RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook: A Promising Tablet

RESEARCH IN Motion’s BlackBerry PlayBook ($500 for 16GB version, $600 for 32GB, and $700 for 64GB) offers a convenient size and novel navigation, but its software can be frustrating.
In some respects, the PlayBook is the most impressive tablet I’ve seen. But native apps such as its browser have disappointing glitches, and its variety of third-party apps is limited.

The PlayBook is compact and light. Offering a 7-inch display (which is significantly smaller than the 9.7-inch screen of the iPad 2), it can fit into a roomy coat pocket. And its weight is just under 1 pound, which makes it 28 percent lighter than the 1.3-pound iPad 2. The PlayBook is very easy to hold, too.

In landscape orientation, the PlayBook’s 3-megapixel front-facing camera sits at center top. On the back top is a 5-megapixel camera.

The stereo speakers offer the best audio output I’ve heard yet from a tablet.

Along the bottom of the tablet are three ports, for HDMI Micro, Micro-USB, and a magnetic rapid charger connection. (A Micro-USB wall charger is included.)

Powering the tablet is a 1GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of memory. It connects to 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, but a mobile broadband connection must wait until late summer, when RIM will release 4G LTE and WiMax versions. The tablet has no memory expansion card slot.

The PlayBook runs RIM’s new BlackBerry Tablet OS, which has a fresh look and feel; its swipe-based touchscreen navigation is novel and innovative, albeit with a few bumps. While it looks complex, navigation is intuitive and quickly becomes second nature. The PlayBook is also responsive: Screens refresh quickly. On the whole, RIM’s approach to navigation is easier to use and more flexible than that of the iPad 2’s iOS 4.3.

The PlayBook’s handling of video, music, and pictures is a mixed bag. It does some things extraordinarily well. For example, if you leave an app that’s in the middle of playing a video, and then return later, the PlayBook instantly resumes the video where you left off.

You can buy music on a PlayBook through 7digital, the same DRM-free store you can shop via a BlackBerry phone. RIM plans to offer a video store as well.

The on-screen keyboard has some minuses, such as no autocorrection. And it also feels cramped—not surprising, with a 7-inch screen. A bigger issue is that the rows of keys are not staggered as QWERTY keyboards almost always are, throwing off touch typing.

RIM stocks the PlayBook with a solid complement of preinstalled apps, but with some notable omissions.

The strongest software on board is Adobe Reader and the three productivity apps—Word To Go, Sheet To Go, and Slideshow To Go—that stem from RIM’s acquisition of DataViz. These apps provide interoperability with Microsoft Office documents, and allow for document editing and creation.

The PlayBook doesn’t include any calendar, contact, or e-mail apps. Instead, you’re expected to use a feature called BlackBerry Bridge to pair your PlayBook with a BlackBerry phone, viewing your phone data on the PlayBook’s bigger screen. As a substitute for a native mail app, RIM offers four app icons—one each for AOL Mail, Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail—that redirect to those Web-based mail sites rather than to an installed mail app.

Businesspeople who already depend on BlackBerry phones should value both the way those phones will interact with the PlayBook and the built-in security of the platform. For that audience, those capabilities will override many of the PlayBook’s other weaknesses.


– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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