BlackBerry PlayBook up to the portable challenge

The BlackBerry PlayBook, Research in Motion’s forthcoming entry into the dynamic tablet PC market, will face some tough competition when it finally launches in the next few months. But based on my hands-on experience with the device during CES this week, the PlayBook is up to the challenge.

It is fast, sleek and small and light enough to fit in a large pocket. While it is primarily aimed at the corporate market – it can be ‘tethered’ to a BlackBerry using its Bluetooth wireless capability, operating as a ‘window’ into standard BlackBerry apps such as e-mail, calendar, address book and BlackBerry Messenger – I think it could also be a hit with consumers.

I got a guided tour of the PlayBook from Mike Lazaridis, RIM’s co-chief executive and the driving force behind the device.

Physically, the PlayBook is an elegant, thin, black and silver-edged slab that emphasises its quality design. Unlike the Apple iPad, it is easy to hold in one hand and, like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, small enough to fit in a large pocket or handbag. The 7-inch high resolution screen is bright, clear and the front of the device is uncluttered – almost all the PlayBook’s controls are ‘virtual’ screen-based ones.

Its features tick the right boxes. It comes with a fast, dual-core 1 Gigahertz processor and capable graphics which, with a new operating system and advanced web browser, ensure it delivers a desktop-like computing experience, and can run multiple applications together. 

The PlayBook I tested was connected to Sprint Nextel’s ‘4G’ wireless broadband network and I was able to watch two streaming movies at the same time, play online games and browse the web as from a laptop or PC.

To switch between applications a single screen-based finger swipe and tap was all it took. To close a window, I swiped upwards and the app disappeared. To pull up a new app, I pushed my fingertip up on to the screen from the bottom of the display and up popped my options – very smooth.

Like its rivals, the PlayBook supports WiFi networking connection, Bluetooth and satellite-based GPS navigation. It also comes with high-definition digital cameras – one front facing for video-conferencing and one rear facing. That sets it and the Galaxy apart from the iPad though Apple is expected to add cameras to the next model.

While PlayBook’s screen is smaller than the iPad or Motorola’s soon to be launched Xoom, I think seven inches is a good compromise if you want a more portable device.

However, a clear advantage of the iPad is the large number of apps for download. This is an issue RIM must address.

Overall, I was really impressed and as a BlackBerry user, I can’t wait for RIM to build similar features into its smartphones.

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