The BlackBerry PlayBook had a rocky launch last week but the new media tablet has garnered fairly favorable reviews as a device. Unfortunately for RIM, that's not nearly the whole story when it comes to competing with the 800-lb. gorilla of the market (the combined weight of the number of iPad 2 tablets that Apple shipped in the time it took you to read this paragraph).
The iPad owes its dominance of the emerging media tablet market as much to Apple's outsized library of content and apps as it does to its popularity as a mobile platform for viewing and running same. Reviewers of the PlayBook repeated that mantra early and often while critiquing RIM's new tablet for price, performance and readiness to take on the iPad, Motorola Xoom and other devices currently on the market.
PCMag.com's Wendy Sheehan Donnell, for one, is delighted that there is finally some legitimate competition for the iPad in the form of the Xoom and now the PlayBook. Rather than simply engaging in speculation, she notes, reviewers have now "spent quality time comparing elements in Apple's iOS with Google's Honeycomb and RIM's Tablet OS."
Unfortunately for the latter two, Apple still rules the roost. The iPad 2 remains the "clear standout in the ever-widening sea of tablets," according to PCMag.com. Apple's second-generation media tablet gets four-and-a-half stars out of five, while the Xoom trails with three-and-a-half stars and the PlayBook sits at two-and-a-half.
The Xoom may be "the best Android tablet yet," but mediocre apps and missing features drive its rating down. The PlayBook has a higher hill to climb, but Sheehan Donnell is banking on RIM "push[ing] out the updates to make the BlackBerry PlayBook a better tablet for e-mail, video chat and productivity" - at which point PCMag.com will "revisit this rating."
Here's a quick look at what some others are saying about the new media tablet:
"I wanted to like the BlackBerry PlayBook," writes the Boston Herald's Jessica Van Sack, "[ b]ut it's not there yet." Thus, with regard to media tablets, it "continues to primarily remain an iPad market." In comparing the PlayBook to both the iPad 2 and Xoom, Van Sack does give RIM's tablet wins for its portability, camera, Web browsing and media viewing, put takes away points for lackluster e-mail and apps.
"There is lots to like right now," notes Barron's Jay Palmer, citing the PlayBook's touchscreen swipe controls - they "work brilliantly and intuitively." Palmer also likes the new tablet's Web browser, the fact it runs Adobe Flash (unlike the iPad) and the large screen, which he calls "bright, clear, responsive and big enough for watching a movie or playing an action game." But with few available apps, Palmer is holding out for an improved second-generation PlayBook.
In a bit of a back-handed compliment, ZDNet's Jason Hiner says that "[o]ne of the best things that the BlackBerry PlayBook has going for it is low expectations." He does go on to cite "four pleasant surprises" discovered in the new tablet, including a "superior" word processor, "excellent" performance and responsiveness, a "simple and self-evident" UI and Web browsing that "rocks."
Citing "Tablet Fatigue," The New York Times' David Pogue says that he's not eager to review every new media tablet that comes down the pike. So it says something about the PlayBook that Pogue feels it worthy of a look - and discovers a tablet that "looks and feels great" but depends on software "crawling with borrowed ideas." Two PlayBook features he likes: wireless file transfers and the BlackBerry Bridge Bluetooth connection to a BlackBerry smartphone.
The experience of watching HD video on the PlayBook's "bright, crisp display" is "gorgeous," writes Dan Frommer of Business Insider. But he echoes many reviewers' gripes in wondering what's the point when so little of such content is available for the tablet. "The only realistic way to download and put HD movies on the device right now is piracy," Frommer writes.