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BlackBerry PlayBook hands-on review

Out in the market on August 6!
by Neps Firmalan | Jul 22, 2011
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They said 2010 was the year of the tablet, and we know that wasn't really true because one tablet to rule them all and a couple of tablets running mobile phone software doesn't make a "tablet year". But then they said 2011 is the year of the tablet, and now we think they could be right.

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For one thing, one of the most-awaited tablets is finally here: the BlackBerry PlayBook. Its arrival is very much anticipated because it comes from an established player in the mobile industry which bravely designs its own hardware and software when others simply use what is available out there. It kind of reminds us of a certain, very successful, computer company that also makes its own products, all-in. It turns out this setup of controlling both hardware and software would be both the PlayBook's strength and weakness.

The PlayBook's box is similar to the packaging of BlackBerry phones, albeit on a much larger scale. And it's packed well enough to almost merit its own unboxing video. Almost. Now, onto the tablet.

The PlayBook itself feels is solid and well-built; it's a product that's befitting the premium positioning of its phone counterparts. It comes in at 7 inches - a sweet spot in size if you want viewing real estate and portability. Speaking of the latter, the PlayBook may be easy to hold but at 425g, you will want to rest it on something. Holding it upright for a long time might strain your arm muscles. So no, it's certainly not a featherweight, size-wise.

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One of the first things you will notice with the PlayBook is its brilliant screen. With 16 million colors to play with, pictures and videos are a joy to view. The device's 5-megapixel camera is an ideal complement to the screen. It's a bit funny, though, framing photos using a 7-inch screen, but you'll get used to it. And the good thing is, what you see when framing your shots is exactly what will appear after you press the shutter.

The video software plays several formats smoothly: DivX, WMV, Xvid and 3GP. The power of the dual-core 1Ghz chip is apparent in video playback. While watching, you can go back to the home menu by swiping up on the BlackBerry logo. The video that's current playing will shrink as other programs running will be seen, but the playback won't stutter. Not a single bit.

That doesn't mean the combo of 1Ghz chip and 1GB RAM is fool-proof. When we tried viewing a very large TIFF photo file the PlayBook would slow down trying to render the picture, and sometimes it would cause the photo program to even close. We wouldn't call it crashing; no error message will pop up. It'll just politely close. Still very refined, we say.

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As expected, the available apps for the PlayBook is its Achilles' heel. The iPad still has a far bigger app selection. A glance at the BlackBerry App World doesn't show any familiar apps for Apple users apart from Facebook (it works quite well by the way). You're going to have to get your Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies fix somewhere else. Kinda sad for a tablet that has ‘play' in its name.

One thing BlackBerry's first tablet has over the iPad is its Adobe Flash support. Unlike Apple's wonder tablet, the PlayBook embraces Flash and this gives it unfettered browsing on graphics-heavy sites. The powerful processor takes care of the rest.

The PlayBook does what it promised to do very well. Like its phone counterpart, it's a bit more serious and business-like than the leading tablet in the market (again, the question about its naming comes to mind), but it does the tasks you want with no fuss.

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One of the biggest drawbacks of the PlayBook (and we're pretty sure tons of users will agree with us), is the lack of ready 3G capability. Sure, other tablets may share this disadvantage but the thing is a big part of the whole BlackBerry experience hinges on services like BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) and BES (BlackBerry E-mail Service), features that users would want to enjoy even whenever, wherever. Sure, it does have Wi-Fi but, come on, how often are we inside a Wi-Fi zone?

RIM tries to address this problem with the BlackBerry Bridge. You can pair the PlayBook with a BlackBerry smartphone to enjoy data services and unlock other features of the tablet. Still, this is just a sort of patch-up remedy rather than a full-fledged solution.

For all it's worth, the PlayBook is still one solid tablet. It looks and feels good and comes at a size that we deem is just right for us Pinoys while possessing the computing power and speed to compete with its rivals in the tablet wars. However, the fact that you have to pair it with another BlackBerry smartphone to enjoy services that are important to BB users costs this otherwise great device a few brownie points. We sure do hope its successors will solve this, for the sake of users and RIM itself. Click here to view the BlackBerry PlayBook in the Buyer's Guide!

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Check out sleek photos of the Blackberry Playbook...

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