RIM unveils its new 4G BlackBerry PlayBook tablet

Is this new PlayBook RIM's last hurrah in the tablet competition?

A new 4G BlackBerry PlayBook will go on sale next week, a year after Research In Motion introduced its first tablet. The updated 7-inch PlayBook will include 4G connectivity and 32GB of storage, but RIM has yet to name a price or a U.S. availability date.

The first in line to get their hands on the new PlayBook will be Canadians from August 9, via carriers Bell, Rogers, and Telus. "In the coming months" RIM also expects cellular-data enabled versions of the PlayBook to reach the U.S., Europe, and other countries. But even with the Canadian availability date coming up so quickly, RIM still hasn't said how much the new PlayBook would cost.

If there's no 4G LTE connectivity available in your area or carrier, RIM says the 4G LTE BlackBerry PlayBook tablet can automatically adjust to connect on a HSPA+ network.

Otherwise, there's very little changed hardware-wise between the original PlayBook and the 4G model. The tablet still has a 7-inch 1024-pixel by 600-pixel resolution display, dual HD video cameras, HDMI capability, and stereo speakers. The processor is bumped up to 1.5GHz from 1GHz in the Wi-Fi-only model, there's still 1GB of RAM on board, and you only get one storage option: 32GB.

One Last Chance?

The 4G LTE BlackBerry PlayBook tablet could be the make or break device for RIM. Due to key software omissions at launch, such as the lack of a native email client, the PlayBook suffered from lackluster sales. In fact, RIM had to take a $485 million hit last year because it was sitting on a huge inventory of unsold tablets.

The arrival of much cheaper 7-inch tablets from the likes of Amazon did not help either, as they undercut the PlayBook by up to $300 (Amazon's Kindle Fire is $199 while the PlayBook launched at $500, and then began to be heavily discounted).

There's still hope for Research In Motion though. After several delays, the anticipated BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 will ship with the new tablet. All the features you would expect are now there, including email, calendar, contacts, and video chat. But given the lack of any substantial improvements to the tablet (for example the $200 Google Nexus 7 has a higher-resolution display), adding 4G connectivity to the PlayBook might still be too little, too late for RIM.

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Daniel Ionescu

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