The recent BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 update brings with it a host of significant upgrades, that finely give RIM's little 7in tablet some key features it should've had from the start. So, we slapped the update on our review sample and took it for another spin to see if the PlayBook at its new £169 price suddenly makes for a genuine tablet rival.
Before we kick off, it's worth clarifying why we haven't simply updated our original PlayBook review. Its general policy that we don't update old reviews as it's simply not practical to do so for the volume of products we review. There are exceptions, like when a price falls suddenly soon after launch, but generally we don't. Another reason is that it's useful to keep reviews as reference points for how that product stacked up against the competition around at the time - useful for buying second hand. So, if you want the full low down on the PlayBook's hardware and core software features, check out our original review. Otherwise, read on...
With the simple over-the-air update applied, the first changes you'll notice to PlayBook 2.0 are simply some visual tweaks. The red swirly default background of old has been replaced by a green and blue one, giving the device an immediately different look. Also, the app launcher that runs along the bottom (or that with a swipe fills the whole screen) has now lost its All, Favourites, Media and Games folders, with you instead able to define your own folders by simply grabbing apps and dropping them on top of each other, just like on the iPad. Yes, it's a blatant copy but it does work well.
Once you open then minimise an app, the app windows are now larger and have proper icons in the bottom left corner, making it easier to tell which is which.
Another core change is to the keyboard which now has word correction and next word prediction, making for much quicker touchscreen typing. Simple little shortcuts such such as double tapping space to add a fullstop and space have also been added. The tweaked layout also brings oft used symbols within easier reach. All told, the whole experience feels more streamlined, more intuitive and that bit more refined.
The big changes, though, are the introduction of email (yes, the original PlayBook firmware didn't have an email app), contacts and calendars, along with a load of accompanying social network integration.
Looking at email first, it actually falls under the catch all Messages app, which also displays Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn messages. Each of these you can either look at separately or combine into a single inbox view.
Overall, it's a superb messaging app, providing easy navigation of your different accounts and message lists, and presenting each message neatly. You can pinch to zoom and scroll round each email, and fullscreen them for an easier view. We particularly like the buttons for replying, forwarding, deleting and the like that sit along the right edge - a design motif common throughout a number of the inbuilt apps.
The Calendar app is also superbly presented with very clever use of shading and colouring to show at a glance what's what. We particularly like how the monthly view shows a visual summary of how busy each day is using a coloured bar alongside the date. Tap a day and it opens in the right hand column with options for an agenda style view or a chronological one, and you can even see which of your contacts are involved in your day's activities. It all syncs with your email and social networking accounts, so will show things like friend's birthdays pulled in from Facebook.
There is a downside, though. Although you can add oodles of accounts, you can only pull in one calendar per account. So if like us you have five Google Calendars on the one account, you're a bit stuffed.