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Posted at 11:44 AM ET, 01/ 7/2011

A peek at RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook

By Rob Pegoraro

LAS VEGAS--Research In Motion may have a contender in its upcoming PlayBook tablet.

The BlackBerry vendor introduced this iPad competitor in September but provided few useful details at the time. Now it's showing off prototype devices here that make it a little easier to judge the PlayBook's prospects.

blackberry_playbook_ces.jpg

I got a chance to inspect a PlayBook briefly at a Sprint reception last night (while this tablet will ship in a WiFi-only form in the first quarter, Sprint will sell a version for its 4G WiMax network this summer). RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis described the PlayBook as "a professional-grade tablet"--and avoided jinxing the product by not calling it an "iPad killer"--but most of the demonstration I saw focused on consumer-friendly features.

The most important app on the PlayBook is its Web browser, based on the same WebKit open-source framework as the browsers on the iPhone, Android and HP's webOS (as well as Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome). It appeared fast and responsive, with none of the redrawing delays I've seen in RIM's BlackBerry 6 software.

As you can see in the photo above, the PlayBook feature's Adobe's Flash plug-in, allowing it to display the full content of a certain District-based newspaper's home page.

The most impressive part of the PlayBook demo was how its operating system, based on QNX's software instead of RIM's traditional BlackBerry OS, handles multitasking. A RIM rep launched a version of the game Quake III and began playing it, then started playing a high-definition video--then brought up the PlayBook's app-switching interface to position parts of the two windows side by side. Both continued without any hesitation.

If you own a Palm Pre or Pixi, you should have no trouble figuring out multitasking on the PlayBook. Like on those webOS devices, the right gesture on the screen brings up thumbnail views of each open application, lined up across the screen like a deck of cards that you can flip through.

If you own a Palm Pre or Pixi, you may also know the risks of buying into a promising mobile platform that then gets a chilly reception in the market and half-hearted support from application developers. RIM could still screw up the PlayBook's launch any number of ways, not least by charging too much. But I can at least say that this tablet won't be yet another iteration of the same old BlackBerry.

Now if only RIM can give its phones a similar reinvention... but that may have to wait for another CES.

By Rob Pegoraro  | January 7, 2011; 11:44 AM ET
Categories:  CES 2011, Tablets  
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