Just as we were packing up to leave CES for the day, Crave was lucky enough to spot a BlackBerry PlayBook available for a quick hands-on. Previously seen only behind protective glass, needless to say we were excited to finally hold a gadget we've been anticipating for ages. Click through the photos above to check out our rather tasty snaps.

The PlayBook is RIM's upcoming rival to tablets such as the iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab. It has a 7-inch touchscreen, and rather than running Google's Android operating system like most new tablets we're seeing, it has its very own OS, built from the ground up.

It basically works by using the touchscreen to swipe left and right between different applications, and swiping up or down at the top or bottom of the screen to access other apps that are running, or open new ones.

This means you can use the PlayBook without ever pushing a button, and indeed there's no big 'home' button like you'd find on the iPad, or the home and back keys you typically find on Android devices. We weren't sure how this would work, and we still want to spend more time with the PlayBook before making any comments about usability, but in our brief test it felt really smooth and intuitive to use.

Overall performance seemed very slick indeed, with a marked lack of juddering and slowdown. We'd wager that's something to do with the 1GHz dual-core processor running the show. Holding the PlayBook it felt a lot like the Galaxy Tab, which also has a 7-inch touchscreen.

It felt sturdy and robust, but not too heavy. It's slim too, and we reckon it'll fit in a pocket, or certainly a satchel or handbag without too much complaint. There's a mini-HDMI port to output video to your TV, and both rear- and front-facing cameras (5 and 3 megapixels respectively).

With Wi-Fi and Flash support too, the PlayBook is looking mighty promising. Our trusty American cousins at CNET.com have been informed that the PlayBook will come in 16, 32 and 64GB versions, will be released in the first quarter of 2011 and will be priced "competitively", which CNET.com takes (and we agree) to mean that it'll cost about the same as the iPad.

The PlayBook has a fight on its hands if it wants to dominate in the tablet arena, but from what we've seen it's a genuine contender, and could well be the fast, capable, portable tablet for you. We've no doubt we'll be seeing a lot more of the PlayBook before CES draws to a close, so stay tuned.

What do you think of the design? Does the PlayBook look how you expected it to, and do you think you'll be buying one? 

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