Is the Blackberry PlayBook Tablet Worth Your $900?

Blackberry's 'iPad' already available for pre-orders
By @ibtimesau on

Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry PlayBook tablet will be available in Australia on June 20.

RIM claims that the BlackBerry PlayBook is the world's first professional-grade tablet, delivering "industry leading performance, uncompromised web browsing, true multitasking, HD multimedia, advanced security features, out-of-the-box enterprise support and a robust development environment."

The ultra-portable tablet measures, which less than half an inch thick and weighs less than a pound, will be more expensive in Australia than in the United States.

The BlackBerry Store's Australian site says the BlackBerry PlayBook version with 16 gigabytes of storage is priced at A$649.  The 32 GB version is available at A$789 and the 64 GB is sold at A$949.  The BlackBerry Store is now accepting orders.RIM began selling the PlayBook in the United States and Canada in April.  In the U.S., the 16 GB costs US$499 (A$470), the 32 GB is sold at for US$599 (A$570), and the 64 GB is US$699 (A$660).

Telecom firms Optus, Telstra and Vodafone and electronics store Harvey Norman are also distributing the Blackberry PlayBook tablet.Apple Inc.'s iPad 2, which is the market leader in tablets, is available in Australia for outright purchase for A$579 for the 16 GB model, A$689 for the 32 GB model, and $799 for the A64 GB.

The Blackberry PlayBook will be the first tablet that is not based on the Google's Android operating system and Apple's iOS that will be available in the country.

BlackBerry PlayBook features include:

   * 7-inch 1024x600 WSVGA capacitive LCD touch screen   * Ultra-portable at less than a pound and less than one-half inch thick: 0.9 lbs (425g) and 5.1" x 7.6" x 0.4" (130mm x 194mm x 10mm)   * 1GHz dual-core processor   * BlackBerry Tablet OS with support for symmetric multiprocessing   * MP3, AAC and WMA audio playback      * Support for high resolution video playback (H.264, MPEG4, WMV)   * 1080p HDMI output   * Two 1080p HD cameras for video conferencing and video capture - 3 megapixel front-facing and 5 megapixel rear-facing   * 1 GB RAM memory   * 16 GB or 32 GB or 64 GB internal storage   * GPS, Orientation Sensor (Accelerometer), 6-Axis Motion Sensor (Gyroscope), Digital Compass (Magnetometer)   * Stereo speakers and stereo microphones   * Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n) connectivity  Bluetooth 2.1+EDR support

Accessories are sold separately.  The PlayBook Rapid Charging Pod is available for A$99, the PlayBook Journal Leather Case is for A$68, and the PlayBook Convertible Case and Stand is for $68.

Personal-computer makers and smartphone manufacturers are rushing into the tablet market as more consumers as demand for the smaller, touch-screen devices continue to increase.

Apple has sold 25 million iPads since the device's April 2010 debut, and outselling all the other tablets combined. The iPad2, which was released by Apple in March, features a 9.7-inch touch screen, Apple-A5 dual core processor (2 times faster than iPad's processor), Imagination's SGX543 dual core graphics technology, 16GB, 32GB and 64GB of storage, front facing VGA video camera and a 0.7 megapixel still camera at the back, HDMI Support, and an iOS 4.3.3 operating system.

Hewlett Packard, the world's largest PC maker, is releasing July 1 the Wi-Fi version of HP TouchPad tablet will be available next month.  The 9.7-inch screen Touchpad includes a 1.3MP front webcam, dual-core 1.2-GHz Snapdragon processor, and weighs 740 grams.  The tablet will sell for US$499.99 and US$599.99 at either 16 GB or 32 GB of internal storage.

                        7-inch screen

Reviewers have praised PlayBook for its user interface, external design, screen quality.  As to performance, the PlayBook has a web browser that supports Adobe Flash and its operating system provides multi-tasking performance (switching to different apps).  The compact size (7" x 5"), small enough to fit many coat pockets, is also appealing to people who are on the go.  Playbook's office-like apps Word To Go, Slideshow To Go and Sheet To Go are compatible with Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint and Microsoft Excel, respectively.  The PlayBook also has advanced security features.

Common complaints include the relatively smaller screen size that would make web browsing difficult, the absence of native email, calendar and contacts apps, and the lack of consumer apps.  There is no exchange support in the Playbook for non-BlackBerry smartphone users, who will be forced to rely on webmail.

Like other non-iPad tablets, the biggest hurdle for the PlayBook is the applications.  Apple has gained a head-start as more than available 90,000 applications are already optimized for the iPad that can be downloaded from the App Store, in addition to the more than 200,000 iPhone apps that can also work for the Apple tablet.  Plus Apple has the iTunes for movies and music.  The BlackBerry App World offers "apps for social networking, online shopping, personal productivity, gaming and so much more" for the PlayBook but early reviews for the device complain of the shortage of consumer apps.

Despite the shortage of apps, consumers in Australia have another reason to buy the PlayBook.  The National Australia Bank has confirmed it is building apps for the device.  "The BlackBerry is targeted to the corporate sector, and they're often locked down so you can't download apps.  If we build an app, we want that to increase our reach and usage, but sometimes corporate policy doesn't allow that to happen," said Chris Smith, general manager of online services for NAB. 

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