RIM BlackBerry PlayBook Review

Introduction and Design

Attempting to fathom what’s going on within the inner bowels of RIM’s circle is undeniably difficult, but taking into account the rash of competition continually eating up their piece of the pie in the smartphone market, it makes you wonder how they’ll be able to fully sustain other ventures outside their comfort zone. Although some might believe that RIM is falling on deaf ears in regards to their line of smartphones, we’ve actually seen the Canadian company more recently adapt to changing the nature of their game to better position itself in this competitive landscape.

In fact, the BlackBerry Torch 9800 was indeed the fresh change of pace for them, but as we’ve seen, it wasn’t quite the polished new experience they’d hope to be embraced openly by the public. Rather, it seemingly reiterated the stubborn stance branded to them by consumers seeing that it failed to keep up with the fast pace nature of its competitors’ platforms. As we all know with any missed opportunities, there is always a period when companies look back to see what could’ve been done to change the outcome – and that’s exactly what appeared to happen with RIM.

Moving outside of their traditional comfort space, RIM is embarking on a new venture into untested waters with their BlackBerry PlayBook. Dubbed as the first “professional grade tablet,” RIM is placing a lot of attention to their bread and butter set of business customers with this one, however, they’re chiming in at a time where standards are elevated ever so high by the competition already. Naturally, the PlayBook’s starting cost of $499.99 will no doubt keep it competitive, especially when it features a ton of contemporary high-end specs, but ultimately it’s going to come down to execution and functionality to determine its true value. Facing uncertainty right in the face, the BlackBerry PlayBook might just be the device to signal the rebirth that RIM is so desperately looking for right now – so let’s find out if it’s waiting for them!

The package contains:

  • RIM BlackBerry PlayBook
  • microUSB Cable
  • Wall Charger
  • Neoprene Sleeve
  • Cleaning Cloth
  • Getting Started Card
  • Safety & Product Information Booklet


At this point, there’s no arguing that there is a lack of variety in terms of tablet designs – which is quite evident from the slabs we’re accustomed to seeing. However, the BlackBerry PlayBook manages to come off as a decent looking tablet with its straightforward design approach and solid construction. Neither boring or captivating, the rectangular sized PlayBook appears to look very ordinary from a cursory glance, especially with its evenly sized bezel, rounded corners, and hard lines. Luckily though, we adore its immaculate clean looks thanks to its venerable soft touch matte back cover that does wonders to repel dirt and debris. Moreover, we’re surprised to see some weight (14.11 oz) accompanying this relatively thin (0.39” thick) tablet, however, it essentially contributes to its solid construction. Compared to some of the other plasticy 7” tablets out there on the market, the BlackBerry PlayBook easily manhandles them in almost every way thanks to its balanced design and high premium feel.

RIM surely didn’t waste any time to properly grace the PlayBook with a high quality display, and rightfully so, we’re utterly mesmerized with its brilliant glow. Accompanying its sheer luster is its reasonable resolution of 1,024 x 600 pixels, though not mind bending, it provides enough detail to captivate anyone from a far glance. Naturally, its high pixel density count places enough emphasis on just about everything to concretely deliver sharp visuals that are enlightening to the eyes. And complementing its detailed stature is none other than its natural looking color production that seems to pop with its juicy and iridescent looking palette. Finally, it’s still visible even under the most demanding conditions outdoors under the sun – and it only requires being placed at approximately 75% brightness. Impressively, there’s no denying the fact that the PlayBook employs probably one of the best looking displays to grace a tablet thus far.

In keeping a slim profile, there are actually very few buttons clinging onto the sides of the PlayBook – which again contributes to its overall clean looks. Conveniently placed dead center on the top edge of the tablet is a row of slightly raised buttons for the media functions of the tablet – these include the volume up, down, and pause/play keys. Although we’re accepting of the reasonable amount of feedback exhibited by them, we’re not particularly too fond of the nearby dedicated power button’s super tiny size and near dead response. In fact, it’s undeniably the worst power button we’ve come across with a tablet. Additionally, the 3.5mm headset jack and microphones are also found on the top edge as well.

Placed close to the left and right sides of the PlayBook’s display are the speakers which provide stereo output, while the 3-megapixel front facing camera, LED indicator, and light sensors are positioned above the display.

Both the left and right edges are completely clean, but we find a few connection ports appropriately lining the bottom portion of the PlayBook. Obviously, the microUSB port is used for the data connection and charging mechanics of the tablet, but as an alternative, the three prongs next to it provide faster charging when they are connected to the optional dock/wall rapid charging accessories. Finally, the only thing left to complete its multimedia prowess is its microHDMI port – which allows you to connect it to a high-definition television and watch full 1080p videos stored locally on the tablet.

Aside from the instantly recognizable BlackBerry logo placed squarely on the clean looking back surface, the only other anomaly is the circular cutout for its 5-megapixel camera. Sadly though, it lacks auto-focus and an LED flash to essentially keep it in contention as a photo taking monster. And much like other tablets we’ve seen, we’re completely locked out from easily accessing any of its internal components – meaning, you’ll need to have it serviced in order to replace its battery.


Don’t be fooled by this small bundle of joy seeing that it’s packing quite a wallop underneath its exterior with its 1GHz dual-core TI OMAP processor and 1GB of RAM. Combining those two specific pieces of hardware, it undoubtedly provides the horsepower needed to power RIM’s shiny new QNX based platform – and boy does it radiate a solid sense of speed with it! Amazingly, we’re mostly impressed with the near perfect operation and execution presented with the PlayBook, which gives the iPad 2 a run for its money in the responsiveness department. Not only are we greeted with eye catching visuals with basic navigational functions, but we’re utterly blinded by how it’s still able to operate at a high level when multiple apps are running – even with 3D intensive games! For a tablet that’s able to juggle multi-tasking elements like no other with little detrimental consequences to its performance, we’re just shocked to find the PlayBook at the top of its game in the speed department.

Upon powering up the PlayBook for the very first time to experience its new QNX based platform, the first thing to come to mind after a few minutes of play is its noticeable similarities to HP’s webOS. For anyone who has used webOS, you’ll quickly be able to adapt to the PlayBook’s various gestures and multi-tasking aspects. Overall, RIM has taken a radically different approach and has thrown out any remnants of its smartphone platform out the window. Gone is the menu driven interface of BlackBerry OS, and instead, we’re presented with a clean looking interface that’s minimal in terms of additional clutter aside from the top bar that displays pertinent information – like the clock and battery indicator. Although we adore the peppy and responsive nature of its platform, personalization is mostly non-existent seeing that you can only change the background wallpaper.

Generally, you can pull up the apps panel by simply performing a swipe gesture up from the bottom bezel – from here, it’s laid out in the typical grid-like view. Swiping between the four app categories is naturally smooth, but it’s unfortunate that you can’t mandate which items go to what category. Moreover, the only organization we’re presented with is the ability to rearrange the icons within the apps panel.

Selecting a specific app, it displays a small window at first on the homescreen, but soon enlarges to fit the entire display. Much like webOS, you can minimize an app by simply performing a swipe up gesture from the bottom bezel, and from here, it zooms out to give you a bird’s eye view of the app. Of course, you’ll have the ability to easily switch between various open apps once you’re in the bird’s eye view of all the apps. And if you’d rather prefer a simpler way, you can quickly do a swipe gesture from either its left or right bezels to move accordingly to the next app. Again like webOS, you can close out or exit an app entirely by swiping it towards the top bezel.

Depending on what app you’re in, doing a swipe gesture down from the top bezel will uncover additional functions related to the specific app. In the case of the web browser, it’ll show you all the separate browser tabs, while within the Pictures app, it’ll display the carousel of photos stored on the PlayBook.

Needless to say the multi-tasking aspect is top notch, much like the experience with webOS, but it’s the remarkable speed and fluidity that amazes us in fully realizing the power of the PlayBook.  However, there are still some blemishes to its overall appeal from the onset – like its lack of personalization and sometimes buggy nature. Although it’s not rampant, we did experience on three occasions some lockups, but it’s something that’s kind of expected with a brand spanking new platform. Regardless, we’re still nonetheless satisfied with the quality experience seen with the new QNX based platform, but more importantly, we’ll be keeping an even closer eye on how it matures in the coming months to keep it in contention and fresh.

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Strange as it may be, the BlackBerry PlayBook omits a native contacts management system from the beginning – though, RIM states that it will be implemented down the road with a future update. Despite that, you’ll be able to manage contacts if you happen to tether a BlackBerry smartphone to it using the BlackBerry Bridge app. Still, it’s undeniably shocking to find a tablet, which is supposed to be a dedicated machine, to lack a native address book – thus decreasing its value versus the competition.


Finding ourselves with the same dilemma, there are few (and we mean few) organizer apps with the PlayBook from the start. Again, it’s missing a calendar app to keep you organized on this “professional grade” tablet. Naturally, it doesn’t aid it in any way to keep people from looking at other alternative, but it’s rather insane on many levels to omit this one as well. The BlackBerry Bridge app does come to the rescue, if you happen to own a BlackBerry smartphone, and for the most part manages to provide you with the necessary tools, although we don't see this as an appropriate long-term solution. Thankfully, RIM has announced that it's to update the software of the PlayBook soon, so as to add the missing functionality.

However, the few organizer apps that we do find are things like the clock and weather apps. However, don’t expect to find anything polished with the clock app since it only provides a basic alarm clock, stopwatch, and timer – that’s all! Conversely, the weather app is powered by AccuWeather and showcases how it takes advantage of the tablet’s display. Not only do we find it making use of every nook and cranny of the screen, but there’s a ton of pertinent information displayed – like the temperature, weather conditions, and hour-by-hour forecast.

Finally, the work accomplished by RIM’s recently acquired TAT (The Astonishing Tribe) is mostly found with the PlayBook’s calculator app. Known for their glitzy work with the Android platform, we find their expertise shown off with the calculator’s proper layout and virtual paper which keeps a tally of your calculations. Furthermore, a swipe down from the top bezel uncovers a scientific calculator, unit converter, and a tip calculator – all of which use the same common looking layout of TAT’s designs.

When we see Android making leaps in voice recognition services, it’s almost disheartening to find any platform missing out on this useful functionality. Unfortunately though, our fears are confirmed seeing that there’s no such thing with the PlayBook – sad indeed.


Let’s get started with the on-screen keyboard before anything else since it’s a crucial part for any tablet. Although the 7” display of the PlayBook can be challenging for anyone with larger sized fingers, the landscape style keyboard provides some room to type accurately with little mistakes – though, you can’t comfortably position your hands in the same way you do with a normal keyboard. In essence, inputting text is mainly reduced to a single finger experience, but it’s more than responsive in keeping up with our rate. Interestingly enough, it seems that the portrait keyboard might have the advantage with this one seeing that our thumbs are able to encompass the entire layout – thus enabling us to type just a tad bit faster. Still, it would’ve been nice to see a dedicated row for numbers, or somehow combined with the first row, but we’re simply forced to press the symbols button to access them. Indeed it’s not the best typing experience we’ve seen with a tablet, but after an adjustment period, it’s tolerable enough to accept.

So far we’re shunned from a dedicated address book and calendar with the PlayBook, but the list doesn’t end there since we’re locked out from a native email application as well. Taking a peek at the app panel, you’ll find icons for a few popular email clients, but they’re simply a guise that opens up the web browser to their respective page. Yes, there’s no arguing that the PlayBook’s usefulness is dwindling with the omission of some key apps, but this one definitely takes the cake in keeping it from being a solid contender from the onset.

Internet and Connectivity:

Currently, RIM is only producing Wi-Fi only models of the BlackBerry PlayBook, but down the road, you can expect to see an army of different ones that offer cellular connectivity. Of course, not everyone will be keen on seeing higher prices for those models, but for now, the Wi-Fi models prove to be the most effective route at gaining a wider audience.

Being a no brainer for anyone, one of the main reasons why people buy tablets is the simple fact that they offer the most ideal web browsing experience. And without a doubt, we have to say that the PlayBook completely blows away almost everything out there on the market with its supreme desktop like experience. Sure we’re impressed by how complex pages load in a timely fashion, but what we’re most excited about, is how effortlessly it’s able to handle heavy Flash content. Not flinching for one bit when running into Flash content, we realize the true power of this WebKit based browser as it happily kinetic scrolls or pinch zooms with barely any slowdown or lag. Although it’s not quite at the same responsiveness level of Safari on the iPad 2, we’re nevertheless more than satisfied with its performance – especially more when it accurately reproduces the desktop experience.


Mostly clutter free and giving its attention primarily to its viewfinder, the PlayBook’s camera interface is limited with the amount of settings and options it has to offer.

Surprisingly enough, the PlayBook produces some passable photos despite lacking modern amenities like auto-focus and an LED flash. However, the only gripe that we have with it is the almost 2 second delay from the time we press the shutter key to when it actually shoots and saves the image. Unless you want blurry looking shots, you’ll need to keep steady for a little bit to get some detailed photos. Mainly because of its lack of auto-focus, close-ups tend to come out fuzzy looking, but for nearly everything else, the results are average with its neutral colors and average details. However, indoor images under low lighting are grainy with some evidence of digital noise popping up to reduce its output.

Still considered to be a rarity amongst today’s modern devices, the PlayBook has the ability to shoot full 1080p high-definition video at 30 frames per second. As usual, close-ups tend to look out of focus, but it delivers a resounding amount of detail, buttery smooth capture, and distortion-free audio recording that concretely provides balance to its overall quality. Furthermore, the front-facing camera even manages to do wonders with shooting video as well – but make sure there’s plenty of lighting seeing that it’s less sensitive in picking up details if they’re not sufficiently lit.

RIM BlackBerry PlayBook Sample Video 1:

RIM BlackBerry PlayBook Sample Video 2:

Scratching our heads in disbelief, we finally realize that the PlayBook doesn’t have any video chat service from the get go.  At launch, there is no support for it, so the only thing useful about the front-facing camera is to capture the puzzled look of your face in trying to fathom why it lacks one.


Even though TAT’s presence is once again felt with the look and feel of the Pictures app, there is absolutely no other function with it aside from being the centralized hub for your photos. Regretfully, there are no sharing or editing functions whatsoever with it, and instead, you can basically set it to play a slide show of your stored photos. Sure you’ve got some nice looking overlays when swiping between photos and smooth pinching gestures when zooming, but the fact that there is no added functionality, it simply goes to show at how infant the platform really is.

Precisely coming in with a relatively bare bones music player interface, its presentation is nothing short of being plain and ordinary. Naturally, it’s more than functional, but considering the dreamy fast dual-core processor under the hood, we were hoping to see some fancy looking visuals of some sort. Rather, we’re presented with its album cover, track listing, and on-screen controls when a song is being played. With its quaint appearance, one would suspect to find ineffective speakers, but interestingly enough, they pack a substantial amount of power to take anyone by surprise. However, there is an occasional crackle at the loudest setting – but it’s nowhere close to the point of being irritating to the ear.

Our eyes have fallen in love with the PlayBook’s brilliant display, but when it comes down to watching videos, this is probably where the PlayBook shines the most. Able to handle the usual assortments of 720p videos we normally test, we’re enthralled by the sheer magnificence of the PlayBook’s ability to smoothly play detailed 1080p videos with no problems whatsoever. Even more, the experience is quantified and exposes its full fidelity by connecting it to a high-definition television with an HDMI cable.

As noted on the specified tablet, the PlayBook is available in either 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB capacities – with no external storage support. In terms of cost, its starts at $500 for the 16GB model and goes up by $100 for each consecutive capacity.


Looking into the available preloaded apps with the PlayBook, the listing is of course limited with things like YouTube, Kobo Books, Bing Maps, Tetris, and Need For Speed Undercover. Although most of them barely touch up on the advanced features of their counterparts on other platforms, we’re happy to see that RIM included Data Viz’s Documents to Go suite. Essentially, you can start up a new Word document or Excel sheet directly on the PlayBook, but it proves its worth in bundling together the host of editing tools you’d commonly find with their full desktop versions. Thinking about it more, this is undeniably something that would particularly attract business end users to the PlayBook.

Looking to the future, it’s stated by RIM that there will be approximately 3,000 apps available at launch, but after taking a peek at the available offerings in the BlackBerry App World, we’re not all convinced yet that developers have taken a grasp of the platform’s potential. After downloading a few free titles, we quickly realize that they’re simply touching the surface and not showcasing any potential. However, you shouldn’t fear about whether or not we’ll see a healthy community with the PlayBook because it’ll support Android apps down the road via an emulator. If something doesn't go wrong in the last minute, that is.


Rivaling other tablets on the market, the BlackBerry PlayBook’s battery life is fairly respectable and we managed to get easily a solid day of normal usage from the time we woke up until the time our head hit the pillow for bed. Impressively enough, you can unplug it first thing in the morning and not worry for one bit during the entire day about battery life – it’s that good!


First and foremost, we need to commend RIM for crafting such a premium tablet while retaining that oh so firm pricing structure that’s increasingly appearing to be the golden mark at this point. Picking it up, there’s no arguing that RIM placed a lot of love in manufacturing this 7” tablet from the ground up – and it shows in nearly all aspects of its construction. Fairly compact and mobile, it’s almost nearly unimaginable to expect any good specs with this one, but impressively enough, there is just simply a treasure trove of high-end hardware to make you fully appreciate its muscle power.

However, good looks aren't always everything as we know, and fortunately for RIM, it seems like they’ve also placed some attention to their budding QNX based platform. Visually, it’s definitely one of the more responsive platforms, but it’s missing some opportunities in the personalization department to notably give it enough character over others out there. Then again, its surreal multi-tasking elements prove their worth in keeping it as a favorable candidate for any power user. Regardless, it’s still in the early stages of its infancy and we’d love to see how RIM capitalizes on some of the criticism to perfectly balance its capacity to be a well-rounded platform.

Ultimately though, pricing will always come to play in how well any tablet will compete in the market. Hitting the mark square in the face, the PlayBook’s $500 starting price positions it at a healthy place amongst the current stable. However, its value is dramatically decreased after finding out that there are some glaring omissions with it from the onset – like the lack of native calendar, contacts, and email apps. Come to think about it, we mainly found ourselves using the PlayBook for nothing more than web browsing and the occasional game every now and then. In fact, it doesn’t even come close to the functionality you’d get with even some of the most basic of Android tablets out there. Yes, we’re all confident that RIM will be addressing these concerns in the future, but it’s rather disconcerting to see that the platform isn’t quite at a version 1.0 stage, but rather, still in beta form at best. In the end, the PlayBook appears to be a bit overpriced for the amount of features you get out of it right out of the gates and you’re simply better off investing that money on something else – for now.

Software version of the reviewed unit:

RIM BlackBerry PlayBook Video Review:


  • Solid construction
  • Premium compact feel
  • Brilliant looking display
  • Responsive platform experience


  • Lack of organizer apps and email client
  • No video chat support
  • Requires BlackBerry smartphone for some additional functionality
  • A bit pricey for its set of features

PhoneArena Rating:


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