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Unfortunately, the PlayBook was locked up behind glass, so there was no chance to actually touch it to get real hands-on impressions. Even so, I took a good look at the PlayBook and offer a few humble thoughts based on what I was able to see.
The Playbook is small and thin. RIM did a good job with the design. Because it has a 7-inch, 16:9 aspect ratio display, it is more rectangular than square. It looks sharp and professional -- definitely more business-oriented than the recently announced Samsung Galaxy Tab, which has a decidedly more consumer feel to it.
There are a few controls placed around the outer edge of the PlayBook. Along the bottom are all the ports, including microUSB and microHDMI. RIM wisely placed them right in the middle, which will help the PlayBook work well with docks and other accessories. I can already see the accessory makers' eyes glistening with opportunity.
The top hosts the 3.5mm headset jack and dedicated media controls. I didn't see a volume toggle or any sort of Home button. These are tools used by both Apple and Samsung on their respective tablet devices.
As a first for RIM, the PlayBook does not have a removable battery. All the BlackBerries made to-date have removable battery. RIM didn't share any information about battery life, but given RIM's track record, it is sure to be solid. Still, some may decry the lack of a replaceable battery.
The 7-inch display, which packs 1024 x 600 pixels, looks really nice. Even under the glass, it was bright, crisp, and sharp. The room where RIM showed the PlayBook was brightly lit, with plenty of sunlight streaming in. To make it worse, the PlayBook was hidden behind glass. What I am trying to get at here is that display worked really, really well even with all these obstacles in its way.
It is rimmed by a large frame similar to the iPad's. This will make it easy to hold without necessarily gumming up the screen. I hated the large border on the iPad when I first saw it, but after using an iPad, it totally makes sense.
RIM says the device is 9.7mm thick. It looks very thin and light. It is very close to the Samsung Galaxy Tab in terms of overall shape and size, making it easy to carry around, but not phone-easy. It's still too big for casually bringing it anywhere without a backpack, man-bag, satchel or purse.
It was somewhat difficult to get an idea of how the operating system is going to work, because everything flew by so fast. It appears to be card-based, somewhat similar to what Palm has done with webOS. Everything looked fluid, with no slow downs and hesistations.
The version of the device that ships first will NOT have a 3G cellular radio inside. Why is that? It's because the QNX software does include the software necessary to interface with a cellular radio. RIM is still working on that part. That's why the 3G/4G versions of the PlayBook aren't shipping until the second quarter of 2011. Until then, users will have to rely on Wi-Fi for connectivity most of the time.
RIM said 3G/4G versions are in the works, but didn't elaborate about what sort of radios will be in those products. Will RIM make CDMA, GSM/UMTS, WiMax, or LTE variants? Will it make variants for all of those networks? RIM didn't say.
The tablet space is quickly becoming more crowded, with entrants from Apple, Samsung, RIM and soon others to be lining store shelves. With so many of them based on phone operating systems, it will be interesting to watch how tablets and phones evolve over time, and how (or if) their roles change.