BlackBerry PlayBook review roundup

BlackBerry PlayBook enters a market dominated by the Xoom and iPad 2. Does the new RIM device really have what it takes?

The BlackBerry PlayBook hits shelves early next week. But the reviews for the PlayBook have been less than stellar.

Say hello to the BlackBerry PlayBook, the latest machine to enter a rapidly-widening tablet market. The PlayBook is sleek, stylish, and priced to match the Apple iPad 2 and Xoom on price: $499 for a base-line model, and $699 for a top-of-the-line tablet. So how does the BlackBerry PlayBook stack up to its competitors? Let's take a look at the latest reviews.

The opening shot

"In some respects, the PlayBook is the most impressive tablet I've seen to date," writes Melissa J. Perenson of PC World. "Its approach to navigating among open apps is a joy; I was able to move among them faster than on any other tablet. But native apps like the PlayBook's browser have disappointing glitches, and you won't get much help from downloading third-party apps--only 3000 will be available at launch (compared with the 65,000 available for the iPad), and I still haven't seen many marquee names among them."

The design

"At a svelte 7.6 inches by 5.1 inches, the PlayBook is about the size of Samsung's Galaxy Tab, and considerably smaller than the Motorola Xoom and Apple iPad 2," writes Mike Isaac of Wired. "That may prove bothersome if you prefer watching videos and gaming on a larger screen. But in a trade-off for the small screen size, the PlayBook makes gains in portability. At just under a pound, long reading sessions don't cause as much fatigue as they do with larger tablets, and the rubberized backing adds a pleasing tooth to the grip. You won't be worried about dropping it on the floor of the bus."

The battery life

"With the screen brightness at about 75% and Wi-Fi on," writes Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal. "I played a movie I had transferred from a computer over and over until the juice ran out. The PlayBook lasted a bit over five hours, well short of the company’s claim of eight to 10 hours for mixed use. In mixed use, and on a second test of watching video with Wi-Fi off, I did better, over six hours, but well short of the 10 hours on the iPad 2."

The guts

"Running the show is a dual-core, 1GHz TI OMAP processor that's expertly massaged and manipulated by the QNX OS here," notes Tim Stevens of Engadget. "Graphics are handled by a PowerVR design, which quite handily offloads video decoding and gaming acceleration from the processor, enabling this thing to decode and display 1080p video over HDMI while still ticking along quite smoothly and running productivity apps on the seven-inch display. Not a hint of dithering or pixelation, of course. Apps load quickly, tend to be impressively responsive, and switching from one to the next is effortless."

The apps

BlackBerry Bridge is supposed to appeal to the corporate network administrators who are R.I.M.’s bread and butter, because they can deploy PlayBooks without having to worry about security breaches," writes David Pogue of the New York Times. However, Pogue notes, "BlackBerry Bridge is the only way to do e-mail, calendar, address book and BlackBerry Messenger on the PlayBook. The PlayBook does not have e-mail, calendar or address book apps of its own. You read that right. R.I.M. has just shipped a BlackBerry product that cannot do e-mail. It must be skating season in hell."

The apps, part 2

"The not-so-secret secret about tablets right now is that everything comes down to the apps," writes Matt Buchanan of Gizmodo. "And, well, the app situation is, uh, complicated. RIM says it'll have the most of any tablet at launch, with 3000. Most of what I've seen so far in the beta App World is junk — possibly it still has some issues making it hard to find good apps."

The Flash support

"If you go to YouTube, videos play just fine, even in full-screen mode," writes MG Siegler of TechCrunch. "If you go to a site that is Flash-heavy beyond single videos, like ESPN, things get a little dicey... The major problem with Flash on the PlayBook is that most sites simply aren’t optimized for touchscreens so Flash elements become almost like landmines. I often find myself accidentally clicking on a Flash element and getting whisked away to some other random page. This happens often when I’m just trying to scroll down the page. And it is very, very annoying."

The final word

Back to Matt Buchanan, at Gizmodo: "In a lot of ways, the PlayBook is more polished and usable in its beta state than the Motorola Xoom, and it's straight-up the best seven-inch tablet out there (though in the tango between between portability and size, I think 10 inches is still the best). At the same time, I don't think anyone should buy it right now — BlackBerry user or otherwise — for at least a few months, to see if the platform has enough legs to carry itself to where it needs to be. If the apps do arrive to fill in the gaps, then the PlayBook is totally going to be a tablet to check out."

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