Research in Motion used a press release this morning to announce that its long-awaited BlackBerry PlayBook tablet is officially available for pre-orders starting today, with units hitting retail chains and wireless carriers in the U.S. and Canada on April 19. As previously suggested, the Wi-Fi model that is launching initially will be priced at $499, $599, and $699 for 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB, respectively, right in line with the equivalent iPad 2 models.

The PlayBook also keeps pace with Apple's iconic device with a 1GHz dual-core processor. Elsewhere, it sports a 7-inch 1024 x 600 WSVGA capacitive LCD touch screen, 1GB of RAM, a 1080p HDMI output, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and dual cameras – 3MP front and 5MP back. It also comes with a brand new QNX-based operating system, dubbed BlackBerry Tablet OS, and has a unique active bezel that responds to gestures made from the edge the screen.

The device will be available in Best Buy stores and Best Buy Mobile stores in the U.S. and at Best Buy and Future Shop stores in Canada. A 4G variant is expected to launch on Sprint later this year but no specifics have been shared so far.