A year or so back I began to seriously consider purchasing a tablet. Not because everyone else was getting one or I wanted a new shiny toy to play with (although who doesn’t like a shiny new toy) but because it would fill a genuine gap in my computing lifestyle. I work in IT and computers are part of my life in a big way. I go online when I get up to see what is going on in the world and after a full day of using computers I’ll usually spend another couple of hours online when I get home. I don’t however own a smartphone and really feel no desire to get one. Likewise I have no laptop and can’t really see me getting much use from one. But a tablet, now there was a possibility. Something small – say 7″ – so I can surf the net on the sofa and fit it easily in a bag if going away for a weekend.

I was reluctant to get one straight away for two reasons however. The first was cost. I only needed something with a basic feature set as I wasn’t planning on doing much beyond basic web surfing. Why would I need 3G, a huge screen, GPS and multiple cameras for that? Unfortunately every tablet released seemed to either be trying to jam as many features in as possible to compete with the iPad (and had a price tag to match) or was very cheap and frankly rubbish. No one seemed to be trying to produce a simple, good quality tablet aimed at the masses (and me); until the Kindle Fire was released that is.

The second was whether I actually needed a tablet. If I was going to be shelling out for one – and even a cheap one was going to cost a couple of hundred no doubt – I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to get bored of it in a matter of weeks and see it sat on my desk 99% of the time mocking me for the waste of money it was…

So time went by and whilst I considered a refurbished, imported Nook Color or waiting for the Kindle Fire to be released in the UK, I didn’t look too seriously. Then last week I spotted the 16GB Blackberry Playbook on offer for £169. In a rather uncharacteristic impulsive buy (that still took me close to a week to make), I ordered one. With cashback (I love TopCashBack) it cost me £166.45 although I am working on a plan to make it pay for itself to some extent (more on that another day)…

Blackberry Playbook

So far, my worries that it would end up lonely and unused are unfounded.

It feels like a solid, well made piece of kit and is the just the size and weight I was after. The screen is crystal clear and I find it very easy for both reading text or watching video on. It has a few features I wasn’t really after such as a magnetometer, GPS, mini HDMI port and two cameras but at this price I just see those as added perks should I ever need them. It maybe lacks some things I would have liked as well such as an SD expansion port or USB (it has a micro USB port but you can’t plug a USB device in without rooting the Playbook) but I doubt I would have really used them that much anyway.

Of course the bit I was most interested in was the browser as that would be what I would spend most of my time using and I am pleased to say I find it very, very acceptable. Pages load very quickly and I can have multiple tabs open with little apparent affect on response (within reason of course). I haven’t found many site that it can’t handle. Whilst maybe not ideal I have also found that disabling javascript makes for a much quicker browsing experience for many of the sites I visit daily (like the Guardian) and whilst you lose some functionality, it is often not essential functionality. And for those pages where it is, it takes a couple of taps to enable it again. Another big bonus is that it also supports Flash (which again is very easy to turn off quickly if you wish).

One criticism is that there are not many apps for the Playbook. This is true. Of course if – like me – you aren’t that bothered about apps anyway, this isn’t a big problem. Maybe I’d like Skype and a free RDP client might be useful for when I’m feeling really lazy and want to set something to record on my HTPC without having to go over to the TV and set it up but I can cope without both. The next upgrade to the client OS – 2.0 – is due out in about a week and this apparently adds an Android app player so the number of apps should increase considerably. At the end of the day though I doubt I’ll ever use more than a handful of apps anyway. Likewise for gaming, I have found a few free games that can keep me entertained should the need arise but with a proper gaming PC upstairs that should’t be often.

Bottom line is I’m very happy with the Playbook and with the next OS update I suspect my experience will improve even more. I can now sit on the sofa with Miss C and get my internet fix without having to abandon her to go use the PC upstairs. People say RIM are a troubled company and question the wisdom of buying something from them right now – especially a tablet that failed miserably to take the world by storm. But it is a high quality device which provides a great user experience and is likely to be supported for a few years yet. Maybe at this price people will start to see it as the great tablet it is and it’s popularity will rise. So if you are looking for a tablet bargain, consider this one closely…

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