While the original release of the BlackBerry PlayBook left many users wondering where native email, contacts and calendar were, the long-awaited PlayBook 2.0 software has finally arrived and brings good news. It's sporting a load of new features including the noted native apps, a revamped home screen UI, updated BlackBerry Bridge features including BlackBerry Remote, notifications and much, much more. Let's dive in and see just what makes the BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 software tick.
The revamped home screen user interface is mostly all new in the PlayBook 2.0 software. Things have been tweaked for the better and the layout/functionality is now more intuitive and very user friendly. Even right down to the look of the application windows, you can see things here have been overhauled in a big way.
Originally the PlayBook went with a tabbed-views approach much like that of BlackBerry 6. The new software gives us a customizable home screen dock and is much easier to work with. On PlayBook OS 1 there were fixed views for All - Favorites - Media - Games and BlackBerry Bridge if activated. These tabs could not be edited. The OS 2.0 experience is much more like iOS. You can move app icons between multiple, unnamed views.
When returning to the homescreen while apps are running, you'll notice the different treatment RIM has given apps. The image above shows OS 2 on the left, and the original PlayBook homescreen on the right. In OS 2, minimized open apps are bigger, with a more integrated title and bigger X key to close. You fit less apps on the display, but they're more valuable as you get a bigger peak inside the open app.
Most of the status bar remains the same in this version, however there are new notifications for the native Messages, Calendar and Contacts applications. Previously only BlackBerry Bridge and BlackBerry App World alerts were shown here.
Tapping on the battery icon in the status bar brings up a popup for battery status, screen brightness, and Restart, Stand By and Turn Off. This popup has changed slightly and is a bit larger in the new software. Plus, if you have a password enabled you'll see a new "Lock" button added there as well, so that you may lock the device quickly.
The ability to create folders has been added to the PlayBook 2.0 software. Another feature that users have been longing for, we can now better organize the home screen of the PlayBook. The folders are created by dragging one app on top of another and then choosing a folder name. The folder icons even show the apps within.
The keyboard has changed slightly and now offers the option for predictive text. Also added is a numbers row that appears over the keyboard when entering text in a password field. An awesome feature that makes typing in passwords much, much easier if using numerical characters. Also added is auto-correction which will automatically correct words as you type.
The PlayBook 2.0 adds the ability to use notifications for your alerts (email or calendar) and comes in the form of a "glow" or the familiar LED. In your settings you can choose to use the red corner glow, LED or a combination of both for your alerts. Oddly missing is an option to turn off notifications completely (but using just Glow lets you ignore them easier). A very welcome feature that was confusingly absent in the original software.
The keyboard itself has been tweaked up too and you now have the option to use predictions and suggestions thanks to the SwiftKey Keyboard. Auto-correct and spell check are also welcome additions to the keyboard.
What could arguably be the best new features in the OS, the native PIM apps are long overdue. Messages, Contacts and Calendar are now available as stand-alone apps on the BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0
Before you get rolling with any of the new PIM apps you'll need to set up your accounts from Settings > Accounts. Doing so is very simple and only requires a bit of info. There is really nothing technical to it if you use a web email however it's a bit more advanced for something like Outlook. Once you're set up here your PIM apps will come to life.
The native email client on the PlayBook could also be called a "social hub" as it houses your email, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook messages. It makes for one easy spot to view all that you need quickly and easily. Your accounts are listed down the left column along with compose buttons and a search feature. In the center is your inbox itself, and to the right the message pane. Action buttons like reply, forward and mark as read are all at your fingertips. Various settings in the Messages app can be found by swiping from the top bezel revealing a compose option, select feature, sort and various email options. There are also a slew of Rich Text features like color, font, alignment and more that let you create and edit Rich Text emails to your hearts content. The Messages app supports POP3 email like Gmail and Yahoo! For more on setting up with Outlook, check out our how-to here.
The Contacts application brings your contacts onto your PlayBook. If you're using a web-based email like GMail and have your contacts save, you can easily choose to sync them when setting up your accounts on your PlayBook. If you're an Outlook user you may have a more difficult time. Unfortunately RIM hasn't made it easy to simply port over contacts from your BlackBerry Smartphone (why I have no idea) so for now you'll have to work around things a bit.
The contacts app is very robust and holds a great deal of information in a small package. Down the left column you'll find your contacts through which you can scroll or search. The contact view shows off all of the contact's details including name, address, phone, email and other personal information. Down the right you have various tools for viewing recent social updates, shared appointments, company news and more regarding your contact.
The Calendar app can be used locally or synced with something like GMail. The app itself is fairly bare-bones when it comes to options, but everything that needs to be there is. You can access your calendar in various views like daily or agenda (or the dual-view) and easily view appointments thanks to color-coded calendars. The options the same you'll find on your phone and allow you to set things like default reminder, snooze length and first day of the week. To add an appointment, click the icon on the bottom left or double tap on your schedule. Very intuitive and easy to use, the calendar is a great addition.
Print To Go lets you print documents from your PC to your PlayBook. Read that sentence twice. The name is a bit confusing - the majority of us feel this should mean you can print from your PlayBook to a printer. In this case you're at your computer, have something you want to take with you on your PlayBook, like a travel itinerary, and hit print from your computer. You'll have to install a small app on your computer (currently PC only) and from there just choose your document, print, and select your PlayBook as your printer. Print boarding passes, itineraries or anything you want to have on your tablet. The files are magically transported to your PlayBook and you can view them on your PlayBook in the PrintToGo app. See this video for a Print To Go Demo.
While the Music Store remains unchanged, US users will now see the Video Store on their PlayBook as well. This is something that many have wanted for quite some time and it's a welcome addition. The Video Store is powered by Rovi and features new and old movies as well as TV shows for both rental and purchase. Prices range from $9.95 to $19.95 for purchases and around $3.95 for a 24-hour rental. Purchases are downloaded to your device and can be watched while the download is in progress. Items you purchase are stored and can be viewed in the native Videos application.
File Manager is a simple file browser that lets you view your pictures, videos, music and documents on your PlayBook. There was no stand-alone file browser of any kind in the original software (you could access this screen from within different apps for attaching files, etc.), but now File Manager gives you the ability to browse, view and delete files from one central app. It's pretty basic, but it's a start.
BlackBerry News now comes pre-installed with the 2.0 software. The app was available previously for download but is now included as part of the OS (but you can delete it if you choose to do so). It has loads of preset feeds available and the option to add your own.
BlackBerry App World has had a UI overall and is more up to date. The same basic functions are there for browsing apps, but the main screen pulls in more featured applications and does a better job of merchandising them. The Games and Apps categories are still easy to find and now Top Paid for both appear on the main screen.
The Browser has some minor tweaks, the most noticeable of which is the new Reader Mode. This lets you tap the book icon in the browser to view a skimmed text version of web pages for easier reading. Very cool for larger sites when you just need to get right to the goods. The browser seems a bit faster as well but doesn't have any additional options over previous versions. As was relayed to Kevin during his PlayBook OS 2 briefing, RIM has done a lot to make the browser render better and faster. It's the most highly rated mobile web browser in terms of web compliance.
The Video Chat app has been reworked in the PlayBook 2.0 software as well. Video chat was a great feature that we loved at release (once the bugs were worked out) but now it's back and better than before. The interface is brand new, and no longer do you have to guess at who you know that also uses video chat. Your chat list is auto-populated based on your contacts and even knows users online status. You can of course call anyone outside of your contacts using their email or PIN. A handy call log is available as well. Swiping down from the top bezel gives you the option to set yourself as unavailable and not allow other users to call you.
Docs To Go gets an update here and leaves behind the old single icons and Slideshow To Go. The new solo icon gives you quick access to both Word and Excel docs in one place. It's very much the same app, just condensed and a bit easier to use. You'll still have all the same great features, but now you can even take advantage of the BlackBerry Remote to use your phone keyboard when composing documents. Editing PowerPoint presentations on the fly is another welcome change.
The BlackBerry Podcasts app has had some slight tweaks as well. A new RSS option allows you to add podcasts from their RSS URL. Most else remains the same aside from the different background color.
The Pictures app is identical aside from the Edit button in the options menu changing to Select while retaining the same functionality.
BlackBerry Bridge is still going strong. Now that the PlayBook has native Contacts, Calendar and Messages apps, you may want to turn these off when Bridged - to do so from your device, press the Menu key in the Bridge app from your phone, then choose Device Properties and pick the apps you want to use on your PlayBook.
The original version of BlackBerry Bridge included a browser that was separate from that of the PlayBook web browser. Now the browser is unified and will automatically detect if you are using WiFi or your Bridge connection and adjust itself accordingly.
It does just what it says and lets you control your PlayBook from your BlackBerry smartphone. The screen on your phone shows a psuedo-PlayBook screen complete with swipe-able bezels. Use the screen or your trackpad to navigate - one finger on the screen to move the cursor, two to scroll. Your keyboard is echoed on the tablet so you can use your phone to compose emails or write documents on your BlackBerry PlayBook. Autotext entries are carried from your device as well and will appear on your PlayBook as you type.
The new Open On feature lets you open links, messages and photos from your phone on your PlayBook. If you're browsing your photos and want to show one on the PlayBook, use Open On to do just that. You can easily open links and full email messages on the PlayBook as well. You have to be bridged to see the menu options.
A burning question on some PlayBook users minds is "Where is the Android App Player". The short answer is that it's there, you just can't see it. Android apps look exactly the same as BlackBerry Playbook apps, only when you download one will you know it's an Android app as it will run a little differently than a native PlayBook app. It will open and run inside the Android App Player, which isn't a separate download but rather part of the PlayBook OS itself. You'll be able to use the app the same as any PlayBook app, so ultimately you really don't need to worry about what is an Android app and what isn't. For more in depth answers, check out our Q&A from BlackBerry DevCon.
Overall, the BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 software has added some really great new features. Certainly some should have been there right from the get go, but none the less we welcome them now with open arms. Having native Messages, Calendar and Contacts truly adds to the PlayBook and makes it an amazing tablet. Its no longer a frustrating "Bridge only" device, and with extra features like BlackBerry Remote and the ability to run Android apps, it just keeps getting better for BlackBerry PlayBook owners. If you own a PlayBook and haven't updated yet, GET ON IT. If you don't have a PlayBook yet, keep watching for sales. If you can find a PlayBook on sale for $199, don't think twice. Buy it. And you too can experience all that OS 2 is for yourself.
For a closer look at some of the key new features in BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0, check out the videos below.
Setting up email, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts on BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0
Use your BlackBerry Smartphone with BlackBerry Remote to control your PS3, Android tablet and more!
How to sync your Outlook contacts and calendars to the BlackBerry PlayBook
Visit CrackBerry's BlackBerry PlayBook Forum