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Maximum PC Staff Jun 03, 2011

Blackberry Playbook

At A Glance

RIM SHOT

Awesome screen, snappy performance, great

RIM'S OUT

No email/calendar/contacts without bridge; no app support.

Pretty impressive—if you don't like email, apps, or games

For the record, the Maximum PC Lab keeps both feet planted squarely in the present tense. We don’t believe anyone should buy hardware based solely on its future potential. So what then to make of RIM’s nascent and decidedly half-baked Blackberry Playbook? Unless you’re 1) a Blackberry owner, 2) don’t care about apps or games, or 3) a devoted BB fanboy, the answer is: not much.

By the time you read this, it’s possible that the Playbook might be more complete via OS updates. The release version, however, omitts some basic functions. It has no native email client and no native calendar app. To access either, you need to bridge your existing Blackberry to the Playbook. What’s that? You don’t have a Blackberry phone? Or your Blackberry isn’t near your tablet? Well then you get no email. RIM says a pending update will deliver stand-alone email.

Among the Playbook’s few redeeming features is its gorgeous—albeit smaller—screen.

What else is missing? There’s no 3G or 4G wireless connectivity. There is a dearth of apps, including no Amazon Kindle, no Netflix, no Hulu, and no audio/video marketplace. (In Kindle’s place is the surprisingly excellent Kobo Books app and store.) There are poorly designed buttons, including an oddly placed power switch. There is buggy, crash-prone desktop client software. And the OS is, well, it exhibits the kinds of bugs any 1.0 release does: flickering screens, unreliable syncing, and so forth.

It’s not all bad, however. Given RIM’s propensity for building underpowered smartphones, we were surprised to discover that the hardware itself exceeded our expectations. The 1GHz dual-core ARM Cortex A-9 CPU and PowerVR SGX540 GPU offer impressive heavyweight performance that the OS actually appears to take advantage of. Almost everything—downloads, web browsing, and the ability to multitask music, movies, camera functions, and even games—feels snappy.

The 1024x600 capacitive touch screen LCD is a gem. It’s spectacular enough that we deem it king of all tablet displays—including the iPad 2. And the Playbook’s battery life holds up fairly well, easily going several days in a row before needing a charge when performing basic functions. This may prove to be an illusion, however, once we see more CPU-intensive games and apps.

Finally, we found ourselves appreciating the OS interface the more we used it. It’s a significant departure from Android and Apple in that it relies entirely on gestures instead of buttons to navigate between apps and the home screen. It’s simple and we like it. And truth be told, even the email client is solidly functional—provided you can get into it.

But this is the big problem with the Playbook. For now, it’s all if, then, and when. Awesome HD video viewing? Great, but there’s no streaming content. Multitasking? What are we going to multitask? Front-facing camera? That’s cool, but no apps make use of it.

Unless and until RIM finishes fleshing out the Playbook, there’s no reason to buy it. After that, this tablet might be onto something.

$500 (16GB); $600 (32GB); $700 (64GB), www.blackberry.com/playbook

SPECIFICATIONS

Blackberry Playbook
CPU
Dual-core 1GHz ARM Cortex A9
System Memory

1GB

Storage Capacity
16, 32, or 64GB
Screen
7-inch, 1024 x 600 LCD capacitive multitouch display
Cameras
5MP rear-facing; 3MP front-facing
GPU
PowerVR SGX540
Dimensions
5.1 x 7.6 x 0.4 inches
Weight
0.9 pounds
THE VERDICT

Blackberry Playbook

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