RIM’s PlayBook shows promise, but has more than a few bugs to work out. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)

Overall, Research in Motion’s PlayBook is a tablet that’s just not living up to its potential. With solid hardware and great portability, the PlayBook’s lack of really useful apps is all the more disappointing. Here’s a breakdown of what the tablet has to offer:

Price: $499 for the 16 GB model (what I tested), $599 for 32GB, $699 for 64GB

Specs: The PlayBook is a 7-inch tablet, running BlackBerry’s own OS. It weighs about a pound and has a 1 GHz dual-core processor, dual cameras, Flash support and an HDMI port.

The tablet is WiFi only right now, with a Sprint 3G and 4G model to come, though those may face delays. A report from Electronista on Thursday says that the PlayBook’s 3G version on Sprint may have been pushed back to an unspecified date. A WiMax-enabled version is expected this summer.

Speed: Right off the bat, the PlayBook loses points for its agonizingly slow boot time. The tablet takes well over a minute to get to the home screen from the time you hit the power button. The setup process was particularly arduous. At least the tablet wakes up quickly from hibernation and has a pretty good battery life, so, thankfully, you won’t need boot it up very often.

Once it was up and running, though, it move seamlessly between apps with no noticeable hitches or glitches. Even with Flash, the PlayBook moves smoothly, something it couldn’t boast in its early reviews. I was able to run several apps at once, with audio streaming in the background without any real problems. The PlayBook’s racing game, Need for Speed Undercover, also ran clear, quickly and smoothly, which bodes well for more graphic-intensive games.

Ease of Use: The PlayBook is a nice size — good for commuters and those who like to use their tablets with one hand. The tablet’s easy to hold and not too heavy. It slips easily into most bags, and comes with a protection sleeve. If you want a bigger screen, you may be in luck; a Thursday article from Boy Genius Report says that RIM is planning a 10-inch version for the holiday season.

The interface on the PlayBook takes a little bit of time to work out, making use of the tablet’s prominent bezel for navigation. Once you get used to the OS, however, the controls become second nature: swipe up from the bottom for the home screen, swipe down from the top for settings and use the sides to switch between running apps. The tabbed browser is also easy and intuitive, plus you can add bookmarks to your home screen — a good feature for the tablet, which lacks in apps.

The keyboard’s easy to type on and switches well between landscape and portrait, though the 7-inch screen is probably a bit cramped for those with bigger hands.

Versatility: This is where the PlayBook really falls down. Bluntly put, BlackBerry World is just not that good of an app store, and there are few programs optimized for the PlayBook. Plus, the PlayBook lacks native e-mail, calendar and contacts apps, so you’re out of luck if you don’t have a BlackBerry phone and a connection to use the tablet’s Bridge app. RIM promised at BlackBerry World that these core apps are coming this summer.

For now, you have to rely on webmail for e-mail and anything you draft in the PlayBook’s standard-issue word-processing app has to be copied and pasted to share. With the Bridge app, you can edit docs on your smartphone through the tablet. The company just released a good Facebook app for the PlayBook, as well as a video chat app I didn’t get to try out, since it requires another PlayBook to test.

If you can forget the apps — and that’s a big if — the PlayBook is perfectly adequate for reading, browsing, video and still photos, though there’s a slight lag on the shutter for stills that lends itself to blurry pictures. And the HDMI port and Bluetooth connection set the tablet apart from its competitors.

Bottom Line: The PlayBook’s a little hard to pin down right now, getting frequent updates from Research in Motion as the company tweaks its latest gadget. Updates are supposed to come every two weeks, which can be trying for people who want all the perks right now.

As it stands, unless you’re a dedicated BlackBerry user, the tablet’s probably not the best for you. The price is too high and the is competition too good to justify getting a tablet that offers so little — no matter how well it offers it.

Have you tried the PlayBook? Any details I left out? Tell us in the comments.

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