Editors' note: Thanks to the release of recent, high-quality tablets, the overall score of the Playbook has been adjusted down from 7.3 to 6.
Editors' note: An updated version of the BlackBerry PlayBook OS (PlayBook OS 2.0) is now available as a free over-the-air update. The new software includes native e-mail, calendar, contacts, and broader app support. We updated this review on February 29, 2012, to reflect these changes.
If you thought the tablet wars were just between Apple and Google, think again. Research In Motion may be late to the fight, but it is fighting for its life, and the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet demonstrates that the company means business.
Like the Apple iPad, the PlayBook's suggested retail price starts at $499 (16GB), going up to $599 (32GB) and $699 (64GB) if you need the extra capacity. In 2012, we've seen sale pricing for the PlayBook dip as low as $199 for the 16GB model.
Is it an iPad killer? For existing corporate and consumer BlackBerry devotees, the answer is certainly yes. For the rest of you, probably not. With its unapologetically small 7-inch screen, we're not even sure RIM intends it to compete directly with the iPad. More importantly, the PlayBook and its souped-up operating system point the way forward for RIM and the future of the BlackBerry brand.
The BlackBerry PlayBook is probably the smallest high-profile tablet to come out in 2011. Measuring 5 inches tall, 7.5 inches wide, and a slim 0.4 inch thick, the PlayBook's design has more in common with the Galaxy Tab of 2010 than the 10-inch tablets making headlines this year. To RIM's credit, the PlayBook is the most powerful 7-inch tablet we've tested, and the lightweight design comes in under a pound.
One of the first things you'll notice about the PlayBook is the complete lack of buttons on the front. Like the Motorola Xoom, all of the PlayBook's navigation is handled using onscreen controls. A 0.7-inch bezel frames the 1,024x600-pixel-resolution screen, which is bordered by a pair of slender stereo speaker grilles. Above the screen you'll see a 3-megapixel camera staring back at you, along with an ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts screen brightness. Flip the tablet over and you'll find another camera, this one a 5-megapixel job that can capture video at 1080p quality.
It's not all gravy, though. The top edge of the PlayBook is a case study in bad design. The problem is the power/wake button, which is so small and recessed that you'll need to whittle down your fingertip to use it. When placed within the extra layer of a case, the power button was almost impossible to press. It's a problem, and one you'll encounter every day since the button is the only means to wake the screen from sleep. The nimble fingered among us may be able to look past it, but for many it will be a deal breaker that ranks up there with BlackBerry thumb. Dedicated buttons for volume and play/pause are also located on the top, but their only real crime is redundancy.
The bottom of the PlayBook fares better and includes contacts for an optional charging dock ($69), Micro-USB (charging/sync), and Micro-HDMI. An HDMI cable isn't included, but we suggest buying one since the PlayBook's ability to crank out 1080p resolution video and mirror its OS onto your TV is one of its coolest features.
BlackBerry tablet OS
The single most important feature of the PlayBook is its operating system. RIM has candidly declared that the PlayBook's OS is more than just a new tablet platform, but the future for BlackBerry devices in general. In building the software from the ground up, RIM's goal was to create an OS that is a powerful, professionally oriented alternative to Android and iOS. We think RIM nailed it.
Aside from being buttery smooth and a multitasking dynamo, the PlayBook's OS is a dramatic change from the cramped, trackball-focused OS RIM built its name on. It bears more than a passing resemblance to Palm's resurrected WebOS, but arguably surpasses it in its quest for laptoplike performance.
There is a learning curve to finding your way around the PlayBook. Unlike iOS or Android, there's no home button to act as an anchor for the experience. Instead, there's a basic vocabulary of gestures you'll need to learn, such as swiping upward from beneath the screen to access apps, swiping down from the top bezel to access menus, or swiping from either the left or right bezel to bounce between open applications. It's a bit of a secret handshake to get it all down, but once you do, you can move swiftly, and the speed with which you can jump between running apps is noticeably faster than anything else out there. It's a dream tablet for anyone with attention deficit disorder. Like switching between applications on your computer, the PlayBook keeps your open apps running in parallel at full throttle and takes no time jumping right in.
Another aspect of the PlayBook's OS that has us smiling is the onscreen keyboard. The virtual keys are well-spaced and responsive. The overall tablet dimension and bezel size make it easy to reach your fingers across the screen. And in a design twist we think is pretty smart, RIM groups its numeric keyboard all on the left side, making number entry a little more natural (especially for fans of BlackBerry's tactile smartphone keyboard).
New for PlayBook OS 2.0
When the BlackBerry PlayBook first made the scene in 2011, it arrived without any standalone apps for e-mail, contacts, or calendar. RIM's PlayBook OS 2.0 update (a free update made available in February 2012) addresses this oversight. While baked-in support for e-mail, contacts, and calendars isn't terribly exciting stuff, this useful update underscores RIM's commitment to improving its product.
The PlayBook's new e-mail app gives you a unified inbox for all of your accounts, including social networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter. In spite of the PlayBook's relatively small 7-inch screen, RIM has made it possible to juggle between inbox views and e-mails using a collapsible multipanel interface.
When it comes to e-mail composition, RIM includes a rich text editor that allows you to change fonts, create lists, bold, underline, and color--just as you'd expect from a desktop e-mail application. The included keyboard has been improved, too, though to notice these improvements is also to remember they weren't there to begin with. Features such as autocorrect, predictive text, and keyboard shortcuts have all been thrown in.
The PlayBook's Calendar app works just as you'd expect. You can create appointments directly or subscribe to any online calendars you may already have. As shown in the above video, one interesting design trick RIM employed is to increase or minimize the calendar date depending on the number of events scheduled on it. This way, you can glance at your calendar and immediately spot the busiest days.
RIM's new Contacts app for BlackBerry PlayBook has a few tricks up its sleeve. Its first trick is the capability to sync profile information from your connected LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. Its second trick is its integration with the Calendar app. Rescheduling an appointment on your calendar will trigger an automatic notification to the contacts you have associated with the event.
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Overall, the features provided by PlayBook OS 2.0 are a welcome update for any BlackBerry PlayBook user. For RIM's loyal base of business users, the e-mail and contact integration with LinkedIn is an attractive proposition. A few other enhancements, such as the ability to organize apps into folders, video chat with other PlayBook owners, and an application dock at the bottom of the home screen, refine an already great tablet experience.
By Mike Wuerthele
Monday, June 04, 2018, 04:10 pm PT (07:10 pm ET)
The first betas for iOS 12 and macOS Mojave 10.14 came out recently, and it's time for your annual reminder to not install it on your main hardware. Just don't do it.
Maybe you've heard this before. Every year since Apple started wide beta testing, AppleInsider is deluged with emails from users who installed a new beta on their iPhone or Mac and it is now crash city.
To a person, they all ask how to downgrade, and why did Apple ship such a buggy piece of.. software.
Every year, we give the same answer. These early updates are very much for developers only, and websites like AppleInsider to take the risks to tell you about it. We've already had a couple of devices that we've had to recover after an installation went bad, and in each case, we had to completely format the drive, and start again.
It's been only less than a day. Look around —there are trouble reports everywhere, and you know what? That's fine, because it's a first beta of an operating system that won't ship until September at the earliest.
What betas are not intended for, is for you to try install and try to modify that massive Photoshop file for that difficult client that was expecting it yesterday. It is not intended for the iPhone that the school uses to call you, if there's a health problem with your kids.
Why this point is lost, isn't clear to me. What we're seeing again is user beta installation without the awareness that the software is unstable and crash-prone. Unsurprisingly, iPhones and Macs that barely work can be the result.
Crashes and instability this early should be expected. This is what beta releases are for, to find the sources and exterminate them ruthlessly. A public beta will launch later this month, and perhaps that version will be less buggy, but you should still wait unless you've got spare gear.
All hope is not (quite) lost
You've got time to revert if you're on iOS. You can visit ipsw.me and find your model number to download the appropriate install file. Then you'll need to disable Find My iPhone, put your device into DFU mode, and queue up iTunes on your Mac or PC to select 'Restore and Update,' installing the latest publicly available version of iOS.
Things are slightly better on the Mac for crisis recovery. There, you could install the new macOS version on a partition or external drive, and keep your regular macOS install (relatively) safe.
Seriously, though. Please, don't do it on your main gear. If you do, you'll be sorry, sooner or later. And if you do, I hope you've got good backups, and time on your hands for disaster recovery.
And, when those problems develop, they are on you, not on Apple.