacitive touchscreen display that presents colors in a bright, clear manner, and is able to handle really deep blacks. It's very accurate, as well. Touch sensitivity was on point a majority of the time.
Inventive, easy-to-use OS: For the PlayBook, RIM ditched its BlackBerry OS and built an entirely new OS, called BlackBerry Tablet OS. The new system is built upon the QNX Neutrino OS, a solid operating system that is particularly good at multi-tasking. The user interface comes courtesy of the folks over at The Astonishing Tribe (TAT), a company purchased by RIM last year.
It takes about 10 minutes to familiarize yourself with the Tablet OS. From there on out, it's a breeze to use. The team that worked on it must have taken a look around the industry and took bits and pieces of other systems that they liked. There's no "Home" button. To move out of an app, you simply swipe it up and away. Multi-tasking is made easy by the WebOS-like stream of app windows that appear at the top of the screen. To hop into a new app, simply tap, and you're there. To move to another app while using an app, you swipe from the left or right—the gestures are actually really cool.To access the "Settings", you just swipe your finger down from the top of the screen in an Android-like fashion.
Good battery life: With wi-fi on, Bluetooth used every-now-and-then, and some casual web browsing, YouTube watching, and light picture taking, the PlayBook lasted, on average, for 10 hours.
Sound quality and integrated media controls: Equipped with two speakers—oddly placed right where your hands are supposed to hold it—the PlayBook belts out some of the best sound we've heard on a tablet. Also, on the music tip, we dig how when you're playing a song, you can tap the "Play" icon in the top info bar and find out what song you're playing and have the option to pause or go to the next song. It's the little things.
Sports the best BlackBerry browser yet: Ask any BlackBerry user and they'll tell you that the browser is the phone's weak spot. For the Torch, RIM upgraded the browser to a webkit-based piece of software that was able to better render pages. On the PlayBook it's worlds better. Pages rendered perfectly and quickly. You get Flash in all it's glory and annoyance—YouTube videos and ads. Flash-based games, on the other hand, don't fare so well. If, for some reason, you need a tablet with a browser than can run Flash, the PlayBook is it.
Right price: The Model we tested (16 GB, wi-fi) retails for $499. The top-of-the-line 64 GB, wi-fi model goes for $699. That's right in line with the iPad 2.
Lack of native apps: In a puzzling and dumbfounding move, the PlayBook lacks a native e-mail, calendar, or contacts application. We'll say that one more time you. The BlackBerry PlayBook, a tablet touted as the device for those who want to do actual, serious work on-the-go, lacks three of the most widely used business apps. It's really amazing, if you think about it. The only way to access those feature is to use BlackBerry Bridge, a feature that connects your BlackBerry phone to the PlayBook via Bluetooth. Once connected your e-mail, contacts, and calendar falls under a new menu on the homescreen and is easy to work with, but the fact that you have to go through that process to access all of that is ridiculous.
No BBM as of now: Yup, if you want to use BBM on the PlayBook, you'll have to wait for the new version of BBM to be released. Hopefully it hits before or on the tablet's release date.
Windows PC-only synching: Right now the BlackBerry Desktop software only works with Windows PCs.
Lack of good apps available in App World store: RIM says there will be around 3400 apps available at launch. We hope, really hope, there's an influx of new ones before it hits stores, 'cause as of now, most of them, well, suck.
The Tablet OS can be flaky at times: As much as we like the Tablet OS, it can still use some refinement. There were multiple times when we had to tap an icon over, and over, and over before it registered, or when the screen would freak out when moving from the camera to another app.
Final Say: The BlackBerry PlayBook is a solid tablet offering. Really, it is. It's very well-designed, feels great in-hand, has a great screen, and a zippy processor. RIM could have taken the easy way out, rested on its laurels and created something very derivative of its past successes and the current market successes, but it didn't. It tried something new, and for the most part it succeeded. For the most part, it's a pleasure to use. However, when compared to the iPad 2, Samsung Galaxy Tab, or the Motorola Xoom it's hard to see where the PlayBook fits in. Those tablets do everything this can; they are all supported by an ecosystem of well-designed third-party apps, and they call come equipped with everything you need to get things done, i.e. built in e-mail, calendar, and contacts applications. RIM has a solid foundation from which to build, though, and we're sure a lot of these bugs can be fixed. Until then, it's won't be on the same level as the iPad 2 or Xoom.