Hands-on with BlackBerry Playbook OS 2.0 (Video)

It’s been a long time coming, but the BlackBerry Playbook’s long-awaited 2.0 software release is almost here.

In February, RIM will make the Playbook usable again, and that is not an understatement. We had a chance to look at Playbook 2.0 with Jeff Gadway who is almost as excited to show off the new and improved as we are to use it.

First and foremost: native email and calendar are present. But even more so, they are integrated with social networking like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, so you can see what your friends are up to from within the Contacts hub.

The keyboard has been dramatically improved, now supporting not only autocorrect but algorithmic predictive typing: it adapts to your typing style and suggests the approximate next word. The home screen has been spruced up with folders and a nice looking customizable dock. There is a video service powered by the fine folks at Rovi.

Android apps have been included in App World; developers submit them the same way they would a regular Playbook app, and once approved, they show up as any other. Once installed on the tablet, they are used in the much-balihooed Android Player, which is a non-virtualized sandbox instance. From what I saw, the apps run just as smoothly as native code.

Some of the improved bridge features, like using your BlackBerry to control the Playbook, are actually fantastic. Sharing content between the two is easy (and surprisingly fast over Bluetooth).

There are so many improvements to the OS that it’s likely going to feel like a brand new product when it launches in February. That being said, putting aside the last year of Playbook, is OS 2.0 enough to convert the detractors and naysayers? If Playbook launched in February 2012 with the same hardware and upcoming software, would it be enough to compete with the iPads and Android tablets of the world? For $299, I’d say it would make a pretty compelling argument.

More than anything, from talking to Alec Saunders, VP of Developer Relations, it’s very apparent that RIM has learned many lessons since the Playbook’s launch, and as humbly as possible are simplifying its app submission process and developer tools. We’ve already seen some of the fruits of its numerous partnerships, as EA Games and Rovio are bringing their valuable IP to the Playbook. It’s nowhere near what it needs to be, but the Playbook App World is no longer a desert.

Until 2.0 officially arrives, enjoy the pics and video.