updated 08:55 pm EST, Tue February 15, 2011
We play the first live PlayBook games at MWC
RIM used the opportunity of Mobile World Congress not just to unveil plans for HSPA+ and LTE versions of the BlackBerry PlayBook but to get its first genuine 3D game roster ready. EA will be first out of the gate with native ports of titles like Need for Speed: Undercover and Tetris. We had the chance to try them ourselves and have a quick round-up of performance and whether it's a better experience than on an iPad or a Galaxy Tab.
NFS was undoubtedly the highlight of the two and showed the most of what the fast, dual-core TI OMAP 4430 processor could do. From our experience, it was one of the fastest, if not the fastest, implementation we've seen. The game was consistently very smooth and never dropped a frame; ironically, the performance highlighted weaknesses in the frame rates of some of the pre-recorded animations. The game was also running even as a real, looping demo of the first-person shooter game Quake 3 Arena was running in the background, suggesting that it could have been even smoother.
Graphics weren't heavily improved, but the game was unmistakably a direct port of an iPhone app made to run on hardware three years old.
The PlayBook's size and thin profile suit gameplay well. It was easy to reach for touchscreen elements, and it was just wide enough to give a meaningful improvement over a smartphone without becoming unwieldy. The rubberized back means you probably won't lose grip if you're over-enthusiastic in gameplay.
BlackBerry Tablet OS mostly gets out of the way to focus on the game at hand. It gracefully pauses when you switch out and takes little time to resume. We'd provide a warning about the gesture area, though. There weren't any issues with it while we were playing, but it's possible that a missed swipe that hits the interactive bezel can unintentionally freeze the game.
It's clear from early on that some games, and the OS, will need to be more fully optimized for the PlayBook to handle them well. As much as we enjoyed playing Tetris, the game played in portrait mode by rotating the entire game interface without queuing the OS to do the same. As such, all the bezel gestures were tilted 90 degrees and would no doubt have confused someone who wasn't expecting it. Electronista was told that the version of the OS at Mobile World Congress was the same from CES six weeks earlier, though, and didn't have an auto-rotating interface like that on much newer code. The lack of rotation in the game could be a non-issue by the time the PlayBook ships.
Apart from these quirks, the PlayBook is looking to be a very capable tablet for gaming. RIM mostly needs to persuade developers to sign up and overcome the BlackBerry's traditional weakness in entertainment apps. EA is an important first start, but the PlayBook will need to get closer to Android or even the iPad's level of apps to truly lure in large numbers of converts. Bringing Quake 3 over as a full game would be a good start.