Testing the Playbook OS 2.0

With the updated operating system (OS) that Blackberry released, I thought I should give it another real world test drive to see how this tablet faired for me.  I put my iPad away and carried the Playbook every day into meetings, workshops, while waiting in coffeeshops.  I tried as well to use it at home in the evenings for personal use (though occasionally I succumbed to grabbing my iPad so I could watch some programming on Netflix…an app, like so many others, that is missing from the Blackberry ecosystem).  I wanted to keep track of where the Playbook exceeded my iPad experiences and where it fell short.

Unfortunately, for me, the list in the “Fell Short” column was a lot longer than the “Exceeded Expectations” column.

Pros

Let’s start of with the positives, of which there are some.  The release of OS 2.0 introduced onboard email, contacts and calendar.  This is a very welcomed addition to the Playbook.  The implementation is well done.  For the email, I really liked the ability to have a unified inbox that not only had your email accounts, but also messages from social accounts like Twitter and LinkedIn.  I received a fair bit of correspondance through direct messages in Twitter and having them show up in my “inbox” alongside email was excellent.  The calendar is fairly well done as well, I particularly liked when glancing at the month view how the numbers for the dates grew larger with the number of meetings on that day.  It allowed for a quick glance when trying to pick a future date and easily finding a day where you had a lot of availability.

The browsing experience was a good one for me.  Sites loaded quickly, pages rendered as they should.  I liked the tabbing approach they use for having more than one browser window – the use of the smart bezel (swipe down from top) to show the hidden menu items was intuitive and worked well.  I did have a couple of occurrences where the browser crashed.  For example, I wanted to use read.amazon.com so I could use the Kindle cloud-based reader since there is no Kindle app for Playbook.  Unfortunately, the browser kept throwing me errors and eventually would crash/quite.  Outside of these few issues, the browser was a real pleasure to use for browsing.

This version of the OS also introduced the ability to create folders which worked well in order to organize applications into groups that meshed with my workflow.  The mechanism for creating folders was similar to the way it’s done on an iPad and is a very welcomed addition to the Playbook OS.

Lastly, you can indeed run Android apps with the new OS.  I was excited by this, because the lack of apps doesn’t allow you to do much with a tablet.  For some reason, RIM has buried Android apps in the Blackberry App World – you can’t tell which is which just by looking through the apps.  I am not sure why they haven’t created an area that highlights the apps (more on this below under Cons).  I managed to find some apps and they run fairly well. They launch a kind of shell (see pic to the right) that acts as a container for Android apps.  I used the WordPress app (which is an Android app) and it worked well. You should note, however, that just because there might be an app in the Android market, it doesn’t mean you can necessarily run it on the Playbook.  Those Android apps need to be recompiled and placed in the Blackberry App World store.  There is a way of sideloading apps (a technical term for hacking an app onto the device) but most people aren’t going to do that – they want apps they can simply download from an app store-like environment.

Cons

To begin summarizing the drawbacks, you need only look at what framed the themes in the Pros section of this post.  It’s 2012.  If we’re talking about “there is now onboard email” or “you can now create folders” for any tablet today, then we are immediately drawn to part of the issue.  While done well, those features described above are 1st generation tablet functions.  Every other tablet has had these things from the start years ago.  The iPad and Android tablets are several generations ahead of the Playbook and the Windows 8 Consumer Preview I downloaded puts increased distance between what Playbook is doing and what modern tablets are doing.  The biggest drawback I kept thinking about while using the Playbook was that there was nothing new.

The lack of apps was undoubtedly still the biggest stumbling block for me.  I began keeping a list each time I needed an app that I normally use, but I abandoned that list because it was growing long.  Multiple times each day I’d need an app that I normally use on my iPad only to find that I couldn’t find it in the Blackberry App World.  In other instances, when I did find the apps, they were poorly done and not at all as refined as on the iPad.  Evernote is an example of this.  I use this app constantly throughout the day and I was pleased when I saw it was available.  Unfortunately, the Playbook version of Evernote is but a shadow of the iPad and Android applications.  In instances where I couldn’t find an app I needed, I had to forgo what I planning to do (very frustrating), revert to using the app on my iPhone or in some cases use the web version via the Playbook browser (which then necessitated the need for WiFi).  I listed above that the ability to run Android apps was a Pro (and it is!) but there was a real lack of apps from the Android ecosystem that were available.  I looked for no less than 15-20 specific apps I have on my Galaxy Tab but couldn’t find them in the Blackberry App World.

I was also surprised that there is a lack of messaging apps – like BBM! – which again hobbles the device.  I’ve become use to now using messaging tools to chat with family, friends and colleagues and the lack of them on the Playbook had me pulling my iPhone out of my holster more often rather than just flipping from what I was doing on the Playbook to an app, responding and then returning to my previous app.  How RIM could omit such an important and often used tablet tool is puzzling.

Lack of applications aside, another thing that I was hoping would be resolved, but was a persistant problem, was the touchscreen.  It just isn’t as responsive as to what I’ve gotten use to.  In many cases when wanting to type in a field for example, I’d need to tap that area two, three (four, five) times before the cursor appeared there and the pop-up keyboard showed up on screen.  In some cases, having to repeatedly tap something onscreen would “buffer” those taps and suddenly I was in some area I didn’t want to be because of mis-tapping something that appeared on screen after I tapped.  This was frustrating.  Any good tablet must have a screen that is responsive – delays in what you touch and what you see totally kill the user experience and seriously impact productivity.

Lastly, the 7″ screen was an issue for me.  I don’t want to consider this as purely a Con, which is why I listed the size also as a Pro.  The smaller size is convenient for taking the Playbook around, but that convenience evaporated for me when I needed to use the device  for certain tasks.  Screen size is a personal preference and in many ways, it’s benefit or drawback is based on the task you are trying to complete, but for me, more times than not it was a hinderance.  I prefer the larger screens on tablet (same was true for the Android Galaxy tab…I simply found the 10″ to be more usable than the 7″ when I tested those).

All in all, releasing OS 2 for the Playbook has made the device more usable and more valuable.  It is a shame that it took so long for RIM to get the update out – if it had arrived a year ago (or had been the initial OS upon launch) it would have made the Playbook a stronger contender in the tablet market.  You can see glimmers of potential when you use the Playbook in it’s current form – here’s hoping that RIM approaches the next version strategically, meaning a) shorter release cycle b) increased and new functionality and c) aims at developing an ecosystem that delivers value to end-users.

I am glad to have given the Playbook a real world test where it became my day-to-day tablet.  I’m even happier, however, to now have my iPad back out of the drawer – not having it as my tablet for just under two weeks made me realize just how versatile a device it is for me.

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About miannipalarchio

A strategist and technologist always looking at ways that technology can enhance businesses and personal. A long time blogger who likes to share what he tests in the real world.

Posted on March 7, 2012, in Business & Technology, Mobile Computing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. Playbook? Seriously? You should be testing real tablets like the Kindle Fire or Moto Zoom running Ice Cream Sandwich. Who on earth would buy a Playbook with all the selection available today?

  2. Maybe not everyone needs a tablet that does everything for them? For me the playbook works very well. It fits in my purse easily and I really just need email and my schedule. Why would I pay more for an iPad when I can get what I need from a Playbook at far less?

    • Why not just use your phone for that? Why bother with a tablet at all?

    • Looks like a RIM staffer is trolling!

    • why you say ipad 2 is crappy? like you can make a tabelt, apple made the first tabelt any everyone else started copying, the ipad 2 has face time, front facing camera and a back facing camera,the app store has the best apps.ipad 2 can go on flash if you download iswifer which allows you to go on flash websites and games, the ipad 2 is very thin and skinny, along with its smart cover, you say the ipad 2 is crap wow lolololololol,

  3. 1 day would have been enough for me to write this review. 2 weeks! That’s torture!!!!!
    iPads are nice but the android tablets with ICS are going to become the market leader.

  4. After today’s iPad 3 announcement comes, the Playbook will look even more useless!

  5. Two weeks! You are a brave man mip. I couldn’t go 2 hours without my iPad. Thanks for the review.

  6. Playbook is far more secure. With nothing on it there is no risk of losing anything when it is stolen :-)
    Oh wait, who would steal a Playbook ;-)

  7. Ipad 3 was weak. Android is going to crush Apple. Now that Steve is gone all Apple can do is try to enforce patents to stifle innovation. The iPad 3 was a huge letdown, albeit better than the playbook which sucks so bad it should be put out of its misery.

    • Agree that the PB should be retired. New iPad though was a considerable upgrade. Nothing radically different but the screen alone and increased specs will send all the Android tablets makers scrambling.

  8. Playbook might have some limitations but it’s half the price. The iPad is way too expensive.

  9. Blackberry has always been an overblown over praised device. Yes they created push email but the past 5-6 years they did nothing to innovate. The handsets for the past few years have just been the same crap churned out over and over again. The playbook was doomed to fail from the start. They should have focused on improving the phones and not wasted time and effort and money on a half baked tablet.

  10. Great post.

  11. I purchased a Playbook a little over 2 months ago and unfortunately it’s not more than a glorified way to watch some movies on it for me. I haven’t really found it to be a good tool for work. Wish I’d bought an iPad if they’d been cheaper.

    • If you want a solid tablet for work and home look at the Transformer Prime. It is running the latest Android OS and is great!

  12. I love my playbook. With more android apps becoming available. I get all the benefits of Android but also all the strength of RIMs QNX and far superior hardware. You should re-review in a year and I bet your opinion will change.

  13. It is sad to see this great Canadian company lose market share and leadership like this. Perhaps if they had focused more on new products and innovation instead of stubbornly clinging to their previous success things may have been different.

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