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RIM BlackBerry PlayBook: A Promising Tablet, but With Many Rough Edges

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As a substitute for a native mail app, RIM offers four app icons--one each for Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and AOL Mail--that, misleadingly, redirect to those Web-based mail sites in the Web browser rather than to an installed mail app. Depending on the service you use, you will get more or less full functionality via the Web browser. (For example, the Gmail app doesn't let you attach files, unless you manually go to the "basic HTML" or "Desktop" version of the site.) And unfortunately, RIM's Twitter and Facebook offerings are similarly just shortcuts to the browser--no substitute for an actual app experience.

RIM says it will launch the PlayBook with 3000 apps in its AppWorld store. Unfortunately, in the prelaunch testing period, none of the apps I downloaded particularly impressed me--some appeared to be simple, almost DOS-like in their design. RIM says the PlayBook will be able to run Android 2.x apps (but significantly, not apps for Android 3.0, the tablet version of Google's OS), and only those Android apps that are sold via its AppWorld store; but the Android Player emulator that will enable this feat, along with the emulator that will run BlackBerry phone apps, won't be available until later this summer. Right now, I have to say that the PlayBook lacks compelling apps to complement its (mostly) compelling hardware and mobile OS.

Bottom Line

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.

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At a Glance
  • RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook looks promising, but the operating system's rough patches and a lack of app selection are reasons to think twice.

    Pros

    • Sharp display has vivid, accurate colors
    • High-definition video playback impresses
    • Light weight makes this conducive to hold in hand

    Cons

    • Initial software is buggy and lacks polish
    • No integrated e-mail, contacts, or calendaring
    • Awkwardly designed onscreen keyboard
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