It’s report card day for Research In Motion (RIM) new tablet, the BlackBerry PlayBook.
Some of the top technology writers in the United States were given review units of the BlackBerry PlayBook this week, and on Thursday, those reviews started to trickle out.
Unfortunately for Research In Motion, the consensus seems to be that RIM’s PlayBook is a bit underwhelming.
RIM scored high marks in most early reviews for the QNX Operating System (OS) that powers the PlayBook and some of its more corporate-friendly features, including the way the PlayBook allows users to display Microsoft PowerPoint presentations and its security features.
However, the top names in the U.S. tech press lamented the device’s shorter-than-advertised battery life, some serious software oversights and its dependence on a BlackBerry smartphone for a mobile connection.
Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal writes that the PlayBook will have limited appeal to people who don’t already own a BlackBerry and likely won’t win RIM many converts from rival camps, namely those folks already jumping on the bandwagons belonging to Apple iOS and Google Android.
“RIM says it is planning to add built-in mobile data, Email, contacts, calendar and the other missing core features to the PlayBook this summer, via software updates,” Mr. Mossberg writes. “But until then, I can’t recommend the PlayBook over a fully standalone tablet, except possibly for folks whose BlackBerrys never leave their sides.”
The PlayBook also loses marks because of the relatively smaller size of its developer ecosystem compared to Apple and Android; the PlayBook will launch with about 3,000 available applications, compared to 65,000 for the iPad.
“I got the strong impression RIM is scrambling to get the product to the market, and that it will be adding other features already offered on competing devices for months, through software patches,” Mr. Mossberg added. “For instance, although the PlayBook has very nice front and rear cameras, it comes without video-chatting software. That will be added soon after launch, RIM says. The same goes for a video store, even though the screen renders videos beautifully and a built-in connector outputs gorgeous high-definition video to a TV over a cable.”
For Mr. Mossberg — who, it should be pointed out, has something of a reputation for being an ardent Apple fan — the PlayBook earns high praise for the QNX Operating System (“it’s smooth and fast”), the Flash-enabled browser (“highly capable”) and its screen (“beautiful”).
“Still, unless you are constantly glued to a BlackBerry phone, or do all your Email, contacts and calendar tasks via a browser, I recommend waiting on the PlayBook until more independently usable versions with the promised additions are available.”
David Pogue of the New York Times seems to believe that the PlayBook isn’t quite finished; a device that is long on potential but short on execution.
“The PlayBook, then, is convenient, fast and coherently designed,” he writes. “But in its current half-baked form, it seems almost silly to try to assess it, let alone buy it.”
He says the PlayBook “looks and feels great: hard rubberized back, brilliant, super-responsive multitouch screen, solid heft (400 grams).”
For Mr. Pogue, the PlayBook has three distinct advantages over the iPad and its Android competitors.
First, the ability to connect the PlayBook to a projector for PowerPoint presentations, and set it so that the audience sees the slides while the user can still see the PowerPoint notes on the PlayBook screen.
Second, there’s the ability to transfer media files over a WiFi connection.
Finally, while some reviewers site the BlackBerry PlayBook’s lack of a 3G connection as a disadvantage, Mr. Pogue points out that by pairing the PlayBook with a BlackBerry smartphone for 3G access, users can avoid another data charge on their monthly telecom bills and don’t need a tethering plan as is needed with iPhones and Android devices.
However, Mr. Pogue goes on to point out the PlayBook’s deficiencies.
“For now, the PlayBook’s motto might be, ‘There’s no app for that’.” he writes.
There’s no video calling application (RIM says one is coming), the GPS application doesn’t include turn by turn navigation and, like Mr. Mossberg, he points out the lack of applications.
“If all of this gets fixed, the apps arrive, and the PlayBook can survive this year’s onslaught of rival tablets, then it may one day wind up in the pantheon of greats. For now, there are too many features that live only in R.I.M.’s playbook — and not enough in its PlayBook."
Finally, Tim Stevens over at Engadget sees the PlayBook as a device featuing “solid fundamentals but a framework that is, right now, unfinished.”
“The PlayBook of today is considerably better than the PlayBook of yesterday, which also was a big step forward from the one we were reviewing two days before that,” Mr. Stevens writes. “This is both encouraging and worrying — encouraging that RIM is actively working to improve things, but worrying that things as critical as memory management are still being tweaked at the eleventh hour.”
Although the PlayBook earns praise for the QNX Operating System (“decidedly efficient and bulletproof”), Mr. Stevens laments a number of features that seem half-baked, such as how the PlayBook doesn’t support USB mass storage and how the question mark and exclamation point keys are missing from the touchscreen keyboard.
“Right now, the BlackBerry PlayBook is a tablet that will come close to satisfying those users who gravitate toward the first word in its name: BlackBerry. Those who were more excited about the “play” part would be well advised to look elsewhere, at least until Android compatibility joins the party. Then, well, anything could happen.”
Source: Financial Post