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RIM BlackBerry PlayBook review

Verdict

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

Review Date: 5 May 2011

Reviewed By: Jonathan Bray

Price when reviewed: £396 (£475 inc VAT)

Buy it now for: £238
(see more store prices)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
4 stars out of 6

Value for Money
5 stars out of 6

Performance
5 stars out of 6

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.

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User comments

7 inches?

It may be enough for women, but it's not enough for a tablet.
Adding the features the iPad lacks (eg flash) isn't enough to make a tablet.
Android and potentially Windows 8 might have potential. WebOS is good but not enough backing, I fear it will always be very niche.
For the next year I really can't see anything to challenge the iPad's dominance. Apple will need to come up with something good next year but until then they have nothing to worry about.

By confucious on 5 May 2011

A glowing review but no recommendation?

Are you just waiting for the official release?

By tirons1 on 5 May 2011

No email, hurray!

Corporate IT depts will be glad to hear a Blackberry is needed for email. It makes it easier to refuse an upgrade to a new 'toy', so less support issues.

By russv1 on 5 May 2011

PLAYBOOK AFTER 2 WEEKS

i live in europe.somehow my local store managed to buy a couple .and i got my hands on one.700 euros is quite a price .it felt naked at start but there are apps .enough to play with for the beginning.and the verdict:actually i love it.i love the simple way it works.bridge once setup is ok.the build and handeling is very high quality.think about all you could do with this thing.very good job rimm.we want more and fast,but the right way.

By viking989 on 5 May 2011

7-inches is enough; your G/F is right.

I have a Galaxy Tab 3G (£299 at O2 - hurry!) and I can say that 7-inches is a great size for a tablet that you may want to leave the house with.

I like the look of this; I think Android app compatibility is a key selling point. Don't like the reliance on a tethered smartphone for email - wot, you can't just attach to an exchange server over wifi?!? Cripes!

By scombellack on 5 May 2011

Yay

What is it like to use when you connect a standard usb keyboard to it?

What is the battery life like?

Can you use Microsoft office?

(I already know the answers)

By rhythm on 5 May 2011

Fantastic

I've played with the Ipad 2 and the playbook, and in the end I decided on the playbook.

I'm a guy with big hands (bigger than the playbook lengthwise in fact) and I find the size perfect. Its similar in feel to a medium sized book, easily grasped, and securely held with one hand.

That being said, there is a lack of app support. But, I walked in knowing what I was getting and am excited everyday with the new apps that are released (latest being bbm). Great tool, no complaints.

By cangust on 5 May 2011

Is the price right?

I think the price needs correcting on this article - they're selling on Amazon for ~£500 inc VAT.

The latest prices links below don't lead to the Playbook either!

By survivalskills on 6 May 2011

customary dual-core 1GHz processor?

Not all dual-core 1GHz processors are the same. This is the first tablet to have the TI OMPA 4430 CPU in it. From what I have read it is slightly faster then the Nvidia Tegra 2 that is in everything else. No comparison of performance though? ARM processor performace is significant!

By M_Hamer on 7 May 2011

7 inches

jeeeeeez i am fed up of apple lovers wanting to dominate the market. FINE if u only want to use apple do so and dont give rubish reviews. i MYSELF have also had a go on the playbook. i work for the worlds leading consumer electronics supplier and having been trained on all tabs i find the playbook an excellent bit of kit. its ULTRA PORTABLE if it was any bigger its would not be. you do not need a blackberry to use one as tethering works on any device, the only issues i can see will be calendar and email (not an issue it has a web browser. have a go on one. try both the ipad and playbook. if you want to conform to society then go for apple. if you want a great bit of kit thats sleek and professional then go for the playbook.

By twiggy88 on 11 Jun 2011

Get a free Blackberry with your Playbook

Some reviews complain that the Playbook has no 3G connectivity. If you buy an Ipad you get 3G connectivity but need to purchase a data plan. Solution (at least here in Canada) - purchase a Playbook and then purchase a Blackberry with a 3 year data plan. In Canada you can get a Torch for 0$ - just commit to the 3 year plan. So - get a Playbook and a Torch for the cost of a Playbook and a 3 year data plan (same as just an Ipad). Bridge the Torch to the Playbook and you are off to the races!!!

By BBMan on 29 Jun 2011

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