RIM BlackBerry PlayBook review

5 May 2011

This superb tablet won’t be for everyone, but if the UK price is right, RIM could well be onto a winner

Price when reviewed: 
475(£350 inc VAT), estimatedmore
Buy it now for 
5

With all the fuss surrounding the launch of the iPad 2 and Android 3-based tablets of late, you’d be forgiven for thinking there were no other platforms in the tablet market. This is far more than a two-horse race, however, and the latest to the starting gate is none other than RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook.

On the outside, it’s typical BlackBerry fare, expertly built with a flat back finished in matte, soft-touch plastic. With a 7in screen it’s smaller than most tablets we’ve seen recently, but this means it’s a lot more portable too – just 10.4mm thick and weighing 425g, it won’t quite fit in a jacket pocket but it’s not far off.

It might not look luxurious, but it’s much nicer to hold than the plasticky 7in Samsung Galaxy Tab. The quality is just what we’d expect from a manufacturer so well-versed in the art of producing corporate hardware.

Around the edges of the PlayBook you’ll find volume, playback and power controls and a 3.5mm headphone socket on the top edge, with a docking connector, micro USB and Micro HDMI sockets at the bottom. On the rear panel is a 5-megapixel camera, and there’s a 3-megapixel unit up front.

BlackBerry PlayBook front

Under the hood there’s the now-customary dual-core 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. A six-axis gyroscope handles motion sensing duties, and you get GPS plus dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for connectivity. Initially, RIM will be launching the PlayBook as a Wi-Fi-only device, with a 3G version promised further down the track.

Performance

Turn it on and the screen impresses immediately. It’s an IPS panel, just like the iPad 2’s, and with a resolution of 1,024 x 600 it’s only slightly down on pixel count. Impressively, though, it’s brighter.

Using a colorimeter, we measured a pure white screen and recorded a maximum brightness of 600cd/m2; to compare, the iPad 2 gained 411cd/m2, while the best Android 3 device we’ve seen – the Asus Eee Pad Transformer – came in at 328cd/m2.

The PlayBook’s screen does have a weakness, however: colour reproduction. Whites look slightly yellow, and reds and blues take on what we can only describe as a slightly “off” tone. This is a very small complaint, though, and otherwise the display is superb.

The main camera, meanwhile, shoots excellent 1080p video, but the 5-megapixel stills are considerably more iffy, with a noticeable grain and soft focus. Battery life is good but not stellar: playing a low-resolution video on loop, the PlayBook lasted 7hrs 43mins – a long way behind the iPad 2, the Xoom and others.

BlackBerry Tablet OS

The most interesting aspect of the PlayBook isn’t the hardware, but the platform. BlackBerry Tablet OS is what sets the PlayBook apart, and RIM looks to have done a very nice job with it indeed.

RIM BlackBerry PlayBook

The key here is its simplicity. When you fire up the PlayBook, the first screen you come to is a vertically scrolling iOS-esque app launch grid. Above sits a list of four categories – All, Favourites, Media and Games – and at the top of the screen is a status bar, complete with clock and date. You can swipe left and right to navigate to the different categories, drag a finger down from the top to pull down the settings, and that’s about it. It takes a matter of moments to get to grips with.

Only when you start to fire up apps do the fireworks start, however. Within any app, drag a finger up from the below the screen (the screen bezel is touch sensitive, not just the surface of the display), and the multitasking view appears, with thumbnails of each running app displayed in a scrollable carousel across the middle of the screen.

Detail

Price ex VAT £396
Price inc VAT £475
Warranty 1 yr return to base
Overall rating 5
Performance 5
Features & Design 4
Value for Money 5

Physical

Dimensions 194 x 10.4 x 130mm (WDH)
Weight 425g

Display

Primary keyboard On-screen
Screen size 7.0in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,024
Resolution screen vertical 600
Display type IPS
Panel technology IPS

Core specifications

CPU frequency, MHz 1,000MHz
Integrated memory 16.0GB
RAM capacity 1,000MB

Camera

Camera megapixel rating 5.0mp
Focus type Autofocus
Built-in flash? no
Built-in flash type N/A
Front-facing camera? yes
Video capture? yes

Other

WiFi standard 802.11n
Bluetooth support yes
Integrated GPS yes
Accessories supplied Neoprene slip case
Upstream USB ports 0
HDMI output? yes
Video/TV output? no

Software

Mobile operating system BlackBerry Tablet OS

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