BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 OS: Closer, but still no cigar

RIM's updated tablet OS allows direct email and calendar access, but both tablet and OS fall behind iOS and Android devices

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You can add Twitter to the Messages app that handles your email, but all you get are your Twitter direct messages, a nice option if you use direct messaging as a parallel email system, but not if you want to post or even read tweets. For that, you'll need a dedicated Twitter app. Sadly, the Twitter "app" included with the PlayBook is a link to the Twitter site, and it doesn't even log you in with the Twitter credentials you set up in your Messages account. Even sadder is the reason for using the Web app: There is no native Twitter app for the PlayBook. In fact, PlayBook app selection in RIM's App World app store is sparse.

The Messages app is laid out nicely, with clear controls and a simple but effective interface. It's an example of good mobile UI design, one of the PlayBook's strengths. The Calendar app has a similarly clean, highly usable design, while supporting sophisticated repeating events that Apple's iOS has yet to tackle.

The Contacts app is the most surprising, in good and bad ways. For example, most of the usual contacts editing and searching capabilities are present, but you can't create groups, a flaw shared with iOS, or even view them, a flaw shared with no other vendor. Another flaw: Despite allowing you to separate work from personal contacts, the PlayBook doesn't let you change which group it assigns your existing contacts to -- not the most useful implementation of the concept.

What's surprising in a good way is the Contacts app's integration with other services. If you're viewing a contact and click the Twitter button, you can see that person's last tweet in your Twitter stream. There's a similar capability to see a contact's current LinkedIn status, as well as any appointments you have with this person. A lot of mobile OSes offer social networking hubs to collapse all your streams in one place, but usually in a lowest-common-denominator approach. The PlayBook approach is useful and smart -- a model for every competitor.

The PlayBook also includes a basic version of the Documents to Go productivity app (RIM owns its creator), which allows you to edit and create Word and Excel files, but not PowerPoint files. The app is OK for light use, but in no way compares to Apple's iWork suite for iOS or the Quickoffice suite for iOS and Android. A big flaw in the PlayBook version of Documents to Go (which does not occur in its iOS or Android versions) is its lack of support for cloud storage services such as Dropbox and Box.net, where your files are likely to reside.

All in all, the PlayBook is fine for calendars and contacts, as well as email if the sync issues are fixed. But that's the heart and soul of what the PlayBook can do for you -- and it can do it only if you have a Wi-Fi connection or are tethered to a recent BlackBerry smartphone to access its 3G connection.

Basic Web browser with great HTML5 support
The PlayBook's Web browser is nothing special. It offers basic bookmarking capabilities, the ability to add bookmarks to the home screen as if they were apps, and a browser history -- much like every other mobile browser. The URL field doubles as a search field in the omnibar approach gaining currency among modern browsers. And the Android-like previews of open browser windows is quite usable. The PlayBook is one of the few mobile OSes to support Adobe Flash, which Adobe itself is discontinuing after the current Version 11 for Android and PlayBook OS. There are the security controls over cookies and private browsing that you'd expect.

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