We had previously seen the PlayBook at CES, but this is a more stable (though not final) build of the software, with actual applications running rather than demos. RIM are marketing the PlayBook as “professional grade” rather than pushing it specifically at businesses like early Blackberries were in the hope of also attracting regular consumers as well.
We played with one of the WiFi only models and were cautiously impressed. Design is muted and understated, but with the feel of a quality build. The dual core 1GHz processor (now the default standard for next-gen tablets) and 1GB of memory makes for a remarkably zippy device and the screen is bright and extremely touch responsive.
Interestingly, RIM have made the bezel of the PlayBook touch sensitive as well as the screen – you pull up the virtual keyboard by flicking the lower left corner diagonally and the battery life and connectivity indicators can be accessed by the same motion in the upper right corner, just to give two examples.
The multi-tasking is extremely impressive, with any running apps appearing in a ribbon-like interface. We had a 1080p HD movie, a PowerPoint presentation, a music player and a Flash intensive website all happily running at the same time with no noticeable sluggishness – quite an achievement. Special mention should go to the video playback, which is nigh-on perfect and shows off the screen superbly.
We were also impressed by the news of the Android virtual machine, an app that will allow PlayBook users to run Android applications that have been ported to the BlackBerry AppWorld. We’d need to see this in action before we wax too lyrical, but it certainly opens up the usage considerably.
The WiFi only model is intended to be tethered to a BlackBerry phone for internet access as well as real time access to email, calendar, address book and even BlackBerry Messenger. RIM couldn’t comment on a 3G or 4G version in terms of local timing, carrier availability or pricing.
In all, we were fairly impressed with the PlayBook. We have some concerns regarding the amount of native BlackBerry touch applications that will be maximised for use on the 7in form factor at launch, but hope to be surprised by this. Local pricing is still a mystery, but the 64GB WiFi only model will retails for US$700 in the US, so if RIM can avoid the traditional “Aussie Tax” down under, the pricing should be in line with the current tablet market. Stay tuned for a launch date – RIM are currently stating “Q2 calendar year” which is wonderfully vague.
Click here for a gallery of the PlayBook in action and size comparison to the Samsung Galaxy Tab.