RIM is aiming to launch its PlayBook tablet on April 19, but reviews of this QNX-powered tablet started to hit the wire last night. The consensus among reviewers suggests the PlayBook will not threaten Apple's dominance in the tablet market.
Most reviews point to the lack of available applications for the tablet as one major detriment. The PlayBook will launch with a catalog of 3,000 applications, a figure derived from the number of developers that have submitted applications to the BlackBerry App World. This number was bolstered by RIM's promise to give a free PlayBook to each developer whose application is approved before the launch of the tablet device. RIM expects to expand this catalog with Android and BlackBerry OS emulators that let users run applications from the Android Market and the BlackBerry World. This feature will land later this year.
A small application catalog is one drawback to the BlackBerry, but there are more. Read on to find out what other issues reviewers encountered when using RIM's tablet device.
Other reviewers paint the picture of a buggy device that is not ready for prime time. Reports of out of memory problems and crashing applications pepper the half dozen or so reviews currently circulating in the tech news. RIM promises frequent updates, but early adopters may be disappointed by the initial out of the box performance. In fact, the review units in the hands of most tech writers were apparently getting software updates almost daily throughout the review period, making the process of evaluating the PlayBook a bit dicey. Engadget's Tim Stevens put it this way: "What we see at the moment is a framework with solid fundamentals but a framework that is, right now, unfinished. We have 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."
Another drawback is RIM's decision to launch the device without a native email client, a calendar, contacts, tasks and memos. These applications are only available to PlayBook owners who own a BlackBerry and connect the tablet to their phone via Bluetooth. RIM has built an application conduit called Bridge that links a BlackBerry handset to a PlayBook tablet and lets the tablet user read the email, notes, calendar entries, contacts and tasks stored on the handset. Even this Bridge functionality is incomplete as it lacks important features, like the ability to view a file attachment or click a link in an email. Once again, RIM promises to add these native clients in future updates.While many reviewers tip-toed around these glaring deficiencies, noted Apple pundit Jim Dalrymple had no kind words for RIM's first foray into the tablet market, "it has to be clear now -- RIM has no tablet strategy. Unless RIM's strategy was to provide users with a crashy, buggy pile of crap, even they should admit their failure now." Our former colleague Josh Topolsky was only somewhat more diplomatic: "[W]hat is the compelling feature that will make buyers choose the PlayBook over something else? I don't have that answer, but that's not what's troubling me -- what troubles me is that I don't think RIM has the answer either... and they should by now."
Overall, the PlayBook does not show off RIM's tablet efforts to best effect; it seems to have impressed most reviewers as potentially cool but presently half-baked. The company came out swinging for a home run and ended up with a foul tip. As it stands, Apple and the iPad 2 team probably aren't worrying about the PlayBook just yet.