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

I want to love the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet and its new Version 2.0 operating system released yesterday. After all, the PlayBook OS will be the basis of Research in Motion's future BlackBerry smartphones' BlackBerry 10 OS, and it has a clean, simple, inviting design. Also, you can now access your email, calendar, and contacts using native clients without having to bridge via Bluetooth to a BlackBerry smartphone, one of the most inane limits of the original BlackBerry PlayBook OS.

To be sure, PlayBook OS 2.0 offers solid enhancements, a few of which even outclass the competition. But overall, the operating system and its apps are too limited; it's passable as a sort of business communications appliance but not quite up to snuff with what a "real" tablet can deliver, as any iPad or Android tablet owner can tell you. Competing iPads and Android tablets offer much more functionality, and they're easy to use. They don't confuse simple with simplistic, as the BlackBerry PlayBook sometimes does. And they don't have the too-small (7 inches), too-ugly (a heavy black slab) form that characterize the PlayBook; RIM has not yet updated the actual hardware.

[ Updated for iOS 5, Android 4, BlackBerry OS 7, and Windows Phone 7.5: Learn how to manage mobile devices in InfoWorld's 20-page Mobile Management Deep Dive PDF special report. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights via Twitter and with the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

If you want a reminder of all that was wrong with April 2011's original PlayBook OS and the still-current hardware, read my original BlackBerry PlayBook review. Here, I focus on what's new in the PlayBook 2.0 OS.

Pleasant business apps that don't always work right
You may rejoice that the BlackBerry PlayBook now lets you access email, calendars, and contacts directly, over a Wi-Fi connection. That means you don't need a BlackBerry smartphone to use the PlayBook -- except you probably still do. I was able to connect to my corporate Exchange account and my personal IMAP account, but I didn't get all my email as I did when I tethered to a BlackBerry Bold.

For example, the PlayBook won't sync messages older than 30 days, so some messages -- like my folder of standard reference info sent via email -- are permanently out of the PlayBook's reach. Of course, over time, your folders build up any history you want to retain, so that's a small ding. The PlayBook 2.0 OS doesn't let you create or edit folders, as iOS 5 does, and continues that annoying longstanding RIM BlackBerry "feature" of leaving a copy of a message in your inbox even if you move it to a folder (casting doubt as to whether the message was actually moved, and preventing you from keeping a clean inbox). Worse, sent mesages are displayed in your inbox , too! There is, luckily, a preference setting to turn that off.

A bigger issue was that in syncing to my IMAP account, the PlayBook saw none of its folders, a problem I didn't have on the Bold. In the PlayBook OS, you can't specify IMAP or POP for email accounts, as you can on other PC and mobile OSes. An obscure error message when I checked my personal account's settings suggested that the PlayBook could not connect via IMAP, instead defaulting to POP. There is no way to say for sure. What I do know is that I've never had this issue with any other OS that supports IMAP, whether PC or mobile. Other reviewers have noted syncing problems as well.

Test Center Scorecard
RIM BlackBerry PlayBook (OS 2.0)



1 2 3 Page 1
Page 1 of 3
InfoWorld Technology of the Year Awards 2023. Now open for entries!