BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 Review: An Enterprise Evaluation

RIM recently released the PlayBook OS 2.0 software upgrade for its BlackBerry tablet, which packs a variety of new enhancements aimed at business users. But is the new update too little too late? CIO.com's mobile maestro Al Sacco delves into the good and bad aspects of BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 in this enterprise evaluation.

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Thu, March 08, 2012

CIO


Research In Motion's (RIM) PlayBook OS 2.0 software has been officially available for about two weeks now, and I've been kicking the tires since I first downloaded it within hours of the release. Later that same day, I started seeing PlayBook 2.0 reviews pop up online. What I hope sets this review apart from those early evaluations is that I used the software every day for the past couple of weeks, just as a typical business user would. I also focused on the little details of setup and use that matter to enterprise IT administrators and the people they support.
BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0

The BlackBerry PlayBook was initially released in April of 2011, and the hardware hasn't changed at all during the past year, so this review focuses solely on the new software, except where hardware features and functionality are relevant to the functionality of the tablet.

The new PlayBook software is easy to like. But it's definitely not perfect, and it's somewhat tarnished from its outset because RIM took so long to make it available. So is the software too little too late? Can the PlayBook ever be a true iPad rival? Do you still need a BlackBerry smartphone to get the most out of RIM's tablet? Read on for answers to all of these questions, along with more details on the PlayBook 2.0 software and its place in the enterprise.

First up, the good stuff.

BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 Review: What RIM Got Right

The most significant enhancements to RIM's PlayBook software are the addition of new "native" email and personal information management (PIM) apps, including native contacts and calendar, along with new support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync.

The PlayBook was blasted last April after it was released without an email app, and though it took RIM nearly a year, the company has finally filled in that gap--and filled it in quite nicely. ActiveSync support could also significantly change the way administrators secure and manage BlackBerry devices in the future.

PlayBook Native Email and PIM

I found the native messaging app, which not only lets you add mail accounts but also connect to social networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, to be both functional and easy to use, thanks to its intuitive interface. Mail setup was extremely easy for me for both corporate Exchange mail and my Gmail Web mail. I simply entered in my Exchange login information and was connected without any issues; same for my Gmail.


BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 Native Mailbox
BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 Native Mailbox

The PlayBook mail app offers a variety of connection options for mail, calendar and contacts, including the popular Web mail services such as Gmail and Hotmail; Exchange ActiveSync; IMAP; POP; CalDAV; and CardDav, so most users and admins should have a similarly smooth setup experience. Adding VPN profiles was also a breeze; you just type in Server address, gateway type, user names and logins, etc., and you're good to go.

By default, the inbox shows you messages from all of your linked accounts in one place, but the "Accounts" function lets you see choose specific corporate/Web mail/social connections accounts to see only those messages or communications.

The native contacts and calendar apps are also vastly improved compared to the BlackBerry Bridge apps available via the previous version of RIM's PlayBook software, especially when you consider that those apps were only available to BlackBerry smartphone users who connected their handhelds to the tablet via the BlackBerry Bridge app.

The contacts app is impressively full-featured, with cool new functions that let you check any upcoming appointments with a contact from within the app; find shared meetings; discover social connections you may have in common; and more. And it automatically pulls in contacts from all of your connected accounts to help populate your address book.

The calendar application is similarly well-designed, with valuable features for business users. It syncs dates and appointments with your connected accounts so, for instance, you can choose to display all of your Facebook connections' birthdays. You can easily switch the calendar view to day, week or month, and when you select a specific day, the calendar lets you view the day's events by the hour, by agenda items or by the contacts that you're set to meet with.

Overall, I found the calendar and contacts apps to be some of the most functional tablet apps of their kind that I've ever used. (I did, however, find a few annoying quirks in the native e-mail and contacts apps. I'll share details in the next section.)

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