© Research in Motion
The BlackBerry gets supersized
Why you should consider the iPad's rival
As more and more tablets are hitting the market, they are inevitably being compared to Apple's genre-defining gizmo. So what is Ontario-based Research in Motion bringing to the table for a comparable price with the BlackBerry PlayBook? We look at the pros and cons.
Incredibly light and portable. No bigger than an e-Reader like the Kindle, you really can comfortably walk around with it in one hand — a difficult task over any extended period with the iPad. Also it will fit into the pocket of a man's trenchcoat, easily, or slides into a small purse – no need to run out and buy one of the jackets with a special iPad compartment.
Amazing screen quality. At 7'', the screen isn't as big as the almost 10" iPad's but it packs almost the same resolution (1024 x 600 pixels) which makes it totally wow worthy. HD movies will play with crystalline sharpness and colours, so it works well as a movie viewer or when watching a podcast, many of which come preloaded including a treasure trove of NFB shorts. It also delivers the highest brightness output of any tablet, which makes it much easier to see in strong sunlight.
Just my type. BlackBerry definitely has the upper hand when it comes to the ergonomy of typing on small devices. Its full-size QWERTY keypad is well scaled, unlike the iPad's awkward overly-wide setup. And when you hold the Playbook in portrait mode (skinny side up) you can type with your thumbs in usual BlackBerry style.
It runs flash on websites. Many websites have gone out of their way to design versions of their sites for iPad users. But wouldn't it be even better if you could just go anywhere online anytime? Flash is the software that allows websites to be more dynamic, with images that morph, slide and move. Since websites are working hard to present a richer online experience, it seems like a good idea to have a viewer that doesn't leave you with one hand tied behind your back.
It has a camera worth using. Unlike the iPad which has a token camera that clocks in under 1-megapixel images (that will give you decent Web-sized images, but you can forget prints), you get a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 3-megapixel front camera on the Playbook. Pretty decent stuff.
It runs basic MS Office. No need to worry about converting a tablet's proprietary programs back to standard Windows programs if you want to move something you're working on over to your desktop. You get the usual suspects like Word, Excel and Powerpoint here, making it easy to transfer — no conversion, no glitches.
It bridges to your BlackBerry. If you already have a BlackBerry, it's a great addition. Your calendar and message notifications pop up at the top of the screen, and phone calls appear in the center of the screen with call display.
No native email: A definite downside for those without a BlackBerry. Unlike other tablets on the market, the Playbook doesn't handle email well, unless you are using Web-based programs like Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail. There is a lot of pressure for Research in Motion to add this element, but it does not appear to be slated for the next software update.
Fewer apps: Already an issue with the BlackBerry smartphone – there are simply not as many apps in BlackBerry AppWorld as there are in the Apple apps store (about 3000 compared to 350,000 for Apple). For some people, this may matter a great deal. For others, adding another time wasting game or having multiple versions of a certain type of app to choose from is not a priority. Most basic useful apps (Amazon, Picasa, weather, tip calculators, budget tools, speech translators, file managers, games) are already there and the Playbook is a reason for more developers to get in on the game.
Instability: This is really the biggest issue. While you can open numerous programs at once and have them in the background, as you read, surf and get organized, we found that a "background" program occasionally freezes and it may take restarting the tablet to get things working again. It can also be confusingly slow to make changes to your Blackberry phone – you find yourself wondering is that command going through?
The tester we tried out encountered enough of a glitch to simply stop powering up. The fix involved connecting it to our desktop to return it to factory settings – obviously, a very big drawback. That said, a new release of the OS is in the works and we can look forward to having the much-decried stability issues addressed. Will it be enough? We'll have to wait and see.
If reviews confirm that stability is improved then this is an extremely versatile, portable and fun tablet to have around.
From $499 for 16 GB.
This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.