My original review of the Blackberry Playbook revealed a tablet that was lackluster compared to iPad and Android offerings. Lacking in apps and critical features at the time (such as built-in e-mail and calendar) we were left wondering what RIM was thinking of when they released it at the insane price points with less functionality that Apple’s iPad. Luckily the beta of Playbook OS v2.0 was available which gave first adopters something to sate their appetites and prices fell to it’s now $199 entry point making it a lot more attractive to consumers. Now with OS v2.0 officially released, its time to re-evaluate Playbook to determine if I was insane to purchase it in the first place.
We Have E-Mail Now!
It sort of feels silly to celebrate that the Playbook has e-mail, however it actually, has something more powerful than e-mail, it has Messages. What’s the difference you ask? Instead of having to go to multiple apps or websites to view messages / e-mail people have sent to you, RIM decided to aggregate them all in a single location. With the Messages App you can see view, send and receive messages from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Already I’m seeing how great this feature is as I can send and respond to people without having to be distracted from those service’s apps or website. i.e. if I open the Facebook app I’m going to be there for a bit as I’m hypnotized by the activity feed. The Messages App allows me to focus on the task at hand – responding to messages! There are nice filtering options allow you to see only Twitter and Facebook
The editor to create messages is greatly improved. Previously you were only able to send e-mails in plain text, Now you have the typical options you see in other e-mail apps such as bold, italic, justification text size, etc. The new Playbook keyboard is also fantastic over its predecessor with the inclusion of spell checking and word suggestions. Apparently RIM is using the Swiftkey – one of the better keyboards that are available as a 3rd party add-in on Android devices.
The downside to the Messages App that not all of the features are available when you are accessing your e-mails on your Blackberry phone via the Bridge. The app is unchanged to the Playbook OS v1.0 with none of the tight integration with other social networks; rich text formatting is also sadly missing; if I’m writing a response on my Blackberry this can be forgiven, but on my tablet I have a bit more time to compose and format my message. If I can’t make it look like I’m responding from the office, what’s the point?
Verdict: You’ll love the new Messages App and then become frustrated when tethered to your Blackberry phone – very annoying.
The most significant improvement to the Playbook with v2.0 is its contacts app that is now integrated into the playbook. With it you pull down the people that you know from various social networks like the LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+.
Not only can you pull their information about them, the Contacts app also pulls information from the web based on what it knows. i.e. you can find out what they tweeted previously, news about the company they work for and see what meetings you may have scheduled with them. One of the most impressive features is that it also pulls in the Resume from their LinkedIn profile – with all of this information you can have a very intimate conversation with a business associate who you do not deal with on a regular basis.
My only pet peeve with this application is that there is not a very good way to filter by Social Network. In the Messages App you can specify to only show those from Facebook; you can’t tell the Contacts App that you only want to see the ones from LinkedIn. I also don’t know how it handles conflicting information i.e. a contact may have different information in their Facebook profile than in their LinkedIn – how you reconcile this is still a mystery to me.
Again, the improved Contacts App is not available when accessing your contacts using the Bridge App and you’re stuck with the old Playbook v1.0 version. I really wished RIM would have brought the app over; I know when you’re tethered to your Blackberry you may not want to pull your social networks in, but they could have had the same app available with limited functionality i.e. with contacts from from your phone, just ask if you want to look up a specific person on LinkedIn or other network.
Verdict: The new Contacts App is fantastic, but you’ll have to use the old bridge app when tethered to your Blackberry… very annoying. You won’t have any of the new features that are actually helpful in a business context.
The new built-in calendar is a joy to use. Colorful, informative, and practically a joy to use. See your meetings, quickly view who’s attending and drill down to get more information about each of the attendees. The view almost reminds me of a subtle version of the Lotus Notes calendar. The day view is useful as you’re not jumping between the day and viewing the details of your meetings which keeps you focused on what you’re trying to do.
The month view is very practical as well. The days of the month get larger the more meetings/events you have making it very easy to spot and know that tomorrow you’re going to be unproductive. Similar to the day view, selecting a day shows you your hourly schedule, quick access to your Agenda and the people you’re going to be seeing. Everything you need to plan your day or prep for right before the meeting. Unfortunately, the built-in calendar is now head and shoulders above the bridge version of the app; as you’ve probably guessed, RIM did nothing to improve the bridge calendar.
Verdict: The new Calendar is miles above what I’ve used on Android tablets and iPads. The ability of being able to get to your information without having to move to completely new views is pretty awesome and I’d expect to see RIM’s apps copied very shortly. However if you’re working on “business”, you get none of the improvements which would actually help do your work… annoying.
Not much has changed with App World. Yes it’s formatted differently and a bit easier to navigate, but that’s about it. At last count, there are over 10,000 that in the store for the Playbook, but that number is pretty low compared to Apple or even Windows Phone 7 which has 70,000 in the Marketplace. The Playbook OS v2.0 support Android apps that have been re-packaged for the tablet, however even when RIM shows how easy it is and astonishingly how well they run, there are very few of them that I recognize. Android apps do a run buttery smooth which definitely shows off the power of the QNX underpinnings of the OS, but without the applications every own will feel neglected and frustrated.
Verdict: App World is growing and shows potential. There are some big-name games like “Angry Birds” and “Cut the Rope”, but more incentive for developers is needed to make owners feel like first class tablet citizens.
In the US, you have access to the Video Store where you can rent or purchase movies and TV shows. Since I live in Canada, I can’t comment on the selection or pricing (I hear it’s $3.99 to rent and $19.99 to purchase) which is sad since I practically live in RIM’s backyard. What appears to be missing is the ability to play your purchases on your computer or transfer the files off the Playbook; if you’ve purchased the 16GB model, your storage space is going to run out pretty quickly. Playback via an HDMI cable should ok as the tablet is capable of supporting 1080p video.
Verdict: If you’re looking at purchasing the Playbook, consider the 32GB or 64GB version or you’re going to run out of space quickly if you like buying a lot of movies. iTunes and the Android store provide better utility by allowing you to view your purchases on your computer.
There are several additional improvements made to Playbook, but in my mind aren’t significant enough to sway a user to make a purchase or has significantly improved to make me go “wow”.
Print2Go allows you to basically print from your Desktop or laptop computer and have the resulting output be saved as a PDF on your Playbook; this is opposite of what everyone thought the feature would do i.e. print from your tablet. It’s slightly more convenient than just e-mailing the document to yourself; but less functional as you can’t edit the document which brings me to the next feature.
Docs to Go
Docs to Go gives you the ability to display and make changes to MS Office documents; it was included in v1.0 of the OS, however there have been some improvements made to streamline the interface, Word and Excel documents can be created and edited on your Playbook which has made my life easier to provide feedback to my team at HQ when I’m on the go. But, do you remember that little feature called “Print2Go”? It generated PDFs which are not editable on the Playbook; being able to modify the output from Print2Go with Docs To Go would have shown that RIM was paying attention to details. So I’ll still be mailing my documents to myself or using a USB cable to transfer them to my Playbook.
What’s still missing?
The biggest features missing on the Playbook is its inability to read content from the largest distributors in the entertainment industry. The largest e-book retailer, Amazon, still doesn’t have its Kindle app on this tablet (you can can sideload it, but you shouldn’t have to do it), and the built-in Kobo app is still hamstrung but its inability to read ePub files other than the ones purchased through its store. On the video front, Netflix and Hulu are still missing, so if you’re a subscriber forget about trying to access these services. The Video Chat App only allows you hold video calls with other Playbook owners – Skype integration should have been here buy now and its frustrating. It would be really nice when I’m travelling to have a video call back home and avoid having to lug the laptop around.
The Playbook with OS v2.0 is a definite improvement; the new built-in applications are great and its unfortunate that they were not available when the tablet was first launched – the market have definitely been different with Apple and RIM duking it out. Instead, RIM is playing catch-up and in many ways has neglected their business users; none of the app improvements are available when you need to access information from a bridged Blackberry phone! The playbook feels like it has 2 different personalities depending if you’re using it for business or for personal use. I’ve already have heard several friends that have configured their Playbooks to access their corporate e-mail from the Outlook Web Access which by-passes the security that RIM touts as a differentiator from its competitors.
With all of its shortcomings, the Playbook still has the best value for money, especially as there are no signs that RIM is going to be increasing prices any time soon. $199 for the 16GB version is a bargain compared to $399 for a decent Android tablet or the iPad2 (compare it to the $499 new iPad and it’s a bigger bargain). At these prices there is a lot you can overlook, so if you’re considering purchasing one, at current prices you’re getting a better hardware than you could otherwise get. If you have small children, the Playbook’s ability to play Flash movies and Flash games well saves you a lot of app purchases as your kids can head over to a website like PBS Kids and play to their hearts content.
If you’re considering purchasing a Playbook, you may want to wait until May when as it’s rumored that Google could be introducing a 7″ tablet that is in the range of $199 to $249 (Time magazine even has estimated it could get as low as $150). If this actually materializes, RIM’s tablet will be further neglected by developers and you may see the Playbook’s price drop even further.