Editor's Note 3/20/2012:
The BlackBerry PlayBook now runs BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0, which includes native email, calendar, and contacts apps. Please read our full PlayBook OS 2.0 review, and we have altered the original PlayBook review to reflect the changes.
RIM enters the tablet scene with the seven-inch BlackBerry PlayBook, which marks a handful of firsts. For the venerable mobile maker, the PlayBook is its first tablet, and it is also arguably the first BlackBerry product marketed for its consumer appeal. I’ve had RIM reps tell me that the PlayBook could be the first BlackBerry product many consumers own.
The PlayBook is also the first tablet running RIM’s new BlackBerry Tablet OS, which is based on QNX Neutrino (found in embedded applications, including in-car systems and the international space station). It is designed to be especially flexible and handle true multitasking.
Finally, it’s the first major, touch-based mobile tablet to contend with both Google Android and Apple iOS while also trying to elbow in on the Windows 7 slates currently targeting the enterprise.
Google, with its hardware partners, and Apple have spent the last year polishing and perfecting their tablet offerings, RIM is just getting started with its. Does the PlayBook contend out of the gate? Or is this first-generation tablet no good? Read on to find out.
BUILD & DESIGN
The seven-inch display dominates the front, as there are no physical buttons on the surface. BlackBerry branding appears just below the screen, and the three-megapixel front-facing camera appears above the display. RIM wisely decided to place the stereo speaks on the front-side of the PlayBook, with two thin grille slots placed on either side of the screen, between the frame and the body casing.
The PlayBook’s five-megapixel rear camera is found on the back of the tablet, just above the familiar BlackBerry logo. The lens is flush with the body, leaving it prone to smudges and scratches. A slightly recessed lens would have been preferable.
On top of the PlayBook sits a play/pause button between two volume buttons. The power button is directly to the left with a 3.5mm headphone all the way to the right. There are also two tiny holes in the top of the PlayBook, which I assume are the on-board microphones.
The remaining ports are on the PlayBook’s bottom, and they are micro-USB and micro-HDMI, as well as a proprietary three-pin charging slot. The PlayBook charges through the micro USB, but accessory chargers (sold separately) can slot into the three-pin port to charge it faster. The PlayBook sides are bare.
Sans the display and frame, the PlayBook body is rubberized, which I prefer to the near all-plastic body of the other seven inch tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and the iPad 2’s aluminum back panel. The PlayBook feels much more solid than the others because of its smaller size and similar thickness. It also seems like it can absorb a drop or two, though I didn’t stress test the tablet.
The front-side speaker placement is also a design strength. I had issues with both the Xoom and iPad 2 speaker placement because the speakers were located on the backs of the devices. Sound should not be directed away from the listener.
The only design flaw outside of the flush rear camera lens comes in the form of the power button. It is too small and it also sits almost flush against the body. Unless you have long fingernails or a toothpick handy, it takes some effort to press and hold. On the other hand, I suppose that eliminates the chances of errantly powering down the PlayBook, and it’s really a minor gripe when considering the PlayBook’s otherwise excellent design. In addition, a software update prior to the official release added a power icon to the apps that makes powering down the PlayBook much easier.
I’m also not pleased with the lack of an micro-SD card slot. As I’ll detail in the connectivity section, there are plenty of ways to load media and documents on and off the PlayBook wirelessly or over USB, but I like having the flexibility of SD too.
BlackBerry PlayBook specs:
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