The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet has been a known entity for several months now, but we’ve only just had a chance to see it up close in operation for the very first time, and we have to say, we’re a little bit shocked. Forget what you know about RIM and its reputation for innovation – or lack thereof – as the QNX powered slate looks nothing short of sensational.
At the Digital Experience press event in Las Vegas this evening, we were walked through some of the features of the BlackBerry PlayBook by a RIM product manager, and we like what we see so far. The hardware is strikingly different from all the other tablets we’ve seen this week: it’s edge to edge gloss and all angles, without a curve in sight. The screen itself is pleasant too, and though we weren’t able to prod it ourselves, evidently very responsive.
But the real treat with the BlackBerry PlayBook is the software. The brand new QNX OS is a revelation: while there are hints of the old RIM design ethos in the fonts and pop up context menus, BlackBerry Storm style, it’s almost all brand new, and even in beta, blindingly fast. Seriously: we’ve not seen any touchscreen software as buttery smooth as this, period. Coming from RIM and its whirring clocks of death on the ageing BlackBerry OS, it’s something of a surprise.
Our favourite twist however is with navigation: there are no physical navigation buttons on the BlackBerry Playbook. To get around, you swipe in from the bezel, which is actually touch sensitive, as you would on the plastic below the screen of a Palm webOS phone to bring up icons. We saw this in action, and it was incredibly fluid and intuitive.
If there’s one concern we have, it’s that the BlackBerry PlayBook’s screen almost seems too small. Although supposedly 7-inches, it seems barely bigger than that of a large smartphone, and makes us wonder if RIM could have added an extra inch or two in. But hey, right now we can’t fault the software. We imagine it’ll be great for acting as an ebook reader too. The only thing that can stop this fella is the iPad 2.
We’re promised a more extensive hands on session with the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet tomorrow when the CES expo doors open, so stay tuned, and if you’re eager to know anything in particular, drop us a line in the comments and we’ll ask.