It's easy to hate Research in Motion's new BlackBerry PlayBook. After all, it has relatively few applications available, doesn't yet offer a native e-mail client, and requires a BlackBerry handset for the most basic productivity apps. Yet one analyst thinks Research In Motion sold 50,000 tablets on the first day of availability. How could that be possible, given its scathing reviews and functionality oversights? Valid criticisms aside, there actually are some things that make the PlayBook an attractive device. Here are a few of them, based on my use of a review unit over the weekend.
Stellar speakers. Mobile-device makers often cut corners to save a few dollars by using wimpy speakers. RIM certainly didn't take that route, and its effort can be plainly heard. The two speakers on the PlayBook are louder and better-sounding than those on any mobile device I've used.
A fresh, fluid user interface. Yes, the new interface on top of the QNX operating system looks much like that of HP's webOS. That's not a bad thing because it's intuitive, simple to use, and makes great use of virtual screen space as menus float off the top or bottom of the PlayBook. I like it better than the interface of Google Android Honeycomb tablets, which I find very computer-like and less fit for a mobile device that's driven by touch.
Wake with gestures. I'm not a fan of the very small power button that sits flush on the top bezel of the PlayBook, but it doesn't matter. There's no need to find and press the power button because the tablet wakes up with a swipe gesture from one edge of the device to another. This is a great use of the touch-sensitive bezel around the PlayBook's screen.
Amazon Cloud Player on the Web. No other mobile device I've used can leverage Amazon's new Cloud Player service in a browser—at least none could before I tried the PlayBook. Thanks to Adobe Flash Player support, streaming audio from the Web works on the PlayBook, just as it does on my desktop computer. It sounds good, too. (See item No. 1, above.) A big downside is that music stops when you move to another browser tab or app. For now, you can't stream tunes in the background, at least not until the PlayBook gains Android software. Perhaps the Amazon MP3 app will work then.
A multitasking monster. The best aspect of the new QNX operating system might be how well it handles multitasking. Again, the interface emulates that of webOS, complete with the flicking of apps off the screen to close them. Still, it works effectively. Plus the hardware is easily able to keep background apps running, even when it shows them in minimized view.
The camera is solid. The PlayBook's camera sensor and Texas Instruments dual-core OMAP processor make a good combination. Still photos are quite usable and even 1080p video recording looks good at 30 frames per second.
There's no doubt that RIM will have to work at making the PlayBook a more attractive tablet. But the foundation for a positive PlayBook exists, with my list of likes supplementing the optimism in Om's initial PlayBook review. Now it's up to the company to attract developers, add some missing features, and continue maturing the already excellent QNX operating system. The last bit is very likely to happen, given that RIM's future smartphones will use QNX, too.
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