Mobile

Reviews: RIM’s PlayBook tablet is only for BlackBerry addicts

Reviews for Research in Motion’s BlackBerry PlayBook tablet finally hit the Web last night, and the consensus seems to be that it’s a solid entry in terms of hardware and software, but it’s surprisingly dependent on BlackBerry phones.

RIM needed to prove with the PlayBook — available for $499 on April 19 — that it could deliver a tablet as solid as the iPad, and that it could develop a modern operating system that will eventually make its way to new BlackBerry phones. While the PlayBook’s revamped QNX operating system looks great, reviewers seem to agree that it was rushed to shelves without some mission-critical features.

According to reviewers, the biggest problem with the PlayBook is that it requires a Bluetooth connection to a BlackBerry phone to access your email, calendar, contacts, memo pad, and the popular BlackBerry Messenger chat. Without the phone connection, which RIM calls BlackBerry Bridge, those apps are greyed out and completely inaccessible from the PlayBook. That means you’re left out in the cold if your phone runs out of charge. It also means that none of that seemingly basic functionality is available to users with iPhone or Android phones. RIM says that standalone versions of those apps will be available this summer.

“You read that right. RIM has just shipped a BlackBerry product that cannot do e-mail. It must be skating season in hell,” the New York Times’ David Pogue wrote in his review.

The Bridge feature is also the only way for the PlayBook to receive mobile internet access — the device doesn’t ship with 3G or 4G cellular radios, although RIM mentioned that mobile broadband support will come in future versions of the PlayBook later this year. For now, the PlayBook is a Wi-Fi only affair when not connected to a BlackBerry phone.

At 7 inches, the PlayBook is one-third lighter than the 10-inch iPad, which could make it a better option for BlackBerry fanatics who desire portability.

Reviewers also took issue with the small amount of apps available on the PlayBook. RIM says that it has 3,000 apps ready to show off next week (the most of any tablet launch, the company stresses), but that will still be a tough sell versus the iPad’s more than 79,000 tablet apps (don’t forget the iPad also has access to over 300,000 iPhone apps). “For now, the PlayBook’s motto might be, ‘There’s no app for that,’” wrote Pogue.

RIM has also announced that the PlayBook will be able to run Android apps through emulation, but that won’t be available for a few months.

Despite those downsides, reviewers generally liked RIM’s spiffy new QNX operating system. It’s able to juggle multiple applications well, and the interface — with a combination of iOS and Palm WebOS influences — looks far beyond any software RIM has ever released. “It’s smooth and fast and makes excellent use of multitouch gestures,” wrote the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg. “An area at the bottom of the screen holds the icons, which are divided into sections like ‘All,’ ‘Media,’ ‘Games’ and ‘Favorites.’ When you have multiple apps open, large images of them appear at the top of the screen, and you can scroll though them. It’s a very clean, attractive approach.”

But while promising, it looks like we won’t see the real value of QNX until more features are added later this year. We also have no clue when the new OS will make its way to BlackBerry phones (at this rate, I would wager early 2012).

Overall, reviewers generally recommend holding off on the BlackBerry PlayBook until it becomes more independently usable without a BlackBerry phone. Only BlackBerry addicts, and businesses that have invested heavily in RIM’s ecosystem, need apply at this point.

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