BlackBerry PlayBook Teardown Finds Nothing to Scoff at: iFixit

RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook tablet underwent an iFixit teardown that found solid construction and killer cameras, but nothing very exclamation point worthy.

Research In Motion's long-awaited BlackBerry PlayBook tablet finally began shipping April 19. While some early reviewers were iffy on RIM's software decisions, it was the tablet's hardware that interested repair site iFixit's teardown team, which quickly went to work with their screwdrivers and spudgers.

The result? The PlayBook-advertised by RIM as "the world's first professional-grade tablet"-earned a repairability score of 7 out of 10 (10 being the best) in a teardown that was complimentary but rather tame. There were no major gripes-though no major "wow" moments, either.

Upon opening the tablet-a happily easy feat, particularly in contrast to the iPad 2, which required a heat gun for the task-the team was immediately surprised to find that the guts of the PlayBook reside in its display assembly, instead of its rear case, as apparently the majority of its competitors do things. While interesting, it was ultimately a strike against the device's score.

The design choice was "unfortunate from a repairability standpoint, since simple repairs-like replacing the battery-require the motherboard to be removed," Miroslav Djuric, iFixit's director of technical communication, wrote in a statement.

Another drawback was that the control buttons and front and back cameras are all part of a single assembly, "making replacing the power button or volume control pretty costly." (Though one wonders how often these buttons are actually sent in for repair.)

On a more positive note, the team found the PlayBook's cameras to be "hefty." "Its 3-megapixel front-facing camera crushes the iPad 2's VGA camera, and the rear-facing camera has a 5 MP sensor which shoots 1080p video," wrote Djuric.

Another perk: the small magnetic dock connector, for charging, on the bottom on the PlayBook. The team called it "reminiscent of one of our favorite features of Apple's laptops-the MagSafe connector."

Fiddling around inside, the iFixit team also discovered that the PlayBook has a 20 watt-hour battery-a smaller battery than the iPad 2's, but given the PlayBook's smaller screen, it may perform just as well. (That said, RIM advertises a battery life of 8 to 10 hours, though testing by eWEEK found 6 to 7 hours to be more accurate).

Also notable were the no less than eight chips from Texas Instruments on the PlayBook's motherboard. Should the PlayBook sell as well as RIM is hoping, TI-which recently made a $6.5 billion bid to purchase competitor National Semiconductor, a move that would make it the world's third-largest semiconductor manufacturer-would also have quite a bit to gain.

RIM is betting heavily-and investing heavily-in the PlayBook. Announcing its fiscal 2011 fourth-quarter earnings March 24, RIM's guidance for the following quarter sent its stock falling in late trading, as guidance was lower than expected, due to the push RIM is giving the PlayBook.

"We're investing in opening up a new category, bringing in a new platform. This is no time for half measures," RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie told analysts during an earnings conference call. "This is a time of enormous investment and transition."

While RIM wouldn't offer guidance on its sales expectations, the device began selling in approximately 20,000 retail outlets. ("They're not going to have like one or two devices. So I think you can kind of see it's not going to be in the tens of thousands," Adele Ebbs, RIM vice president of investor relations, commented during the call.) According to one analyst, RIM shipped at least 45,000 units at launch, which qualifies it as a success.

The iFixit team seemed to feel the same.

"The machine is well-sorted internally," Djuric concluded, "and the hardware RIM included is definitely nothing to scoff at."