BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 hands-on

CES

Research In Motion didn’t unveil any new devices at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, but the Waterloo, Ontario-based vendor still managed to appease fans with a preview of its first major PlayBook OS update that will finally be released some time next month. We spent a good amount of time putting the OS 2.0 through the paces and while there are still some kinks to iron out — we had apps crash on us a number of times — we absolutely walked away impressed. Check out our hands-on photos in the gallery below and hit the break for our impressions.

PlayBook owners have been waiting for what seems like an eternity for RIM to finally bring native PIM functionality to the PlayBook, but the wait was worth it. We were already fans of RIM’s tablet, but the addition of in-built email, calendar and contacts without the need to tether to a BlackBerry smartphone is obviously a welcome addition. RIM did a great job with the apps as well, providing what is easily among the best email and calendar experiences we’ve seen on a tablet. Apps integrate with each other seamlessly and we’re big fans of the layered UI RIM used in the email app.

The email app opens to reveal a unified inbox with a list of messages on the left, and the body of highlighted messages appears to the right. Interactions with the menu buttons on the far left beyond the message list reveal a new panel on which users can perform searches, apply view filters, drill down to individual accounts and more. The calendar and contacts apps function much the same way, with layers of panels that slide to the right as the user selects menu items.

Integration across apps is also well-designed. For example, contacts are tied to meeting entries in the calendar. In the day view, a panel opens up to the right that displays a complete list of all contacts the user is scheduled to interact with over the course of the day. If changes to a meeting need to me made, the user can quickly and easily call or message contacts scheduled to attend the meeting and notify them of the changes. The PIM functions in PlayBook OS 2.0 support the standard mix of email services along with LinkedIn and Twitter right now, but more integration with various social services is coming.

While BlackBerry Bridge is no longer needed for email, calendar or contacts, RIM has added some great new functionality that we will be showing off in a forthcoming video walkthrough. Most notable is the new remote control feature, which allows users to type, navigate and even perform gestures on a PlayBook using a BlackBerry smartphone.

Even with all its improvements, the PlayBook OS is still missing key elements — most notably, support for two features RIM is well known for are still missing: BES corporate email support and BBM. The absence of this core functionality makes the PlayBook 2.0 still feel like an incomplete solution, but from what we know so far, RIM is working hard to overcome the development obstacles we have detailed numerous times here on BGR. As it stands now, assuming RIM works out the stability issues we saw, PlayBook owners should absolutely be happy with the PIM features and other new functionality coming to the PlayBook next month.

Last paragraph updated to clarify a lack of BES email support in PlayBook OS 2.0. Other BES features are supported by RIM’s BlackBerry Mobile Fusion solution.

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