The new 4G LTE PlayBook launched by RIM yesterday, with all three major carriers, is essentially the same PlayBook the company released a little over a year ago. To say this is a “new” PlayBook would be overstating things. Other than the 4G/LTE cellular data connection option indicated in the model’s name, the only difference is the processor, which received a modest speed bump from 1 GHZ to 1.5 GHZ.
Literally everything else about the 7″ tablet remains the same. Even the box it ships in.
So you’d think that this slightly updated PlayBook would be priced in-line with the non-LTE versions you can find on store shelves today i.e. $229 for a 32GB model. Nope, not even close.
Turns out the 4G/LTE PlayBook, which only comes in the 32GB capacity so far, retails at most carriers for the astonishing price of $549 without a contract.
Let that sink in for a moment…
If you want a PlayBook with 4G/LTE connectivity and a slightly faster processor, you’ll be shelling out an additional $320, or put another way, 139% more.
Just to be clear, this is not an indictment of the tablet itself. The PlayBook, while still under-appreciated by much of the tech media, and certainly not a fan-favourite with consumers, in nonetheless a very good tablet. To see how well it has aged, check out Marc Saltzman’s comparison between the PlayBook and the brand-new Google Nexus 7. The addition of 4G/LTE is a really great option – much like other 4G/LTE devices, it absolutely blazes along. In downtown Toronto at mid-day (peak network usage time) I was able to get speeds of 35Mbps download and 5Mbps upload. Not too shabby.
But poor sales numbers forced RIM to heavily discount all models of the PlayBook, thus changing the landscape dramatically. No longer were we to compare the PlayBook to its larger and more expensive competitor – the iPad. Instead, especially here in Canada where the Kindle Fire isn’t on sale, we now see the PlayBook as a great alternative for people who don’t want an ereader and a tablet – the PlayBook is small enough and inexpensive enough to be both (precisely the territory Google is hoping to exploit with the $209 Nexus 7).
All of which means, unfortunately for RIM, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.
There is no world now, in which a 32GB PlayBook with 4G/LTE is worth $549.
The very most RIM can expect to people to pay for this mobile speed premium is $130 – the same price difference that Apple slaps on all 4G/LTE versions of the iPad – which means a new 4G/LTE PlayBook should actually cost $359. Coincidentally (or perhaps not) that is exactly $10 more than the 3-year term subsidized price of the new PlayBook: $349.
Now, I know there are folks out there who will point out that even at $549, the 4G/LTE PlayBook is still $100 cheaper than a comparably equipped 16GB iPad which only has half the storage. That’s absolutely correct. But don’t forget, Apple’s latest iPad is a technological tour-de-force with a screen resolution unmatched by any tablet. And even if comparisons to the iPad were meaningful (they aren’t at this point in time), it can’t change the fact that RIM’s own discounting of the original PlayBook has created this unfavourable situation.
RIM, expecting the backlash from the 4G/LTE pricing, has decided to throw the carriers under the bus. “RIM works closely with its carrier partners on its product launches. Pricing, plans and contracts are determined by the carrier,” according to RIM’s agency, Brodeur Partners of New York.
This seemingly out-of-touch-with-reality pricing might be, in some twisted way, RIM’s way of getting you to buy a BlackBerry. I know, sounds wacky, but hear me out:
For $99 on a 3-year contract, you can get RIM’s range-topping Bold 9900 4G. It may not have LTE speeds, but it’s still a great device for productivity. And because the PlayBook’s biggest draw for BlackBerry owners is the ability to tether the two devices seamlessly, sharing one data connection, you could pick up a 32GB non-4G/LTE PlayBook for $229. Since you’ll already be paying for the monthly carrier charges on the Bold, there’s no need to pay again just to provide the PlayBook with its own data connection.
If RIM still has a surplus of PlayBooks it’s trying to get rid of, which the current pricing seems to confirm, this strategy might make sense: in giving people lots of incentive to buy BlackBerrys and PlayBooks together instead of just PlayBooks on their own, the company addresses two problems at once – getting rid of their soon-to-be-obsolete BlackBerrys and surplus PlayBooks.
It’s a long-shot, to be sure, but these days – sadly – everything about RIM is looking like a long-shot.
I like the PlayBook. Especially at its current $200 price point for 16GB. Everyone I’ve spoken to who owns one still enjoys using it and has no regrets. But I can’t get behind a $320 premium for 4G/LTE connectivity, the value simply isn’t there.
Remember we also mentioned it would be a Bell Mobility exclusive when it finally came to Canada?
Well we finally have a confirmed launch date: March 17.
If you’re curious how folks in the U.S. have reacted to the ATRIX, here are some good reviews we’ve rounded up:
Engadget: They give it a 9/10… that’s quite a statement. “this device more than holds its own against the the best of the best on the market right now”
CNET: 4 out of 5 stars “earns its place at the top of AT&T’s Android lineup”
BoyGeniusReport (BGR): “The device is so powerful that it can power a laptop with full Firefox browser, and spit out 1080p video like it’s nothing”
We’ll be getting our own review model shortly and should be able to pass along our impressions in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here’s what we can tell you about the Canadian debut:
- $169.95 on a 3-year contract with a minimum $50 voice/data plan or
- $599.95 no-contract price
The ATRIX of course is compatible with two unique accessories: the Lapdock, which effectively turns the ATRIX into a full-fledged netbook equivalent, and the HD Multimedia Dock which lets you turn the ATRIX into a media hub for your living room. Unfortunately Bell remains mum on the pricing for these accessories at launch, but it’s a fair bet they’ll be priced in-line with the U.S. market which currently has the Lapdock at $500 and the HD dock at $99 USD, but as is the case in the U.S., there might be bundle deals here too.
Onboard the ATRIX, you’ll find:
- A dual-core processor
- qHD display – 540×960 resolution in a 4” screen
- 1GB of RAM
- Android 2.2
- Front- and rear-facing cameras for video chat and the ability to record and output in HD
- Biometric fingerprint reader for unlocking your phone and extra security
- 1930 mAh battery
- the ability to locate, wipe and restore data if the device is lost or stolen
- Up to 48GB of storage (16GB internal and optional 32GB MicroSD card)
- Download speeds of up to 14.4Mbps and Mobile Hotspot service for connecting up to five Wi-Fi-enabled devices
- preloaded apps: Bell Remote PVR, GPS Navigator and Kobo eReader
Another interesting fact for those of you who have been following the U.S. mobile scene and wondered what all the fuss around “4G” was: Turns out, the ITU which is the governing body for mobile telecommunication standards, decided late last year that networks which had been calling themselves “3G or 3.5G” – such as the Bell/TELUS HSPA+ network – could now refer to themselves as “4G”. This despite the fact that the ITU had always said that you needed 100mbps service in order to be considered 4G.
Anyway, bottom line is that the ATRIX, which is marketed as the “ATRIX 4G” in the U.S., is officially running on a 4G network here too. It’s the same network that was running yesterday, but with a brand new name. I know. Don’t be surprised if you start hearing that term used a LOT more in advertisements in the near future.
Let me leave you with one more tidbit… if you’re dying to get your hands on the ATRIX but don’t want to pony up the cash, Bell will be giving away 5 ATRIX prize packs including the phone, Lapdock and HD dock… you can sign up for the giveaway here.
Update Mar 18: The ATRIX is now for sale and we have confirmation on final pricing from Bell. Lapdock accessory: $329, HD Multimedia Dock: $129, Standard Dock: $49.95, Vehicle Dock: $59.95. Also, be sure to check out Marc’s video overview of the ATRIX and accessories.
Disclosure: Sync is owned and operated by Bell Canada.