RIM Blackberry Playbook Priced and Dated; Questions Remain

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Research in Motion’s Blackberry Playbook will start at $499 when it launches on April 19, but we’re still missing a few details on the 7-inch tablet.

The Playbook is RIM’s first shot at the tablet market. It has similar processing power to Apple’s iPad 2, but comes in a size that’s more like Amazon’s Kindle, trading a larger screen for the ability to hold the tablet comfortably in one hand. The $499 model includes 16 GB of storage, and like the iPad, there’s a 32 GB version for $599 and a 64 GB version for $699. They’re all up for pre-order now at Best Buy.

But those are just Wi-Fi models. A spec page on RIM’s website says the company will offer Playbooks that run on a variety of 4G networks, but for now, the company is keeping silent about when it’ll launch these configurations, or how much they’ll cost. Oddly enough, AT&T and Verizon Wireless are listed as retailers for the Wi-Fi Playbook; perhaps they’ll bundle mobile hotspot service with the tablet, as Verizon did with the original iPad.

Battery life is also an open question. RIM has denied that the Playbook’s battery won’t measure up to that of Apple’s iPad, but the latest announcement lacks hard numbers.

As for software, the Playbook runs a new operating system, totally separate from Blackberry smartphones, but it can sync with RIM’s phones for e-mail, contacts, calendars and Blackberry Messenger. Navigation is based primarily on finger swipes — for instance, swiping upwards brings you to an app tray and a row of all open programs — and multitasking is more like a proper computer than any other tablet, with apps continuing to run as you switch between them.

Still, the app situation on the Playbook is still a bit of a mystery. The tablet will come pre-loaded with Need for Speed Underground and Tetris, thanks to a partnership with Electronic Arts, and Kobo’s e-reading software we be pre-installed as well, but RIM’s not showing off its full app store just yet. A wacky rumor about Android app support is still unconfirmed.

The last time I saw the Playbook was at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, when the tablet was still a bit buggy, and the demo units were bolted to a table. I liked the Playbook’s interface and approach to multitasking, which actually lets you see what apps are doing while they’re running in the background, and I’m interested to see RIM erase the tablet’s last few question marks.

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