Apple iPad 2 vs BlackBerry PlayBook: The verdict

Can RIM take down the next gen Apple tablet?

The iPad 2 continues to be the pick for many when looking for the best tablet on the market. Can the Flash-supporting PlayBook become a genuine challenger to the iPad 2? T3 takes a look...

Since the iPad 2 entered our lives, it has seen tablets like the Motorola Xoom, the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the LG Optimus Pad bid to take its best tablet crown.

The BlackBerry PlayBook is the latest tablet hoping to upstage the iPad 2, running on a new operating system and sporting a 7-inch LCD display. Both slates are in the running for T3's 2011 Tablet of the Year, but which one should you buy? Well we've pulled the two tablets to one side to have a head-to-head.

Reading time? About 10 minutes. Deliberating time saved? Limitless. Read on...

Apple iPad 2 vs BlackBerry PlayBook: Build

Apple iPad 2 | Apple iPad 2 review
Lifting the iPad 2 out of the box, you almost feel like you’re handling Grandma’s best china, such is the skinniness of the 8.8mm frame. Remarkably though, the tablet retains a very sturdy feel. It’s not the least bit fragile and there’s zero flexibility. It’s a piece of engineering that defies physics.

The weight has also dropped. At 601g (for the WiFi version) the tablet has shed 15 per cent of its body mass. Big deal, you say, but you will notice the difference. It’s still not Kindle-light though, and we still found the one-handed grip uncomfortable.

The design itself has evolved with the edges now rounded like an iPod Touch. While it looks better and is less bulky, the thinner edges actually make it more difficult to keep a steady hand. You also have to adopt an awkward reach-around approach to access the volume and screen switches.

BlackBerry PlayBook I BlackBerry PlayBook review
RIM opted to fit the PlayBook with a 7-inch screen, taking on the form of a moleskine paper notebook that could slide into a suit jacket of one of BlackBerry’s beloved “end users.” The bezel around the edge appears a little thick, but it does boast the advantage of being touch sensitive, which is a big part of navigating the OS.

At 425g it’s lighter than the iPad 2 (601g), and very comfortable to hold with one hand, while still feeling reassuringly weighty. It’s a fine line that RIM has walked perfectly. The softish rubberised back is a masterstroke which makes the device really comfortable to hold, even when reading one-handed for longer periods of time.

The top power button feels cheap and is hard to access, but design guru Todd Wood told T3 at BlackBerry World that the company doesn’t expect people to use this on the always-on PlayBook. You can wake the device up by swiping across the screen instead.

Apple iPad 2 vs BlackBerry PlayBook: Screen

Apple iPad 2| Apple iPad 2 review
While we were blown away by the original iPad’s 9.7-inch 1024x768 LED-backlit display, we were hoping this would bring a version of its iPhone 4 Retina Screen. Now it hasn’t, we’re a little disappointed.

While indoor performance is still great and colours are truly vivid for gaming, photos and videos, in the post-Retina Screen world, text still isn’t quite as crisp as we’d like and it’s still pretty useless in sunlight. It also attracts a lot of finger marks. Lets hope an improved screen comes on any iPad 3 next year.

BlackBerry PlayBook I BlackBerry PlayBook review
The 7-inch, 600x1024 LCD screen is, in the main, pretty good. HD video trailers on YouTube are really vivid and colourful, with fantastic clarity. Homescreens, menus and webpages are a little less impressive when compared to the iPad 2. Text isn’t as crisp and colours somehow feel a little drab. It lacks the wow factor.

In terms of the hands-on stuff, flicks and swipes across the screen are generally greeted with an accepting step into action (although sometimes you may find yourself having to ask twice) but pinching to zoom on webpages is nowhere near as effective and intuitive as it is on iOS devices. It feels clunky. Typing in apps like Word-to-go isn’t as appealing as it is on the iPad, it’s just not an enjoyable experience, despite the responsiveness of the keys.

Apple iPad 2 vs BlackBerry PlayBook: Operating system

Apple iPad 2| Apple iPad 2 review
Beyond the design refresh, the iPad 2 comes packing the new iOS 4.3 operating system. You get the usual folders, multitasking, Airplay and customisable screens. iTunes Home Sharing, another addition, offers a seamless liberation of your entire music library over Wi-Fi, with one-touch.

The new OS also allows you to customise the side switch to either mute the device or lock the screen. It’s a handy bonus, but by no means earth shattering.
An iOS 5 launch is set for this autumn, so iPad 2 features are set to get a whole lot better as well.

BlackBerry PlayBook I BlackBerry PlayBook review
BlackBerry’s Tablet OS borrows heavily from Palm’s (now HP’s) webOS thanks to the app cards UI that run across the homescreen. However, BlackBerry’s business approach means the attractive curves are gone in favour of a tight gym body. After they’re opened by the conventional means, apps can be minimised by flicking up from the touchscreen bezel and then closed by pushing it off the screen, just like on the Palm Pre. It’s a great way to get around the PlayBook and feels very natural.

Multitasking allows you to have games, video, music, browsers or whatever else open, while you scroll through the cards, in and out of the apps and you’ll find yourself whizzing around the device using these gestures.

A big plus is the presence of Flash on the device, unlocking a host of web video that can easily be plugged into your TV via the HDMI out. Browsing is a decent experience on the PlayBook, but nothing special, while the PDF reader, and office apps will go over well with the business types. Speaking of work, BlackBerry Balance allows you to keep your work and personal communications separate.

Apple iPad 2 vs BlackBerry PlayBook: Cameras

Apple iPad 2| Apple iPad 2 review
Of course the other change comes with the addition of cameras. FaceTime video calling is now available for iPad and while the quality won’t blow you away it does the job. The rear-facing camera is passable, offering decent snaps in good conditions, but drab colours and limited detail the rest of the time. It’s nowhere near as good as the iPhone 4’s excellent 5-megapixel offering.

There’s 720p video recording on board, which comes in really handy for the brilliant iMovie app, but the iPad 2 has to be the most ridiculously shaped video camera of all time. Are you really going to use it in public?

BlackBerry PlayBook I BlackBerry PlayBook review
With a few exceptions, cameras seem to have taken a massive step back on tablets, and the 5-megapixel snapper on the PlayBook almost seems like an afterthought. There’s no flash or touch-to-focus and we can count ourselves lucky that we can zoom. That being said, it can churn out decent snaps in good lighting conditions.

The 1080p camera, doesn’t really feel like full HD at all and again is largely dependent on perfect sunlight to coax out some half decent footage. There’s no effects or settings in this department either. It’s also absolutely criminal that there’s no way to share pictures via email or social networks using the app. This really needs to be rectified.

Apple iPad 2 vs BlackBerry PlayBook: Apps

Apple iPad 2 | Apple iPad 2 review
The Apple App Store recently notched up 100,000 iPad apps and continues to grow by the day. If you take into consideration that the iPad section of the store launched just over a year ago, that is pretty impressive. You can of course find all the latest and best iPad apps at the T3 App Chart.

MORE Best iPad apps | Latest iPad apps

BlackBerry PlayBook I BlackBerry PlayBook review
The BlackBerry App World has about as much depth as a Vin Diesel movie and although there’s some big names on the way (Angry Birds this summer), there’s not a lot for new PlayBook owners to get their teeth into right now. It does have the first ever designed-for-tablets Facebook app, which is everything you’d hope for it to be. The video chat app is BlackBerry’s Skype and FaceTime rival. There’s also a neat music store app on board.

The saving grace for the bare-cupboarded App World is access to Android apps in the BlackBerry App Market. The Android Player functionality will be able to interpret the code of apps designed for Android and submitted to RIMs store. It could be a lifesaver, because judging by the examples showcased at BlackBerry World, RIM hasn’t enticed that many developers to do new and exciting things.

Apple iPad 2 video vs BlackBerry PlayBook: Hands-on

Apple iPad 2 video

BlackBerry PlayBook video

Apple iPad 2 vs BlackBerry PlayBook: Verdict

So is the BlackBerry PlayBook a match for the iPad 2? In the eyes of the T3 team, we don't think the PlayBook is quite ready to break the Apple stranglehold.

There are plenty of reasons to love the RIM developed tablet, such as the 7-inch form factor, the Flash-enabled browser and the new BlackBerry tablet OS amongst other features. However, the lack of 3G, a temperamental touchscreen and notably a lack of high level apps leaves us feeling that the PlayBook is second best to the iPad 2.

The responsive 9.7-inch touchscreen, extra processing power, and notably a wealth of iPad apps to choose from are reasons enough to make the second generation iPad the winner in this latest battle of the tablets.

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