The BlackBerry PlayBook will soon move from vapourware to the real world. The 7in tablet will be available on April 19 - in the US and Canada, at least - in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB models that match the price of equivalent Apple iPad 2 models. We expect it to launch in the UK over the summer.
Storage capacity and price make for a somewhat level playing field in comparing the two, so here are a few reasons that stand out to steer clear of the BlackBerry PlayBook.
While the two tablets may seem evenly matched, you're paying the same amount for a smaller device with the PlayBook. It's like going to a restaurant and having them tell you that the medium drink and the large drink are both the same price - wouldn't you get the large drink? There are those, however, who consider the 7in tablet to be a virtue - lighter and easier to work with one-handed. I'm just not one of them. I don't agree that those factors are worth sacrificing display size.
The jury is still out and there is plenty of passionate debate over whether the tablet can fill the role of mobile computing platform in place of a notebook PC. With a tablet like the iPad 2 or Xoom, there is at least enough screen space to take on some productivity tasks, but a tablet like the BlackBerry PlayBook is more like an oversized smartphone than a slim notebook and is too small to accomplish much more than you can with many smartphones.
The BlackBerry tethering feature is sort of cool - being able to sync email and use the PlayBook as a larger external display for a BlackBerry smartphone (although not much larger, as we were just talking about). However, with the PlayBook, tethering with a BlackBerry smartphone isn't just a feature, it's a necessity.
The initial PlayBook models will only be equipped with Wi-Fi, and will be unable to sync data with a BlackBerry Enterprise Server at all. Tablets like the iPad 2 and Xoom also come in 3G models with cellular networking to connect in areas where no wireless network is available.
The PlayBook doesn't do email. Using BlackBerry Bridge to tether the PlayBook with a BlackBerry smartphone will allow some email functionality by enabling the smartphone connection with BES to pass through to the tablet. As for email outside of BES, RIM suggests using the web to get to it - like logging into Outlook Web Access. An update is planned for later this year that will supposedly give the PlayBook the ability to connect to BES natively, and possible expand other email options, but for a tablet aimed primarily at business users this wonky email setup is a severe handicap.
RIM won some bonus points with the announcement that the BlackBerry PlayBook will be able to run Android apps. Kudos. However, Android as a platform has only fraction of the apps available for Apple's iOS. If you break it down based on apps that are actually designed for the tablet as opposed to the smartphone, the gap is even wider in favour of the iPad. I know that the majority of app pitches I get are aimed at the iPad, and when I inquire about other platforms Android is on the radar, but has to wait a few months because it's a lower priority.
The Android apps won't run natively either, which could lead to performance issues. The Android apps will run in an a separate environment within an app player which can be downloaded from BlackBerry App World. The PlayBook will also run BlackBerry apps, but there are even fewer of those.
In many ways, the PlayBook seems more on par with the Atrix 4G laptop dock than with other tablets. It has more functionality than the Atrix 4G as a standalone mobile device, but when it comes to critical functionality the RIM tablet relies heavily on the BlackBerry smartphone.
If you have a BlackBerry smartphone, there are some cool features in the PlayBook and you should at least check it out - but I believe that other tablets still present a much better value. If you haven't got a BlackBerry smartphone, don't even think about getting a PlayBook tablet.