Universal inbox integrates email and social networking ; Well-designed calendar; Socially aware Contacts app ; Runs some Android apps ; Integrated movies app; Improved document functionality
Video chat limited to other PlayBooks; Small apps selection; Screen blanks when loading Android apps; Email client doesn't support BlackBerry Enterprise Server;
The BlackBerry Playbook OS 2.0 software update makes RIM's tablet much more functional and versatile, but that's not quite enough.
To say that RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook has been a sore spot for the company would be an understatement. In our initial review, we chided the PlayBook's lack of basic features, such as a native email client, as well as its buggy software. And we weren't alone. The consensus was that the PlayBook was a powerful piece of hardware with a slick interface. It was just way undercooked, which helps explains the lackluster sales up to this point. But now RIM is looking to make up for its earlier missteps with the BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 software update. Is amateur hour really over? Read on to find out.
PlayBook OS 2.0 now also supports a folder creator for apps. To make a new folder, just long press an app and drag and drop it onto the app you want to store it. A dialogue box will then appear asking you to name your new folder. Enter a name, and you've got a new folder. The process is actually very similar to that found in both Apple's iOS 5 and Google's Android Ice Cream Sandwich.
By far, the biggest complaint critics and users had about the PlayBook was its lack of a native mail client. In order to access their BlackBerry email, known as Messages, users had to connect their PlayBook to their BlackBerry smartphone via the PlayBook's Bluetooth-powered BlackBerry Bridge. RIM claimed the decision to limit email access from the PlayBook was a security measure, saying that users were more apt to lose the 7-inch tablet than their 4-inch smartphone.
With PlayBook OS 2.0, RIM decided it was high time it included a unified mail client on its tablet. Messages for PlayBook is exactly what RIM should have included with the tablet in the first place. The app has an intuitive interface that makes searching for individual messages extremely easy. Messages has been specifically designed for the PlayBook's larger screen. As such, it offers tabbed and conversation views to help users track their correspondences.
Inexplicably, though, the email client doesn't support BlackBerry Enterprise Server; PlayBook owners will still need to use Bridge. Another feature that also requires Bridge? BlackBerry Messenger. Yes, one of BlackBerry's distinguishing attributes is still not on the PlayBook.
RIM wisely chose to connect the Contacts app with the PlayBook's new Messages, Calendar and Video Chat apps, giving you easy access to all of your contacts in one location. Bring up a contact and tap on their email address and Contacts will automatically launch the Messages app and prepopulates the recipient's box with your contact's address.
Users should also be able to check their contacts' status updates through the Contact app, although an error prevented us from doing so.
Cleverly, if you have an appointment with someone you are Facebook friends with, the People tab will provide you with that person's most recent status update. We were also glad to see that RIM gives you the option of switching between a unified calendar view and account specific view. Better still, dates that have a particularly large number of appointments appear larger in the calendar view, making it easy for you to organize your schedule at a glance.
Android App Support
Browser & BlackBerry Bridge
PlayBook OS 2.0 offers several improvements to the Web browser and BlackBerry Bridge interface. The PlayBook browser now features a reading mode that pulls articles from their Web page and displays them in an easier to read pop-up window. Browser speeds remained as snappy as they were before we updated the tablet, while navigating between browser tabs felt fluid and crisp.
The much maligned BlackBerry Bridge has also been improved with the new BlackBerry Remote feature. Now, when you pair your PlayBook with your BlackBerry smartphone, you'll be able to navigate the tablet using your phone's controls. When we paired our PlayBook with a BlackBerry Bold, the Bold turned into a trackpad for our PlayBook, complete with pointer. BlackBerry Remote even enables you to swipe between screens on your PlayBook. The one complaint we had with the app was that the controls were a bit sensitive. Scrolling across a screen and lifting our finger would occasionally cause the pointer to move unintentionally.
The BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0's new Video Chat app is a welcome addition, but it's very limited. When you first launch the app, it will automatically pull in known contacts with BlackBerry IDs. Too bad you can only chat with other BlackBerry PlayBook users. So if you don't know anyone else with a BlackBerry ID, you won't be getting much use out of the app. That's a shame considering how the high quality is of the tablet's front 3-megapixel camera.
The PlayBook's new Print To Go feature is one of the more interesting additions to PlayBook OS 2.0. The app allows you to wirelessly transfer files from your PC to your PlayBook over a shared Wi-Fi connection. After a document is sent to your PlayBook, you can organize it with Print To Go's document management system. It's a neat feature that makes organizing documents a snap. Despite its name, though, Print To go, does not, in fact, print anything. The only thing the app can do is transfer information from your PC to your PlayBook. Apple's iPad, on the other hand, allows you to send documents directly to a printer.
There were some standouts available though, such as AMC's "The Walking Dead" and "Mad Men." Episodes of the shows that were available generally cost $1.99 each, which is about $1.00 less than they sell for in the iTunes Store. Unfortunately, there were no trailers available, so you'll have to make sure you're that the episode or movie you are downloading is the one you want before you buy it.
One Video Store feature we appreciated in particular was Progressive Download, which allows you to start playing as you're downloading it. The feature works by calculating your download speed versus your playback speed. The Video Store also supports playback via the PlayBook's HDMI output, making it easy to download movies and watch them on a larger screen.
BlackBerry App Store
What's (Still) Missing
While all of the improvements RIM made are welcome, there are still a few features that needed to be added to the Playbook to bring it up to Android and iOS devices. For one, there's no way to automatically sync or backup data such as music and photos to the cloud. And while we like how social networks are integrated into messaging and contacts, you can't, for example, upload pictures directly to Facebook from the photo app, or share items from the browser. The lack of compatibility with other video chat services should have been resolved with the first iteration of the software, and the fact that the tablet still doesn't support BlackBerry Enterprise Server or BlackBerry Messenger on its own is inexcusable.
VerdictKindle Fire. The PlayBook also has features Amazon's slate lacks, such as cameras, volume controls and HDMI output. Nevertheless, while PlayBook OS 2.0 makes RIM's tablet a better communications and productivity tool, it's still not compelling enough to tear people away from the iPad.
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