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Why Android Tablets Can't Win: It's the Little Things

Jun 10 2011, 1:20pm CDT | by , in Reviews | Android

Why Android Tablets Can't Win: It's the Little Things
 
 

There's not enough sugar here to make the medicine go down.

I've been using an Android smartphone since the G1 went on sale, and in my time at I4U I've covered Google's OS from its humble beginnings to its current status as a powerhouse platform. So it is with all due love and wishes for a better future that I make this statement.

Android tablets, in their current form, are incapable of delighting consumers.

And it isn't because they lack apps. The tablet "app gap" between Google and Apple is a problem, certainty. But it isn't the primary reason Android lags behind. The Honeycomb computing experience falls apart long before you get to the App Market. I've been using an Acer A500 with Android 3.0 for two weeks now, and the cracks are starting to show in a big way.

Copy and Paste is Godawful in Android. Tablets provide an ideal browsing experience, which makes them perfect for tasks that involve a good deal of research. I spend a lot of time on my iPad 2 flitting between open windows, pulling out links and sections of text and pasting them in my notes for later perusal. Unfortunately, I can't do this kind of work on my A500. Because copy/paste in Android is so broken it makes me want to throw a rock at a clown.

The stock iOS Notes app deals with cut-and-paste wonderfully, as do several apps I've downloaded. But no app I've downloaded on Honeycomb is set-up to handle it. I'll select my text, copy it, and then tap down in Evernote or AK notepad and...nothing. And there's no Notes app already installed, winking at me from the home screen. Copy-paste is IN Android, but its integration is so poor it boggles my mind. It's worth noting that, while I can't paste in Evernote on my A500, I can do so easily on my iPad 2.

You Call This a Browser? Apple takes a lot of crap for nixing all 3rd party browser apps. But as far as I'm concerned? They can thumb their nose at Firefox all day long if Safari on the iPad 2 keeps kicking this much ass. I can treat my iPad 2 like a literal book, leaving windows open for days (weeks in a few cases) and knowing that, when I finally come back to them, they'll be open and unaltered.

I have yet to go a full hour of browsing on my Android tablet without the browser crashing. Firefox is not noticeably more stable. I should probably try Dolphin, but tests on my phone (which ALSO has persistent browser crashes) do not make me optimistic that it will work any better. Android is simply less stable than iOS. All the horsepower and versatility in the world won't make up for the lost productivity of hourly crashes.

'Close' Doesn't Count: Last night I typed the search query 'tannerite correct proportions' into Google. I ended up making a typo in the last word. When I tried to backspace, my browser jerked in an unsettling manner and the tablet refused to follow through with my command. I was able to select and delete the entire word using the "select all" command, but backspacing was completely useless. The same problem cropped up several more times that night, all within Google Search.

There are a number of little issues like this that crop up while using Honeycomb. Any time I start to enjoy my computing experience and lose myself in the machine, an obnoxious glitch pops up to set my stomach churning. Since launch day, my iPad 2 has crashed twice, both times while using Garageband. My A500 crashed twice in the first week, and I've had individual apps crash with frequency as well.

"I hate that tablet. It doesn't work.": I tend to surround myself with people who dislike technology. They accept the necessity of mobile computing but they aren't happy about it. I'm always curious about how these people will take to a new gadget. One of my friends- who loves the iPad 2 and cheerfully tolerates the PlayBook- had a totally different reaction to the A500.

"I hate that tablet. It doesn't work. It looks really pretty but it feels shallow. And I can't do anything on it."

My attitude towards the A500 is very different- I like it, and I might even advise certain people I know to buy it. But my friend's reaction is evidence of a major problem Google will have in moving these tablets. The iPad has succeeded because it made computing more accessible to millions of people. It requires less thought to use than any laptop or desktop out there. Android isn't that easy- and it needs to be.

"Easy" doesn't have to mean "restricted" or "closed". Android doesn't need to lose what little soul it still has, it just needs to be redesigned with an eye towards how people actually want to use their tablets. Until that happens, iOS will stay on top.

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