BlackBerry PlayBook Reviews: This Could be a Cool Product. Eventually!

By  |  Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 12:55 pm

I haven’t laid hands on RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook myself yet–except at trade-show booths–but the first reviews are in for the long-awaited tablet, which goes on sale on April 19th. They all praise certain things about it–the interface, the multitasking muscle–but none of them are raves. A high percentage, in fact, advice against buying it right now, pointing out its dependence on a BlackBerry handset, the lack of true native e-mail and calendaring, and bugginess. (Although RIM says that 3000 apps will be available at launch–which isn’t iPad numbers, but does sounds respectable to me for a brand-new platform.)

After the break, my traditional look at the last paragraphs of the initial reviews.

Walt Mossberg, The Wall Street Journal/All Things Digital:

Still, unless you are constantly glued to a BlackBerry phone, or do all your email, contacts and calendar tasks via a browser, I recommend waiting on the PlayBook until more independently usable versions with the promised additions are available.

David Pogue, The New York Times:

If all of this gets fixed, the apps arrive, and the PlayBook can survive this year’s onslaught of rival tablets, then it may one day wind up in the pantheon of greats. For now, there are too many features that live only in R.I.M.’s playbook — and not enough in its PlayBook.

Ed Baig, USA Today:

RIM says PlayBook delivers battery life of about eight to 10 hours, in line with my mixed usage. And it is a good-looking and solid newcomer that should appeal especially to BlackBerry loyalists. Whether RIM can steal hearts (and market share) from the iPad is another question entirely.

Mark Spoonauer, Laptop:

It’s not really a matter of too little, too late with the BlackBery PlayBook. If anything, RIM’s first tablet feels as if it was rushed to market. The PlayBook has a well-designed interface and plenty of power under the hood for serious multitasking. The sharp screen, high-quality cameras, and loud speakers all impress as well. However, the software was buggy during testing, there’s no video chat option yet, and App World just doesn’t have a lot of compelling options right now. Combine these issues with the need to tether a BlackBerry phone to get native mail, calendar, and BlackBerry Messenger, and it’s difficult to recommend this tablet in its current form. Assuming RIM can work out the kinks–and the app selection improves–we’ll warm up to the PlayBook more.

Tim Stevens, Engadget:

Right now, the BlackBerry PlayBook is a tablet that will come close to satisfying those users who gravitate toward the first word in its name: BlackBerry. Those who were more excited about the “play” part would be well advised to look elsewhere, at least until Android compatibility joins the party. Then, well, anything could happen.

Matt Buchanan, Gizmodo:

In a lot of ways, the PlayBook is more polished and usable in its beta state than the Motorola Xoom, and it’s straight-up the best seven-inch tablet out there (though in the tango between between portability and size, I think 10 inches is still the best). At the same time, I don’t think anyone should buy it right now—BlackBerry user or otherwise—for at least a few months, to see if the platform has enough legs to carry itself to where it needs to be. If the apps do arrive to fill in the gaps, then the PlayBook is totally going to be a tablet to check out. The foundation is solid—I can’t wait to see the first phones running this software—it just needs some stuff built on top of it before you can decide whether or not you should move in.

Josh Topolsky, This is My Next Podcast:

But the PlayBook isn’t hitting home runs just yet. The OS is still buggy and somewhat touchy. Third-party apps are a desert right now, if not in number, then certainly in quality. The lack of native email and calendar support hurts. The worst part, however, is that I can’t think of a single reason to recommend this tablet over the iPad 2, or for that matter… the Xoom. And that’s what it really boils down to here; what is the compelling feature that will make buyers choose the PlayBook over something else? I don’t have that answer, but that’s not what’s troubling me — what troubles me is that I don’t think RIM has the answer either… and they should by now.

Donald Bell, Cnet:

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 enticing product than any of the 7-inch tablets we’ve seen so far (Samsung Tab, Dell Streak 7, Archos 70). 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.

Tim Gideon,

From its multitasking abilities to extra features like video chat to quality of apps, the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook is bested by both the iPad 2 and the Xoom. Where the PlayBook succeeds, aside from the jammed Power button issue, is in overall design. The RIM tablet has a more portable and, arguably, comfortable overall size than much of the competition, save for the 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab ($399.99, 3.5 stars), along with a far-friendlier user interface than Google’s Honeycomb OS. The browser, despite its shortcomings, also offers the best support for Flash thus far on a tablet. Software updates can fix the bugs, and developers may be lured to make more compelling and better-functioning apps, so there truly is room for growth here. But the big question is how RIM, a company synonymous with mobile business e-mail for the last decade, could launch its first tablet without a true native e-mail solution. The updates may be on the way, but until they’re here, we have to rate the PlayBook based on what we’ve seen. It handles some tasks gracefully, but currently lacks the features and functionality of the iPad 2 and Google Honeycomb tablets, so it’s difficult to recommend right now.

Melissa J. Perenson, PCWorld:

The BlackBerry PlayBook gets a lot right, but it also feels very much like a work in progress. It could shine in the future, but for now it’s constrained by its limited app selection, software glitches, and choices in functionality or design that should limit the PlayBook’s popularity among consumers. Businesspeople who already depend on BlackBerry phones should value both the way those phones will interact with the Playbook and the built-in security of the platform–and for that audience, those capabilities will override many of the PlayBook’s other weaknesses.

Jonathan Geller, BGR (who needs two paragraphs):

The company is entering a brand new space, and I can’t wait to see future versions of the PlayBook and even smartphones that will eventually (in 2012) use the new OS as opposed to the traditional BlackBerry OS. RIM has really made big advancements by acquiring powerhouses like QNX and TAT, but there’s only so much you can do with a limited time frame. I can’t help but feel like the PlayBook, as it stands now, is an unfinished product. The hardware is there but the software is buggy at times,and  the apps are severely lacking and almost non-existent in terms of quality. While the Web browser is extremely solid, with no native email or calendar or contact apps, the PlayBook isn’t a very good standalone product. This should all change in the coming months thanks to the free software update, and what’s even better is RIM no longer has to go through carriers to push out updates out since this model doesn’t have a carrier partner — we should see software updates fast and often RIM told me. I just don’t see a killer app on the PlayBook, and that’s the real problem. It does a lot of things, but it doesn’t do 90% of things better than an iPad 2 or a XOOM.

There’s a much bigger picture here, and while the PlayBook is important, what’s more important is that RIM skating to where the puck is going to be. The company’s new strategy breathes new life into this aging Java-reliant company, and with a little more time in the oven and some smart enhancements, tweaks, and updates, RIM really does seem to be setting itself up properly for the next 10 years. The BlackBerry PlayBook goes on sale April 19th for a starting price of $499.

Mike Issaac, Wired:

The bottom line: It’s a well-constructed device with great media-viewing capabilities, solid hardware specs and a price on par with the current tablet market. But with serious gaps in key areas like app selection and Flash stability, you may want to think twice before picking one up.

MG Siegler, TechCrunch (MG gets two paragraphs too):

So why not wait until there’s a little more polish to get it out there on the market? It’s a good question — one that Motorola and Google should have asked themselves with the Xoom. But the fact of the matter is that we’re now in the full-on tablet wars. And the early players who can iterate quickly are perhaps the only ones that have any hope against Apple’s huge head start.

And RIM knows they have all those loyal BlackBerry users who will be very interested in the Bridge options. There’s a reason they’re calling this “the world’s first professional-grade tablet.” It’s a smart play. Now it’s just a question of selling other people on the idea.

Om Malik, GigaOm:

Disappointed as I am in the limited number of apps, the deal-breaker for me is the lack of independent communication tools. I understand that RIM wants to sell more BlackBerry devices (just as Apple wants the halo effect for its other gadgets), but to leave out a standalone email client makes little or no sense.

Anand Shimpi, Anandtech:

There’s a lot to like about the PlayBook, but unless you’re an existing BlackBerry user you’re better off waiting to see where RIM takes this thing.

Kevin Michaluk,

Head to the store come April 19th and try a BlackBerry PlayBook out for yourself. If you like the size of the device and feel of the BlackBerry Tablet OS, it may be the tablet for you, especially if you plan to use it mainly for web browsing, media consumption, and if you own a BlackBerry, to take advantage of the Bridge functionality. Just keep in mind it’s a new device on a new platform, which means it’s missing some things at launch, as noted in this review, that will likely become available with time via software updates and a growing app catalog.


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4 Comments For This Post

  1. Mike Cerm Says:

    If RIM is able to move their tablet platform forward as quickly as they're able to do with their phones, the PlayBook should be a top-notch competitor… never. This is basically the only interesting thing they've done in the last 4 years, and it's only half-baked. No email client?! C'mon…

    So, with RIM and Google unable to produce worthwhile tablets, I guess everything now rests on HP. I'm really hoping the Touchpad launches soon, and is awesome when it does. Lord knows, they've been taking their sweet time getting it ready.

  2. Harry McCracken Says:

    I’m worried too, but in RIM’s (possible) defense, there’s one significant difference between the PlayBook and recent BlackBerries: It’s an all-new platform At least it won’t be crippled by being tied to old technologies. (As far as I can tell, judging from phones like the Torch, building a cool circa 2011 smartphone on the old BlackBerry platform is no more possible than it would have been for Palm to compete with the iPhone using Palm OS.) But that’s only one step in the right direction.


  3. Mike Cerm Says:

    Ah yes, but it IS crippled by being tied to old technologies, specifically BlackBerry phones (and BES/BIS). Perhaps when it is eventually released, the "native" email app will support IMAP/POP3, but there's no guarantee. RIM may not want to let the rest of their ecosystem go away.

    I do think your Palm analogy is apt, but Palm had the good sense to kill the Foleo before it was too late. I'm not saying the PlayBook is THAT bad, but I don't think it makes sense that RIM has wasted time and energy integrating the PlayBook with their existing phone line-up as they have. They should have just built a great, stand-alone device. With their user-base on the decline, building a device which only appeals to their existing users is a mistake.

  4. David Hamilton Says:

    I think there's going to a massive shake-out of the tablet market over the next year or so: there are so many new products arriving that very few are going to achieve any useful market share, and so a lot of companies are going to lose a lot of money.

    I can't really see how RIM are going to avoid being among those losers. Their core business is phones, that that's the area that they really need to fix with a next-generation product. The PlayBook just looks like a holding operation to buy them time while they put that in place. They makes sense from their point of view, but from the consumer's angle – where's the USP?

    That may change if RIM can deliver some killer business-focused apps, e.g. a really good presentation app that takes advantage of the video out, which make the device a 'must-have' corporate accessory.

    As ever, it's the software and the value that these devices can bring to the consumer that will win the battle, not the hardware specs.