BlackBerry PlayBook – Initial Impressions

Research in Motion (RIM) unveiled its iPad competitor yesterday, the BlackBerry PlayBook. My early take is that there’s a lot to love about this 7″ tablet, but I also have some concerns. In the good column, the PlayBook promises Flash compatibility, video conferencing, portability advantages (very slim and light), a 1GHz dual-core processor, and 1GB of RAM. However, three items leave me less enthusiastic about the new device. First, the PlayBook won’t be available until next year. RIM is completely missing the holiday shopping season, and I’m always cautious about products that leave a long lead time before launch. (Attendees at yesterday’s RIM event weren’t allowed any hands-on time.) Second, initial versions of the PlayBook will be Wi-Fi only. That makes it less than ideal as a travel companion.

Third and most important, the BlackBerry tablet is sporting a whole new operating system. That may be good for the sake of competition, but it’s also a little worrisome for application interoperability. While the PlayBook clearly works as a standalone device, it’s also evident that RIM is trying to tie its new tablet to its existing line of BlackBerry smartphones. Users can pair a BlackBerry smartphone and tablet over a “secure Bluetooth connection,” and syncing apparently happens automatically. That’s great, but I’m pretty attached to my Android smartphone. In theory that’s not a problem, but I have to wonder at the possible inconvenience of toting a netbook with Windows 7, an Android-based phone, and a BlackBerry tablet. It sounds like a recipe for trouble. And with new Android tablets on the way, it may not be worth my time to invest in yet another OS.

Of course, it’s not possible to pronounce any real judgement until reviewers get their/our hands on the new PlayBook. In the meantime, however, that doesn’t stop everyone from speculating. Here’s what others are saying in the wake of RIM’s tablet introduction:

11 thoughts on “BlackBerry PlayBook – Initial Impressions”

  1. I’m becoming less convinced that having 3G/4G embedded is important. With most business phones able to be hotspots (or at least do bluetooth tethering) I think we’re going to see a move away from including wireless services in secondary devices and simply depend on WiFi or tethering them to our phones.

    The Playbook sounds really nice! I like the form factor, the specs sound good, the interface looks clean, and QNX knows how to develop extremely reliable OS’s. The only thing I’m concerned about is the price. RIM typically charges pretty hefty prices for their devices and the Playbook probably won’t be subsidized by a carrier so it wouldn’t be surprising to see it priced at $700 or higher. At that price, it would never make it to my house… I hope I’m wrong.

  2. Mari – You can get tethering on a lot (most?) Android phones with PDANet. No rooting required. I used it on my Droid before I rooted it. (I’ve since rooted it *and* installed Cyanogenmod 6.0.)

  3. Yeah, the app is old school. Originated way back on Windows Mobile. I think they offer a free, basic version on Android and the fully featured app for like $25 or something reasonable. In fact, there’s a few competitors too.

  4. As a developer, I really like the fact that we will be able to develop apps for the PlayBook using any of Adobe AIR, native C/C++, or Java (not to mention web apps using HTML5/Flash). It makes porting existing applications much easier…

  5. I also think it looks quite impressive. But I’m a little concerned that it’s all a render/vaporware at this point.

    The way I’ve heard it there wasn’t a single demo that occurred live, and the units people could look at were encased in thick Plexiglas cases and were simply running looped videos. If you look at the ad that Engadget points you to its clearly a render. Since the real product is at least 6 months away, I wonder if they’re just trying to stall the market and keep people waiting for their product to come out. Guess we’ll see.

    I like the no-3G approach myself. I’d rather my iPhone offered something like that to my iPad (yes I’m aware I can jailbreak the iPad to do that, assuming I want to pay AT&T the additional $30/month for the right to tether) than buy a 3G iPad.

    The size seems interesting. With the iPad being a bit heavy for one handed reading a 7″ tablet might be a fine idea. Or it might just be a little too small–didn’t we just go through this on netbooks? Also the screen resolution seems poor to me–the 1024×600 resolution is the same as the typical netbook I found unacceptable. Using it sideways you just aren’t going to get enough of a web-page on the screen. Maybe as long as the scrolling is buttery-smooth it won’t matter. The keyboard does seem to take up way too much of the screen though. The nice thing would be if you can thumb type with the unit held vertically. Will have to see one or wait for reviews.

    I’m not a BlackBerry user, never have been, but I suspect there will be things that will make it more useful to BlackBerry phone users–that secure BlueTooth connection? Access to BlackBerry Messenger etc seems very likely, while Exchange might not be. Similarly it syncs with your contacts and such on your BB device. Probably not with your Google contacts or Exchange. I expect they’re just preaching to the faithful here and not trying to sell this device to me.

    The obvious things they didn’t mention were the price and battery life. Suspect they didn’t for a reason. I presume the price will be a bit too high for a personal buy, which is why they keep talking about how Professional and Business Oriented it is. Also that dual core CPU and the thinness might suggest much lower battery life than the iPad. Personally I think you can get away with 5-6 hours rather than the iPads 10+ but I’m not sure everybody feels that way.

    The world will be better for the competition though. Here’s hoping its a serious competitor.

  6. 1024×600 on a 7″ tablet actually gives a higher pixel density (170 PPI) than the iPad’s 1024×768 on 10″ (132 PPI) so I don’t think resolution will be a problem. You might just need to hold it a bit closer to your eyes to read it. :)

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