The 7in BlackBerry Playbook seeks to buck the tablet trend with a small form factor married to some top-notch hardware. It’s a very pick-up-able 425g light and is both well-built and attractively styled.

As with some of the better-designed digital photo frames, the glassware is touch-sensitive from edge to edge. In fact, one of the very first things you’re shown once you’ve set up the Wi-Fi and your BlackBerry user account is how to use the screen-swipe to move through screens and to select items. Unfortunately, the swipe isn’t quite so obvious when you first unbox and switch on the Playbook. There’s a message at the bottom of the screen telling you to swipe, but it’s not immediately obvious in which direction to do so.

Setting up involves logging on to an available Wi-Fi network and then setting up a BlackBerry account. If you’ve already got a BlackBerry smartphone – a good idea as the Playbook is intended as a companion device to a handset – you can use this account to log in. it also means you’ll be able to your email, bring up your contacts lists, BBM friends and task list.

Essentially, you can use the Playbook as a larger and more practical screen for watching videos, surfing the web and so on. The screen crams in 1024x600 pixels into its 7in display and there’s support for both HTML5 (the latest web standard and the main alternative to Adobe Flash) and for Adobe Flash 10.1.

We were relieved to find that the Playbook is not completely bound to use with a BlackBerry smartphone. You can use the tablet perfectly well without having to tether or otherwise be linked to a phone.

Unlike, say, the nameless dock for the Motorola Atrix Android smartphone, the Playbook is a compelling interactive communication terminal in its own right.

With a 1GHz dual-core processor, 16GB of onboard storage, Wi-Fi and a 5Mp camera, the BlackBerry Playbook has an impressive hardware line-up. It runs a bespoke QNX operating system known as the BlackBerry Tablet OS. This, says RIM, is the very substance on which the world wide web exists. With 3G and WiMax versions of the Playbook to come, we expect some impressive web browsing experiences from future models. As it is, the multimedia and apps are the current stars of the show.

RIM pulls off the trick of giving the screen the illusion of depth – the dark background perhaps lends itself more to this than on some other tablets, as the Motorola Xoom managed a similar effect. It was also pleasing to note that the Playbook is not overly reflective. The Hannspree and the Acer Iconia tablets were noticeably shinier and far less easy to read outdoors or at acute angles.