The BlackBerry tablet is here, and it looks astoundingly nice. Nicer than anybody expected it to be. Here's what you need to know about the PlayBook, in 10 easy steps.

It's a 7-inch tablet with a 1024x600 screen that weighs 0.9 pounds

Meaning it's smaller and lighter than the iPad, with a more pixel-dense screen (i.e., text is gonna look cleaner and less pixel-y). It's a little bigger and heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Tab, on the other hand. (Then again, the Galaxy Tab looks more like a really big phone.)


It's running BlackBerry Tablet OS

As rumored, the BlackBerry PlayBook isn't running "BlackBerry 6," but the BlackBerry tablet OS, which is "powered by QNX technology." QNX is a software company RIM bought in April, whose software is used in products by Cisco and GE, among others. The OS is built on QNX's Neutrino microkernel.


It supports a whole bunch of standard platforms and technologies, like POSIX OS, SMP, Open GL, BlackBerry 6, WebKit, Java, Adobe Flash and AIR, along with RIM's new BlackBerry WebWorks platform. Apps written for WebWorks will run on BlackBerry 6 or the PlayBook, while Java makes it easier for developers to port Java-based BlackBerry 6 apps. Oh, and OpenGL means there's serious potential for graphically intense games.


It's got a tablet-optimized UI and multitasks out of the gate, unlike the iPad. And unlike Android, it has a nicer interface for navigating through applications, like a cross between webOS's cards and Apple's CoverFlow. It's got an onscreen keyboard for typing. The snippets of App World in the preview video look a lot like what you have on BlackBerry phones, a grid of tiles. The music player looks a bit like the iPod app on the iPad, but skinned in a slate color.

Dual-core 1GHz processor and 1GB RAM

That means it's got the horsepower to multitask, output 1080p video and run high-powered apps. The 1GB of RAM is particularly important for running applications in the background, and opening multiple tabs in the web browser, as iPad owners know from opening more than a few tabs in Safari and watching them get flushed as the iPad runs out of memory.

It's got "true" multitasking

By saying the PlayBook has "true" multitasking, RIM seems to be pointing at the fact that multitasking on the iPad is still limited in a lot of ways. Apps can't fully run in the background on the iPad like on a full computer, they can simply perform select actions, like playback audio or finish a download in a given amount of time. The implication is that the PlayBook will let things run willy nilly in the background, more like a standard BlackBerry phone.


"Flash-Loving," with Adobe Flash 10.1 and Adobe AIR built in

It runs Flash and AIR, which means Flash sites that don't work on the iPad will at least be viewable on the PlayBook. It'll be interesting to see how well Flash works on the PlayBook versus less powerful Android phones, where it can run into performance issues. AIR, on the other hand, opens the door for some app opportunities. Combined with the WebKit browser, it should be a pretty decent web experience.


Dual cameras with video conferencing and lots o' ports

This is swanky. The rear camera is a 5-megapixel shooter, while the front is three megapixels. From the back, it shoots video and from the front you can video chat.


It supports a handful of video formats—in 1080p—like h.264, WMV, DivX and MPEG, and it'll output video through a mini HDMI port. Also, it's got a standard micro USB port.

There's a Kindle App on the way

The PlayBook is more book-sized than the iPad, so fortunately a Kindle app for reading is already on the way, Amazon confirms. We're very excited about this.


Integrated with BlackBerry stuffs

It'll pair with a BlackBerry phone, so you can use the tablet to look at anything that's on the phone, like email, calendars or BBM without syncing the two. And it connects with BlackBerry Enterprise Server out of the box, along with all that entails.


It's coming out next year, but don't ask how much it costs

Specifically, RIM says it's coming out in the US in early 2011, with other places getting it sometime after March. There's gonna be 3G and 4G models in the future. RIM's not saying how much it's gonna cost yet, but since RIM loves the carriers, expect it to be offered through them for a discount. (In the preview video, it's mentioned that it works with existing BlackBerry smartphone data plans, so we'll see what that means.)


Overall, the PlayBook is a lot more exciting than anybody expected a BlackBerry tablet to be, especially given how thoroughly mediocre their last major product, the BlackBerry Torch, was. In fact, we're a little more amped about it than the Galaxy Tab. Now RIM's just gotta carry through the ball forward.