RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook – First Impressions

By: Gadjo Sevilla

April 22, 2011
BlackBerry PlayBook

We've finally got the PlayBook in our hands!

By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

We’ve only had RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook for less than 24 hours, we cover some of the features and capabilities of this impressive and powerful  niche tablet.While still too early to give a firm opinion on where it stands on the market, but enough time to form some initial impressions of RIM’s first non-smartphone device.

We’ve been acquainted with the BlackBerry PlayBook ever since it was announced 7 months ago, we were thrilled to see it in action during CES 2011 in Las Vegas where RIM staff gave us a thorough walkthrough of the device.

BlackBerry's PlayBook Pavilion at CES 2011

What we learned there was that the 7″ inch tablet would be powered by a dual-core TI OMAP 4430 processor, 1GB of RAM and would be made available in 16GB ($500), 32GB ($600) or 64GB ($700) capacities. It would run on the newly acquired QNX OS which is a rock-solid UNIX core operating system famed for its stability and robustness.

One of the PlayBook’s key features is full-multitasking in a desktop sense, which means it can manage multiple applications running at the same time and also allows for instantaneous application switching, which has been one of the challenges faced by mobile operating systems.

Aside from this, the PlayBook also offered full HD video playback, stereo speakers, a front facing camera and a 5 Megapixel rear camera all in a purse and jacket-pocket friendly device. RIM, it seems, was smart enough not to challenge the iPad and jump into the melee of 10.1″ inch tablets hoping to grab a slice of Apple’s dominant market share.

At 7 inches, the PlayBook can carve a niche of its own with possibly a different use case and attract non iPad users. The competition in this space is limited to Android tablets from Samsung and HTC.

Even unboxing the PlayBook is an exciting experience

Unboxing and Operation

Even for non BlackBerry aficionados, unboxing the PlayBook is quite an exciting experience. RIM has packaged the device in a very classy and obsessively organized manner.

Just like a Japanese Bento Box, the PlayBook (hidden in a snug neoprene case) is front and centre on the top layer. Below that, in a lower layer, are the device’s AC charger and manuals.

The PlayBook itself is an impressively well designed yet minimalist device. It consists of only three physical buttons. The recessed power button (which you won’t turn off or on by mistake as it is deeply receessed) and the + and – volume controls.

The device is framed by magnesium alloy or aluminum but you dont feel any of it as this is swathed by a layer of matte rubber which makes it easier to hold in one hand than any of the current tablets in the market. At 0.9 pounds, the PlayBook is ideal consuming content on the go and makes a great eBook reader if Kobo is your cup of tea. Amazon’s Kindle has been announced as coming soon.

Powering on the PlayBook, you are greeted by one of the clearest and brightest displays on any consumer electronics device. The  1024 x 600 resolution on a 7″ inch screen also has a higher pixel density than most tablets we’ve tried which simply makes HD quality video look stunning.

Without any buttons or controls, much of the navigation and accessing of features is done by swiping different areas of the screen’s black bezel.

A clever move by RIM, the smart bezel can be used to invoke the software keyboard, switch applications and access the controls at any given time. Once you are done with an app, simply swipe it upwards and away and it is gone (much like how WebOS works). The gesture-controlled movements are instantaneous and responsive.

RIM also made a great decision of having front-facing stereo speakers on the bezel. These speakers may look small but boy are they loud! Louder, in fact, than the iPad 2’s singular rear speaker.

 

The PlayBook cozies up to the iPad 2 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab

The PlayBook received a lot of flack for not shipping with an email client, a memo app, a BBM interface or not having the “basics” such as a Twitter or Facebook client or, Angry Birds for that matter. All of which are coming in the summer.

Well, the good news for early adopters is that the browser of the PlayBook is nothing short of phenomenal. it is hands down the best browser on any BlackBerry device.

The PlayBook’s browser seemed to work well with web email clients such as Yahoo Mail, Hotmail and GMail although the small screen was a challenge to work with, it isn’t impossible.  The same can be said for cloud based calendar services which work as expected. We were disappointed to realize there doesn’t seem to be a way to access the file structure so when using a webmail app like GMail, you can’t attach files from the PlayBook which makes it a pretty closed device. We hope this will change.

BlackBerry PlayBook

Not enough client software, but the browser is incredible

For users that own a BlackBerry smartphone with a data plan, the BlackBerry Bridge application can be downloaded on the phone to enable the PlayBook to access mail, BBM, calendar and various other features. None of the information, however, will get stored on the tablet and will vanish, soon as the connected smartphone is out of range or disconnected.

It could use a few more apps and OS polish

Approaching the PlayBook as a consumer device for non-BlackBerry users, we see that it could use a few more apps and more polish around the OS.

The hardware is everything anyone would want in a 7″ inch tablet, it is fast and unmistakably powerful specially when dealing with games and processor intensive tasks like  HD video.

We will continue to test the PlayBook and put it through day-to-day use for a tablet. We feel that right now it is a promising platform but some major components need to included to satisfy non-Blackberry users who want a small yet powerful tablet.


3 comments

  1. Pingback: RIM BlackBerry PlayBook Blows Out 50000 Units On Launch Day – Video Gaming Pros | Festival Chicks

  2. martinboucher1@gmail.com'
    Martin

    First I am a real Blackberry geek.
    I bought the Playbook the first day it was on the market and returned it to the store the next day. I bought this tablet for business purpose, I did not focused my decision on music, camera or HD video. I was able to connect my torch and the tablet easily, my phone was acting a little strange. On the playbook the Email, Contact, Notes, PDF reader, everything was too basic. I needed something more finished and more business oriented. RIM should have waited a couple of months before releasing it and they should better position their product, business or leasure ?? Lack of Apps is not helping. I download BlueBox that did not work. The programmer told me that he never touch a playbook yet…I am very disapointed, I will try in a year from now to see if evolved.
    I think they should focus on business users.

  3. mark-69@live.ca'
    mark

    Finally, an article that is based on objective analysis…..very well written and unbiased. I compliment you on your depiction …………….I have read many reports by other authors and formed the opinion that many simply jumped on the negativity bandwagon almost like a sport to defeat the enemy. I am left wondering the thought that many american reporters are simply praising Apple like a faithful patriot and slamming the competition from the north. I wonder if the same stories would be written if RIM’s head office was located in New York City, on American soil…………….I would think not!!!!!!! RIM has nexcellent product in the playbook………yes there are flaws to be fixed but none more that Apple’s ipad which lacks many key ingrediants…….funny because RIM stated that the latest quarter but be lower in guidance resulting in the stock tanking 12%…..Apple makes the same announcement and its stock rises!!! Go figure!!!!!!

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