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Hands-On With the BlackBerry PlayBook Tablet

Erik Malinowski 22.05.2011 02:50
Coming in at 0.4 inches thick and 0.9 pounds, the PlayBook has a featherweight feel without seeming flimsy.

Coming in at 0.4 inches thick and 0.9 pounds, the PlayBook has a featherweight feel without seeming flimsy.


With dozens of companies looking to gain tablet PC market share away from Apple and Samsung, it’s going to take a special kind of product to succeed, one that offers consumers fast performance and expanded options on the competition. In other words, something that’s not only different but better, in its own way.





RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook could be that tablet.

To be sure, the PlayBook is no iPad. It’s smaller and more intimate, and while the OS doesn’t compare to Apple’s iOS for usability and intuitiveness, the PlayBook has enough going for it that Apple would be wise to closely watch the tablet industry’s best new entry.

Powering the PlayBook is a dual-core 1-GHz processor with a full gigabyte of RAM, four times more than the iPad, and it’s clear that PlayBook operations, especially when multitasking, are sucking every last drop of juice out of everything running on that 7-inch LCD screen. (Full 1080p videos can keep playing in the background, even as you cycle through other open applications.)

Upon cradling the PlayBook, the first thing you notice is that it’s insanely light. There’s the same sort of structural integrity you feel when grasping an iPad, and that’ll create an immediately positive first impression for many skeptical buyers.

It one-ups Apple on its famous minimalistic design, eschewing any front-facing buttons while integrating its own proprietary OS that’s more similar to WebOS than iOS, as you swipe and gesture your way between categorized panels of apps.

The PlayBook’s camera options and UI are poised to be some of its bigger selling points. While the iPad boasts no built-in camera, the PlayBook has a 3-megapixel front-facing camera and 5-megapixel camera on the back, as well the ability to shoot in 1080p and stream your high-def media out on a Micro HDMI port. And while experienced users will have no problem switching between the front and back cameras, it could be confusing for novices since you have to (on faith) tap a blank area on the lower-right corner to bring up a camera-task button.

Of course, the PlayBook also has full support for not only HTML5 but Flash 10.1, and while it may be a convenience to not be limited in terms of what sites you can visit, pulling up one or two Flash sites proved to be a choppy and (ironically) limiting experience.

But an ultimately bigger problem, aside from hunting down phantom buttons, could be battery life. RIM reps wouldn’t comment on how much battery life they expect the PlayBook to maintain on a single charge — the product rep I spoke with confirmed it would be “more than a hour” — but considering the iPad can get 10 hours on a single charge with typical usage and that many other tablet makers here at CES are claiming around six hours, the PlayBook must be able to get into that eight-hour range to separate itself from the pack.

But PlayBook scores well for its ability to instantly sync up tasks and other functionality with your BlackBerry via Bluetooth, so it’s not just for 3G tethering. And those early adopters that can hold out until summer will be rewarded with a 4G-enabled PlayBook running on Sprint’s network. Considering (at least for the moment) that any iPhone on AT&T or Verizon (unless it’s LTE-enabled) would be limited to 3G data speeds, 4G mobility could wind up being RIM’s biggest short-term ace.

If — and that’s still a big if — RIM can launch its first-gen PlayBook by March and 4G model by summer, we’d have ourselves the makings of an epic tablet war.

 



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