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BlackBerry PlayBook

Editor's rating (1-5): rating starrating starrating starrating star
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Manufacturer: RIM (BlackBerry)
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What's hot: Superb hardware, elegant and fast UI, multitasks like a champ.

What's not: Rushed to market before PIM apps and email client reader. 3rd party apps are thin in this brand new platform.


Reviewed April 26, 2011 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

Editor's Update Feb. 21, 2012: RIM finally released OS 2.0 for PlayBook. It adds native PIM apps, email and the ability to run Android apps (that are provided in BlackBerry App World).

The BlackBerry PlayBook 7" tablet is here, and a spate of pre-release reviews were less than stellar. RIM may be late to the game, but they've got a fresh new OS powered by QNX and a divine user interface that we'd applaud even more vocally were it not such a blatant rip off of Palm/HP webOS. The PlayBook is available in WiFi-only models (3G/4G versions are coming in May or June, with Sprint being first), and the 16 gig WiFi version we have for review sells for $499. A 32 gig model will set you back $599 and a 64 gig model is $699, similar to iPad 2 pricing.

BlackBerry Playbook

The tablet has a quality feel to it with a soft touch finish and understated design that reminds us of the Motorola Xoom (that's not a bad thing). It doesn't have the plastic look and feel of the 7" Samsung Galaxy Tab, and at 14.9 ounces it has some heft. The PlayBook runs on a 1GHz dual core CPU that's quickly become the standard for tablets in various operating systems, and it has a healthy gig of RAM. It has a rear 5 megapixel camera and a 3 megapixel front camera, though there's not much you can do with the front camera beyond taking photos of yourself. Both cameras can shoot sharp and colorful 1080p video at 30fps and they're the best we've seen on tablets.

The PlayBook makes a very good first impression. The hardware has that quality look, and the 1024 x 600 capacitive display is very bright, sharp and colorful. It's large enough to read a web page without much zooming, yet small enough to fit in a large jacket pocket or purse. The home screen and user interface are easy to understand and delightful to use. It plays video like a champ, even 1080p.

BlackBerry Playbook

The BlackBerry Playbook and 7" Samsung Galaxy Tab.

The tablet has a soft touch finish that feels good in hand and squared off sides that ensure a positive grip. At 0.4" it's thin enough to be fashionable, and it's solidly built. Much ado has been made about the power button because pre-release review units had a very inset power button that was difficult to press. RIM said shipping units would have a slightly different design and indeed, our unit's power button is tiny but not sunk so deep that you can't press it with the flesh of a finger. Note that you can wake up the PlayBook at any time by swiping bottom to top across the display. Be sure to start from the black bezel because the bezel is touch sensitive as well and reacts to gestures.

BlackBerry Playbook




The power button and volume controls are up top. I found that I accidentally activated the screen shot function (press volume up and down simultaneously) when picking up the tablet sometimes. The micro USB port for charging and syncing, micro HDMI port and dock contacts are on the bottom edge. The 3.5mm stereo headphone jack is up top as are the mics, and stereo speakers of surprisingly good quality and volume flank the display. It's ironic that Apple's iPad and iPhone products still lack stereo speakers despite their iTunes heritage. Score one for RIM.

Early reviews of the pre-release product noted copious bugs and the absence of BlackBerry Bridge that allows the PlayBook to grab PIM data and email from a BlackBerry smartphone. Happily, the release version we have (after downloading a 287 meg update out of the box, then a second large update a few days later) has been fairly stable with no out of memory errors even when running several programs simultaneously. Adobe Flash 10.1 playback is very impressive and we didn't feel like we were suffering through yet another lame mobile implementation of full Flash. The webkit web browser does have a tendency to occasionally silently crash and disappear taking all its tabs with it however.

BlackBerry Bridge is available for Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon OS 5 and 6 BlackBerry smartphones, but not AT&T. AT&T is still testing the app, according to their PR team... that sounds a little fishy, AT&T. Without Bridge you won't have contacts, calendar or email unless you can access them via the web browser. With Bridge you can use your BlackBerry phone as a wireless modem for the tablet, though your carrier may require that you pay for a tethering plan to do so.

The webkit web browser is perhaps the best we've seen on a mobile OS device. Though Android and the latest iOS browser on the iPad 2 are a tad quicker on Javascript rendering, the PlayBook not only supports Flash but it renders with the best fidelity. Complex web pages, blog back ends and other challenges were no problem for the PlayBook. Pinch zooming is smooth and responsive and the accelerometer responds with decent speed for page orientation changes. The browser can even handle playing Amazon video on demand and Hulu (with a little work-around since Hulu blocks all mobile devices).

BlackBerry Playbook



BlackBerry Playbook


Video Review

Here's our 18 minute BlackBerry PlayBook video review where we demo the OS, multi-tasking, apps, Flash 10.1 and compare it to other tablets.


BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 OS Video Review

Here's what's new in the 2.0 OS released for free download on February 21, 2012. Native PIM apps, the Docs to Go office suite and more:

How is the PlayBook? It's fast, polished, easy to understand and use, and it excels at multimedia. The stereo speakers sound great, HDMI out via the micro HDMI port works well for movie playback and this thing eats Adobe Flash for breakfast. 3D gaming is smooth too, though there aren't many titles out yet. And that gets to the catch: there just aren't many apps for the PlayBook yet. Granted, the platform isn't even a month old, and we're sure titles will follow (RIM says 3,000 apps will be available). At some point, they also say the PlayBook will be able to run Android apps, which would really open things up. But for now, if you don't have a BlackBerry smartphone, you're looking at a fast and portable tablet that's wonderful for web browsing and video playback, but not a heck of a lot more. In the coming months, RIM says they'll release PIM apps and an email client for the PlayBook... we thought the Xoom was released a bit too soon, but it at least had the full suite of core apps available at launch. RIM has pushed the PlayBook release up a bit too soon, and that's the main thing hurting an otherwise promising tablet.

The same could've been said for early Android Honeycomb tablets, but they had an advantage thanks to several hundred thousand existing 2.x apps. Granted many of those ran in a tiny window on the big screen, but some of the most popular apps were resolution-aware and ran full screen just fine. From news readers like Pulse to file managers like Astro and AndroXplorer, to ebook apps like Nook and Kindle, there were plenty of staples to keep one productive and entertained within a week of the Xoom's launch. The PlayBook's apps so far (available in AppWorld on the device) seem very homebrew with few of the big cross-platform titles we've come to expect. Currently there's no Pulse, Flixster Movies, Netflix,, CNN or Google Maps. Are they coming? We feel certain they are because RIM and the BlackBerry ecosystem represent a significant chunk of the mobile market. Right now, development is done in Adobe Air, HTML5 and Java. Perhaps when a native SDK is available, more tier 1 apps will come.

Happily, a decent list of useful core apps are pre-installed, and these include Accuweather, Bing Maps, Voice Notes, Kobo Books (less popular than Nook and Kindle but a decent ePub reading platform with storefront that's associated with Borders Books), a clock, a podcast client, a really cool calculator with embedded virtual tear-off tape and scientific calc functions plus a unit converter, Tetris, Need for Speed Undercover and a very capable version of Documents to Go that handles MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint read/create/edit.

We hesitate to compare the PlayBook to the iPad 2 not just because iOS is so mature, but also because those who want a 7" tablet for portability may not want a big 9.7" beast and the focus of the products is quite different. The iPad 2 is all about gaming and multimedia courtesy of iTunes content. The PlayBook does video and music but it's also about MS Office docs, presentations, Bridging to BlackBerry smartphones and the usual RIM serious security. It multitasks like a champ and puts iOS to shame (but not Honeycomb). Clearly, the iPad can do more than just fun, and has the advantage with built-in PIM and email apps and a huge library of iPad apps to choose from on iTunes. With RIM's solution, it's buy now and wait for the apps to come.

The PlayBook has excellent standby battery life and solid runtimes with WiFi on and brightness set to a more than adequate 65%. We averaged 7.5 hours on a charge of active use playing video loops and in normal use, we charged every third or fourth day. Our version of normal use included playing movie trailers and shorts via HDMI to our HD TV, plenty of web browsing, searching for new restaurants in Bing and downloading apps from AppWorld.

While AppWorld is your way to get new apps onto the PlayBook, USB and WiFi are your friends for loading documents and media. To transfer over USB, you'll install the BlackBerry Desktop Manager (installers for Mac and Windows are on a partition that mounts when you connect via USB). You can also transfer files via WiFi, no software installation required. The PlayBook appears as a network drive--sweet.


Consumer electronics devices rarely leave me feeling this conflicted. I love the PlayBook experience with its fast and mature user interface that's more polished than Android (and I'm an Android user) and far stronger at multitasking than iOS. The hardware is gorgeous and the 7" tablet is portable enough that I do take it with me, unlike the Motorola Xoom and iPad 2. The web browsing experience is second to none and Flash 10.1 playback is impressive. I don't miss 3G/4G cellular data-- these days so many smartphones have WiFi tethering and I prefer that over adding more data plans and contracts for each device I carry. But the app story is sadly lacking at launch, and without BlackBerry Bridge there's no contacts, calendar or email client. That makes the PlayBook, an otherwise fairly solid first gen offering, seem very rushed. It doesn't help that AT&T is blocking BlackBerry Bridge at launch either. We hope to see PIM apps and an email client in May when the Sprint version is due to launch, and after that, it's a waiting game for third party apps in AppWorld to fill in the rest of the blanks.

Pro: Superb hardware, top notch display, delightful user interface, solid multitasking, good battery life, full 1080p HDMI out.

Con: Missing basic PIM apps and email client at launch. BlackBerry Bridge not available for AT&T BlackBerry smartphones (AT&T's fault), quality apps in AppWorld MIA at launch.


Price: $499 for 16 gig model, $599 for 32 gig model and $699 for 64 gig model.


BlackBerry PlayBook and iPad 2

The BlackBerry PlayBook next to the much larger iPad 2.


BlackBerry Playbook


BlackBerry Playbook


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Display: 7" capacitive touch screen. Resolution: 1024 x 600, supports both portrait and landscape modes via accelerometer, has 6 axis gyroscope.

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is not user replaceable.

Performance: Dual core 1GHz Texas Instruments OMAP4430 CPU with hardware graphics acceleration. 1 gig RAM. 16/32/64 gig models available.

Size: 7.6 x 5.1 x 0.4inches. Weight: 0.9 pounds.

Phone and 3G/4G: None in WiFi only model.

GPS: Has GPS and digital compass. Comes with Bing Maps.

Camera: 3MP front camera and rear 5 megapixel camera. Both have autofocus and can shoot 1080p video.

Audio and Video: Built in stereo speakers, stereo mics and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack. Music player (supports MP3, WMA and AAC) and voice recorder app included. Video player can play MPEG4, WMV and H.264 video. Can play 1080p video through HDMI.

Networking: Integrated WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR. Can share files with computers over WiFi.

Software: BlackBerry Tablet OS based on QNX operating system. Adobe Flash, Adobe Air, Adobe Reader, Documents to Go, Podcast app, video player, music player, Kobo Books, Accuweather, YouTube, Need for Speed Undercover, Bing Maps, Music Store, Voice Notes, web browser, calculator and more.

Expansion: No expansion card slot, no USB host port. Has docking port for optional fast charging.


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