Last week at ABA TECHSHOW, the tech buzz around RIM's foray into the tablet field, the Blackberry Playbook, reached a near-fever pitch. "Have you seen the Playbook? You need to see the Playbook!," I was told on more than one occasion. And having had a chance to hold and see a demo of the Playbook, I wanted to take a moment here to give my thoughts on its place in the current tablet ecosystem.
It's a beautiful device - it's smaller than an iPad, with a 7" inch screen, and the display is terrific. Having been used to the 10" iPad screen, I think I prefer the larger real estate, but that may be because I have been using it for so long. Holding the device is comfortable; although it weighs about the same as my iPad2, it's more compact and easier to hold. The materials used to create it don't feel quite as solid as the iPad2, though. The cameras are much better than those on the iPad 2 - a 5 Megapixel camera in back, with a 3MP camera in front. And of course the Playbook comes equipped with Flash, so visiting websites or viewing videos that use Flash is something you can't do with an iPad. I also prefer the Playbook's multi-tasking capabilities, which allow you to scroll through your open programs in a way that's a lot more intuitive than the iPad.
Still, there are some drawbacks to the Playbook that make it hard to recommend - at this point, anyway. Probably the biggest issue for me is the lack of an integrated email/calendar/contacts functionality. In order to read your email or access your calendar/contacts on the Playbook, you need to own a Blackberry, and connect via a Bluetooth program called the Blackberry Bridge. Once the connection is made, you can read and reply to email, view your calendar or contacts - but once the connection is broken, all of that data disappears from the Playbook. This is great from a security perspective, but it seriously hampers the functionality of the device, and it's all but useful if you happen to be an iPhone or Android phone user (unless, of course, you use web-based email that can be accessed via a web browser).
The other main reason I hesitate in endorsing the Playbook is its lack of apps, especially those for lawyers. When I saw the Playbook demo at ABA, a lawyer asked, "what are some of the ways that I can be productive as a lawyer on the Playbook?" Instead of answer, the person giving the demo said, "look at this great game!" And with reason - at launch, the Blackberry comes with 3,000 apps designed for tablets. This is nothing to sneeze at, until you consider the iPad has 65,000 tablet-based apps, and can run all 350,000 of the iPhone's apps - the Playbook can't run any of the Blackberry's 27,000 apps. As my friends at TECHSHOW said: the tablet is almost entirely about the apps. RIM has a ways to go before it can catch up with some solid productivity apps lawyers can use.
There were lots (and LOTS) of reviews on the Playbook that came out yesterday - check them out and decide for yourself whether a Playbook is for you: