BlackBerry PlayBook (16GB)
Typical Price: $159.99
CNET Editors' Rating: 3.0 / 5
The good: RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook is a fast, powerful 7-inch tablet with HDMI output, advanced multitasking and security, and a browser that integrates Adobe Flash 10.2 for a desktop-style Web experience.
The bad: The 7-inch screen cramps the powerful browser; the wake button is difficult to push; and app selection trails the competition.
The bottom line: The BlackBerry PlayBook ably showcases RIM's powerful new mobile operating system, but its middling size diminishes many of its best features.
Design, Features & Performance (out of 10)
Editors' note: Thanks to the release of recent, high-quality tablets, the overall score of the Playbook has been adjusted down from 7.3 to 6.
Editors' note: An updated version of the BlackBerry PlayBook OS (PlayBook OS 2.0) is now available as a free over-the-air update. The new software includes native e-mail, calendar, contacts, and broader app support. We updated this review on February 29, 2012, to reflect these changes.
If you thought the tablet wars were just between Apple and Google, think again. Research In Motion may be late to the fight, but it is fighting for its life, and the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet demonstrates that the company means business.
Like the Apple iPad, the PlayBook's suggested retail price starts at $499 (16GB), going up to $599 (32GB) and $699 (64GB) if you need the extra capacity. In 2012, we've seen sale pricing for the PlayBook dip as low as $199 for the 16GB model.
Is it an iPad killer? For existing corporate and consumer BlackBerry devotees, the answer is certainly yes. For the rest of you, probably not. With its unapologetically small 7-inch screen, we're not even sure RIM intends it to compete directly with the iPad. More importantly, the PlayBook and its souped-up operating system point the way forward for RIM and the future of the BlackBerry brand.
The BlackBerry PlayBook is probably the smallest high-profile tablet to come out in 2011. Measuring 5 inches tall, 7.5 inches wide, and a slim 0.4 inch thick, the PlayBook's design has more in common with the Galaxy Tab of 2010 than the 10-inch tablets making headlines this year. To RIM's credit, the PlayBook is the most powerful 7-inch tablet we've tested, and the lightweight design comes in under a pound.
One of the first things you'll notice about the PlayBook is the complete lack of buttons on the front. Like the Motorola Xoom, all of the PlayBook's navigation is handled using onscreen controls. A 0.7-inch bezel frames the 1,024x600-pixel-resolution screen, which is bordered by a pair of slender stereo speaker grilles. Above the screen you'll see a 3-megapixel camera staring back at you, along with an ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts screen brightness. Flip the tablet over and you'll find another camera, this one a 5-megapixel job that can capture video at 1080p quality.
It's not all gravy, though. The top edge of the PlayBook is a case study in bad design. The problem is the power/wake button, which is so small and recessed that you'll need to whittle down your fingertip to use it. When placed within the extra layer of a case, the power button was almost impossible to press. It's a problem, and one you'll encounter every day since the button is the only means to wake the screen from sleep. The nimble fingered among us may be able to look past it, but for many it will be a deal breaker that ranks up there with BlackBerry thumb. Dedicated buttons for volume and play/pause are also located on the top, but their only real crime is redundancy.
The bottom of the PlayBook fares better and includes contacts for an optional charging dock ($69), Micro-USB (charging/sync), and Micro-HDMI. An HDMI cable isn't included, but we suggest buying one since the PlayBook's ability to crank out 1080p resolution video and mirror its OS onto your TV is one of its coolest features.
BlackBerry tablet OS
The single most important feature of the PlayBook is its operating system. RIM has candidly declared that the PlayBook's OS is more than just a new tablet platform, but the future for BlackBerry devices in general. In building the software from the ground up, RIM's goal was to create an OS that is a powerful, professionally oriented alternative to Android and iOS. We think RIM nailed it.
Aside from being buttery smooth and a multitasking dynamo, the PlayBook's OS is a dramatic change from the cramped, trackball-focused OS RIM built its name on. It bears more than a passing resemblance to Palm's resurrected WebOS, but arguably surpasses it in its quest for laptoplike performance.
There is a learning curve to finding your way around the PlayBook. Unlike iOS or Android, there's no home button to act as an anchor for the experience. Instead, there's a basic vocabulary of gestures you'll need to learn, such as swiping upward from beneath the screen to access apps, swiping down from the top bezel to access menus, or swiping from either the left or right bezel to bounce between open applications. It's a bit of a secret handshake to get it all down, but once you do, you can move swiftly, and the speed with which you can jump between running apps is noticeably faster than anything else out there. It's a dream tablet for anyone with attention deficit disorder. Like switching between applications on your computer, the PlayBook keeps your open apps running in parallel at full throttle and takes no time jumping right in.
Another aspect of the PlayBook's OS that has us smiling is the onscreen keyboard. The virtual keys are well-spaced and responsive. The overall tablet dimension and bezel size make it easy to reach your fingers across the screen. And in a design twist we think is pretty smart, RIM groups its numeric keyboard all on the left side, making number entry a little more natural (especially for fans of BlackBerry's tactile smartphone keyboard).
New for PlayBook OS 2.0
When the BlackBerry PlayBook first made the scene in 2011, it arrived without any standalone apps for e-mail, contacts, or calendar. RIM's PlayBook OS 2.0 update (a free update made available in February 2012) addresses this oversight. While baked-in support for e-mail, contacts, and calendars isn't terribly exciting stuff, this useful update underscores RIM's commitment to improving its product.
The PlayBook's new e-mail app gives you a unified inbox for all of your accounts, including social networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter. In spite of the PlayBook's relatively small 7-inch screen, RIM has made it possible to juggle between inbox views and e-mails using a collapsible multipanel interface.
When it comes to e-mail composition, RIM includes a rich text editor that allows you to change fonts, create lists, bold, underline, and color--just as you'd expect from a desktop e-mail application. The included keyboard has been improved, too, though to notice these improvements is also to remember they weren't there to begin with. Features such as autocorrect, predictive text, and keyboard shortcuts have all been thrown in.
The PlayBook's Calendar app works just as you'd expect. You can create appointments directly or subscribe to any online calendars you may already have. As shown in the above video, one interesting design trick RIM employed is to increase or minimize the calendar date depending on the number of events scheduled on it. This way, you can glance at your calendar and immediately spot the busiest days.
RIM's new Contacts app for BlackBerry PlayBook has a few tricks up its sleeve. Its first trick is the capability to sync profile information from your connected LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. Its second trick is its integration with the Calendar app. Rescheduling an appointment on your calendar will trigger an automatic notification to the contacts you have associated with the event.
Overall, the features provided by PlayBook OS 2.0 are a welcome update for any BlackBerry PlayBook user. For RIM's loyal base of business users, the e-mail and contact integration with LinkedIn is an attractive proposition. A few other enhancements, such as the ability to organize apps into folders, video chat with other PlayBook owners, and an application dock at the bottom of the home screen, refine an already great tablet experience.
Syncing media to your PlayBook from your computer isn't the simple drag-and-drop experience as on an Android device, or the time-honored iTunes sync of an iPod or iOS device. Instead, when you connect the PlayBook to a Mac or PC, a preloaded installer will pop up and run you through the BlackBerry Desktop software installation. The setup is fairly painless, and it gives you separate tabs for manually or automatically syncing various media, such as photos, music, and videos.
Another nifty advantage of RIM's software sync strategy is that it will take your PlayBook's unique BlackBerry PIN ID and map it to a persistent virtual drive on your computer. After the setup, your computer will maintain a wireless connection to your PlayBook over your home network, allowing you to send files to the device from the virtual drive on your computer. One use for this feature is quickly transferring a report or presentation to your PlayBook without taking it out of your bag and physically connecting it.
Out of the box, the PlayBook comes prestocked with some great apps and utilities. Basic features such as music playback, video player, camera/camcorder, and weather are all here and executed with an eye for detail. You'll also find quality apps for YouTube, Kobo e-reader, Bing Maps (using GPS), and games such as Need for Speed and Tetris.
The PlayBook's killer app, though, is its browser. Unlike iOS and Android browsers, which evolved from the world of mobile phones, the PlayBook's browser is a clean slate (no pun intended), and Web sites react to it just like a desktop browser. This means you won't be wasting any time on mobile versions of sites designed for the small screens of smartphones--a problem that even larger tablets such as the Motorola Xoom and iPad 2 can't seem to shake.
As the icing on the cake, RIM baked full Adobe Flash 10.2 support into the PlayBook's browser. All of the Web's video, animations, games, and ads (for better or worse) work on the PlayBook, just like they would on your home computer. There's even a privacy mode for the browser and advanced settings for selectively disabling cookies, WebSockets, and pop-ups. The only bad thing we can say about the browser is that it shoehorns the full Web experience onto a screen size that is ill-equipped to take advantage of it. With half the screen real estate of its iOS and Android Honeycomb peers, you spend a lot of time pinching fingers in and out to zoom pages and peer at an uncompromised Web experience through a 7-inch keyhole.
Other vital apps offered on the PlayBook include the full suite of Docs To Go apps for viewing and editing common document formats such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. In combination with the built-in HDMI output, the PlayBook makes a handy device for presentations. The PlayBook's video output has the unique capability of either mirroring the device's screen, or selectively locking content (such as presentation slides or videos) to the HDMI output while allowing the device to pursue other tasks or drive the presentation behind the scenes.
While the included apps for e-mail, contacts, and calendar (provided in the PlayBook OS 2.0 update) are more than adequate for most users, security-concerned professionals have another option called BlackBerry Bridge. By pairing a BlackBerry phone to the PlayBook (over Bluetooth) using the free BlackBerry Bridge app, users can momentarily pull over the BBM, Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, and Memos from their phone.
The upshot of this arguably convoluted system is that the sensitive data stored in these proprietary BlackBerry apps is never actually stored on the PlayBook. The PlayBook acts as a sort of tablet-size magnifying glass for interacting with these apps, but when the phone is taken away, no trace is left behind. For corporate users wrapped in layers of bureaucratic Enterprise and privacy concerns, the BlackBerry Bridge solution is a selling point that should (in theory) allow you to immediately integrate the tablet with an existing BlackBerry-based system.
Another advantage to the unique dance of device IDs that happens between the PlayBook and a BlackBerry smartphone is the way tethering is handled. In general, the PlayBook can be tethered over Bluetooth to any tether-friendly smartphone, thus accessing the Internet over the phone's cellular data connection. But when the PlayBook pairs with another BlackBerry device, the tethered connection is (in theory) indistinguishable to carriers, and shouldn't incur any additional charges your carrier may have in place for tethering.
Apps make the mobile world go 'round, especially when it comes to tablets. The PlayBook comes with RIM's BlackBerry App World preinstalled, allowing you to browse and purchase apps directly to your tablet.
The selection of apps available through the App World still trails the giant storehouses of Android and iOS, but the quality of content RIM has pulled in since the PlayBook's release is admirable.
Part of RIM's successful app catalog expansion is owed to the company's strategy of courting Android developers to port their existing apps into the App World catalog. With a minimum of tinkering, these apps run on the PlayBook, just as they would on a comparable Android tablet.
In the world of 7-inch tablets, the BlackBerry PlayBook is smoking fast and packed with a dizzying arsenal of hardware capabilities. There's a 1GHz dual-core processor under the hood, along with 1GB of RAM and fast 802.11n Wi-Fi support. Put it all together, and you have a tablet that responds with the same immediate, fluid feel of Apple's iPad 2.
We've already waxed poetic about the PlayBook's Web browser, but it's worth noting that page load times aren't quite as snappy as the iPad 2 or Motorola Xoom. Granted, in many cases it's spending extra time loading Flash content, but the delay is present even on sites that don't utilize Flash. With any luck, RIM will update and refine browser performance over time.
In terms of screen quality, audio quality, or video quality, we couldn't find much to complain about, though we wish the screen were bigger (and maybe a little brighter). Video output over HDMI worked flawlessly.
RIM doesn't have an exact rating of the PlayBook's battery life, but in our informal testing we were surprised at how well it held up, even under heavy gaming and multitasking situations. Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results. More tablet testing results can be found here.
|Video battery life (in hours)||Maximum brightness (in cd/m2)||Default brightness (in cd/m2)||Maximum black level (in cd/m2)||Default black level (in cd/m2)||Default contrast ratio||Contrast ratio (max brightness)|
The BlackBerry PlayBook is an important tablet. It's a strategically important product for RIM. It's a welcome addition to a tablet landscape that has been devoid of professionally-oriented products (outside of Windows 7 slates). And it's an important competitive gesture to both Apple and Google that a third way is possible and that there are still interesting and innovative things to be done in this space.
Is the PlayBook going to take a big bite out of the tablet market? Probably not, but then, few have. We feel confident saying that it is a much more powerful product than many of the high-end 7-inch tablets we've seen so far. It's a sure hit for the BlackBerry loyal, and a tempting option for those who prefer an uncompromising Web experience to the allure of apps and games.
Average User Rating: 3.0 / 5
User Rating Breakdown
5 Star: 72
4 Star: 20
3 Star: 6
2 Star: 9
1 Star: 10
Great, but greater with a smartphone!
Rating: 4.5 / 5
on February 22, 2012
18 out of 19 users found this review helpful
Pros: 1) Main interface is very clean and pleasing to use
2) Web browser is very easy to use
3) Dual speakers, sound quality is good
4) Top-notch build quality
5) Great display quality
6) Real Multitasking, very useful!
Good camera and video
Cons: 1) ON/OFF switch could be better designed
2) Number of Apps available is smaller than Android or Apple
3) No native mail etc.
Summary: Before I get started I would like to point out that I am already a Blackberry phone user for at least a year but I will try my best not to be bias in order to write a fair review,
I had already bought my second Blackberry smartphone (Bold 9900 - Excellent phone by the way) and so when Christmas came around the Playbook seemed like a natural companion for it, having read various reviews and watched plenty of youtube reviews I took the plunge. Upon unboxing I found the setup process to be very quick and easy, even a mandatory software update meant that overall it only took 15 minutes or so.
The main interface is very clean and pleasing to use, the numerous gestures are far more enjoyable than pressing buttons, the true multi tasking is a joy to use after years stuck with apples so called 'multitasking' which is in fact just pausing apps. In true Blackberry style there has been a few, very small glitches, like notifications not going away and getting stuck and icons disappearing, nothing a reboot can't fix.
The physical appearance of the device is again very pleasing and the matte finish on the back is extremely grippy so it feels stable in your hands, also having the camera in the middle means your fingers won't be able to smudge it like when you hold an iPad 2 in portrait. The ports are well set out along the bottom, my only gripe is the power/lock button on top, this is not as bad as other reviews make it out to be, but I often find myself pressing one of the volume buttons instead due to them being a lot larger in comparison. This is no big issue but still worth noting.
The web browser is very easy to use and the tab bar is a very welcome addition after using iOS's Safari, my only slight problem with it is when you use Blackberry bridge you get a second web browser, called 'Bridge Browser' this is the one you have to use when your not connected to a WiFi network. It means it has separate settings and bookmarks to the normal browser which can be annoying as you essentially have to fill in settings twice and bookmark pages on both browsers. Apart from that it is very quick, a real step up from the Blackberry smartphone web-kit browsers and the dual-core processor has no trouble loading flash content.
Bundled applications include Need For Speed: Undercover and the full Office to go suite, a nice touch from RIM. The app store is small but basic apps are there and with the promise of the android app store it should be greatly improved in the coming year.
So minus a Blackberry smartphone, you have a small, portable tablet which is quick enough to handle speedy web browsing and graphic intensive games. However when you do use the Bridge application with a Blackberry phone, the Playbook really comes into its own. Firstly you get the use of a whole new array of applications, emails, calendar, reminders, bridge browser, bbm and memos. After using a Blackberry phone with a tiny screen, the 7" Playbook really makes sending emails a joy and the way the calendar is setup is also very attractive. My phone and Playbook are nearly always connected, I have found this has a negligible affect on the battery life of both devices. There are clever features such as when you receive a call to your phone, it pops up on your Playbook to let you know.
Overall the Playbook is a fantastic tablet and certainly an iPad killer, the fluidity of the OS mixed with the solid design make it a joy to use. However the purpose of the Playbook was to entice non-Blackberry users to buy it, it seems RIM have done the exact opposite, with out a Blackberry phone I struggle to recommend this tablet over an iPad or any other tablet for that matter. But when you link it with a Blackberry phone it doubles it's capabilities. One way to think about it is as an extension to your Blackberry smartphone, a second, bigger screen if you like. It allows for the accelerometer powered games that just aren't possible on Blackberries and multi touch gestures. When you purchase some of the accessories like the official rapid charging stand, it really enhances your user experience.
So overall, if you own a Blackberry smartphone, buy this table, as the 16GB version is little over $200 it is very affordable and it will make your whole Blackberry experience doubly as good, just don't forget the accessories when you go to the checkout! If you don't own a Blackberry smartphone its hard to recommend the Playbook over the iPad 2 based on features, however when you look at prices, the base model Playbook is half the price of the cheapest iPad which in my opinion is very good value and it doesn't have a massive opportunity cost and is still worth seriously considering. But going back to my first point of this conclusion - If you own a fairly recent Blackberry smartphone, buy this tablet, its very affordable and added features will greatly improve the experience from the Playbook.
But, before you're will buy this Blackberry Playbook, I suggest you have to compare prices before you decide at: Prices-comparison.info/Blackberry-Playbook
Enjoy with your Playbook!
Used it, Loved it, This is the Tablet to beat!
Rating: 5 / 5
on April 8, 2011
25 out of 38 users found this review helpful
Pros: True Multi-tasking instead of app pausing, full 1080p HD recording, 5MP in back and 3MP in front, the price point, and the new QNX tablet OS, fully touch-operational bezel, Android applications in summer '11, and Blackberry Bridge.
Cons: No expandable memory, Wifi only.
Summary: I was skeptical of the entire package before I was able to get my hands on it and learn about it in depth. This is the tablet to beat this year. Never mind the small package and picture-frame like design of this tablet. It all works toward why this will be the best on the market in 2 short weeks.
True Multi-tasking is something we have yet to see. Sure, we have application pausing on Android and iOS. But that's all they do. They pause the application state in the background until you are able to get back to it. This is able to run multiple (as many as you want) HD videos, songs, pictures, Flash based websites, etc. in the background without lag or pixelation. The multi-tasking works similarly to a Palm device with windows through which you can swipe back and forth.
Full 1080p recording is a dream and the tablet brings out the full colors of wherever you are. I viewed several recordings of a pro basketball game from courtside. Without the obvious stability stemming from the handling of the device, it looked like a clip from ESPN. The 5- and 3MP cameras are stunning. Again, they capture the true colors of everything they capture. We were able to video chat with the other Playbook at the other end of the room without issue.
The price point is huge for this device. It is competitive with the iPad at $499, $599, and $699 for the 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB models, respectively. This device has the capability to store and play anything you would want. Although make sure you get the correct size as memory expansion is not possible. But with the ample space available in the 32GB and 64GB versions, it should be enough for even the most hardcore media fanatic.
There is a lot to say about the QNX tablet OS that Blackberry is using for this device. It is meant for pure multi-tasking. It is meant to never crash, never slow down, and always keep going. Scenario: You're on your laptop working an excel spreadsheet, music, and a website in the background. Your music malfunctions and leaves you with a frozen laptop to the point where you have to reboot or wait forever for the OS to fix the issue. You're obviously not running a QNX OS. With QNX, it immediately identifies a risk to the integrity of the OS, shuts down the risk, and re-runs it in a more stable state until everything you need is running. It does this all while you are running everything else unimpeded in the background. They don't believe that one bad egg should ruin the carton. This OS is the same used in most vehicle navigation systems, at NASA, on the space shuttles, to run and monitor utility grids, and nuclear power plants, to name a few. QNX has been using multi-core processors for years and this is their bread and butter. This is serious business to tablet fans. Although it seems like a serious task to learn, it isn't and it is the most fun I've had with a device since the current generation touch screen.
The bezel is something completely unique to the Playbook. Similar to the rest of the touch screen, and to Palm devices with their navigation strip below the screen, the bezel is an integral part of this tablet. Swipe upward on the bottom of whatever orientation your using to activate the keyboard, swipe left or right on any side and scroll through whatever your doing. There are others that were not given demos, so I was told. This bezel is fully functional in applications, and specifically in the Android applications coming to the OS in the summer.
Now the part you may have been waiting for. The Android applications will be available sometime in summer (TBA). They hinted at June-July. Something needs to be clarified with this announcement as many people don't understand why this will be possible. Android and QNX OS use the same code as far as development and programming. This is why every app that is available for Android will be compatible for QNX. All you will need to do is download an approved, Blackberry provided patch (application player, as they called it) at the time of release to play the Android apps, which will be downloaded out of the Blackberry Appworld. The application player will be free.
The final main point of this device is the Blackberry Bridge which allows you to seamlessly integrate your contacts, e-mail, text messages, and BBM (among other things) from your Blackberry smartphone running OS 5.0 or higher to your QNX powered Playbook. You do this by linking each other via Bluetooth. It's that simple. Speaking of linking, being that this device is Wifi only, one can tether via USB, a dedicated mobile hotspot, or Bluetooth to any device which accepts connections via methods previously mentions.
With all the positive notes and few, but manageable negative notes, the Playbook will be the tablet to beat in 2011 and it will set a foundation for a line of products who could threaten Apple's iPad. No one can know at this time if the iPad will be ousted. Realistically? I doubt it. But that is not any other tablets' fault. It is the Apple fanboys (and girls) who have been stuck in the mud too many years. To the rest of you, give this a chance and you won't be disappointed.
I want to comment on one aspect of the article.
Rating: 3.5 / 5
on April 13, 2011
15 out of 19 users found this review helpful
Pros: The QNX/Neutrino OS.
Cons: I cannot say since I haven't used it.
Summary: RIM did not create the OS for the playbook. It is running QNX Neutrino. An excellent embedded OS with years of deployment in several industries. I had the pleasure of developing applications for Neutrino about ten years ago. It was a great development environment with robust multitasking and robust multiprocessor support. Even device drivers run in user space, so badly behaved devices cannot crash the kernel.
Can't wait for the release
Rating: 4.5 / 5
on April 13, 2011
15 out of 21 users found this review helpful
Pros: Perfect for Corp users
Cons: No expandable memory
Summary: I fully understand that the IPAD users will rip on any other tablet but the bottom line for a product to be good or bad is if it meets the users needs. Many people love their IPAD and they should. It is a very good product. There is also a very loarge group of users that have black berries- normally for work! Their work provides the Blackberry mail servers. This is the target market for Blackberry. I work for a very large corportation that supplies Blackberrries to a lot fo the employees, the Play book fits our needs and with work supporting it fully, this is the way to go for most of us. I also like the idea that I can use my work Black Berry's data plan and not have to have a data plan (con for IPAD and other tablets). As for the size, I carry enough stuff now.
For me, I have been waiting 6 months. Have mine on reserve. The intergration with work mail and other systems is what matters for me.
It´s the real iPad rival!
Rating: 5 / 5
on April 14, 2011
10 out of 14 users found this review helpful
Pros: Multitasking, 1080dpi, 7 inches, Webrowsing, Flash Support.
Cons: On/Off pres boutton, No SD slot, Android based apps (They need devoloped native apps for Playbook and futures Blackberries Smartphones...)
Summary: I don´t kow why everybody sees the 7 inches format something bad... (The Samsung Galaxy Pad have the same measure and it have selling 2 million of devices, that mean there is a market for 7 inch factor). I can´t wait for buy one of these rockets. I think that the first gen is awesome! I love my blackberry curve, cause it´s cheap (in Argentina, an iPhone cost four times more than a Blackberry) and I use a maximum of 30 apps that are very useful (for me, it´s stupid have 300000 apps, all foolish). The only negative thing I see in the Playbook is the lack of native e-mail, BBM o Calendar (Only trough a Blackberry) but I think that is something to fix in the next generation of Playbook. For me is simply amazing....