I’ve been ripping out my hair investigating Android tablets this weekend.
The entire field is a mess. I have no idea how anyone makes a sensible buying decision that has zero degree of regret in it.
1) Android was designed for phones
2a) Android adapted to tablets means manufacturers are generally forced to used phone-like command hard buttons (Home, Back, Search, Menu)
2b) But some manufacturers (such as Archos) modify the software — which breaks app universality
2c) Overall, the command hard buttons mean they are basically larger phones, but without the phone radios
2d) Which leads to Google not letting them have the official Google apps
3a) Since Android wasn’t made for tablets, but for phones, apps are designed for certain phone screen resolutions
3b) Which means many tablets use lo-res screens, which only make that phone UI bigger — and ugly
3c) Which also means that when hi-res screens are used, customers are really buying a Pray and Stretch device
4a) The specs for Honeycomb generally preclude using it on a tablet with a 7″ screen
4b) That might not even matter since there are too few Honeycomb apps anyway (which means Pray and Stretch again!)
Aside from the Android OS issue, and screen resolution issue, and button issue, there’s the CPU and screen type issues.
CPUs are all over the map for 7″ tablets, ranging from a crappy 600MHz Rockchip to 1GHz ARMs that are usually a generation or two behind the latest one.
Screens are generally resistive — so the tablets include a stylus. I thought the stylus died when Palm came out with webOS!
As far as I’m able to determine, there are still only two 7″ Android tablets that are almost worth buying: the NookColor and the Samsung Galaxy Tab. They have their own issues too.
The NookColor must be rooted. And investigating that is a time-consuming task. Which version of Android do you want to use? And do you want to overwrite the internal Android or just run it from the microSD card? Plus, there’s no camera. And Bluetooth, not even listed in the specs, is a hack.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab is married to carriers that want to extract an outrageous monthly fee for data-capped 3G service. If you go into a carrier store and attempt to buy one without a monthly plan, the reps don’t know what to do. They’re all trained, and their systems are all set up, for a monthly plan. Not a single carrier has learned a lesson from the iPad — out for a year now — with its Pay As You Go 3G. (There are also other issues, such as carriers preventing the use of certain Bluetooth headsets!)
And then if you dare look at the WiFi-only Samsung Galaxy Tab, you have to contend with the very real possibility you’re wasting money on a crippled device. Rumor is the CPU was downgraded, highly-believable rumor is the GPU was downgraded, and owners have reported that Bluetooth was also downgraded from 3.0 to 2.1, rendering it incapable of pairing with a mouse, a keyboard, or much of anything, really.
With the “best” two — NookColor and the Samsung Galaxy Tab — not being trouble-free, what people are basically left with is holding their noses and buying a craptab — a Craig, or Sylvania, a Coby, or one of the dozens of others out there. More seem to pop up every day. For $99 or so, people can experience not the pleasure of Android, as they might on a good phone, but the pain of it, with a slow CPU and a screen that needs poking with the tip of a fingernail. What a waste!
And that does no good for Android’s future at all. People will think they’ve “tried Android” and flock to the iPad. It’s more expensive but it Just Works.
Unfortunately, it’s also much larger. There’s no 7″ iPad. And 7″ is an important size. It’s just about the size of a mass-market paperback, which means it’s very portable. And because it’s a multifunction device, it can compete well against dedicated eBook devices with eInk screens. An Android tablet can be an ePub (Sony, Kobo, Nook, Aldiko) reader and a Kindle.
This 7″ screen gap leaves people who really want Android with the new crop of 10″ Honeycomb tablets as their only real option. Which is no option at all for portability.
Just look at this picture from a CNet video:
At left is the 7″ Samsung Galaxy Tab. Behind it is the new 10″ Asus Transformer. What a size contrast!
I know there’s still the HTC Flyer and the Asus Eee Pad MeMO to arrive, but I suspect both of those will have their own issues too. Both have a stylus included(!). And HTC’s is bound to have Sense on it, with could make Android updates problematic, as has been the case with phones slathered with Sense. Plus, both will be considerably more expensive — at $499 — than the WiFi-only Galaxy Tab and NookColor, further alienating them from casual buyers and making them totally uncompetitive with eInk eBook readers — as well as making them appear laughably overpriced against the 10″ Asus Eee Transformer for $399.
It seems no one has come out with a straightforward 7″ Android tablet with a hi-res screen that’s basically as easy to buy and use with 3G as the iPad with a sensible price to attract many buyers. I’m sitting here wondering if anyone ever will.