blackberry

After slipping the PlayBook into my shoulder bag, I have to admit — my Apple loyalty is being tested. The new tablet from BlackBerry, which was released yesterday, is more compact and convenient to carry in my normal-size purse than the iPad I've been dragging around for the last year.

Thanks to its seven-inch screen — versus the 10-inch iPad — the PlayBook is the perfect traveling companion for a quick subway ride to work or a flight across country. The screen size is comparable to that of an in-seat video monitor, but the HD picture quality, like that of most tablets, blows away low-def in-flight entertainment. One experience that I must reserve judgment on, however, is reading a magazine. Books will obviously translate well, but visual designs will likely be simplified — the way publications have evolved for devices like the Kindle and Nook.

Granted the PlayBook isn't the first smaller alternative to the iPad and Motorola Xoom, but the slick multi-tasking aspect of the operating system will turn some heads. Switching between apps is much better than on an iPad — you can minimize then swipe between active windows in a manner akin to scrolling through windows on your computer screen with your app icons visible in a row at the screen bottom. You can also expand the app icon area to the entire screen if needed.

In terms of apps, BlackBerry is of course touting its superior productivity options. It has mobile versions of PowerPoint, Word, and Excel, plus an Adobe Reader that will please those annoyed with the quirks of iPad document viewers. Still, it will lag behind the competition, at least at the outset, with the 25,000 apps in BlackBerry's App World, compared to more than 350,000 available for Apple devices.

And while I'm sweet on the size of the device, a couple aspects are irksome. The browser didn't register all my taps when I was updating my Netflix queue. And as another tech blogger noted, the power button is inconveniently positioned on the top of the device, where your hands will never naturally be placed.

Perhaps the most important question on the mind of every loyal BlackBerry user: Does the PlayBook have BBM? The current Wi-Fi model doesn't have the messenger service installed out of the box, but BBM will be available on the 4G version, which will be released this summer. In reality, it's a service best left to the smaller smartphone, but it could help the uber-connected take the tablet plunge.

What Do You Think?