First, let’s go through the reasons you’d want the PlayBook. It’s from the makers of BlackBerry, to start, and it’s using the brand new QNX operating system, which is what RIM’s future looks like.
It’s fast, with a 1GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM. The 7-inch screen looks quite good, sporting a resolution of 1024 x 600. It has a fast browser that supports Adobe Flash better than most. Plus, it has high-quality speakers, very good front and rear cameras, and the capability to play full 1080p HD video on a TV via its HDMI port.
So, why wait a bit? First off, the PlayBook isn’t truly a standalone device (yet). It tries to be, but it isn’t. Unless you also have a BlackBerry phone running OS 5.0 or higher, your PlayBook does not have an e-mail, calendar, or contacts application. Yes, you heard that right: a BlackBerry that doesn’t have e-mail. If you do have a BlackBerry phone, you can pair the devices and use those features on the PlayBook, but who needs that hassle?
RIM assures us that these applications will be coming in a future, free software update, but one has to wonder what they were thinking releasing a tablet without this kind of basic functionality. We don’t know when the software update will be, but “months from now” is probably a good bet.
The PlayBook currently has no 3G or 4G capabilities. That means if you’re on a train or anywhere without Wi-Fi, you have no Internet connectivity. That may be fine for some of you; after all, there are very popular Wi-Fi-only versions of other tablets. It just seems to me that for business you need to be more constantly connected.
In the months to come PlayBooks will have 4G compatibility (WiMAX, LTE, and HSPA+, depending on the network), and these newer versions will have the previously mentioned, currently missing e-mail, calendar, and contacts applications built-in.
For now, then, there is the arid desert that is BlackBerry’s App World. At launch, RIM claims that there are 3000 apps available for the PlayBook. That may sound like plenty, but searching through App World, you’ll be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of apps you actually want to download. Quality and diversity are very much lacking, and when you compare it with the hundreds of thousands of apps available for Android and the iPad–many of which are excellent–it’s obvious that RIM has a huge hill to climb.
One of the big surprises of recent weeks was RIM’s announcement that the PlayBook will be able to run Android applications, though again, this functionality won’t be introduced until a future software update. One also wonders how well these ported apps will work.
Developers can currently create apps using Adobe AIR, WebWorks, and also HTML5 apps with Java. Soon they will be able to develop for QNX and port applications from Android. This sounds great in theory, but in reality, it will almost certainly create an ecosystem where apps look and behave very differently from each other, and it that will make the experience feel even more inconsistent and disjointed.
Currently, there is no slick media-syncing solution. iOS has iTunes. Android has DoubleTwist and several other third-party solutions. Right now there is nothing for the PlayBook, as the BlackBerry Desktop Manager (RIM’s answer to iTunes) has not yet been updated to support it. I would expect this update to be coming very soon, however.
Currently, however, the PlayBook can function as a network drive, which makes adding removing files over Wi-Fi pretty easy. If you don’t mind the old drag-and-drop, this really isn’t so bad.
Lastly, something else to think about and that can’t be changed with a software update is the device’s size. At 7 inches, it’s just 2 inches bigger than some phones, such as the Dell Streak, and it’s more than 3 inches smaller than some competing tablets, such as the Motorola Xoom. Some of the “buttons” in applications are just too small to be easily usable. One wonders, when Android apps become available for the PlayBook, how usable will they be if they were designed for larger devices and are now shrunk down?
Also, if your tablet isn’t that much bigger than your phone and you have to quickly respond to an e-mail, who wouldn’t just respond using the phone, rather than pulling out and pairing both devices? Yet, the smaller size does make the tablet somewhat more portable, easier to hold, and could help increase battery life.
Many called the Motorola Xoom “half-baked” when it was released. If that’s true, then the PlayBook is quarter-baked at best. The hardware is really pretty excellent, right on par with the current top tablets. The software needs to catch up before it’s ready for primetime, though, and I advise you to wait until it does. RIM needs to hurry in a major way before others start leapfrogging the hardware as well. If the software can’t catch up in time, the PlayBook will never even have a chance at being relevant.