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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.

One of the reasons it comes so ill-equipped is that you are supposed to be able to wirelessly tether the PlayBook to a BlackBerry smartphone with BlackBerry Bridge software. Presumably, at that point you would check your email and schedule on your mobile phone. Unfortunately, the PlayBook seems to have shipped without the ability to tether to AT&T phones, something that AT&T is apparently working on.

Speaking of software, at last count RIM's App World had 27,000 programs available. That isn't even close to the hundreds of thousands of programs in Apple's App Store and the Android Marketplace. It's even missing some mainstream apps such as a Skype client. What's more, most of the apps that are available at App World were designed for BlackBerry phones.

While the big selling point of BlackBerry smartphones is that they're supposed to offer the ability to work anywhere, the PlayBook disappoints because it can't tap into a 3G or 4G mobile data network on its own. RIM has promised to add Sprint (WiMax), Verizon (LTE) and AT&T (HSPA+) network connectivity by this summer.


At a Glance


BlackBerry PlayBook
Research in Motion Ltd.
Price: US$499 (16GB), US$599 (32GB), US$699 (64GB)
Pros: Plays Flash, features a touch-sensitive frame, has a nice case
Cons: Lacks software, doesn't offer 3G data connectivity, depends on tether to smartphone

Until then, the PlayBook makes do with an 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi connection. The device stayed connected with my office's network 100 feet from the router, 10 feet farther than Samsung's Galaxy Tab.

In tests, the PlayBook's battery ran for 4 hours and 15 minutes of continuous video playback over YouTube. The system comes with a USB cable and an AC adapter; RIM sells an optional charging dock for $70.


Bottom line

According to a RIM representative, the company has promised to fill in some of the gaps -- it will one day offer apps for email, contacts, tasks and scheduling, as well as wireless connectivity from Sprint, Verizon and AT&T. Meanwhile, however, the idea of a tablet that can't fully operate on its own doesn't really work, especially in today's market -- so my advice is to keep shopping.


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