The tablet war is definitely hotting up now, and it isn’t just a case of choosing a tablet that looks nice. RIM, maker of the BlackBerry, is the latest company wanting a slice of Apple’s pie with its 7-inch screen pad, the PlayBook.
It’s a handsome piece of kit that looks great and feels good in the hand. It has a very wide bezel, but there’s a reason for that. The bezel is partly touch-sensitive, so you wake the screen, for example, by swiping your finger from one edge to another; there’s no Home button as there is on the iPad.
You can also wake it with the power button mounted on the top edge, but the swiping action is a lot more fun!
And you use the same swiping-from-the-bezel movement to switch from one app to another. One stroke from bottom to top shrinks the active window to a smaller image which sits alongside other active apps. This works well and if you were watching a video or playing a game when doing this, the powerful dual-core processor has no trouble continuing to play it in the reduced window until you flip to another program.
This is multi-tasking simply and effectively executed, courtesy of the new operating system RIM is using for its tablet. When you want to close a program or app, you simply flick it offscreen (a similar process used on HP’s upcoming TouchPad, with a lot of ideas taken from the former Palm webOS interface)
It’s a deeply satisfying way of controlling things. Stroke downwards from the top and a full menu drops down. Neat.
The screen is high-resolution and super-sharp, so games and video look very impressive and high-definition. However, it can be a little tricky to see the display (even on full brightness) in the great outdoors on one of the few days where we’re privileged enough to enjoy bright sunlight.
The BlackBerry Desktop software makes it easy to synchronise your music and video collection with your PlayBook, or at least it does if you’re a Windows user. Mac compatibility is coming later, but for now you can connect it by using a micro-USB cable and drag-and-drop content instead.
Next to the USB connector is a mini HDMI-out socket. With this you can mirror the content of the PlayBook on the big screen. This is great for playing your movies back, gaming and it’s equally useful for playing a presentation. After all, the PlayBook isn’t just about playing.
RIM is known mostly as a business company, so it’s no surprise there are strong enterprise capabilities alongside its multimedia skills. And as it’s also a BlackBerry, you would expect exceptionally tight security to play a part in the software design.
So concerned is RIM about ensuring sensitive business data contained in emails is not lost if a PlayBook is left on a plane, say, that it has developed a system called BlackBerry Bridge. This connects the tablet to your BlackBerry phone, via Bluetooth, and lets the PlayBook see and edit (and delete) the emails on your Blackberry. Break the connection and the data disappears from the tablet.
This means that to make the most of the PlayBook, for now, you need a BlackBerry phone as well. For those without one, RIM will release a native email client for the PlayBook in the next few months, along with BlackBerry Messenger, Contacts and Calendar apps that can run independently.
It’s also rather vital to point out that the PlayBook only has a Wi-Fi connection. There’s no SIM card slot, so you’ll either need to tether it with your BlackBerry, or carry another smartphone that can share data via Wi-Fi.