The alternative tablet
In the tablet PC wars, it is clear to any observer that Apple’s iPad 2 is the current winner. Even finding a real competitor is challenging in the current environment. The #2 spot is shared among many tablets running Google’s Android OS, from manufacturers like Samsung, Acer, and others. The commonality among all of these tablets, Apple included, is that the primary focus for the machine is on personal entertainment.
This leaves out the user who is more focused on personal productivity. While there are some high-spec tablets running the Windows 7 OS, serious professional users should also take a close look at the new PlayBook from Research In Motion (RIM), the maker of the BlackBerry smartphones.
The PlayBook comes out of the box well equipped. The processor is a 1.0 GHz dual core unit, and buyers can choose from 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB of onboard storage. 1GB of RAM is standard on the device. The screen is a 7″ capacitive display with 104×600 resolution, and supports HD video output. Accessories can be attached via micro USB and micro HDMI ports on the device. Both Flash and HTML5 are supported, so the current trend of running applications from the cloud instead of from the device should be no issue.
The feature set of the PlayBook positions it well in the market. While there are advantages to tablets with larger screens, the 7″ models definitely win on portability. The PlayBook’s weight, just less than one pound, means that users will find it less burdensome than a larger device. From a size standpoint, the PlayBook is the size of a basic e-book reader, but has the function set of any tablet device.
The Major Advantage
One of the best selling points of the device is the BlackBerry Bridge. This system allows the user to connect the PlayBook to a BlackBerry smartphone, and to use the phone’s data plan to connect the tablet to the internet. The benefit here is that the user does not need to pay for a separate data plan for the tablet. The cost savings here are obvious, and could add up to more than $350 per year for the average data plan. This savings, combined with the fact that many business users are already very experienced with BlackBerry phones, means that the professional user will be easily persuaded to buy the PlayBook.
The User Experience
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and no perfect tablet either. The PlayBook is praised for the ease of multi-tasking, and for the stability of its operating system. In fact, the new QNX operating system addresses nearly all of the complaints from earlier BlackBerry OS releases, and users are hopeful that the QNX migration to RIM’s cell phones will not be far behind. The speed of the startup, the light weight/portability, and the Bridge connection are also well-received. Complaints include limited application support, but BlackBerry promises an Android player in the near future to take advantage of Android Marketplace applications. Also listed as a negative: no SD card slot on the device, relatively high price compared to many other tablets, and no direct 3G connection for the device.
For users already accustomed to BlackBerry phones, with a focus on productivity and extreme portability, this is the right tablet for you. However, users who are focused on a large number of apps and a larger display should look elsewhere. Expect continued development by RIM to rapidly improve this device. With the right enhancements, the PlayBook could become a serious contender for #1 tablet PC.