Hands-On Review: The BlackBerry PlayBook
ORLANDO, Fla. — One of the first tablets to challenge the Android- and iPad-dominated tablet market will be the BlackBerry PlayBook from Research In Motion (RIM). We had a chance to play with it at the CTIA Wireless convention, and here are our impressions.
First things first: The design of the BlackBerry PlayBook is admittedly a bit bland. It’s blocky, feels dense and the wide black bezel makes it feel as if you’re holding a digital photo frame.
But it’s what’s inside that counts.
RIM decided to go with a brand-new operating system created by QNX . It certainly makes the BlackBerry Playbook stand out among other tablets because it has true multitasking, Flash support and a few other goodies.
Multitasking requires a simple interface to manage multiple programs running at once. Simply swiping a finger up from the bottom of the device will “minimize” the program into a small window on a timeline of other programs that are simultaneously running. We had five programs open at once and switching back and forth was easy and seamless.
Just like a PC, PlayBook programs keep running in the background instead of discreetly closing and opening up in the same place like iPhone apps do. In fact, at one point we were testing out the accelerometer (spoiler: works fine) by playing a racing game. We forgot to pause the game before switching to the browser. We were able to watch the game in a little minimized window as the uncontrolled car continued on and eventually careened into a wall.
All the important features are present in the BlackBerry Playbook and the menu interfaces are similar enough to other touch screen interfaces that most people will have no problem using it.
A big question on potential buyers’ minds is just how tightly the PlayBook will integrate with BlackBerry phones. A BlackBerry representative confirmed that there will be no 3G (or 4G) without a BlackBerry phone tethered over Bluetooth. And BlackBerry contacts, emails and messages require a tethered phone as well.
But RIM wants to make the PlayBook accessible to non-BlackBerry owners as well. It will still be a basic tablet without a phone and will have connectivity through Wi-Fi.
Perhaps the biggest question for the PlayBook is what the accompanying app store will be like. If it’s not well stocked (both in quantity and quality), then the PlayBook won’t be as versatile as the iPad and other competitors. We weren’t able to see the BlackBerry App World with the tablet, but the BlackBerry rep assured us that RIM is recruiting developers to create a robust and well-stocked app store.
RIM plans to launch the BlackBerry PlayBook on April 19 for $499 (16GB version), $599 (32GB) or $699 (64GB).