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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.