It was way back in September that RIM announced its first tablet, the PlayBook. The device has finally dropped and is ready for consumers and businesspeople to get their hands all over. There has been tons of hype for the PlayBook as BlackBerry users everywhere hope it performs the way it should. The new QNX platform offers a look into the future of RIM and gives a hint to what we may see next in the company’s smartphones.
The BlackBerry Playbook was released on April 19 and is estimated to have sold around 50,000 units. We’ve been playing with a PlayBook that RIM sent us to review for about a week now. We have had time to try it out thoroughly, using it as our main tablet and letting friends give us opinons on it. Hit the jump to get into the full review!
In our opinion, the BlackBerry PlayBook is the perfect size for a tablet. Sized at 7.6″ by 5.1″, the PlayBook fits perfectly in the hands and makes for a great tablet experience. It is also very thin, with a depth of 0.4″, making it ultra portable and comfortable to hold. The PlayBook itself has two different materials that enclose the internals, there is the glass on the front and a rubbery plastic finish on the back. We especially like the rubbery plastic finish because it makes it comfortable to grip and hold on to for a long period of time. When comparing to a metal enclosed tablet, like the iPad 2, we inevitably chose the PlayBook’s material over the metal.
Our biggest complaint about the PlayBook is the awful power/sleep button that is placed at the top of the device. This little button is way too small, down too deep, and needs to be pushed down too hard. The sad part is that this is one of the most important little buttons because it is the one that will allow you to turn your device on/off and put it in standby mode.
Up top to the right of the power button are the music and volume controls. There are three buttons: one to lower the volume, one to play/pause, and one to increase the volume. These buttons are definitely easier to use than the tiny power button. There is also the 3.5mm headphone jack on the top right and two small microphones on each side. Turn to the bottom of the PlayBook and you find the micro-HDMI port, the microUSB port, and the charging port for when sitting it in a dock.
The display itself is a 7 inch WSVGA LCD display with 1024 x 600 resolution. The capacitive screen has support for 4-finger multi-touch and gesture support. The glass border around the actual display itself also supports multi-touch and is essential to using the device. For example, swiping the bottom of the border in an upwards motion will bring up the menu and all open apps.
There are two speakers on the left and right border of the display. These speakers perform well and can be turned up loud without compromising the quality of the music. Additionally, we found that these are placed in a good position where your hands won’t block the sound.
RIM has started ditching its old OS and moving the way of QNX technology. The difference is noticeable when comparing it to the BlackBerry smartphones and we have found it to be more user-friendly once you understand how it works. We let some of our friends play with the tablet and found that they had trouble with the gestures until we had showed them how to use it. The most common question was how to switch apps, which is done by swiping your finger from outside the bezel in an upward motion.
The PlayBook has a powerful 1 GHz dual-core processor and 1 GB of RAM making it run fast and smooth. With the combination of QNX technology and the powerful internals, users are greeted with as fast experience and minimal lag.
Multitasking on the PlayBook can’t help but remind us of webOS. Utilizing the gesture we mentioned earlier to bring up the app switcher will display all open applications. RIM stresses that its multitasking is true simultaneous multitasking, allowing apps to run in real time. You can swipe the screen to scroll through all your open apps and press the little X to close one. We tested the device with a lot of different apps open at the same time and found the device to still run fast.
Another gesture that is essential to using the device your finger down from the top bezel. This will bring up the options menus in different applications. Doing this gesture on the home screen will bring down the main options that will allow you to change settings that affect the entire device. That changes when you open an application where you will get app specific options by doing this gesture. For example, this gesture on the browser will bring down a menu with all the open tabs, allow you to open new tabs, a download manager, and other browser options.
The BlackBerry PlayBook uses an on-screen touch sensitive keyboard for inputting information. We found that the keyboard is easy to use and allows for easy typing. We didn’t have any issues with this feature whether it was in landscape or portait.
This is the area where the BlackBerry PlayBook is severely lacking in features. BlackBerrys are known for their amazing email capability and that is one of the main reasons that they are so popular in the business world. That being said, there is no native email application unless you connect your PlayBook up to your BlackBerry smartphone via BlackBerry Bridge. We do not use a BlackBerry as our main smartphone device so we found it frustrating that we couldn’t send and receive simple emails without using the browser. RIM has said that it will eventually roll out a native email client for the tablet, but we still have to wonder why this was released without one of the most important features.
Email is not the only feature that is missing on the PlayBook, you will notice there is no calendar, contacts, tasks, or memo app right out of the box. Sure, these applications will become available when you enable Blackberry Bridge, but what about those of us without a BlackBerry as our main device? We feel left out of the loop and hoping that RIM will push out an update to fix this soon.
Another thing that will get better with time is the BlackBerry App World selection. Right now there is a very limited selection of apps that will work on the PlayBook. This requires you to go to the browser to do simple things like Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks (except foursquare thanks to @MrCippy and @kfow35’s FourPlay app). We expect there to be a wider selection of apps as developers continue to work on making their apps compatible with this device. We have heard a lot about RIM supporting Android apps on the PlayBook, but unfortunately it is not yet available.
One of the highlights about the BlackBerry PlayBook is the powerful browser. RIM incorporates full Flash 10.1 support on the device making iPad users drool over the endless possibilities. Things like Amazon’s Cloud Drive and Flash games all work splendidly on the browser. We did notice that it is usually best to wait for the page to fully load before getting into it because it will not be as responsive as you’d like.
The browser uses a tab system to multitask and open multiple pages at the same time. That swipe we mentioned earlier will open up the menu where it will expose all of the open windows. We could have several pages open without noticing too much of a slowdown.
The PlayBook has a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera and a three-megapixel front-facing camera. The rear-facing camera took pretty clear and crisp images and the video quality was also of high quality. We took some sample images and videos and posted them below for your viewing.
As we mentioned before, the PlayBook is missing support for email, contacts, tasks, and calendar unless you hook it up to a BlackBerry smartphone. We hooked it up to an extra BlackBerry Tour 9630 and created a video to demo the features that come along with the application. Unfortunately, AT&T customers are not able to download Bridge yet (unless you do it without AT&T’s permission), but apparently it is in testing and will be available soon.
The battery life on the PlayBook is pretty impressive and consistently lasted us more than a day with normal use. We found that it was pretty much up to par with the rest of the tablets available on the market, with the exception of the iPad 2 which lasts a tad bit longer.
The BlackBerry PlayBook is RIM’s first move into the tablet world. The company has given us a look into its future with the new QNX system that runs smoothly and allows for a good user experience. The small size is perfect for those on the go and who like the smaller tablets. We found it to be very convenient and the perfect size for a tablet.
But it isn’t all good news. The BlackBerry PlayBook is missing some of the essential features that should be incorporated natively on every tablet. It is surprising that the company released the device without an email client, calendar, task manager, or contacts. These features are available when you use BlackBerry Bridge with your BlackBerry smartphone, but many of us do not have a BlackBerry as our main device. However, RIM says that it plans to bring these features to the device in the future.