The PlayBook just got a big update this pastВ FebruaryВ 21st, 2012 and Ive had a week to test it out. Theres been a lot of negative press on the PlayBook from the mainstream and sometimes, you just have to take a break from all the drama and just enjoy what you have. Having said that, I was excited about the update. OS2 brings to the PlayBook native email support, updated BlackBerry Bridge, contact and calendar, improved social integration, some design tweaks, updated software keyboard, and an Android emulator built right into the OS. So while some tech reviewers started bashing the OS 5 hours after the launch *cough* Cnet *cough*, I give it a week to let it all boil down and give you my take. Lets begin.
Lets start with the design. OS2 looks almost identical to the original release with a few minor changes. Now, there is a main dock in the top row much like how it is on the BlackBerry smart phone OS. When you expand the app list, the top row remains above and doesnt scroll, like an iframe. This makes it easier to keep your most used apps visible when you quickly need to open them. Now, instead of a list of All, Favorite, Media, Games, and BlackBerry Bridge apps, there is only 2 menus you can customize and they dont have titles. You can add more simply by dragging an app icon over to the edge and you can get as many app screens as you like. The new layout is simplified and logical. If you want to sort apps, you can now do so by creating folders and dragging and dropping app icons into one another. OS2 comes standard with a folder already created called BlackBerry Bridge. Opening the Bridge folder and you will notice that Bridge Browser is missing. RIM decided that having a Bridge Browser and regular Browser was redundant and the new Browser will detect your connection and choose which one is appropriate, giving WiFi top priority. One thing thats minor but noticeable is how apps are switched. When you minimize the apps, the previews are now a bit larger making it easier to peek inside. The close button is also larger.
Some apps got updated as well. The app world is completely redesigned to give users an easier to use, tablet-oriented experience. There are now bigger Windows Phone 7-like tiles that are used on the Featured, Games, and Apps tab. The Browser adds a reader mode which finds the main content and displays it in a magazine style layout. This comes in handy when you just want to focus on the article and ignore all other distractions like ads.
Native Email Is Here!
One of the major updates of OS2 is the Messages app. Native email is finally here! This app is almost identical to the Messages app on you BlackBerry smart phone if you own one. It is essentially a unified inbox which stores all you email accounts and sorts it for you without having to jump between browser tabs or different email apps. Unlike the Messages app on you phone, the PlayBook version adds social integration allowing Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn along withВ your regular email accounts. This app is very smooth and responsive. Its basically a supercharged version of the Bridge Messages app. Alongside Messages, the Contacts apps is added which is also a nicer version of contacts on you BlackBerry smart phone. If you have multiple contacts for one person, you can merge them by using links. For example, if I have firstname.lastname@example.org and hes the same person as @JoeIsCool or whatever, I can have that person listed as one contact by opening his profile, and clicking on the chain-link icon at the bottom right and connecting them by clicking add link. When you are viewing a contacts profile, you can quickly email, open their Twitter, view their latest tweets, status on Facebook /LinkedIn, view upcoming meetings and open up Video Chat if they have a PlayBook.
The PlayBook got an updated keyboard that adds a number row in certain fields and Swiftkey word suggestion. This feature is nice but the keyboard layout isnt consistent. Swiping up the keyboard with the bottom-left corner gesture brings up the standard keyboard but if you want the one with the numbers at the top, you have to tap a text field that calls for it like an address field or password box. Overall, its a nice addition but it could use some refinement through a small update.
Calendar Is a Miss
The Calendar app is probably my least favorite addition to OS2. Dont get me wrong. Its a beautiful looking app that allows you to add appointments and sync them with your Gmail but they left out one glaring issue. You cannot sync it with the calendar on your BlackBerry smart phone. Other than looks, I have no need for it. In terms of functionality and practicality, Id rather use the Bridge Calendar. Theres been a trend where users are trying to lower theirВ dependencyВ on Google and while its nice to include this app, not supporting their own proprietary platform is one of those decisions where you gotta scratch your head and say, Why didnt they do it this way?
Theres a few more minor updates in apps. The PlayBook now comes standard with a file manager. This file manager, though basic, is a nice addition which gives users a more finished product out of the box. I use Files and Folders as my primary file manager and Id recommend that over anything.В One of the most anticipated addition to OS2 is the support of Android apps. Lots fo people, including myself, were confused about where the player was. It turns out, the Android player/emulator is built right into the OS so theres no need to run an app. Android apps are meant to run seamlessly in the OS without breaking the theme. As far as the surge of Android apps, there are none. At least not yet. You can side-load Android apps but officially, they have to be modified slightly, signed, and submitted by the app developer. Unfortunately, not many Android developers have submitted their apps to the App World. There maybe different reasons for this but the launch of OS2 was not what most users were expecting. Probably the biggest letdown for many users is Netflix saying over Twitter that they are not planning to develop for the PlayBook. Its certainly their right to choose which platform to develop for but this comes after saying that they will have a PlayBook app for OS2. If they didnt want to hire developer to make a native app, they could easily sign their Android app and submit it to the App World.
Bridge Gets Remote Control
Probably the least known but best part of the update are the changes to BlackBerry Bridge. With the new Bridge, you can now use your BlackBerry smart phone as a bluetooth keyboard and mouse with Remote Control. This solves many of my personal problems andВ opinionsВ about tablets. With a proper pointing device and a tactile keyboard, I can now type accurately and use it for production rather than consumption. Most people that replace their laptops with tablets usually have a separate bluetooth keyboard and mouse to get work done. The only problem with that setup is now you have to carry around 2 extra accessories, usually in a case. With Remote Control, I can now use my PlayBook without having to carry extra stuff. This gives the PlayBook a big advantage in terms of portability over the competition. Another nice thing about the new Bridge is the ability to open files from you BlackBerry smart phone on your PlayBook. Lets say you are viewing an image. With the new Bridge, you can select an image on you phone, hit menu, then Open on PlayBook. This works with images, memos, web pages, emails, and contacts. However, it doesnt work with music and videos, probably due to bandwidth issues.
Overall, OS2 is a much needed and welcomed update. Those who have waited a long time may feel disappointed. Especially those that expected a larger library of apps due to the Android player. The update is evolutionaryВ and not revolutionary. I like the changes to the home menu and Remote Control is a killer feature. Those who own a PlayBook but not a BlackBerry smart phone may not get their moneys worth, especially with Remote Control. My least favorite part of this update is Calendar. It stinks. If it could sync with my BlackBerrys calendar, it would be worthwhile. Native email has never been an issue with me. Quite frankly, I dont get why people who own smart phones, a computer, and a tablet, would worry about where they get email. Now its here and no surprise, its no big deal.
BlackBerry PlayBook OS2
OS2 brings native email, calendar, contacts, Android app support, a unified inbox, remote control with BlackBerry Bridge, improved software keyboard, and tweaks to the UI. The biggest anticipating to OS2 is the increased app library with Android support. Unfortunately, developers havent jumped on the platform by submitting their apps to the App World. The platform is improving but its up to developers to jump on board.