CES: BlackBerry PlayBook (hands-on)

CNET's Donald Bell gets a hands-on demonstration of the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet from RIM and offers his first impressions.

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LAS VEGAS-- I've been waiting patiently to try out the BlackBerry PlayBook ever since I first glimpsed it under glass at last year's September DevCon announcement . Since then, RIM has published a handful of videos showcasing the tablet's capabilities, testing browser speeds against the iPad, and more or less doing my job for me.

Needless to say, when I finally got my hands on the BlackBerry PlayBook at CES 2011, I arrived well-versed in its story and capabilities. Aside from the mild thrill of holding a product that has taken on a mythic aura, the only real questions left for me to ask were, "When?" and "How much?"

According to Research In Motion, customers should see the PlayBook hit shelves in the first quarter of 2011--which is a reassuring deadline. As far as pricing goes, we should see 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB models available that are "priced competitively". I take that to mean, "priced like the iPad", considering that Samsung has been hacking the price on their Galaxy Tab seemingly week by week.

Now, does a 7-inch tablet deserve to be priced in the same ballpark as a 10-inch iPad? In this case, I think the answer is yes. The PlayBook packs a lot of punch in its small package, boasting power, speed, and precision unlike any Android tablet that's come across my desk. It's a serious machine.

That said, I still feel like RIM is missing an opportunity. Aside from HP, it's the only horse in the race that has the advantage of building its own OS from the ground up, instead of relying on the whims of Google or kludging something out of Linux. Clearly, Apple has shown that the 10-inch size resonates with consumers, so why not hit the ground running with something that competes directly? My impression is that it felt a little insignificant at that 7-inch size--which is a shame, because it is not an insignificant product.

I'll need more time, of course, to really give the PlayBook a fair shake. In the meantime, take a look at my hands-on video and photo gallery .

Update: RIM announces that a 4G version of the PlayBook will be due out this summer on Sprint .

 

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