RIM have been billing their BlackBerry PlayBook tablet as an iPad killer ever since they first revealed it way back in September 2010. With a greater focus on enterprise usage than the iPad 2, its smaller 7 inch form factor makes it a very different proposition from that of Apple’s slate offering.
With the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet hitting UK stores today, we thought it would be helpful to pit the two tablets against each other in a tech-showdown.
There can be only one slate at the top of the tablet pile; does the PlayBook have what it takes to knock the iPad off its lofty perch? With pricing and storage relatively balanced across each device, we focus here on breaking down the key tablet features to see which tablet is worthy of your cash.
Size and Design
The first and most obvious difference between the two tablets is their size. The BlackBerry PlayBook is a 7 inch device with dimensions of 193 x 130 x 10mm and a weight of 400g, while the iPad 2 is a 10.1 inch tablet with dimensions of 241 x 186 x 9mm, with the top-spec 3G model weighing a heavier 610g.
Apple have always had a strong eye for design and the iPad 2 is arguably their crowning hour – it’s incredibly sleek, looking especially “sci-fi” with its new white bezel. Whereas the iPad 2 has a physical home button on the bottom of its bezel, the BlackBerry PlayBook has no buttons on its front side, making for a very slick and smooth front face, even if the black boxy design of RIM’s unit is a little uninspired overall. The tiny power button on the PlayBook is a chore to find though.
Winner – Tie
While we prefer the look of the iPad 2, there’s much to like about the portability of the PlayBook. This one comes down to personal preference then; a larger screen that’s visually more engaging, or a smaller tablet that’s easier to carry around with you.
The second generation iPad joins the dual-core tablet fray with its inclusion of an Apple A5 1Ghz dual-core chip. Though we’ve seen games like Infinity Blade exploit the new power available with the A5 chip, the original iPad was so zippy that it’s an incremental update at best.
Likewise, the PlayBook uses a 1 GHz Cortex-A9 dual-core processor, which again results in a very slick, lag-free user experience.
Winner – Tie
Not much in this one. With both platforms relatively closed, you’re unlikely to be able to push the tablets beyond their limitations, meaning that both processors are more than sufficient for running apps and the video formats open to them.
RIM chose to adopt the relatively-niche QNX operating system for the BlackBerry PlayBook. Much like using a BlackBerry phone, QNX focusses on multi-tasking and gesture-based controls for quick navigation. It’s a clean and simple interface with lots of room for customisation as well as a smart notifications bar.
With the forthcoming iOS 5 update fixing the notification problems that Apple’s mobile devices usually inflict upon their users, iOS is now pretty much the perfect UI for a tablet device. A large, easily browsed grid system with room for App folders, what it lacks in customisation options it gains in simplicity, elegance and instinctive controls.
Winner – iPad 2
iOS is definitely the operating system of choice across any tablet right now. QNX, though far better than many had predicted, is still too fiddly for the average casual tablet fan, and lacks the pick-up-and-play ease of the iPad.
What can be said about the success of Apple’s App Store that hasn’t been said before? Hundreds of thousands of top quality apps, with thousands of iPad-exclusives from well-respected developers, plenty of free or pocket money programs, and a simple payment and download system that makes building up your app catalogue a cinch. It’s no wonder there have been well over 10,000,000,000 downloads to date. The quality of games on the App Store in particular make the iPad 2 a rival for established portable gaming brands such as Sony and Nintendo.
BlackBerry users have never had much joy when it comes to the paltry offerings the App World store sells, but the news that the PlayBook wouldn’t even support the existing mobile applications currently on offer came as a true shock. As a result, it’s a minuscule amount of apps available to PlayBook owners in comparison to iPad users. Eventual Android app support will address this somewhat, but the few native BlackBerry apps are a disappointment.
Winner – iPad 2
The winner of this bout by a country mile, it can’t be stressed enough how important strong apps are to the tablet experience, something the iPad 2 can deliver in spades.
Again, Apple make it laughably easy to get paid-for video onto your device thanks to the well stocked iTunes video store. You can both rent and buy titles, with deals of the week giving you top-notch flicks for as little as 99p. Side-loading your own video content onto the iPad 2 is a chore though – without drag and drop support, all files have to be placed in the iTunes library and synced first, while its also incredible temperamental with .avi files, the most common of all video formats.
Though it’s easier to get your own video files on the PlayBook, and it seems more happy to play back a greater variety of file types without conversion, it lacks a dedicated video store.
Once you’ve got compatible video file types on both tablets however, both play back movies without a hitch, with smooth, stutter-free playback.
Winner – Tie
Those looking to fill their tablet with brand new downloads will find the iPad 2 a sheer joy thanks to the iTunes store, but if you’ve already got a large library of video you want to watch on your tablet you’ll have far less headaches with the PlayBook.
Apple’s Safari mobile browser laid the foundation for how best to present web browsing on the go, and it’s still an incredibly slick, intuitive system to use. From pinch and tap-to-zoom controls to swiping through pages, it’s a dream to use with easily legible text and accurate page rendering. Or at least accurate to a point; Steve Jobs’ ongoing fued with Adobe over the Flash plug-in sees it notably absent in the iPad 2, and with so many websites relying on Flash content, you’re likely to often see holes and gaps in websites where some sort of Flash wizardry should be.
Though Apple may have laid the ground-work, the PlayBook’s browser is every bit a match for the iPad 2 in terms of web surfing ease, with equally intuitive gesture controls and accurate page rendering. It pips the iPad 2 to the post thanks to its excellent Flash rendering however, making the whole web truly available on the go.
Winner – PlayBook
See websites just as the site owners intended with the PlayBook. Can’t really argue with that.
A strange point to highlight you may think, but email support may be the real deciding factor for BlackBerry-owning, tablet fence sitters. While online webmail services are accessible to both the iPad 2 and PlayBook, only the iPad 2 has a native email client available offline. The PlayBook, despite its enterprise marketing and coming from a stable of excellent email clients on mobile devices, makes use of a clunky bridge system that requires a BlackBerry phone synced with the tablet to view emails offline. It’s a secure system, but far from intuitive, and a real step-backwards from RIM considering they pretty much pioneered email on the go with BlackBerry smartphones.
Winner – iPad 2
The iPad’s an obvious winner here. A forthcoming update will add native email support to the BlackBerry PlayBook, but that should have been included from the very beginning.
A far closer contest than we’d have first thought it would be, the PlayBook manages to keep up with the iPad 2 in many respects, and even bests it in the web browsing stakes. However, when it comes to operating systems, apps and emails, the iPad 2 shines through. In particular, the strength of the App Store makes Apple’s tablet a force to be reckoned with, and one that tablets from all manufacturers will struggle to beat.
By Gerald Lynch | June 15th, 2011