RIM PlayBook Reviews: Needs Apps, Native E-Mail, Updates

RIM's PlayBook is a solid piece of hardware that needs more apps, native features such as e-mail and calendar, and some software polishing, according to the first reviews.

Early reviews of Research In Motion's PlayBook tablet are hitting the Web, and they're decidedly mixed.

The New York Times' David Pogue suggested that RIM's 7-inch device does some things particularly well, such as television or projector output (via a special HDMI, or High-Definition Multimedia Interface, cable) and the BlackBerry Bridge feature that wirelessly tethers your BlackBerry to the tablet. But he also suggested the PlayBook's lack of native email, calendar and address-book applications could be a potential deal-killer, at least until RIM starts offering them at some point over the summer.

"The PlayBook, then, is convenient, fast and coherently designed," he wrote. "But in its current half-baked form, it seems almost silly to try to assess it, let alone buy it."

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg, in his own April 14 review, wrote that, while the PlayBook's QNX-based proprietary operating system is "handsome and quick," it was hobbled somewhat by the need to tether the device to a BlackBerry for email and other applications.

"RIM says it is planning to add built-in cellular data, email, contacts, calendar and the other missing core features to the PlayBook this summer, via software updates," he wrote. "But until then, I can't recommend the PlayBook over a fully standalone tablet, except possibly for folks whose BlackBerries never leave their sides."

Bloomberg's Rich Jaroslovsky positioned the PlayBook as more of a competitor to Samsung's Galaxy Tab and the Dell Streak 7-both 7-inch tablets-than Apple's iPad. He pronounced the display "beautiful" and the software "strong on multitasking," but, like the other reviewers, thought RIM's offering felt unfinished: "A number of critical features and applications, while promised, aren't yet available."

Overall, though, his review was positive. "It's impossible to say whether RIM's bet-the-company strategy will pay off," he wrote. "Still, who would have thought that the maker of some of the world's least exciting smartphones would have produced a product this slick? The PlayBook makes BlackBerry relevant again."

The PlayBook will hit store shelves April 19 in the United States and Canada, with a starting price of $499 for the 16GB model, $599 for the 32GB model, and $699 for the 64GB model. That pricing scheme places the device toe-to-toe against Apple's iPad 2, whose WiFi-only 16GB, 32GB and 64GB models are priced the same.

With its dual-core processor and features such as multitasking, the PlayBook is targeted not only at consumers, but also BlackBerry's traditional business audience. During a handful of meetings with eWEEK throughout the winter, RIM executives suggested they were still tweaking the tablet's software for better battery life, while insisting it would eventually provide a "full day's work" on a single charge.

Early reviews of the PlayBook's battery life took radically different positions. While Bloomberg's Jaroslovsky thought the tablet's advertised eight to 10 hours of power "seems about right based on my experience," Mossberg came down much harder.

"With the screen brightness at about 75 percent and WiFi on, I played a movie I had transferred from a computer over and over until the juice ran out," he wrote. "The PlayBook lasted a bit over five hours, well short of the company's claim of eight to 10 hours for mixed use." A second test, with the WiFi off, apparently provided six hours of battery life, "well short of the 10 hours on the iPad 2."