Hands on with BlackBerry Playbook at CES

Launched here at CES after much speculation, Research In Motion’s first foray into tablet computing, the BlackBerry PlayBook, will hit the U.S. market as a Sprint 4G (WiMAX) device by March.

As a 4G device on Sprint, the PlayBook should be capable of much faster download speeds than current tablet devices. Sprint is claiming “up to 10 times faster” speeds than current 3G data connections on its 4G network.

A Wi-Fi enabled tablet, the PlayBook is designed to interface with users’ existing BlackBerry smartphones. Using Bluetooth technology, e-mail messages, texts and various applications on the phones can be seen and manipulated on the tablet. It uses the Tablet OS that differs from the BlackBerry OS that  traditionally powers RIM’s smartphones.

Related Story: BlackBerry PlayBook tablet: 10 key features and facts

In terms of specifications, the PlayBook offers a powerful but efficient dual-core 1GHz ARM processor and 1 GB of RAM. Apple’s iPad, by comparison, runs quite nicely on a 1GHz Apple A4 processor and a meager 256 Megabytes of RAM.

Cutting edge processing and memory specifications aren’t the only tricks in the PlayBook’s bag, it natively supports multitasking, which enables fast switching between apps and it can run Adobe’s Flash, plus it has the ability to output HD video at 1080p resolution.

The PlayBook also sports dual cameras, a rear-facing 5-megapixel camera for taking pictures and a 3-megapixel front facing camera for video calling,

The PlayBook is truly a device of many firsts, it is the first to feature a new OS developed by QNX which was  recently acquired by Research in Motion. QNX has created operating systems deployed in cars and embedded devices.

Business users will appreciate the PlayBook’s out-of-the-box compatibility with Blackberry Enterprise Server as well secure and manageable corporate data access.

Our initial impressions of the Playbook were that it is a solid, well-designed device. The 7-inch form factor we first saw on Samsung’s Galaxy Tab seems to be perfect for a companion device, making it ideal for consuming content rather than creating it.

Being a BlackBerry device, we expect it to be durable, have above average battery life, and integrate nicely into the messaging aspect of the BlackBerry experience.

Web browsing on the PlayBook is fast and up to par with the current crop of tablets. The ability to view Flash natively makes this a standards compliant tablet. Web browsing on BlackBerry smartphones has always been a less than ideal experience so surfing the web on a tablet is a much better option.

The fast app switching and multitasking features of the PlayBook show just how powerful and capable this device is. We were also impressed but the connectivity and expansion options since the PlayBook comes with a microUSB expansion slot and micro HDMI for 1080p HD video output.

Depending on how it is priced and what types of data plans are offered,  the BlackBerry PlayBook looks to be a compelling tablet for avid BlackBerry users and people in the market for a capable and innovative tablet experience.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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