Thanks to RIM I have had the opportunity to test a Playbook (and it’s pre-release software) for the last several days which has afforded me enough experience to come to some early conclusions.

 

In short, the Playbook feels like a thoughtfully created device and there is a lot to like.

1. Innovative user interface. Gone are front facing buttons replaced instead with swiping on the bezel to bring up different menus, screens, etc. It truly feels like an innovation in a space that after just one year already feels a bit stale.

2. True multi-tasking. This has been often touted by RIM and it really is a game changer. And while I may not need to have a video running in the background while playing a game the fact that I can have multiple tasks running at once makes me feel like the Playbook is more of a productivity tool than competitor’s devices.

3. Speedy. The Playbook is fast, responsive and handles web browsing with aplomb. It also plays spectacular 1080p video.

But there are also a few areas for improvement.

1. Lack of apps. RIM should have focused on having 10 to 20 key apps available at launch that are amongst the most popular; Facebook, Twitter, Skype, OpenTable, Yelp, Angry Birds, Kindle (Kobo does come pre-loaded but it’s not nearly as popular), Ebay and a handful of others – including e-mail (see point 2). And let’s not forget BlackBerry Messenger – RIM’s own offering which seems to be missing. It’s not necessarily about how many apps you have but the quality and utility of those apps.

2. No e-mail client. I understand the logic behind RIM’s decision to only allow e-mail via tethering from a BlackBerry - if the Playbook was exclusively an enterprise play. But it’s not. This decision inherently limits the market to BlackBerry users who keep their handset with them at all times. RIM has said they will release an e-mail client within 60 days but if I did not have a BlackBerry I would probably hold off on purchase until it is released.

3. It’s small. Maybe too small. Even using all of the 10” of the iPad screen makes creating content difficult – albeit possible. But the seven inch screen – while great for thumb typing - simply isn’t big enough to write a report. It’s great for e-mail and messaging though and I think I would bring it with me more places than my iPad 2 because it’s small. So there is a give and take. However, RIM should consider various sizes. The use-case for tablets isn’t quite “set”, but if they become primarily home devices, larger screens may be more desirable.

After reading the early reviews of the Playbook I tempered my expectations so it was nice to be positively surprised by the device upon using it. And the issues it faces today are ones that RIM is already addressing. E-mail is coming. More apps are coming. Blackberry Messenger must be arriving soon.

If QNX is in fact the future of BlackBerry it portends very good things for the platform. The Playbook is nice to use, fast, responsive, and the multi-tasking makes me long for the feature when using my iPad.

Overall, the Playbook has a lot of potential and will answer a vexing market question – does the 7” form factor offer enough differentiation from a smartphone while enough differentiation from a larger tablet to have a role in the market. Or does it just become the smartphone for people with oversized pockets?