Review: PlayBook OS 2.0

RIM’s foray into the tablet space has been anything but peachy. To start off, they were late. On top of that, their first tablet, the PlayBook, shipped with a barely 0.5 version of software that ironically for a company who made their name on mobile email, lacked a mobile email client of its own. But through several promised (and missed) release dates later, we finally have PlayBook 2.0, a better, more complete experience.

Email, Contacts & Calendars

The biggest feature (in our eyes) to be added to the PlayBook’s feature set is of course email. And what a treat it is. Taking cues from the QNX OS running on the PlayBook itself, the new email app on the PlayBook is surprisingly well designed, yet not overly done. It’s sleek. It’s smooth. It gets the job done. But what’s even nicer is how RIM, in true BlackBerry fashion, amped up the PlayBook’s email experience by allowing other services like Facebook and Twitter to dump messages into the email inbox as well. Now, we’ll say this feature is either love it or hate it. And chances are, power users are going to hate it simply because the flow of FB and Twitter messages will overwhelm the inbox, which was ultimately not made to be a FB or Twitter timeline. That said, for users who aren’t spending half the day on Twitter tweeting their hearts out, the combined message/email inbox is a nice addition.

Contacts and calendars are pretty straight forward and basic. But don’t get us wrong. We actually like RIM’s new apps quite a lot. They’re simple in design but functional. The calender app alone is one of the better tablet calendar apps we’ve seen — no lie. But these three new apps alone won’t justify buying a PlayBook alone.

BlackBerry Bridge

RIM’s initial band-aid for the plethora of missing native features on the PlayBook has thankfully gotten a rather nice update itself, as now that native email/contacts/calendars are present, Bridge has to have some unique utility. And so it does. With PlayBook 2.0 users who also own a BlackBerry smartphone can send/receive links to and from each device and (our favorite) can use the tethered BlackBerry phone as a wireless mouse for the PlayBook. It sounds gimmicky, we know. And maybe in our honeymoon-esque type of state with fancy new software we’re a little too excited. But we really think this is a great feature for RIM to include.

Android Apps

Ah yes. Android app support. While we could go back and forth about the pros and cons of using another platform’s apps in lieue of your own platform’s lack thereof, we’ll go on the record and say that we have been pleasantly surprised. The earlier videos showing the PlayBook Android emulation left a ton to us cringing in disgust. Thankfully, the shipping product is a lot more polished. In fact, you won’t even notice that there is Android support there. It’s built in and doesn’t have any stand alone app, icon or settings panel. All you as the end user have to do is find an Android app in the BlackBerry App World, download it and launch it.

In our experience, the emulated apps were almost indiscernable from native PlayBook apps, though occasionally we did notice some stutter. But consider what we saw a few months back, this is a more than welcome improvement.

Should You Buy It?

This is a pretty easy decision. If you’re ok with a lack of apps (still) and have a BlackBerry smartphone, the $199 you’ll spend on the PlayBook is probably your best choice. However, if you don’t have a BlackBerry smartphone and make use of any type of subscription to an editorial/magazine, music or video service, you’re out of luck on the PlayBook. Also, the Android app support, while noteworthy, is hobbled in two ways. First, the raw amount of supported apps on the PlayBook is extremely low. (Read: good luck finding one…a good one.) Second, the Android apps themselves that are present do not fully work on the PlayBook. Features such as in-app purchases and VoIP functions are not supported on the PlayBook’s OS.

We really want to love the PlayBook as the OS is this close to being awesome. Sadly, the lack of apps and content make it more of a simple web browser that frankly loses it’s appeal after an hour.

Not being business/corporate minded people, we’re not completely in tune with the deeper levels of corporate level features. For someone running a small IT department, the PlayBook might be the beesknees of the work place, and a tablet that handedly trounces Apple’s more consumer focused iPad. But winning over businesses isn’t going to save RIM. What is going to save them is getting a commanding spot in the consumer sector once again. And the PlayBook still falls a bit short in that regard.

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  • AOseledecj

    I use Playbook for learning languages, and run the music player  and RepliGo reader (a great Android PDF reader) at the same time. I canread through the text and listen to audio all at the same time, and swipe between them all the time. Try to do that on any other tablet OS…

    • http://www.gadgetsteria.com The Gadgeteur

      While the navigation method is a bit nicer on the PlayBook, what you described is simple multitasking. Every tablet platform does that.