By Patrick Avenell

SYDNEY, NSW: Research in Motion (RIM) yesterday held a media briefing to showcase the new PlayBook tablet, which goes on sale in the US next week (19 April 2011).’s first impressions of this device were very positive.

Foremost amongst the advantages of this device over others on the market are its multitasking capabilities. Using the multi-touch touchscreen, and the touch bezel, users can flip between open applications without pausing or closing programs.

For example, if you are watching a movie on the Full HD screen and you receive an email, you can minimise the video by swiping the right side bezel and then swipe across to email, all without stopping the video playing. The audio will continue, and you can swipe back to the movie without having to close out and reopen. If you do want to pause what you are watching, the video control remain on the top of the screen for the duration of this process.

Click here for our BlackBerry PlayBook image gallery.

For users concerned that BlackBerry does not have the same broad range of apps as iOS or Android, RIM tells us that an Android app, similar to an emulator, will be available for downloading soon. Once installed, PlayBook owners can then buy Android apps from AppWorld (RIM’s store) that have been optimised for the PlayBook.

RIM has also managed something that not even Apple has achieved in the Apple space: there a no buttons on the front of the tablet. Once on (there is a power button on side) users can control every aspect of the device through touch on the screen or the bezel.

Swiping the bezel provides a number of controls (these controls all remain the same whether in landscape or portrait): 

-Swipe up from the bottom: Home screen and carousel view.
-Down from the top: Menu of the app you are in.
-In from the right top corner: System info (battery level, Wi-Fi status et cetera).
-In from the right: minimise apps for flipping.

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With so much swipe control concentrated on the right, the thinking is that a user will hold the PlayBook in their left hand and control it with their right. A BlackBerry spokesperson told that it was “unknown” if a left-handed version, with swipe control inverted, would be made available.

The technical details of the PlayBook were announced earlier in the year, but for those that missed them, it has a 1GHz dual core processor, 1GM of RAM and symmetric multi processing. There are three memory options: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB, with all expandable through MicroSD.

Connectivity is primarily via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, with 3G tethering only available via a BlackBerry mobile phone handset. Much of the connectivity info is moot, however, with RIM not revealing exactly what models will go on sale in Australia. We do know it will be sometime before the end of June 2011, and that in the US, these models will cost $500 (16GB), $600 (32GB) and $700 (64GB). A 4G model will be available at some time in the uncertain future.

RIM strategic account manager Danny Mandrides told that although BlackBerry mobile phones are primarily business smartphones, the PlayBook is definitely a consumer product. This means RIM will almost certainly be selling the units through traditional CE retailers, such as JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman. This will expose RIM to the destructive retail price erosion it has thus far successfully avoided by operating almost exclusively through telcos.

More info on the PlayBook will be available when a release schedule is announced. Our advice: if you are in the market for a tablet, it is worth holding out for the local release to truly consider the PlayBook.