BlackBerry PlayBook: A Contender or Pretender?

What critics are saying about RIM’s new tablet.

by / April 19, 2011

The red-hot tablet market got a little more crowded today with the launch of RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook. Three models of the device are available — 16GB, 32GB and 64GB. All models feature a 7-inch touch display running at a resolution of 1024x600, a 1 GHz dual-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, dual cameras, and a QNX-based operating system. So how does the PlayBook stack up against the competition?

Moderately well, said Tim Gideon at “It handles some tasks gracefully, but currently lacks the features and functionality of the iPad 2 and Google Honeycomb tablets, so it's difficult to recommend right now.”

Gideon and other reviews were alarmed by the PlayBook’s limited e-mail capabilities. The Wi-Fi-only device currently requires users to sync their BlackBerry phone with the PlayBook in order to integrate e-mail.

“There's no Microsoft Exchange, no way to sync accounts,” Gideon notes, adding, “In fact, the PlayBook cannot currently sync with any e-mail accounts without the help of BlackBerry Bridge, which isn't ready yet.”

But being paired with a BlackBerry phone is what the PlayBook was intended for, said Wayne Rash at CTO Edge. “The BlackBerry PlayBook is designed to be a partner with a smartphone, ideally with a BlackBerry smartphone. The way it is currently designed, the PlayBook will link to your BlackBerry using Bluetooth, and it will echo the e-mail, calendar and contacts to the screen of the PlayBook.”

Rash also points out that the PlayBook may be the ideal tablet for organizations concerned about security. “In reality, the critical issue for many businesses is security and platform control. BlackBerry Enterprise Server provides both, and the other phones and devices out there don’t. If you really need the level of security that comes with BES, then the PlayBook is probably your best option — and it may be your only option.”

In this era of smartphones and tablets, user experience hinges as much on apps as on e-mail. The BlackBerry App World has struggled while Apple’s App Store and — to a lesser extent the Android Market — have flourished. Does the PlayBook have any app aces up its sleeve?

No, said The New York Times’ David Pogue. In fact, he suggests “the PlayBook’s motto might be, ‘There’s no app for that.’ No existing apps run on this all-new operating system, not even BlackBerry phone apps.”

Pogue does go on to explain that RIM intends to open an app store dedicated to the PlayBook soon and that 3,000 apps are set to launch. But his overall assessment of the device is that potential buyers ought to wait and see.

The PlayBook, he said, “is convenient, fast and coherently designed. But in its current half-baked form, it seems almost silly to try to assess it, let alone buy it.”

CNET, however, has a different take. Though reviewer Donald Bell admits the current crop of apps are “are meager compared with the giant storehouses” of Android and Apple. “Out of the box, the PlayBook comes prestocked with some great apps and utilities. Basic features such as music playback, video player, camera/camcorder, and weather are all here and executed with an eye for detail. You'll also find quality apps for YouTube, Kobo e-reader, Bing Maps (using GPS), and games such as Need for Speed and Tetris.”

The app situation promises to improve further as RIM has made it known it aims to integrate apps developed for Android. But in its current form, many reviewers felt the PlayBook was rushed to market.

“What we see at the moment is a framework with solid fundamentals but a framework that is, right now, unfinished. We have hardware that looks and feels great but isn't being fully served by the software,” said Tim Stevens at Engadget.

However, Stevens remained optimistic about the PlayBook’s future.

“Right now, the BlackBerry PlayBook is a tablet that will come close to satisfying those users who gravitate toward the first word in its name: BlackBerry. Those who were more excited about the ‘play’ part would be well advised to look elsewhere, at least until Android compatibility joins the party. Then, well, anything could happen.”

Chad Vander Veen

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.


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