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Hands on: BlackBerry PlayBook tablet -- released before it was ready?

Brian Nadel | April 20, 2011
RIM's new tablet has potential, but it's missing too many important features.

Because of its association with the BlackBerry brand, Research In Motion's BlackBerry PlayBook will appeal to businesspeople, but on arrival it lacks many corporate must-haves, such as email and 3G wireless data connectivity. In fact, it feels like it was rushed to market.

The PlayBook's rubberized surface has a silky feel to it; I prefer it to the naked plastic or aluminum that most tablets use. However, at 5.1 by 7.6 by 0.4 in. and weighing 15 oz., the device feels chunky for a 7-in. tablet -- it's thinner but 2 oz. heavier than the 7-in. Samsung Galaxy Tab.

BlackBerry PlayBook

The touchscreen feels cramped compared to the 10-in. displays on Apple's iPad 2 and Motorola's Xoom. Still, it's responsive, supports multifinger gestures and boasts 1024- by 600-pixel resolution.

Because the screen's bezel is touch-sensitive, the PlayBook can do things the others can't. For example, you can swipe your finger up, down or side to side on the frame to reveal app menus, go to the home page or move between apps. The only buttons, by the way, are power, volume and a play/pause button on the top.


Inside info

Inside the PlayBook is a 1-GHz Texas Instruments OMAP 4430 dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM (that matches the iPad 2's memory, but it's twice what the Galaxy Tab offers). The PlayBook is available in three models:16GB ($499), 32GB ($599) and 64GB ($699). Unfortunately, like the iPad, it lacks a microSD card slot to add storage. It has a 3-megapixel front-facing camera and a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera.

Here's a small problem that I found rather irritating: The review unit didn't sit flat on a table; it wobbled if you pressed on a side or corner.

Rather than Apple's iOS or Google's Android platform, the PlayBook is based on QNX Neutrino software. I can't fault the operating system on performance -- it didn't lag and can easily run several programs at once. Unlike the iPad, the PlayBook has a Flash 10.1 player. The device worked without a problem with YouTube and several online games. I was also able to play music while using the included calculator and Acrobat reader.


Where are the apps?

Strangely, though, the PlayBook arrives without key apps -- an email client, a calendar and an address book -- that are typically standard fare for tablets. As an alternative, you can use a Web email service with the PlayBook's browser.


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