RIM BlackBerry PlayBook: Unfinished, unusable

The BlackBerry-tethered tablet can't do very much, and its tethering requirement means few users can actually use it

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Security is sometimes there, but not always enforceable
If you're tethered to a BlackBerry, you can rest assured that your communications are secured. But if you don't use BlackBerry tethering, then you have no security, as you must use standard IMAP and POP connections to your email.

The PlayBook is unsecured by default. Although the BlackBerry desktop software doesn't work with the PlayBook, my Mac was able to mount its internal storage over a USB connection and access its files. Fortunately, you can turn off USB and Wi-Fi file sharing separately, as well as set up a device password that must be entered to share files, as on an iPad or a Xoom.

You cannot use BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) to force the use of passwords on the PlayBook, or to enforce rules such as password complexity or expiration, as you can for BlackBerry devices. By itself, the PlayBook has rudimentary security controls and no facility -- BES or otherwise -- for IT to enforce security policies.

Also, there's no on-device encryption, which could be an issue for stored data. Corporate email, calendars, and contacts are of course not on the PlayBook itself, so they are de facto secured by being unavailable if someone steals or finds your PlayBook. Everything else, however, could be accessible.

By contrast, an iPad or Xoom can be secured directly via an Exchange server or mobile management tool; an iPad can also be secured through the use of configuration files installed directly by IT. RIM has very much dropped the security ball when it comes to the PlayBook.

A nice user interface, at least
With all the functional limits and partial implementations of the PlayBook, you would think it was a total disaster -- but it does have a nice user interface, a clean cross between WebOS's concept of cards and Mac OS X's Dock Exposé. The screen is divided into three basic areas you can hide and show: a menu bar at the top you pull down, the central window that shows the apps and their contents, and an app bar at the bottom you pull up to see all apps. Thus, it doesn't take long to get to an app or a control, yet it avoids both the screen clutter common on Android devices and the sometimes too-simplified view of iOS.

The UI isn't perfect, though: It's hard to position your cursor inside text. You have to tap at the right spot since there's no magnifying-glass tool as in iOS or BlackBerry OS 6 to help you see your cursor's position relative to the text as you move. But the selection handles are nice and big.

The onscreen keyboard is serviceable, though due to the small screen, it's nearly impossible to touch-tap. The Web browser, based on the WebKit engine used by iOS and Android, is also serviceable. It has a handy full-screen option, except you lose all navigation except Back in that mode, even though there's room enough to retain the Forward and Refresh buttons. The browser's live preview windows for tabs is sophisticated in the style of Mac OS X's Dock and Windows 7's preview tiles.

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