BlackBerry & me: Hands on with the PlayBook

Henry Osadzinski gets to grips with the BlackBerry's rival to the Apple iPad.

I have something of a complicated relationship with RIM. While I actively enjoy using a BlackBerry for dealing with work emails and checking in wherever I am, I still wouldn’t ever choose to use one as a purely personal device. Nevertheless, for me, it fulfils a useful role and does it well.

However, it’s this respectful understanding of the “right tool for the right job” approach that left me baffled when trying to find an appropriate and satisfying use for the business mobile giant’s only current tablet offering, the BlackBerry PlayBook.

On the surface, the device makes sense. Android, iOS and Windows all have their own slates so why not appeal to existing users of what is still one of the biggest “professional” smartphone entities on the market. The problem, it seems, is that RIM forgot that when developing the thing.

Launching as a direct competitor to the iPad was likely the first mistake. Previously, if I wanted a music player, internet browser, camera or gaming device, I didn’t immediately look to a BlackBerry. Surely a device designed to appeal to the business user in search of additional screen real-estate, storage and productivity apps was the best primary target market? This whole approach was spoiled by the still incomprehensible fact that RIM decided to ship the PlayBook with no native email, contacts or calendar apps, effectively crippling the tablet’s usefulness before it even hit the shelves.

Nearly a year since its original release, the latest update to OS 2.0 has finally brought these features on board. Originally, we had planned to review these features in full but, after a week of using the PlayBook both tethered to a handset and as a standalone device, the resulting impression is simply this: competent but too little, too late.

At a point in the normal tech lifecycle when other developers would be teasing the next iteration, the PlayBook has only just become a fully functional device. With its hardware starting to show its age and some competitors looking at their second or third revision since RIM's original launch, it’s hard to say that the PlayBook is even playing catchup. It’s by no means poorly designed or, now that the update is complete, incomplete, it’s just showing its age to the point where even the hefty price cuts can’t put it in more users’ hands.

Although there aren’t even any murmurings of the tablet’s successor, RIM still have plenty of fight left in them and, hopefully, the PlayBook will be regarded later as a mistake from which many important lessons can be learned.

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