Handson BlackBerry PlayBook tablet

first_imgAfter hearing so much about it over the past few months, I finally got my hands on RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook. Not being a BlackBerry user it’s not the tablet I’m most excited for, but the OS looks slick and I’m expecting this, the iPad 2, and a few choice Android devices to be the to-have tablets of 2011.I’ll put this out right from the start–nothing new was revealed at RIM’s event. We got to test out the PlayBook, but there were no new details on the pricing or release date (still confident about late March/April timing). Also the devices were said to be running the same build of QNX that the demo devices were running back at CES in January, so I wasn’t surprised to see some minor issues (but wait, isn’t this OS supposed to be designed to run tanks?).Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with the PlayBook. All signs were pointing in the right direction (even the pricing, with the PlayBook rumored to start at $399 for an 8GB model), but my hands-on time confirmed most of the good stuff I had read.The operating system reminded me a lot of webOS, which isn’t surprising given how just yesterday an HP rep called the QNX interface an imitation of webOS. There are of course a lot of differences when you consider how BlackBerry handsets will fit into the mix, but when you are just using the OS there is no question that it’s reminiscent of webOS and its cards. The multitasking controls are certainly alike but it’s not surprising that companies would use similar paradigms for their first gen products. Everyone is still trying to figure out tablets and gestures so sticking with what people understand is generally a good way to go.From what I saw the OS is quick and quite smooth. Apps didn’t open instantly but they weren’t slow and, more importantly, the OS’ movements were all really fluid. I don’t mind if the calendar app takes more than an instant to open up, but it seems that RIM and I agree that delayed swipes and slow launchers just aren’t OK. Video looks impressive, especially the HD video played through the included app, though web-based Flash video works too. Flash/Air apps worked well enough and the PlayBook had a game of Samorost on it, if anyone was looking to do some point-and-click adventuring.The PlayBook is all about the swipes. You swipe up from the bottom at any time to get to what passes for the home screen and down from the top to get a context menu. Side-to-side swipes have the predictable left-right action of course, but there is a surprise–go diagonally up from the bottom-left corner and you’ll be greeted with a keyboard.The hardware is what you’d expect from a premium tablet–the PlayBook is slim, button-free on the front, solidly built, and nice to the touch. The 7-inch size is, not surprisingly, reminiscent of the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the soft touch rubber back is a better option than a glossy plastic. Speaking of gloss, the display has it full on, so dealing with glare will be a fact of life. It’s not so bad if the backlighting is high enough and the PlayBook is not at all alone in this, but it’s not ideal. RIM kept the physical controls to a bare minimum so there are some buttons on the side, but that’s about it.My personal preference for a larger tablet aside, the PlayBook is nicely built and comfortable to hold. There are definite advantages to a smaller tablet when it comes to single-handed use and transportation, but the trade-off is the smaller screen. For most people they should consider this: will their tablet be something used primarily on the road or something for the home/office/coffeeshop? I’m very much the latter, so a larger screen makes sense.The app experience was probably the least impressive part of my PlayBook demo. Some apps are going to be very slick (like those from TAT) but the selection is clearly lacking. When looking for apps to demo I ended up playing with a fantasy football app and then an old Flash game. There were others, a few games and so on, but most of what the PlayBook was packing were RIM’s core apps. It turns out that those apps (camera, calculator, calender, etc.) were nicely done, but they weren’t enough to wow me. There was a bit of instability which could be explained by the early version of the OS, but some people pointed out that Adobe Flash/AIR isn’t exactly the best starting point if stability is your goal (as you might have guessed, those people weren’t from RIM).It’s too early to form a definitive opinion about the PlayBook–the OS build we used is far from final and I didn’t have too much time with the device–but I’m more interested in it now that I’ve used it. As much as I like aspects of the PlayBook I don’t see it as being a major threat to the iPad or the bigger Android tablets, but it clearly could be great for business types and BlackBerry lovers. The tight connection with a BlackBerry smartphone (for things like calendar, address book, tasks, email, and BBM) will be the tablet’s biggest strength and weakness, depending on your choice of mobile phone. I’d like to gain access to BBM without having to go to a BlackBerry phone (and it looks like I will), but it looks like that’s not going to happen here.So far I can say that the PlayBook multitasks well, has great looking video playback, and it has the potential to enhance your BlackBerry experience (read: CrackBerry addiction). It doesn’t look like it will be the mass market tablet that the iPad 2 or the next Galaxy Tab will be, but that probably won’t be a surprise for RIM. The company had the choice to either try to go mainstream or to further entrench dedicated BB users and it seems like they are going with the latter, as opposed to trying to compete head-on with the iPad 2, TouchPad, and a legion of Android tablets. I’m betting this will end up being a good first effort from RIM and a great start for their QNX platform.playbook_37playbook_37playbook_34playbook_32playbook_31playbook_30playbook_29playbook_28playbook_27playbook_25playbook_24playbook_23playbook_22playbook_20playbook_18playbook_17playbook_16playbook_15playbook_13playbook_12playbook_11playbook_10playbook_09playbook_08playbook_07playbook_06playbook_05playbook_04playbook_03playbook_02playbook_01last_img read more