Research In Motion is showing off its PlayBook tablet at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and I was able to spend a few minutes with the device last night, just as the company announced a 4G version of the tablet. Most of my time was a bit of show-and-tell with RIM representatives, but I was able to handle the tablet and was more impressed than I expected.
Here’s a short demo of the interface and PlayBook’s ability to browse the web, play Adobe Flash video and multitask while running a Quake video demo at 60 frames per second. Flash on other devices has been a hit or miss experience; after watching it perform well in the video, see my observations below on why it does so well. The answer is surprising.
Some impressions and thoughts from my brief session with the PlayBook:
- Physically, the 7-inch tablet is similar to my Samsung Galaxy Tab and uses the same 1024 x 600 resolution. Weight was close as well, but the PlayBook appears to be a few millimeters thinner.
- Although PlayBook will auto-rotate the screen when turned, the device is really geared to primarily be used in landscape mode. The front-facing video camera is only atop the device in landscape for example, and the two stereo speakers are only on the side of the Playbook in landscape; that is, they’re on the left and right. When you hold the device in portrait mode, the speakers are at the top and bottom.
- The interface, built on the QNX platform, is fluid, elegant and intuitive. It’s similar to webOS in design and function, as well as in how it multitasks.
- Since much of the PlayBook is tied to Adobe Flash and Air, I asked how RIM is getting Flash to work on mobile devices seemingly better than competitors. A dual-core processor helps, but QNX’s history may have more to do with it. Flash on QNX was previously used in automobiles for digital instrumentation, entertainment and navigation systems, and in cars, having those kinds of apps crash isn’t good. So the company invested a lot of effort to get Flash nearly bulletproof on its QNX platform, which Research In Motion purchased last year.
As nice as PlayBook looks for both consumer and enterprise users, I’m still not sold on how dependent the device will be on a BlackBerry handset. Until the 4G model on Sprint arrives this summer, a Wi-Fi PlayBook can only go mobile by tethering with a 3G BlackBerry. The core apps like mail, contacts and such won’t work in standalone mode with just the tablet, meaning you’ll essentially need a BlackBerry to use the PlayBook. I’m sure RIM hopes that PlayBook sales will drive BlackBerry sales, but given other tablet options out there that aren’t tied to any specific phone, new customers may balk; even if it runs Flash well.
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