The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet launched last year with one glaring omission: no native email app. Why RIM, a company known for bringing email to mobile devices, would ship a product without the feature baked in is unknown.
Perhaps RIM was too high on its innovative, if slightly unwieldy, BlackBerry Bridge solution, which synced email from a BlackBerry handset over Bluetooth. As a BlackBerry owner, I love it. But while it maintains security (nothing is stored locally on the tablet, everything disappeared as soon as the Bluetooth connection is severed), it leaves the ever-growing numbers of non-BlackBerry owners reliant on web mail.
Or perhaps RIM rushed an incomplete PlayBook to market in order to compete with the iPad 2 and emerging Honeycomb tablets. This, and they had to build an entirely new OS based on a newly-acquired entity (QNX), which leaks suggest didn’t play well with then current RIM technology.
Whatever the case, the BlackBerry PlayBook shipped without a native email app (or calendar, or messaging), critics slammed it, and RIM promised to fix it. Now, ten months later, the fix is finally here in the form of BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0.
Email, Calendar, Contact
The PlayBook OS 2.0 is available as an over-the-air update which takes its time downloading and installing, but given that it adds and changes so much, I’ll give the long wait time a pass. Setting up email is simple and the PlayBook does a good job of guiding things. The PlayBook supports IMAP, POP and Exchange Activesync accounts, in addition to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – though, just the messaging. The email application is not a social hub and won’t pull in tweets and Facebook updates.
Setting up Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo is a breeze, but those with no experience setting up Exchange with an iOS or Android device will want to consult IT for the necessary information.
Once set up, the PlayBook email app pulls all contacts into one hub, and combines all calendars. This is probably why Facebook and the other social networks are on board. My calendar is now a mix of Facebook birthday reminders and work meetings. Heavy Twitter users may want to avoid adding their accounts as the contact app will pull in every account followed, even if it numbers in the thousands. Where contact information aligns, the contact app will combine social media and email contacts into one entry, and combine that info with the calendar. Users can then see future and past appointments with contacts, as well as where and when they last met.
The PlayBook email client also one-ups the competitions’ in email features. Users can set out-of-office messages for Exchange accounts, and create plain text signatures for all accounts, all in app. Those looking to craft an email message can also make use of a rich text editor.
Admittedly, I’ve never paid much attention to native email clients, having taken them for granted. But after a quick comparison, the social media contact and calendar integration puts the PlayBook’s in a league of its own. All the apps also look great thanks to The Astonishing Tribe design firm RIM acquired in 2010, particularly the calendar app, which features calendar numbers that vary in size depending on how many meetings a user has. Navigation is very swipe centric, and while excessive messages and contacts can make things a bit cumbersome, the email, calendar and contact clients make good use of the PlayBook’s 7-inch display. Folder support still needs work however, as I can’t access my archived Gmail messages on the PlayBook, though I can in iOS and Android.
RIM neglected to update the BlackBerry Bridge email client, and it’s as bare-bones as ever, but it did add a remote control feature to BlackBerry Bridge for handsets. When connected via Bluetooth, a BlackBerry handset can be used to navigate the PlayBook via a cursor or menu items, and can also double as a keyboard using the handsets keys. For PowerPoint presentations, the handset can also be used to move slides along.
Mimicking the swipes with an optical thumbpad like the one found on my Bold 9650 is surprisingly easy and effective, and I also got the Bridge remote to work with both Motorola and Samsung Honeycomb tablets. Users have reported successfully using it with Windows PCs, Macs and PS3s as well.