Mobility

BlackBerry PlayBook review: The perfect tablet for two kinds of people

The BlackBerry PlayBook may be outgunned when it comes to competing with the iPad for general consumers, but there are still two types of users who will love this scrappy little 7-inch tablet.

Research in Motion's BlackBerry PlayBook has been much-maligned, including by yours truly (see BlackBerry PlayBook: Beware of the demo-ware tablet). But, as I said when I first got my hands on the device, the PlayBook's low expectations have led to some pleasant surprises, and I think there are definitely a couple types of users who would prefer the PlayBook to any of the other tablets on the market.

Photo gallery

BlackBerry PlayBook: Unboxing and comparison photos

Specifications

  • OS: QNX, BlackBerry Tablet OS with with symmetric multiprocessing
  • Processor: 1GHz dual core Texas Instruments OMAP4430
  • RAM: 1GB
  • Storage: 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB internal
  • Display: 7-inch WSVGA, 1024x600
  • Battery: Lithium-ion 5400 mAh
  • Ports: Micro USB, Micro HDMI, 3.5mm headset
  • Weight: 14.4 ounces (425 grams)
  • Dimensions: 7.6(h) x 5.1(w) x 0.4(d) inches
  • Camera: 5MP rear-facing, 3MP front-facing
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, GPS, digital compass, 6-axis gyroscope
  • Keyboard: Virtual QWERTY
  • Networks: LTE, WiMAX, and HSPA+ models later in 2011
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n; Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
  • Tethering: Only to a BlackBerry smartphone
  • Price: $499 (16GB), $599 (32GB), $699 (64GB)

Who is it for?

The PlayBook is not for everyone. If you've been longing for an iPad, the arrival of the PlayBook is probably not going to change your mind and make you jump to the BlackBerry tablet instead, unless you are a devout BlackBerry smartphone user or you want a tablet primarily for surfing the Web. If you are a BlackBerry smartphone lover who has never even considered switching to iPhone or Android, then the PlayBook is probably the perfect tablet for you. It is is an excellent larger screen companion for your BlackBerry and expands its strengths to include top-notch Web browsing and multimedia capabilities. Speaking of Web browsing, the Web experience on the PlayBook is so good that I think we're likely to see plenty of users who will buy one just as a Web tablet. The Javascript and Flash performance are excellent on the PlayBook -- in terms of Flash, the implementation is significantly smoother and more stable than the Android implementation of Flash. The PlayBook is the first mobile device that provides something close to the full desktop Web experience.

What problems does it solve?

Based on BlackBerry's overcomplicated smartphone UI that makes users constantly dig through tons of menus, I didn't have much confidence that BlackBerry could deliver an excellent user experience on a tablet. But, the PlayBook pulled it off. The user experience is simple and self-evident, with no buttons and two basic gestures -- swipe-up and swipe-down. It's as easy to use as the one-button iPad solution, but without just blatantly ripping off Apple. The other big innovation in the PlayBook is the Web browser, as mentioned above. The page-load times are really quick, the fonts render beautifully, and RIM and Adobe worked together to pull off a Flash experience that virtually seamless. For example, you can take a lot of high quality Flash videos on Web page and throw into full screen mode and they look great and render flawlessly. You can even output these high quality videos to an HD TV via the PlayBook's HDMI port and they still look great.

Standout features

  • UI and performance - The user experience is the biggest surprise of the PlayBook. It is easy to learn, smooth to navigate, and has some of the best and fastest responsiveness that you'll find on any smartphone or tablet. It is a completely different experience than a BlackBerry smartphone.
  • Full-featured Web browsing - As we've already talked about, the Web browsing experience on the PlayBook is excellent. The Flash implementation is well-done. Even though I'm not a fan of Flash, it's still a big part of the Web and  will be for years, until HTML5 replaces it. Oh, and the PlayBook already handles HTML5 quite nicely.
  • Usable word processor - One my biggest complaints with the iPad is that there isn't a decent word processing app for taking notes, writing letters/memos, building basic documents, etc. Apple's Pages app is a little too complicated than it needs to be and apps like iA Writer are nice but almost a little too bare bones. The PlayBook has the happy medium. Its Word To Go app (see screenshot) is the best word processing app I've used on a tablet. It is dead simple to use and has the most important basic features for building a good document. Plus, it's free and installed by default. This is where RIM's acquisition of Davaviz -- the company behind Documents to Go -- has really helped.
  • Brilliant for multimedia - The graphics performance and LCD display on the PlayBook are another big plus -- and another pleasant surprise since the BlackBerry isn't known as a multimedia powerhouse (although its high-end phones have been making strides in recent years). The PlayBook is terrific for watching videos and looking at photos. The images are crisp, the colors are vibrant, and the performance is snappy.

What's wrong?

  • Email and calendar require a BlackBerry - The thing you most often hear the PlayBook getting dinged for is the fact that it didn't ship with native email, calendar, and contacts apps (RIM says it will add them later this year). What the PlayBook does offer is the ability to use its Bridge feature to connect to a BlackBerry smartphone and then use its email, calendar, and contacts on the PlayBook's larger screen. However, the actual data never resides on the PlayBook. It remains locked down in the BlackBerry phone, which is a plus for users that need tight security. The other thing to keep in mind is that if you use Web mail such as Gmail or Yahoo Mail, the Web experience on the PlayBook is good enough to handle light email and calendar tasks.
  • Needs more apps - The biggest problem with the BlackBerry PlayBook when you compare it to the iPad is the the lack of apps. On the iPad, apps extend the functionality of the device in lots of different ways, for business, for personal productivity, for entertainment, and much more. While RIM claims that the PlayBook ships with 3,000 tablet-optimized apps -- "more than any of our competitors at launch," according to co-CEO Mike Lazaridis -- the problem is that the iPad has 75,000 apps now and a lot of important partners who are committed to the platform. RIM will never be able to compete with that, but if it can forge partnerships to get key apps like Amazon Kindle, Evernote, Dropbox, and Netflix on to the PlayBook, then it would have a much easier time winning over a larger niche market. However, companies appear reticent to jump on the PlayBook bandwagon. Amazon initially announced that it would release a Kindle app for the PlayBook launch, but is dragging its feet in fulfilling that promise.
  • 7-inch form factor has its limits - The thing that limits the great Web and multimedia experience on the PlayBook is the 7-inch screen. There are times when it's just a little too small to clearly read Web pages and when some of the details can get lost in videos due to the smaller screen.

Bottom line for business

The BlackBerry PlayBook is the perfect choice for two types of tablet buyers -- 1.) BlackBerry loyalists who want the perfect compliment to their smartphone and 2.) people who want a tablet primarily for mobile Web browsing from the conference room, couch, bedroom, and other places where you don't have a full PC and don't want to whip out a laptop.

For high security enterprises and government organizations that are already committed to the BlackBerry platform and have employees clamoring for iPads, the BlackBerry PlayBook is potentially an excellent tablet solution to run private apps and intranet services.

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Where to get more info

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

23 comments
lawtd
lawtd

Playbook does not work for me. It is more of an inconvenience for me. The same with my BB phone gathering dust for 2 years now. I have both Android & iPad, I can use them for anything. Boat navigation, office work, taking notes on meetings, car tuning, travelling, etc... I can grab either one and it will make my day productive. I wish I could say the same for Playbook.

Home Grown IT
Home Grown IT

My playbook. But I can hardly pry it out my 13 year old daughters hands. Tells me something right off. I would recommend it to anyone not easily swayed by tech writers who have a vested interest in maligning this tablet. My first thought has been and still is why are these people trying to drive down the price of RIM stocks? Hasn't anyone of you considered the possibility that someone is manipulating RIM stock prices to attempt a buy out? All the whining about the Playbook and then the smart phones, when they knew full well the RIM had a new batch of phones coming out smacks of something stinking going on. Now these same clowns are singing the praises of RIMS latest phones and OS7. Just wait till they get QNX running on the next round of phones. Blackberry has always been about security and first rate engineering. But it appears a lot of these people are closet Apple fan boys even after they said Apple was dead for 20 years. Want a great tablet with a great future? Get a BB Playbook.

Kellythedog
Kellythedog

the fact alone that I can bridge it to my enterprise BBy smartphone is reason to have it. Its much better to see and open emails, attachments etc, on the 7 inch screen than on a 1.5 inch. And I certainly don't want to carry a 10 inch model as my eyesight is not that bad yet. It works and does what its supposed to, once they create a way to get files off of it wirelessly initiated from the Playbook it will be awesome.

MacNewton
MacNewton

"Usable word processor - One my biggest complaints with the iPad is that there isn???t a decent word processing app for taking notes, writing letters/memos, building basic documents," FYI The iPad has Tons of free Apps for that, plus if you need to do a lot of writing, use the app called " Pages" Its one of the best word processor on the market.

nameless1
nameless1

I have no problem with the form factor although I haven't seen one yet. I am struggling to find a use for it. It must be tethered to a Blackberry for internet access. It has no SIM card slot. What were the designers thinking. Its too small to watch a movie on and I have no intention of streaming a movie, not in South Africa. What does one do with it after the 1st 10 days, play games!!!

RockerGeek!
RockerGeek!

I'm not a Blackberry fan, but a coworker has one (to be familiar with it in the instance that a blackberry-fan client will get one) and I toyed around w/it for a bit. It's really smooth and works quite well. The "true" multitasking is pretty sweet, too, actually. Size is the biggest issue I have w/it. I'd rather have a 10" tablet b/c I'd be the one using it to watch movies in bed so as to not lug out my laptop XD

sparent
sparent

The PlayBook is the perfect complement, not compliment, to the Blackberry smartphone.

broscoe
broscoe

So the problem you have with the Playbook is ... that it's useful for business and secure for enterprise ??!

GreenPirogue
GreenPirogue

Our organization seems to adopt technology in phases - it is almost like the leadership want to learn new things in their smart phone technology. And the people below just follow the bosses. It is just a shell game, as far as I can see. We phased out of blackberry a couple of years ago, so that must mean that the early adopters for the next round of BB are around the corner.

RockerGeek!
RockerGeek!

Not for wifi. One of my coworkers has been using his on wifi all week. The tethering is needed for email and calendar access b/c there is no native client for that- YET. That will be updated later in the year. That was clearly stated in the article As for the SIM card slot- if you can just sync your bbry contacts by connecting it, then why need a SIM? A lot of companies now have web-based tools. At my job, our ticketing program is use in a browser. I know i'd rather use the 7" screen of the playbook to view tickets out in the field instead of the much smaller phone screen. It would definitely be helpful for professionals. This thing has flash and a pretty good browsing experience overall. Oh, and real multitasking- as in, you can "minimize" a current app and see all the open ones. It doesn't have everything we want right now. B/c it's not even a month old- RIM will keep updating it. As I said in my post, I'm not a bbry fan, but I rather like the playbook.

adamina
adamina

Very nice example about Complement vs. compliment, great found. Lorenz University

michealroy
michealroy

yes you right but they solve this problem very soon just wait few days. Online Schools | university degrees | Associate Degrees

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

the problem is it requires a separate Blackberry phone to access e-mail and calendar. I was hoping for direct on-board BES functionality. I don't need a phone at work, but I could certainly use a portable e-mail and web browsing device with WiFi as I move around the plant and warehouse. Until there's a native e-mail app with Exchange compatibility, I'll stay on the sidelines.

JJFitz
JJFitz

that doesn't make it a very good toy? All the businessman wants to know is does it play Angry Birds? Productivity is for losers. jk

T3CHN0M4NC3R
T3CHN0M4NC3R

Some companies prefer solid consistent developments and ease of developments. From where I'm at, this only applies to Android and iPhone app development where companies can develop at ese. If the blackberry supports Android apps. I'd feel it will end Apple's dominion.

adamina
adamina

I really nice to see you comment.nice idea. Must University

MacNewton
MacNewton

He said: "No usable word processors" for the iPad, And his comment is incorrect. My Answers was: The iPad has Tons of free Apps for that, plus if you need to do a lot of writing, use the app called " Pages" Its one of the best word processor on the market. So your responses does not make any sense, yes others may have some type word processors apps, but that was not the question, was it?

adamina
adamina

I really agree with your comment and also appreciate to you for sharing you thought with us. Belford High School | Belford University

T3CHN0M4NC3R
T3CHN0M4NC3R

If Android apps is really available to the PlayBook, it will be able to play Angry Birds. Possibly NFS or Wings of Glory as well.

michealroy
michealroy

it very nice to Android apps available to the playbook. we all able yo play Angry Birds. bachelors Degree | Masters Degrees