BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 -- outstanding value (review)

BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 -- outstanding value (review)

Summary: The major update to the PlayBook software turns the tablet from the maker of the BlackBerry into a solid product, the low prices make it a good value.


The BlackBerry PlayBook disappointed me when released last year, and for good reason. The omission of integrated email and PIM functions made the tablet from RIM a hollow shell for most.

My PlayBook had been consigned to a desk drawer for a while, and I had to get it out and prepare it for the version 2.0 update that recently rolled out. I'm glad I did that, as the PlayBook 2.0 is a very nice tablet.

The biggest improvement brought by version 2.0 is the integrated email app, which is quite good. It handles multiple email accounts with ease, and has a great interface that makes working with threaded conversations quite nice. It is restricted to running in landscape along with the new calendar and contacts apps, which is a shame as I often use the 7-inch PlayBook in the comfortable portrait mode. It's worth rotating the tablet around for the email, but I find the lack of portrait support to be lazy on RIM's part.

See also: Virtual tour of PlayBook 2.0 | BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0: Déjà Vu?

The PlayBook browser has always been good, and it's even better with version 2.0. It is as desktop-like as any mobile browser today, even giving Google Chrome for Android a good run. It's fast and works as expected. For those who find Flash support important, the PlayBook handles it just fine, unlike Chrome for Android.

Sadly the app situation hasn't improved tremendously since launch, although there are more apps available now. The big change in the app area with version 2.0 is the inclusion of Android apps in the App World. These are vetted by RIM for use on the PlayBook, and run much like native PlayBook apps. There is not anything in the App World to tell Android apps apart from native, something I wish RIM would change. It would be nice to be able to scan through all Android apps in the store.

There aren't a lot of Android apps in the store, but it is possible to easily sideload Android apps onto the PlayBook, opening up the tablet to many apps. It is important to note that no tablet-optimized Android apps (those requiring Honeycomb or later) will currently run on the PlayBook. Gingerbread apps run fine though, and I've tried some of them with no issues. The first app I sideloaded was the Kindle app, which works just like it does on the Kindle Fire.

See also: Matt Miller's gallery of Android apps running on the PlayBook 2.0

Speaking of the Kindle Fire, the PlayBook is routinely available at retailers for $199 for the 16GB model, and that puts it competing squarely with the Kindle Fire for the same price. The hardware of the PlayBook is better than that of the Kindle Fire, and with the ability to run Android apps it is a firm competitor. The PlayBook 2.0 OS is better than Android, too.

Anyone looking for a cheap tablet that is high quality should seriously consider the BlackBerry PlayBook. It is easily worth the same price as the Kindle Fire, and a better tablet for the price.

Topics: Tablets, Android, Google, Hardware, Mobility, BlackBerry, Security

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  • Agreed.

    I feel this review is unbiased and fair. Due to the PIM sync, size, HDMI out, and bridge keyboard alone I use it for work everyday. It has many other great improvements too.

    I've stopped using my wife's iPad 2, that's for sure. Not to say the iPad 2 isnt nice, but this is surprisingly closer than you think.

    Thank you James and ZDnet for keeping it straight.
    • No ecosystem = no value

      PIM sync, size, HDMI out, bridge keyboard are all worthless if you don't have the working apps you want...

      The outstanding value is in the ecosystem...

      That's all I got to say about that...
    • PlayBook

      Hi John,

      Ty from RIM here. Sounds like you???re really putting the PlayBook to work! I use it every day ??? for work and play ??? and love how I???m able to make the most of my busy schedule with access to business apps and productivity tools like Documents To Go and the new Print To Go app. The new BlackBerry Bridge functionality is also a favorite of mine, especially now that users have the ability to use a BlackBerry smartphone as a remote control for the PlayBook. Believe it or not, I???m actually looking forward to giving my next presentation at work!

      To take an even deeper dive into how you can make better use of BlackBerry Bridge technology for work, check out this recent post on our Inside BlackBerry for Business Blog:


      Ty, RIM Social Media Team
    • i like mine

      I own a touchpad and a playbook. Kind of more impressed by the playbook. 2.0 just made thing a lot better since I don't have a blackberry.

      Touchpad is ok and cool features, but the playbook has more eye candy. Also I noticed the touchpad has bugs that needs to be fixed.

      Although the touchpad is good as it syncs with everything, and the playbook doesn't have that yet, but it does download facebook/twitter messages + sync with the blackberry and all things in syncs with etc.
  • Nice Catalog of Re-Packaged Android Apps

    As I mentioned on Matt Miller's comments, there is a nice clearing house of side-loadable Android apps over at the Good E Reader site. Many of the most popular titles are available there, including Kindle, Titter, Google Maps, etc:

    They also provide a link to the BAR loading tool (DDPB), which is relatively simple to use, so...check it out.

    Randall C. Kennedy
    • Thank you

      Thank you for the information!
  • Great site

    In my opinion with OS 2 combined with a BlackBerry phone this far surpasses any tablet on the market. This is my 1rst comment here, new member, joined because they don't seem so blatantly biased as another site that ends with "net". Keep up the good work
  • I always loved this thing, but

    the lack of native mail was a pain in the butt. You could use a link to various webmails, but that had no offline capability.

    Now that it has that, I couldn't be happier. The 7" screen is definitely the right size for me, and the new Android compatibility will hopefully bring on lots of new apps.

    That's really my only remaining complaint. There needs to be more apps.
  • Multi-user support?

    At one time, prior to the QNX-based PlayBook's release, a few bloggers were writing that multi-user support was in the works, making this device a true coffee table tablet for a family. Does it exist yet?
    Rabid Howler Monkey
  • I like it and I use it

    I have them both iPad-2 and PlayBook and I like them both. But after upgrade to OS-2 I mostly use PlayBook.

    First, for me having 60,000 apps or 160,000 apps in app store (or app world) does not really matter. I have less than 10 apps installed on my PlayBook and I don't use them very often.

    Second, PlayBook's OS is really meant for running multiple apps simultaneously and switching (swiping) between them (and iOS isn't). And I really enjoy it because it is the way I work with tablets/computers. I use my tablets primarily for WEB browsing, messaging and socializing.

    Third, it is REALLY portable and durable. Try to drop iPad on hardwood floor and see what happens, but PlayBook will most likely survive. My PlayBook is always with me no matter where I go (movie theater, gym club, shopping mall, coffeeteria, fishing, hiking, family vacation trips, business trips, etc...). After I bought tough leather case I literally trow it to the back seat when I get in my car. It is always bridged with my 9900 Bold and so while I am driving (or in shopping mall) my kid can browse the web, access his messages and play few heavy (shooting) games I bought and keep on device just for him. It is not likely you will use iPad like this, it is fragile and too big (and it is also very expensive to lose).

    There is something else, if your are the MKV guy, I mean you download movies from the WEB (usually they are MKV files) than PlayBook can amazingly play them AS IS (both on its screen and through HDMI on your TV, and no need for time consuming transcoding to MP4), and iPad cannot do it. The only problem PlayBook has with MKV files - it does not play Dolby encoded audio.
    • You claim the Playbook is more durable than the iPad

      and you use "dropping each on a hardwood floor and see what happens" So have you dropped an iPad on such? Have you dropped a Playbook as well? I doubt it cause you state that the Playbook would "most likely" survive and you indicate that you don't think the iPad would but after all that is said you don't know do you? Why do you think the Playbook is more durable anyway? I've held the iPad and it felt solid too me? Is the Playbook thicker or something? As for the iPad being expensive to loose... Well tell me do you consider the Playbook a throw away device? You can be careless with it? To me a couple hundred dollars device vs a four hundred dollar device EITHER is kind of expensive to loose.

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
      • Now Jim...

        Don't be so defensive!
        Nobody is trying to take your iPad away!
      • I dropped a Playbook

        the rubber on the corner curled up a bit, but otherwise it was fine. Still, these are both a type of device you don't want to be dropping. They are basically sheets of glass... best kept in a case when not in use.
      • Relax

        @James Quinn - Relax buddy. Nobody is going to take your precious iPad away from you. iPad is $500 to $850 it's no where near a budget tablet and therefore not in the same league. The truth is most tablet's screens will break if dropped from a height of 4 feet onto concrete. The good thing about the playbook is the the LCD is not fused to the glass, making the glass repair easier on the wallet. Even though the playbook has a magnesium frame it's not immune to drop damage if dropped flat on the face to a hard surface. I suspect it may fare better than most if dropped on it's edge.

        For $199 to get a tablet with this capability and built this solid is an amazing deal.
      • @alawishis Playbook isn't budget either

        it is currently priced as budget, but is built as a $500+ tablet.
        Losing this much money on every one sold has to stop eventually. If it doesn't stop that is really a sign that RIM has major problems.
        Amazon's Fire costs around $199 to build, and it is a cheaper build than the Playbook that is (currently) selling for the same price.

        As for durability, I do use a Smart cover on my own iPad to protect the glass, nothing else for a case, it has survived several falls just fine
  • Competition is good

    James, it sounds like a very solid device and would be something to look at but I'm deeply embedded into the Apple ecosystem. But I will pass this on to friends that are looking for a machine cheaper than an iPad.
  • There aren't a lot of Android apps because...

    Blackberry is swamped by app submissions. This Sunday will be 3 weeks since I submitted my first Android app for review. A week ago they sent an email saying they were going to review it. So far, it hasn't been touched. Not accepted or rejected.

    Give it time. Once they get thru the backlog you'll see a flood of them in AppWorld.
  • Just so you know I don't own an iPad....

    I just don't like people making unproven claims and I was wondering if he had such proof. I think the answer is no based on the replies I did get and that is my point. As for loss or wanting to loose a given product I still say I would if I owned either would not care to loose either for various reasons not least of which is cost of the given item.

    Pagan jim
    James Quinn
  • question....

    what's different ?
  • Vs the IPad

    I have an Ipad and a Playbook, now powered by OS 2.0. When I use my Playbook for a while and I go back to my Ipad, I end up asking myself how Apple could have end up with such a lame way to switch from Apps to Apps. On the PlayBook, very simple gestures makes it possible to go from one app to another without using that stupid four finger swipe from the bottom. The Blackbery OS 2.0 Is so easy to use and it makes so much more sense. Yes the Ipad is more fluid and of course the zillions apps that are avaiable makes it a better overall products. But the fact remains nowadays, similarly equipped memory wise, The Ipad is almost 2 times and half time more expensive than a playbook and the BlackBerrys OS is a solid contender against the Apple Mobile OS. Android is not even in the same league as far as I am concern.