Where RIM has had the opportunity to really work on its apps, the power of the PlayBook is shown in its full glory. The picture viewer for instance is a beautifully simple but elegant affair that makes it effortless and joyful to browse your snaps. Likewise the video player, which only lacks mkv support, does a great job of presenting your clips in an easy-to-navigate manner, and as noted playback is excellent.
Other highlights include the Documents To Go apps, Word To Go, Sheet To Go and Slideshow To Go which are all powerful yet easy to use. The Clock, the Calculator and Music player also feel effortless to get to grips with.
Something that helps the document writing experience is the on-screen keyboard. The layout is excellent, with essential punctuation keys available on the initial letters screen, and a good selection of other special characters available at a touch of the '123sym' button. Having the numbers arranged phone fashion, rather than along the top row, is a bit bizarre but you soon get the hang of it. The best thing is that with the device in portrait you can easily reach the full set of keys without having to shift your grip, letting you type at a decent pace.
If you want to use a normal keyboard and mouse, standard Bluetooth peripherals are supported, and as noted there are a number of docks available for holding the device upright when you want to go hands-free.
Hooking the device up to a TV is a cinch and RIM has cleverly made it simple to select whether an app is shown fullscreen on the TV or if the PlayBook should simply be mirrored. So if you want to watch a video on your telly while browsing the web on your tablet, you can do so, assuming you have a long enough HDMI cable.
Connecting the device to a computer is also a breeze. You need to install the BlackBerry sync software but it's fairly unobtrusive and if you just want to drag and drop some pics and tunes onto the device you can do. You can also sync using a number of media management programs like Windows Media Player.
When it comes to battery life, we found it varied quite considerably. Performance is at its best when you turn down the multitasking options, which for general use is perfectly practical. Overall we weren't blown away, though, particularly as it seemed to take quite some time to charge. Out average time was about 7 hours.
Even without a microSD slot this 16GB unit is competitively priced in hardware terms, but clearly performance and usability let the side down. Were we looking at a 32GB device for this price, the sheer amount of tech would be compelling enough to make it tempting – after all, updates to fix all the major issues are definitely on the way. As it stands, though, the more desirable higher capacity models are too expensive and the overall experience is just too limiting.
The BlackBerry PlayBook is a superb piece of hardware with a great screen, powerful speakers, smart design, and feature packed innards. And were the software up to scratch it could easily be one of our top choice tablets.
However, even though we know updates are imminent, as it stands this tablet lacks app support, is too unstable, has variable performance, and is too reliant on being paired to a BlackBerry phone. Check back in a couple of months, though, and we could well have a winner on our hands.