Review: Native Contacts on BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0
There’s usually not much you can say about a “contacts” app. It’s got the mandatory list of contacts on the left….and that’s about it. But in this case, you’d be wrong. Just like the email app, it has Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn integration right off the bat. This is the simply the smartest mobile contacts application ever made, period. However, it is not without some weaknesses.
The first time I opened up the app, it pulled in all the contacts from my Facebook, Hotmail, Gmail, LinkedIn and Twitter –yes, even Snooki’s twitter. I’d have to hole myself up in my room for a few days to build up such an extensive list of contacts. And trust me, with this kind of integration, its best to have many contacts.
The user interface follows the guidelines of the other native PIM apps in PlayBook 2.0. It’s clean and modern. Just like the native messages app, it’s organized into three panes. The one on the left gives you options to filter contacts, search within the address book, add a contact, or skip to a letter. The middle pane is the list of contacts. The right pane lists all of the information for that contact. Swiping down from the top, there are options to sort by first name, last name or company name, and that’s about it.
What’s nice about this integration business is the fact that you can just tap on someone’s twitter info and be guided to their Twitter page in the browser. Also tapping on their email opens up the messages app, where you can send them an email right away. Tapping their video chat ID opens up the video chat app instantly and gives them a call. Stuff like that. It isn’t immediately obvious that you can do this, but it works!
If you choose to search for a contact, or filter by favorites or video chat contacts, you’ll notice that you can move the right pane back and forth, giving some flexibility to the view. The motion does not follow your finger though, making it less natural and not as interactive.
With over 500 contacts (due to the crazy integration), I’ve noticed the app does lag every so often after editing a contact’s information. It does take a few seconds for that lag to go away and you’re back to buttery smooth scrolling.
To integrate a contact’s Twitter, Facebook, email, and LinkedIn accounts, you might have to do some of it yourself. Luckily, doing so is easy. Opening up someone’s contact profile and tapping the “link” button at the bottom right of the screen shows the linked profiles for that contact. From here, tapping “Add Link” will allow you to search for, and link, another social network or email profile for that contact. By doing so, you can have the Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and email accounts of that contact all in one profile without doing any tedious typing.
However, there are some short delays while linking contacts, the experience gets a little choppy and less responsive when linking the data. Nobody likes clunky, and it would be nice if it just dealt with the data in the background and let you continue to scroll to your heart’s content.
On the far right side of the screen, there are interesting features related to the information you can pull from a single contact. For example, you can pull in news related to the company that a contact works for.
You can check their Facebook status updates, Tweets, or LinkedIn updates. I had a few problems with getting the updates though; it kept telling me to “try again shortly” because it was busy syncing. Unfortunately, after “trying again shortly”, I rarely got it to work. I think I did once, but that was days ago.
Each contact is integrated with the calendar app and knows the attendees you have scheduled meetings with. I found this to work well with “Hotmail” appointments, since I couldn’t seem to add attendees to my Gmail appointments.
There is another option to show the mutual LinkedIn connections or attendees to events. Since I’m not that into LinkedIn, I have yet to actually use this feature. Finally, if you have a shared event on your calendar and you’re obsessive about calendar information, you can see the meeting places you have in common with other contacts. Again, since I’m way too lazy to share or mark down regular meetings with contacts in the calendar AND put in the exact location of the meeting, I’m pretty sure I won’t see anything on this screen ever. But at least the option is there. I can imagine that if you were really, REALLY organized with your PIM apps on your PlayBook, you’d be obsessive compulsive organization heaven.
Not that some of your contacts in your list aren’t special, it’s just that some are naturally more special than others. Thankfully, you can identify favorite contacts. The only real practical use for this is to filter out the contacts you will never message, which ends up being around 90-95% of your contacts. As much as having a huge list of contacts makes you feel cool and popular, this way you’ll have a nice short list to deal with.
This contacts app is also integrated with the video chat app. Contacts that have a PlayBook can have a field that shows their video chat ID (which is usually their email address). There’s a little video chat icon that is either grey or green, depending on if they are online at the moment or not.
Creating a contact is a straightforward process, and pretty much exactly what you’d expect. It is a little too plain, but it does cover all the basics and is easy to use. One minor thing I did notice is that, you can add more than three email addresses per contact, unlike on the BlackBerry 7 platform.
Overall, the contacts app is the same story as the Messages app. It’s got lots of neat features. It is very well laid out. It is smooth in many areas, but rough in others. The lag when navigating the app is a bit annoying though. Sometimes it will take over 3 seconds to react, and it really takes away from the experience. As smooth as it is in many areas, the lack of fluid transitions and animations in many functions of the app stand out, making it feel slower than it actually is.
Nevertheless, it works and works well. The look is great. The integration is great. Sometimes, it’s just that last little bit of polish that’s needed to take something to the next level. This is one of those cases. Despite feeling less finished that the Bridge Contacts app, it’s way better. The bridge app was simply too basic and pretty much hopeless. The functionality and performance of the native app is just miles ahead. I do feel that RIM isn’t done with this app yet. With a little bit of added touches to the UI and optimizations to keep the graphics smooth, this app could set the standard for what a mobile contacts app experience should be.