RIM still has a lot of work to do on its first tablet

When it comes to today’s tablet market, there's Apple's iOS-based iPad 2 and Google is making a strong push with Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" (we could throw Samsung’s first generation Galaxy Tab in there, but it’s not using a tablet-centric operating system). Apple cornered the market with the original iPad, but the iPad 2 is now facing some stiff competition from the Motorola Xoom and the impending stampede of Honeycomb tablets. 

Not to be left out, RIM is readying its own entry into the tablet field with the PlayBook. RIM first announced the PlayBook way back in September 2010, and just recently announced that pricing for the 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB Wi-Fi models will be $499, $599, and $699 respectively.

For those that need a refresher course on the PlayBook, here are the relevant specs:

  • 7” LCD, 1024 x 600, WSVGA, capacitive touch screen with full multi-touch and gesture support
  • BlackBerry Tablet OS with support for symmetric multiprocessing
  • 1 GHz dual-core processor
  • 1 GB RAM
  • Dual HD cameras (3 MP front facing, 5 MP rear facing), supports 1080p HD video recording
  • Video playback: 1080p HD Video, H.264, MPEG, DivX, WMV
  • Audio playback: MP3, AAC, WMA
  • HDMI video output
  • Wi-Fi - 802.11 a/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • Connectors: microHDMI, microUSB, charging contacts
  • Open, flexible application platform with support for WebKit/HTML-5, Adobe Flash Player 10.1, Adobe Mobile AIR, Adobe Reader, POSIX, OpenGL, Java
  • Ultra thin and portable:
  • Measures 5.1”x7.6”x0.4”
  • Weighs 0.9 lb 

Now that we have that out of the way, the first reviews for the PlayBook started rolling in tonight. The device packs some impressive hardware, but the 7" tablet may be priced a little bit on the high side compared to its main competition which pack 9.7" or 10.1” screens at similar price points. 

AnandTech's Anand Shimpi points out that RIM has gotten a lot right with the PlayBook:

Ignoring immediate purchasing decisions, there are some things that RIM has done very right with the PlayBook. Full frame rate playback of 1080p High Profile H.264 content is a huge win. NVIDIA is promising this with Kal-El but RIM and TI deliver it here today. The only thing that's missing is support for .mkv containers and more audio codecs before we can really start putting tablets through our media streamer test suite.

With the exception of BlackBerry Bridge apps, multitasking is ridiculously smooth on the PlayBook. I've never been happy with Apple's multitasking UI and I've been dying for someone to copy webOS since its introduction, so kudos to RIM (and Palm). RIM does have to work on reducing application launch time and providing a consistent 60 fps experience across the OS. The issue with a super smooth UI is that the times when it isn't perfectly smooth really stand out. 

Unfortunately, there are also some glaring missteps as well, including the lack of an email client (an email client won't be available until Summer '11):

In its current incarnation, the WiFi PlayBook doesn't ship with a dedicated email client, calendar or contacts app. Given how frequently I say that email and web browsing are two killer apps for tablets, this is bad for the general consumer. 

The bottom line is that today the PlayBook can't store contacts, it can't organize your day and you can't use it to check emails using anything other than your web browser. RIM's explanation? Most users who buy tablets don't buy it for push email, most are on WiFi, and if you're not getting push email then a web client is probably ok.

We feel that RIM is totally in the wrong on this one, but at least the problem will be resolved in a few months.

Engadget's Tim Stevens notes that battery life for the tablet is adequate, but falls short of the standard set by the iPad 2.

With day-to-day usage, WiFi on, screen reasonably bright, checking out some websites and playing some tunes, the PlayBook has plenty of juice to get you through a couple days without breaking a sweat. It'll handily survive your all-day presentation at the office, make you look cool in front of your boss, then still have plenty of battery life left to chill out to some N.W.A. on the flight home.

But, compared to the competition, it delivers a solid mid-pack performance. We looped a standard MPEG4 video clip with WiFi enabled and screen brightness at about 65 percent, managing seven hours and one minute before everything went dark. That's about an hour more than the Samsung Galaxy Tab, but over an hour less than the Motorola Xoom. The iPad 2, meanwhile, manages ten and a half hours when similarly stressed.

Walt Mossberg raved about the PlayBook's user interface in his review, and even remarked about its commendable flash performance:

I really liked the user interface of the new operating system, which is based on software RIM bought called QNX. It’s smooth and fast, and makes excellent use of multitouch gestures. An area at the bottom of the screen holds the icons, which are divided into sections like “All,” “Media,” “Games” and “Favorites.” When you have multiple apps open, large images of them appear at the top of the screen, and you can scroll though them. It’s a very clean, attractive approach. 

The browser, while sometimes slow to load, is highly capable, even on sites designed for a regular computer, and does the best job with Flash video and Flash sites I have ever seen on a tablet—far better than on any Android device I’ve tested. 

But the overall theme from reviewers seems to be that the PlayBook in its current form is simply unfinished and that the upcoming updates should help the tablet better compete with iOS and Android-based devices.


There's a lot to like about the PlayBook, but unless you're an existing BlackBerry user you're better off waiting to see where RIM takes this thing. 


Right now, the BlackBerry PlayBook is a tablet that will come close to satisfying those users who gravitate toward the first word in its name: BlackBerry. Those who were more excited about the "play" part would be well advised to look elsewhere, at least until Android compatibility joins the party. Then, well, anything could happen. 


Still, unless you are constantly glued to a BlackBerry phone, or do all your email, contacts and calendar tasks via a browser, I recommend waiting on the PlayBook until more independently usable versions with the promised additions are available.

The RIM PlayBook should be in stores next week, but if these reviews are any indication, you may just want to stay away… for now.

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