After more than a year, and amid the drama, speculation and buzz surrounding BlackBerry 10, Research in Motion has rather silently delivered on their promise of a 4G BlackBerry PlayBook.  Putting aside the improved processor, 4G radio, and NFC,  you’d be hard-pressed to find any difference between it and the original PlayBook.  Yet, this could be considered a milestone in itself, marking RIM’s first true 4G LTE device.   In this review, we take a look at the new 4G BlackBerry PlayBook in all its 4G LTE glory.

Take a look at the unboxing video of the PlayBook if you haven’t already!

Straight to the Specs

  • PlayBook OS 2.0.1.668
  • 1.5 Ghz Dual-core TI OMAP 4460
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 32 GB Flash storage
  • 7″ Display at 1024×600 (~170 ppi)
  • 5MP rear camera, 3MP front camera
  • dual 1080p recording
  • 405 grams
  • 4G LTE/HSPA+ antenna
  • Bluetooth 3.1,  NFC, GPS, Magnetometer, Accelerometer, Gyroscope
  • 4800 mAh

Design

As you may have already postulated, the new 4G BlackBerry PlayBook looks almost exactly like the original.  It’s black.  It has the same oh-so-smooth matte-textured backing.  As far as design goes, it’s essentially the same tablet: elegant, bold, and stylish.  Get ready for some déjà vu.

The differences, though quite a few do exist, are pretty subtle.  Let’s start with the more obvious ones.  Peeking at the bottom edge of the PlayBook, the words “4G LTE • 32GB” should let you know that this is no ordinary PlayBook.  Just to the right of that, where the serial number is located, more sets of generally unimportant numbers are visible.

Being a data-enabled tablet, it does require a SIM card.  This card slides in a tray that pulls out from the bottom of the tablet which takes quite a bit of force to open up.  You won’t find this tray on the Wi-Fi only PlayBook for obvious reasons.  Inserting the SIM card was fairly simple.  The tray was very hard to remove without feeling like you were going to break something, though.  Once inside, it initially did not read it properly the first time.  However, re-inserting it again was the charm and it was good to go after that.

Thanks to my trusty micrometer, I found that it’s actually ever-so-slightly thicker than the original 16GB PlayBook.  And by slightly, I mean we’re talking fractions of a millimeter, so I wouldn’t panic just yet.  All that extra 4G goodness has got to go somewhere right?

According to RIM, the 4G PlayBook weighs the same 425 grams as the original.  But why not double check?  To my surprise, despite being slightly thicker, it actually weighs less on my scale!  About 4.7% less to be exact.  I measured a weight of 426 ± 1 grams on the original PlayBook, and this 4G PlayBook weighs in at only 406 ± 1 grams.  I’m guessing that’s all the extra battery that was taken out.

Remember that overblown power button fiasco with the original PlayBook review units, where the shallowness of the button made it aggravatingly hard to press?  Well, I am pleased to announce that RIM has not only solved this issue, but have even raised the button higher than before.  The power button has thus redeemed itself.  See for yourself!

And then there are the REALLY subtle differences that many will never even notice.  The shape of the rapid charging contacts has been changed.  No joke!  The three pins on the original PlayBook are cylindrical with slightly concave indents on the tips.  In the 4G PlayBook, the contacts are now run-of-the-mill cylindrical pins with flat tops!

This. Changes. Everything.  I know, I know, I must be kidding, right?  Not exactly, this is a big deal for me.  Charging the original PlayBook with a rapid charging stand has been a frustrating experience for me.  My Wi-Fi PlayBook doesn’t charge unless I use a secret kung-fu magic finger hold so the pins make contact.  With the new PlayBook, I can just place it on the stand and know that when I pick it up, it will be charged.  I don’t know how RIM managed to mess up magnetic charging contacts in the first place, but they sure made my day with the new 4G PlayBook by fixing it.

And we at N4BB don’t miss a thing.  The contacts on the inside of the audio/headphone jack have been flipped around 180 degrees.  The LED itself looks slightly different as well. The BlackBerry logo on back of the PlayBook has also been indented about half a millimeter as well.

Changes for the better?  Doubtful, but not for the worse either.  These are either slight differences between each PlayBook or minor overall manufacturing changes.

Display

The display, on paper, is the same 7” 1024×600 (WSVGA) capacitive touchscreen as on the original PlayBook.  But there are differences.  Compared side-by-side with the original PlayBook, the 4G PlayBook’s screen is noticeably yellow-er.  Of course, this is very hard to notice on its own. I’m not sure if this is a problem with this particular 4G PlayBook, or the all of the 4G units.  I would say this is a slight step back from the high quality screen we’ve seen from the original PlayBook.  It’s gone from great to merely average.  In the image below, the 4G PlayBook is the one on top.

The contrast is very similar as the original’s, as well as the saturation.  The 4G PlayBook is not as bright as the original PlayBook screen. The viewing angles are also not nearly as good, despite being still acceptable.  Outside, the 4G PlayBook’s screen naturally doesn’t fare as well.  With the Wi-Fi PlayBook’s screen being brighter than almost every tablet screen out there, you could make out the screen in direct sunlight.  This is less the case with the 4G PlayBook.  I’m no longer dazzled by the display quality, merely satisfied.

The screen isn’t resistant to fingerprints and smudges so don’t expect a flawlessly shiny display without