updated 07:15 pm EST, Wed January 11, 2012
We try PlayBook 2.0 at CES
RIM gave the media its first access to its BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 firmware at CES, and we've given it a test to see whether there's promise yet. Read ahead for a look at the firmware and whether it might help RIM recover its ailing position in tablets.
It's clear that a lot of thought has gone into the native e-mail, calendar, and contact clients over the near-complete year of delays. The interface is organized into fairly elegant (if slightly iOS-like) panes that only show the information you need: basic information is available at first, but you get full options as you preview and later open each message. RIM also gives you a surprising amount of control over composing an e-mail: you can adjust basics like font choices, but also the alignment and overall style.
The calendar might be the most originally-designed and a potential advantage. When you tap a particular day, you can see not just what your events are but who you're scheduled to meet in those events, and the app lets you even see some of their work profile from LinkedIn. It doesn't have quick iOS-style reminders, though, which would be very handy for creating one-time events.
There are a handful of minor but still important OS elements. The PlayBook now has iOS-style folders, which are easy to manage and greatly help with the potentially endless lists of apps. You can now more easily close apps in the task switcher, and a handful of apps like a full edit-capable Documents To Go (owned by RIM), Box.net cloud storage, and Evernote now come preloaded. Its software keyboard now has a much-needed auto-correct system with word suggestions.
BlackBerry 7.1 ties into it as well: along with getting the tablet online much more easily with the personal hotspot, it can serve as a remote keyboard for the PlayBook for those who insist on hardware keyboards. Android Player wasn't available, but it was also dependent on pre-packaged apps that weren't there yet.
Is PlayBook 2.0 going to alleviate dwindling PlayBook sales? If we're pragmatic, probably not. RIM is still far short on the kind of app quality and volume it needs, and it now has a reputation for an unfinished tablet that may take a long time to purge. But the PlayBook now feels like a complete product - something we couldn't say until now, and possibly the main reason the iPad beat it almost without challenge in 2011.