RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook isn’t polished, but neither was the iPad – so what gives?

Today I tested Research in Motion’s BlackBerry PlayBook at Future Shop.

Everyone’s heard the brutal reviews. And while I certainly agree that the PlayBook is not a perfectly polished device by any means, one must beg the question – which products truly are?

Consider the original iPad. It’s not that great of a tablet. It didn’t have a camera on the front or the back. The OS couldn’t multitask. It was pretty thick and rather heavy. By no means was the iPad even remotely close to the best product that Apple could have released – yet they did, and everyone praised their efforts.

The iPad 2 is an improvement, though not a tremendous one, and even still is hardly Apple’s best. Let’s face it: the iPad 2 could have easily been released 10 months ago. The company is famous for producing what are essentially unpolished products – it’s simply their marketing that is polished to a perfect shine.

So when I heard about the “half-bakedness” of RIM’s device, I thought, “so what?” For whatever reason, RIM is easier to hate on than Apple. But the PlayBook, on the whole, is a good tablet. It’s definitely better than the Samsung Galaxy Tab, absolutely better than the Motorola Xoom, and no doubt superior to the Dell Streak.

What’s great

The screen is crisp and plays HD videos and games beautifully. The cameras are excellent quality and shoot amazing pictures and videos. The multitasking feature is extremely impressive – I had eight different apps open at once and it was still running smoothly. The QNX-based operating system is RIM’s most slick and intuitive software yet. The price is highly competitive and the tablet even comes with a sleeve in the box, a rather handy bonus. The battery life, while not overwhelming, is up to standard. The touchscreen bezel is neat and an effective way to remove home and menu buttons. The processor is lightning fast, making web browsing and apps swift.

What’s not so great

The power button is ridiculously tiny and annoyingly difficult to press. There is no native email app – while you can certainly access all your email easily enough via the web, it lacks push notifications unless tethered to a BlackBerry device (note, though, that bridging is free, easy to do, and very effective once set up). Switching the screen orientation as you move your PlayBook around is a touch snappier than most tablets, but noticeably lags the iPad. The absence of a back button is, in virtually cases, okay, but sometimes you can get stuck on a page without a clear way of going back one step, and instead having to exit and redo the action.

In conclusion

Overall, the BlackBerry PlayBook is not polished, but still an excellent device. With BlackBerry bridging to be fixed very soon, and Android apps just around the corner, as well as 3G versions, there is no reason that this RIM tablet shouldn’t be a serious long-term contender. As of now, I would argue that this is the best 7-inch tablet on the market, and is apt to remain so, at least for 2011.