BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 Test Notes: Worth The Wait?

BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 Test Notes: Worth The Wait?

This isn’t the review of the BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 software. That comes tomorrow. Rather, these are just some early impressions and comparisons to the 1.0 software running through my head as I get acclimated with the thing. These opinions that may or may not change with time and familiarity.

But for now, let’s get right into it.

The overarching system UI is much snappier with 2.0, up there with Ice Cream Sandwich and iOS 5. Once you get into the apps, things can get considerably less silky depending on what you’re using. But, overall, I was able to have six apps open at once without any hiccups, and most individual apps don’t see much of a negative impact from multitasking.

PlayBook OS 2.0 offcially supports Android app emulation now. Installing them is easy enough; they’re in the BlackBerry App World along with everything else, and they smoothly, automatically launch in Android App Player. The problem is finding them. Android app discovery is limited to cruising enthusiast forums, getting lucky in App World, or sideloading using quasi-homebrew witchery. That said, I managed to download a couple of Android stalwarts (WordPress and a Chess app), and aside from the addition of a bar along the bottom, you’d never know you were emulating an Android app. I’m sure this will be an issue for more resource-intensive apps, but for simple ones, it’s great.

I wanted to video chat with somebody, but I know like two people off the top of my head who still use Blackberries. And of those two, I don’t think they’ve changed phones once in five years, which means they definitely don’t have a front cam.

Browser seems improved, with faster render times and smoother scrolling. But on heavier or longer pages with more content, there’s still some re-rendering that takes place mid-scroll. Also I forgot how much I hate Flash ads! A lot. I hate them a lot.

The message app isn’t amazing — mostly, it feels cramped — but it’s better than nothing. It has a multi-pane design similar to the Twitter app on iOS. The UI is a bit static, and not entirely intuitive. For an hour after I first synced my different accounts, nothing worked. When I tried sending anything with my Gmail account, it said the recipient email address was invalid. When I tried to access the Facebook and Twitter sections of the app, it locked up. But then, presto, it all worked, likely because all the data had completely synced.

I had the same issue with the Calendar app as I did the messages. The progress wheel just spun and spun regardless of the date I selected . Once functional however, Calendar revealed itself to be a well-designed, hyper-functional app that also incorporated my Google and Facebook schedules. I think I like this better than the iOS Calendar app.

Contacts worked right off the bat! And it automatically linked contacts across multiple accounts. Huzzah. You can add accounts from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, Yahoo and Hotmail, among others.

So there’s this new app called Print to Go baked in that basically identifies your PlayBook as a printer, and will allow you send your documents to your tablet using the printer protocol. Formatting concerns aside, I’m not entirely sure how this is easier than just emailing a doc to yourself. Like would anyone who is confused by emailing themselves an attachment be able to figure this out?

There are also some swell-looking spreadsheet and document and presentation apps, but I’m not going to bore you with the nuances of that except to say they work pretty much as you would expect them to. We’ll go a little more in-depth tomorrow for you pencil-pushers.

RIM included a Kobo app for eBooks. How many people are going to pour their monies into a fourth place eBook retailer? Hopefully none? Then again, there’s no Kindle app in the App World, which just speaks to a whole other set of problems we don’t need to get into now.

OK maybe we’ll get into it a little. As far as BlackBerry App World goes, it’s mostly full of garbage apps, so it’s only appropriate that the experience of navigating through it is also garbage. The store is laggy and at times unresponsive and I can’t believe I suffered through this to download a Groupon app.

How is RIM gonna have Twitter integration in their QNX apps, but not provide an actual client? There are a grand total of two free Twitter apps, and by all accounts they kinda suck. Ugh.

I’ll have a final verdict for you tomorrow. In the meantime I’m gonna keep playing with this and figure out if the PlayBook is now a tablet worth your dollars or not.