Research In Motion's iPad competitor, the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, goes on sale in the US on April 19, but it's not ready for prime time. Reviewers who got their hands on the PlayBook early posted their thoughts on the tablet -- and it's not good news for RIM.
The 7-inch BlackBerry PlayBook packs some impressive specs for its size and slenderness: a 1GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, two high-resolution cameras (3MP front, 5MP back), micro HDMI out and it's pretty zippy.
But the software is what puts the PlayBook down: the new QNX-based OS on the tablet is only half-baked, the reviews show, with plenty of features missing, such as no integrated e-mail, calendar and address book (codependent on a BlackBerry smartphone), no video chatting app (despite a dedicated camera), and overall annoying software glitches.
First off, PCWorld's Melissa J. Perenson writes that the PlayBook "feels very much like a work in progress" because of its "limited app selection, software glitches, and choices in functionality or design." Perenson notes that "the PlayBook is the most impressive tablet I've seen to date" but points out "native apps like the PlayBook's browser have disappointing glitches, and you won't get much help from downloading third-party apps -- only 3,000 will be available at launch."
The New York Times' David Pogue asks whether "it make sense to buy a fledgling tablet with no built-in e-mail or calendar, no cellular connection, no videochat, Skype, no Notes app, no GPS app, no Pandora radio and no Angry Birds?" He mentions several times the buggy software and that "it's missing important features, like the ability to view e-mail file attachments or click a link in an e-mail."
The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg believes that the PlayBook could appeal to those who find the iPad too large: "The hardware is sturdy and the back has a nice rubberized feel. While the PlayBook is 14% thicker than the iPad 2, it's about one-third lighter. [...] Still, unless you are constantly glued to a BlackBerry phone, or do all your e-mail, contacts and calendar tasks via a browser, I recommend waiting on the PlayBook until more independently usable versions with the promised additions are available."
Wired's Mike Isaac opines that the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet lacks all the right moves: "RIM's WebKit-based browser is about as stable as your bipolar uncle. No native e-mail, calendar or contacts apps. App ecosystem is lacking. You'll need to install a driver before you can connect it to your PC or Mac. Runs Flash, sorta." However, Isaac gives the PlayBook brownie points for "a brilliant display, great sound and an HDMI output" and the two on-board cameras.
TechChruch's MG Siegler also takes a stab at the tablet's limitations: "So why not wait until there's a little more polish to get it out there on the market? [...]But given that it's selling at the same price points as the iPad, I find it hard to imagine they'll be able to compete in the consumer space right now. Maybe if they can nail the Android app support that will change the scene a bit."
Gizmodo's review from Matt Buchanan points out even more missing features in the PlayBook: "No Android apps yet. You can't create custom app categories. There's no universal search to quickly find apps. You can't rearrange your open app cards. Half the time you try to touch a link in the browser, you don't know if you touched it correctly or not -- the feedback isn't fast enough." However, Buchanan liked the PlayBook "for being so small, it's got tons of muscle, like a freaky little dude on 'roids."
Engadget's Tim Stevens wraps up saying that the PlayBook has "hardware that looks and feels great but isn't being fully served by the software. [...]And, ultimately, we have a tablet that's trying really hard to please the enterprise set but, in doing so, seems to be alienating casual users who might just want a really great seven-inch tablet."
Finally, LaptopMag's Mark Spoonauer nails it: "It's not really a matter of too little, too late with the BlackBery PlayBook. If anything, RIM's first tablet feels as if it was rushed to market."