What will the Kindle tablet have over the BlackBerry PlayBook?

The hype machine is in full effect. For the past few months rumors have circulated that Amazon is readying its first foray into the tablet market. They’re no newbies to the world of portable electronics, of course; the Kindle is its best selling product ever, and it is perhaps the most popular e-reader on the market. But the leap from e-book reader to fully functional tablet is no small one. Amazon, for its part, is prepared. They’re going to release the Kindle tablet at a competitive price point: likely $250 or below, which will put it on a different competitive plane than other tablets. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it will stack up feature-wise.

In his vague preview of the Kindle tablet, Tech Crunch’s MG Siegler made an interesting comparison: “you can just look at a BlackBerry PlayBook” he said in trying to describe the Kindle, “because it looks very similar in terms of form-factor.” That does bode well for the Kindle tablet, since the PlayBook is a compact tablet that is made for travel. Yet at the same time, it’s unclear whether the Kindle will actually perform better than the PlayBook.

That last statement might require some elaboration, since the PlayBook has not exactly garnered a sterling reputation in its first six months of existence. Announced a year ago and not released until April, the PlayBook’s launch certainly fell short of the hype. Worst of all, it didn’t launch with native email, calendar, or contacts applications. Those are staples of the BlackBerry platform, and their absence from the tablet doomed it from the start. But things are starting to look more optimistic in that regard.

In October RIM will get together with developers for its annual North American DevCon. At the event RIM says it will unveil many upgrades for the PlayBook, including an updated operating system, Android apps, a video store, and yes, those native functions that make the BlackBerry tick. That will put it on a competitive level with other tablets. And, coincidentally, the Kindle tab figures to drop at around the same time. Might RIM’s upgrades come at the exact right time to combat another major competitor?

Under the hood

Here’s one disappointing fact about the Kindle tablet right off the bat: it has only 6GB of internal storage. That doesn’t seem like very much for a tablet. Even the PlayBook’s lowest capacity model is more than double that, at 16GB. Not every user will have a need for so much storage, but with a tablet it can never help. They’re largely media devices, featuring high-res screens. High-res media takes up plenty of space.

Amazon’s solution is to focus on cloud storage. Their MP3 locker allows user to store all music remotely, and their Instant Video player helps keep video off the device and in the cloud. Yet this can become an issue when traveling with the tablet. The initial model will not have 3G features; it will have only a WiFi radio. This is true of the PlayBook as well, but the PlayBook puts more of an emphasis on device storage. Without the ability to access content anywhere, large internal storage makes sense.

Another advantage the PlayBook will have over the Kindle is in speed. RIM packed a dual-core 1GHz processor under the hood, which makes the PlayBook a pretty quick device. Indeed, there appears to be little lag when browsing items on the device itself. The only exception comes when using the Bluetooth connection to bridge with a BlackBerry smartphone. That should be mitigated, however, when RIM release native email, contacts, and calendar functions. Meanwhile, while the Kindle’s processor speed is unknown, it will be only a single-core chip.


When we’re talking about a normal Android tablet vs. the PlayBook in terms of apps, there is no question which one comes out ahead. The Android Market, even for apps specific to tablets, is more robust than that of BlackBerry App World for tablets. Even when the PlayBook gets some Android apps, via the Android Player, next month, it still won’t have the full library. But Amazon is not your typical Android tablet.

In fact, as Siegler notes, there is no Android Market on the Kindle tablet. Instead, Amazon opted to include only its own Android app store. This isn’t a poor app store, per se, but it doesn’t have many free apps. Nor does it necessarily contain the best of the full Android Market. So while the PlayBook will have a limited selection of Android apps, it will have plenty of them. Combined with its own applications, it figures to have as an as good, if not better, selection of apps than the Kindle tablet.

Mobile workstation

As Siegler’s review makes clear, the Kindle will not be a work device. It will instead be a media device with more functions than the original Kindle e-book reader. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Many, if not most, people buy tablets for entertainment purposes. But the more you can do with a tablet, the better. And it does appear that the PlayBook can double as a work and entertainment device.

A few years ago RIM acquired DataViz, the company that creates Documents To Go, which is perhaps the most powerful mobile documents platform. It includes the free version on its smartphones, with an option to upgrade. On the PlayBook, however, it has included the premium version for free. That allows users to create, edit, and share documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more. Combined with a small Bluetooth keyboard and the PlayBook can be a mobile workstation, allowing users to work without having to lug around a laptop.


It is price where Amazon wants to shine. A recent survey found that more people would buy an Android tablet over the iPad if it were to cost $250 or under. It’s no surprise, then, that Amazon intends to sell the Kindle tablet for $250. That’s about half of what RIM currently asks for its cheapest PlayBook. So despite the ways in which the PlayBook is a better overall tablet (or, at least, will be when they release their updates), the Kindle could win on price alone.

Yet that might not work out as well as Amazon hopes. After reporting poor sales of the PlayBook in its second quarter of existence, RIM has decided to change things up. They’re going to try a series of promotions and rebates in order to get down the price of the PlayBook. They’e already begun, in fact, offering a $100 prepaid debit card to anyone who buys the PlayBook. And since the 16GB PlayBook is already down to $389.95 on Amazon, the PlayBook could already be down in the Kindle’s price range.

If RIM can keep the PlayBook within $50 of the Kindle, it should retain a competitive advantage. As it stands, the PlayBook is probably the superior tablet — or, again, it will be once it gets those crucial updates. It’s faster, it has more storage, it performs more functions, and it will have more apps. It might be tough to see, since Amazon has a quality reputation and RIM has seen its tarnished in recent years. But in terms of performance it has the better product. If they can keep the price competitive, they might just get a chance to prove it.

Joe Pawlikowski is the editor of BBGeeks.com, a site that provides BlackBerry users with practical tips and information that help them better use their devices.

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