BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 Hands-On: Same Experience on Steroids

RIM's PlayBook OS 2.0 brings some new (and much-needed) features to the tablet, while keeping the same basic user experience.

Research In Motion€™s BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 is a fairly extensive upgrade to the PlayBook€™s software, but the resulting user experience isn€™t radically different from the one offered in the tablet€™s original version.

Certainly PlayBook OS 2.0 includes a number of features demanded by users ever since the 7-inch tablet made its debut in April 2011. With the upgrade, PlayBook users now have access to built-in email, calendar and contacts apps. A new €œreading view€ for the Web browser offers a streamlined way to read online news articles or Websites with large amounts of text.

For BlackBerry owners, an update to BlackBerry Bridge (a feature that lets users view BlackBerry content on the PlayBook€™s larger screen) lets them use their handheld as a wireless keyboard and mouse for the tablet.

In a bid to appeal more broadly to consumers, PlayBook OS 2.0 also comes with a Video Store (complete with movies for rent or purchase) and Music Store. However, the business users who constitute one of RIM€™s strongest customer segments might better appreciate the newfound ability to integrate their social-network data with their calendar and contacts, not to mention rich-text tools with email.

But if anything€™s going to spur PlayBook sales, it€™ll be a robust apps ecosystem. To that end, RIM has been encouraging developers to build apps for the PlayBook. In turn, a larger ecosystem comes with a significant side benefit for the company: Given how its upcoming BlackBerry 10 operating system will rely on the same QNX code base as the PlayBook, any apps built now for the tablet will port over easily (at least in theory) to the smartphones due sometime in late 2012. And BlackBerry 10 will need all the apps it can get, if it wants to compete toe-to-toe with Apple€™s iPhone and the large family of Google Android devices.

With all these features now in place, the PlayBook certainly feels like a more complete device. Those who liked the PlayBook before the update can take comfort in a familiar-but-enhanced interface. But it€™s still up in the air whether potential owners will opt for the PlayBook€”no matter how newly robust€”over an iPad or Android tablet.

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