When RIM does communications, you know it’ll be done well. This app is no exception. The new e-mail app, called Messages, is RIM’s answer to the zombie-like “PlayBook has no native e-mail” chant the blogosphere’s had for the longest time. And to be honest, isn’t just an e-mail app, it’s much more than that. It also handles your Twitter and LinkedIn accounts seamlessly. The new interface is clean, modern and easy to use. The scrolling and animations are smooth. I’ve set up my Hotmail, Gmail, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts with no problem at all.
The app has a modern, clean look, with three main panes. Starting from the left, we have the options pane which allows you to search, filter emails by account, and compose any type of message. True to its name, this is truly a messaging app, and not just for email. The second (middle pane) lists all your messages, sorted by date by default. Sliding down the list of messages polls the server, refreshing the list of messages. The third and last pane shows the message that is highlighted in the middle pane.
When viewing your email, you now can pinch-to-zoom inside the email. After zooming, the text is automatically fit to the screen. It does re-align the text a little too close to the left side which looks weird, but that’s just aesthetics. You have the typical email options to reply, reply to all, and forward. You also have options to flag the email, mark as unread, or move to a folder. You can even view the email in full-screen. I really can’t think of anything important that was left out so I’m quite content with the available features.
In true PlayBook fashion, swiping down from the top bezel gives you your settings.
You have another icon to compose an email. It is unnecessary, but I seem to use it every so often because swiping down is just way to fun sometimes. You can sort the list of messages in any account by date, sender or subject. You can use the select options to select a range of messages using two fingers, or simply tapping the messages you want to select. This is pretty useful when you’ve got lots of junk mail, trust me. Finally, there is the actual settings menu. The first and probably most important thing to attend to in the settings menu is removing the default unnecessary “Sent from my BlackBerry PlayBook” signature at the end of your emails. At least getting rid of it is a piece of cake here.
So, most people have a Gmail account. And even though I barely use it, so do I. You’ll be happy to know that there is support for folders. Gmail comes with a whole bunch of folders already for you, but I’ve created an example one called “This is a new folder” just to show you that it works. Keep in mind that you’ll have to close and re-open the app for any new folders to show up. In my case, I didn’t put any messages in, so you just see the Messages app icon. Oh, and folders work for Hotmail too.
When composing an email, you now have much more formatting options to choose from. You can write e-mails in cool fonts, and even obnoxiously huge or annoyingly small font sizes. You can now write up irritating forwarded emails in all sorts of colors like everybody else now. Most of the fonts look the same, except for WingDings of course. I was hoping for a really fancy cursive font to show off but I didn’t seem to find one. Regardless, having support for the rich text is a definite plus.
You’ve got lots of other great formatting options that probably don’t need explaining. You can change the email priority as well. It does look like there is no BCC, but if you swipe down from the top bezel, you’ll see there’s an option to add that in. Sneaky!
Typing in the “To” field, you’ll get suggestions from your native contacts list. You can also add new contacts directly within the app from any email.
But there are a few things that do hinder the experience. First off, the file manager is poor. It’s very plain. It also just disregards folders so you’ll find yourself scrolling (which is slow and clunky) through all your pictures or documents. To top it all off, your newest pictures are always inconveniently at the bottom since it lists them alphabetically. Improving the file manager is should definitely be on RIM’s To-Do list, because I truly dislike dealing with it.
Navigating throughout the app, you’ll notice that it is mostly pretty slick. The top settings menu drops down smoothly. The menus fade in and out beautifully. The panes move quickly. The scrolling through the list of messages is completely natural and responsive. It’s not as smooth an iOS, but it works well. You don’t have super fancy transitions all the time like in iOS, making the software seem inferior even though it isn’t. I’m hoping we see some graphical improvements using the Cascades software to make the email experience more pleasant so you’ll want to use it more.
Overall, this is a powerful and functional mobile messages app due to integration with the contacts app and the rich text support. Compared to the Bridge Messages app, it’s like night and day. The improvements are extensive, making the Bridge Messages app appear shameful. The app isn’t perfect though. It’s rough in certain areas, and extremely polished in others. Some attention to detail in the transitions and animations could make this app the best messages app, but for now, it’ll only win on features (minus that unfortunate file manager).