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$299 BlackBerry PlayBook tablet: Bargain or ripoff?

Molly Wood Jan 4, 2012

The BlackBerry PlayBook debuted last spring to much ballyhoo but it hasn’t exactly rocketed to the top of the charts. To be fair, no tablet has really knocked Apple’s iPad off its dominant perch but Research In Motion, the company that makes PlayBook and BlackBerry, is now apparently looking to dump inventory by slashing the price of the PlayBook to $299. That’s the same price for either the 16gb, 32gb or 64gb models. For comparison, the 64gb model was originally priced at $699. Savings of $400? Well, that’s nothing to sneeze at, especially when you’re getting what’s apparently a very strong piece of hardware.

“Well, what’s built in there is a very powerful web browser,” says Rafe Needleman, editor-at-large for CNET.com, “arguably a better than one you’ll get on any of the other tablets out there right now. It’ll run Flash. If you go to any web page, it’ll get closed down to seven inches of screen, which is the screen real estate and it will do it quickly and with full fidelity, which is really nice. And it’s a multitasking operating system, and a better one than you can see on other tablets. So, if you’re running a bunch of different applications, playing a video, browsing the web, doing some mail, you can go between applications very quickly and there’s none of this delay as you start up the application that’s been in the background before.”

Still, despite all those rippling muscles and that low price tag, the PlayBook isn’t necessarily a bargain. “Maybe it’s $299,” Needleman says, “that’s the product, but you need more than just the hardware and the great operating system. You need this infrastructure of content and applications. And the RIM playbook, no matter how good it is, is just not a full citizen of the app economy right now in the way that Android and Apple products are.”

Analyst Horace Dediu, founder of Asymco, concurs. He says, “BlackBerry is not a brand that is really riding this wave of applications as a driver for performance and for what makes a product exciting.”

Still, says Dediu, RIM is trying to give app-hungry customers what they want. “They’ve addressed that issue partly by saying they’re going to run some Android applications within their platform. There’s a technical solution for that, but that’s kind of a halfway solution. It doesn’t really solve the smoothness of operation that a game-oriented product would need to have.”

As Research In Motion tries to clear away PlayBook inventory with this sale, the company’s BlackBerry smartphones are falling way behind Apple and Android. But as bad as RIM looks now, Dediu says don’t count it out yet. “A lot of assumptions are being made that the company is in distress,” he says. “It’s not quite in distress. It’s actually growing. What it has had is a relative slowdown, whereas the whole market has grown more rapidly, so they’ve lost share in that sense. But the company is still quite solvent and I think if anyone is an avid user of a BlackBerry, I think they’ll be safe buying another version of the product.”

Unless you really love apps.

Also in this program, Netflix is about to change the landscape of television and it’s going to do that with a rock musician, gangsters, and Norway. “Lilyhammer” is an original series debuting next month on the streaming service. It stars Steven Van Zandt of The E Street Band and “The Sopranos” as an FBI informant relocated to Norway.

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