Review: BlackBerry PlayBook

The recently released BlackBerry PlayBook brings another contender to the Apple iPad. Throughout this review we'll look at how the tablet stacks up against its biggest competitor, the iPad. We'll also be looking at all the key aspects that consumers look for when deciding which tablet they should be shopping for.

Hardware

The PlayBook comes with a 1 Ghz Cortex-A9 dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM, all in a 7" WSVGA multi-touch LCD 16:9 aspect ratio screen. It is available in 16, 32, and 64GB flavors. The tablet outputs a 1024 x 600 resolution, with the option of 1080p HDMI output support.

BlackBerry went all out on this tablet, including stereo speakers, front and rear facing camera, 6-axis motion sensor (gyroscope), digital compass, GPS, orientation sensor, 3.5mm headphone jack, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n with the option to support WiMax, LTE, or HSPA+, and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR.

The hardware all fits into a tiny 7.6" x 5'1" frame, with a depth of 0.4", and weights just under 1lb. The bottom of the device features a Micro-USB and Micro-HDMI port for charging and video output to your HDTV. The top of the device comes with a power, rewind, pause/play and fast forward buttons which work with any song or video.

The feel of the tablet is superb. The rubbery-backing on the PlayBook feels very comfortable in anyone's hands. The large bezel around the screen gives you extra space to rest your fingers while you're using the tablet, so you don't accidentally open or close an application.

Software

The PlayBook runs BlackBerry Tablet OS, which is very similar to BlackBerry OS 6.0 running on many of their handsets. This is the first device to run the all new QNX Neutrino real-time operating system, a future look at the new BlackBerry OS for handsets coming in the near future.

BlackBerry pre-loads a number of useful, and useless, applications on the PlayBook, including a shortcut to Facebook, Twitter, Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo and AOL mail. It's a little disappointing to see applications like Facebook and Twitter just be shortcuts to the web instead of an actual native application.

However, the operating system does come with a number of useful applications like a 'kodo' book reader and library store. You can download and read books off your tablet, but what tablet doesn't do that these days?

There is of course a music application, which actually does have a better presentation than the iPod application on the iPad. Users can stream or play music from their device and even shop online to download music directly to your tablet.

If music isn't your thing, there is a native YouTube and video application for the PlayBook to stream videos or simply pre-load some videos to take on the go.

The PlayBook even comes with a Word, Excel and PowerPoint-like software for creating and editing documents and presentations. The toolbars come with a number of handy features for styling your documents or making quick changes.

Multitasking on the PlayBook is great. With a slide of your finger, you can pull up the multitasking window to quickly switch between applications. Videos and games resume right where you left them, if you switch to another window.

You can tell BlackBerry put a lot of work behind the interface and functionality of the PlayBook OS. The slide-down menu gives users a ton of things to customize, including an orientation lock. However, the orientation is really slow when trying to rotate your device.

Camera

The PlayBook has a front-facing 3MP and rear 5MP camera. The tablet does support 1080p recording, but I would recommend getting the 32GB or 64GB models before turning your PlayBook into an HD camcorder. Unfortunately, the device doesn't come with an LED flash, making low-light images and video poor quality. However, this isn't a bad thing, because most people won't be taking their PlayBook out to take pictures or film anything.

Screen, Video & Audio

This is one of the problems with the PlayBook. Compared to the iPad and Motorola Xoom, the screensize is fairly small. Compared to the 10" and 10.1"-inch screens the iPad and Xoom feature, the PlayBook already loses some potential buyers looking for a larger screen.

The 16:9 screen is nice to have, but the size is still too small to be available at a price point of $499.99.

Apps

This is another aspect of the PlayBook I have troubles with. The BlackBerry App Word has never really taken off, especially when you compare it to that of the Apple App Store, Android Market and Windows Phone Market place.

Compared to the BlackBerry Torch and BlackBerry Curve I've previously reviewed in the past, this market place does have a better layout and UI, and a few more interesting applications.

Luckily for consumers, the BlackBerry PlayBook will allow selected Android apps to run on the device, increasing their market and potential consumer base.

Conclusion

Final thoughts on the BlackBerry PlayBook are overall positive. The hardware specifications are great, but it doesn't offer anything 'extra' to the consumer that other tablets don't. The look and feel of the PlayBook is above average, as it's an impressive piece of hardware, but it still lacks the available apps. Understandably, the tablet only just launched, while the iPad has been on the market for over a year now.

I would also like to see native Facebook, Twitter and email support instead of just a shortcut to the browser. It would also be nice to see a larger screen come on the market for users wanting a bigger tablet.

Video and audio playback (h.264, MPEG4 and WMV support) is better on the PlayBook than on the iPad 2. For a first version of the operating system and hardware, it's much better than the Motorola Xoom, but has a little ways to go to catch up to the iPad 2.

I highly recommend checking out the BlackBerry PlayBook. The cameras, speakers and video are great, but I wish it had a larger screen. Hopefully in the coming months BlackBerry launches a revised version like Samsung did with the Galaxy Tab.

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