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The new messages app, which reformats your Facebook and social network messages by date and sender, is arguably more intuitive than Facebook's own messages screen. You can also dump your various Web mail accounts, such as Gmail, into your feed with ease. (Research in Motion)
The new messages app, which reformats your Facebook and social network messages by date and sender, is arguably more intuitive than Facebook's own messages screen. You can also dump your various Web mail accounts, such as Gmail, into your feed with ease. (Research in Motion)

Review

PlayBook update makes tablet an easier sell Add to ...

If you want your corporate e-mail on your PlayBook, you'll still have to go through your company's IT department, as you would with a BlackBerry. (In fact, I'd wager that a big part of why it took RIM so long to get native e-mail on the PlayBook is the difficulty of marrying consumer-friendly social messaging and contacts with the traditionally ultra-secure architecture of the BlackBerry message network). But simply going to the “Accounts” section of the PlayBook's settings and tapping in your Twitter, LinkedIn and/or Facebook account info will quickly populate all your apps with feeds from your social networks. This kind of universal info-sharing among apps isn't unique to the PlayBook, but it works surprisingly well. Indeed, the messages app, which reformats your Facebook messages by date and sender, is arguably more intuitive than Facebook's own messages screen. You can also dump your various Web mail accounts, such as Gmail, into your feed with ease.

The same universal inbox feature extends to the PlayBook's video chat app, which also automatically hunts down your camera-enabled friends and adds them to your chat contacts list.

If the new built-in productivity apps are the PlayBook's most significant feature, the new file management system is probably the least significant. It's easy-to-use – basically, tap and hold an app to move it, then move it over another app to create a new folder containing those two apps. Rinse. Repeat. RIM is right to have included it in the update, but nobody's going to go out and buy a PlayBook for the file management capabilities. The software update also includes a file manager that lets you quickly scan the documents, music, video and pictures you have on the tablet. Again, it's mildly useful, but not a killer feature.

More importantly, RIM has found a way to make its original PlayBook features – the somewhat-derided BlackBerry Bridge – much more useful. Bridge was originally a way for RIM to give users e-mail, calendar and other apps on their PlayBook by basically streaming them off a BlackBerry smartphone via a bluetooth connection. Now, users who have both the tablet and the phone can use Bridge to remotely control their PlayBook from their BlackBerry. That means you can use your physical BlackBerry keyboard to type on the PlayBook, or control slides in a presentation without picking up the tablet, or even open documents remotely from your BlackBerry to your PlayBook in order to view them on a larger screen (that last one isn't really a Bridge feature, but it's very cool regardless). Business-minded users are going to make great use of these features.

Canadian users aren't going to like this, but in the U.S., PlayBook 2.0 comes with a built-in video store. As I happen to be in the U.S. while reviewing the tablet, I can tell you the selection is all over the place. The movies are mostly new – including Bridesmaids, the Hangover 2 and what I assume is the latest Twilight movie. The TV show selection isn't great, but does include a few gems, such as The Walking Dead and the terrific, underrated comedy Party Down. Of course, you'll need a U.S. credit card to watch any of it.

On the style side, RIM has done well to keep the user interface fairly understated. The best features are fairly subtle. For example, dates on the calendar where there are several appointments show up larger on the screen. One of RIM's best acquisitions in recent years is a small user interface design firm called The Astonishing Tribe. Those guys are starting to leave their fingerprints all over the PlayBook, and will probably have a big say in how the next generation of BlackBerrys look, too.

PlayBook OS 2.0 isn't going to completely reverse RIM's fortunes in the PlayBook market. In fact, the company's decision to slash prices on the device will probably be more responsible than any of the new features for moving more PlayBooks off store shelves. But this is nonetheless an important moment for the company. After months of missed launch dates and earnings numbers, RIM has finally kept one of its promises, releasing a product when they said they would. A friend of mine who works at the company often complains that the media likes to only focus on the negative when it comes to RIM. But that's because the company has given reporters and investors little else to focus on. With a software update that finally makes the PlayBook a serious contender, RIM has finally generated a welcome bit of good news.

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