Eyes-On With the Blackberry Playbook: Rough, But Impressive

Earlier today, I was lucky enough to catch a too-brief glimpse of RIM’s 7″ Playbook tablet when David Neale, VP for Special Projects quickly demoed the device at an event in Toronto.

Though the time that we got to see the device was limited, what is clear is that, though the tablet is definitely in a rough, unfinished shape, it is shaping up to be quite impressive.

Here’s what we saw and learned:

  • The interface hasn’t changed from what we’ve seen before. Neale showed that you can work ‘in the window’ i.e. swiping left and right to move between screens; and ‘in the frame of the window’ i.e swiping up from the bottom to bring up the home screen while in an app, or swiping down from the top to get you to settings etc.
  • It looks slightly thinner than the Samsung Galaxy Tab.
  • Neale offhandedly said that the device will be “around $500″, confirming what CEO Jim Basile has already said.
  • It’s powerful. We saw the device playing a 1080p video and then multitasking while the clip continued to play in the background.
  • That said, Neale said the new QNIX OS has yet to hit the optimization stage. For example, right now the browser is lifted from the Torch and is only running on one of the Playbook’s two cores.
  • Perhaps because of this, the interface looked choppy. App response was fast, but animations still stuttered. It was unclear whether this was going to be fixed, but we imagine it will.
  • Nonetheless, Neale said RIM will still hit it’s target of launching in Q1, and Canadian carrier Rogers confirmed it would be carrying the tablet.
  • When asked whether we might see different form factors, Neale offered a classic, abstract non-denial by simply saying “yes it could theoretically happen”. There was definitely something unsaid about this response that indicated it was a possibility.
  • In clear reference to Steve Jobs’ comment that 7″ was a bad size for tablets, Neale responded by saying that the key benefits of 7″ are weight, the resemblance to the size of a paperback and what he called ‘feel’.
  • In response to a question about apps, Neale suggested that while RIM has historically focused on enterprise apps, the Playbook will change that.
  • Neale suggested that the Playbook was “professional grade” i.e. good for both consumers and enterprise applications.

That was it. Overall, it looks impressive. Whether or not it can compete with the iPad or upcoming Android tablets remains to be seen, but it is clear that RIM have thought long and hard about this and are taking the tablet category very seriously.

Written by Navneet Alang

Navneet Alang is a technology-culture writer based in Toronto. You can find him on Twitter at @navalang
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