Review by Patrick Avenell (Follow me on Twitter)

SYDNEY, NSW: The BlackBerry PlayBook is the best tablet I have used. But I am a BlackBerry user — results will vary.

Yesterday, Research in Motion sent out the first review units for its new 16GB Wi-Fi only PlayBooks. In an email preceding this review offer, RIM’s PR rep advised journalists that to receive optimal functionality from the review unit, one would need to have a BlackBerry smartphone running 5.0 or higher and a BlackBerry SIM. I have a Torch 9800 and an Optus BlackBerry SIM, so I was perfectly set to play.

The first thing to do when you open your PlayBook is to immediately put it down, turn to your BlackBerry handset and download the free Bridge app from the Appworld. Once installed, you can then form the Bluetooth bridge between the PlayBook and your handset.

I had a few unsuccessful attempts at making this work, but eventually my troubleshooting worked and since then it has connected automatically without incident. With the Bridge built, you then enter your handset’s password into the PlayBook to gain access to your emails, contacts, calendar and tasks. These applications work brilliantly, though RIM does stress that this can incur additional charges from your carrier.

There’s also a Bridge internet browser, though I had trouble getting this to load pages consistently. Most commonly, the homepage of my chosen website would load, but then any attempt to touch on a link would result in failure to load.

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RIM have made it very clear that all tethering to the PlayBook can only be over Bluetooth with a BlackBerry handset. No Android or iOS connectivity is planned, being that this core feature of the PlayBook is limited to only those that choose to use a BlackBerry as their smartphone. For people like me, who love BlackBerry smartphones, for everybody else out there on Android or iPhones, it is a severe limitation.

What’s left to them is the rest of the device, which could still prove very attractive. The PlayBook has a 1GHz dual core processor running RIM’s own tablet OS. This means the Canadians have had full control in its development. Much like how Apple has optimised its own OS for its iPads, RIM knows what its hardware can do and matched the software to suit.

Unlike Apple, RIM has not played dictator. The multitasking on this device lives up to the hype. At one point, I had my email open over the Bridge, a word doc, an MP3 playing and a video playing. By sliding your finger inwards from the right of the bezel, you reduce the program your running and enable swiping between programs (think of it as a touch version of Alt-Tab on Windows).

If you’re watching a video, the audio will continue during this switching between programs, though it will pause if you choose to open a different program (a web browser, for example). If you’re listening to music, it won’t pause, allowing you to keep listening while surfing the net or writing an email.

Click here for our BlackBerry PlayBook image gallery.

Whilst multitasking is the big thing being promoted by RIM, it’s the little things about the PlayBook that caught my attention. It’s the only tablet I have ever used that will play .avi files without the need for formatting or downloading a media player. Forget how .avi files come to be, a lot of tech savvy consumers (the type that will buy a tablet) will have TV shows and movies in this format and the PlayBook is the simplest to watch them on.

Transferring files to the PlayBook is also seamless. Forget having to log onto iTunes or synching with only one PC, drag and drop from a computer connected via the included MicroUSB cord is all that’s required. In the space of around 5 minutes, I was able to transfer my entire Modest Mouse collection (850MB) and two South Park episodes (350MB). This doesn’t take into account the atrocious folder system on my PC which makes selecting these files a very slow process.

One process that is slow, at least compared to the iPad, is start up. I timed the process from when power button is first pressed to when you can first open an app three times, and three times it was the same: 1 minute 26 seconds.

RIM’s Australian office still hasn’t confirmed pricing or availability. In the US, it was released in three models: 16GB (US$499), 32GB (US$599) and 64GB (US$699).

Click here for more about the PlayBook, such as its upcoming Android emulator and how the bezel works.

Key PlayBook specifications, as supplied by RIM:

Dimensions: 5.1×7.6×0.4 (inches); 1.3×19.4×1 (centimetres).
Weight: 425 grams.
Display: 7-inch LCD, 1024×600 touchscreen with multi-touch support.
Camera: 3MP front facing and 5MP rear facing.
CPU: 1GHz Dual Core processor with 1GB RAM.