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BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 impressions: Finally, native email and a calendar!

BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 software

RIM has been promising the PlayBook 2.0 upgrade since the summer of 2011, and today we finally got our first look at a PlayBook tablet with native email, a calendar app, and and a number of other upgrades. While it’s hard to say why it took so long and it may very well be too little, too late for the PlayBook, RIM isn’t ready to give up just yet.

PlayBook 2.0 enhancements we noticed

Email: When the PlayBook shipped in April 2011, it was missing one of the features that made BlackBerry phones famous in the first place: a great, fast native email app. The new email client in the PlayBook looks a lot like the email apps on BlackBerry smartphones (surprise), but the takes advantage of the PlayBook’s 7-inch screen size, displaying emails in multiple columns when in horizontal orientation. RIM has also included some advanced controls, allowing you to easily customize your text with bolding, italicizing, bullet points, different fonts, and a range of font sizes, among other things. A predictive text feature is also nice, allowing you to almost write sentences without any typing at all. Gmail and other Webmail accounts can be integrated.

BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 email app

Contacts: I didn’t toy around with this much, but this address book app lets you view your BlackBerry contacts as well as contacts from social networks like Facebook. 

Folders and Trays: The slide-up app screen now has a customizable tray for highly used apps. You can customize this. Much like Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) you can now make folders of icons as well, which is a nice addition. Other subtle UI upgrades are also present, which make the OS look and feel a little smoother.

Calendar: The new calendar app also does everything you’d expect. It syncs with Gmail, Hotmail, AOL, and Yahoo as well as Microsoft Exchange and other business email types. Week, month, day, and agenda views are available and, like other features like BB contacts, your data can be synced to other BlackBerry devices and backs up to the cloud. The monthly view also increases the size of the days of the month that have more activities scheduled, allowing you to visually see what days are hectic without having to enter the agenda view.

BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 calendar app

Android apps: We can’t verify this because there wasn’t a demonstration of it available on any of the PlayBooks we saw, but limited Android support will also be present, allowing hardcore users to side load Android apps. RIM representatives said that the company is working with popular Android app makers to bring some top apps to the BlackBerry App World (RIM’s own app store), but no specifics were provided. Until we hear more about this feature, we can’t say if it will improve the PlayBook experience.

Other upgrades: A new Print to Go app, new business features, a video store, and “enhanced” Web browsing are all present.

Overall, the new software really improves the PlayBook experience. If the tablet would have launched with this software back in April, it might have made more of an impact, but as it stands, the device hasn’t been selling well, and probably won’t sell well. If RIM truly wants to pursue the tablet market, it needs to make Android app support a priority (it’s app selection is meager) and release a new device that doesn’t carry the PlayBook name. Even that may not be enough, but for owners of the PlayBook, this upgrade will finally make your tablet a more worthwhile investment.