As you could tell from my GTablet review, I was less than happy with the hardware and not fully convinced with Android for phones running on a tablet. So I sold the GTablet on eBay and got a used iPad to see what all the fuss was about. I had a first-gen iPhone years ago so I was curious to see what the competition had to offer these days. I’ve seldom used a device that was so much fun but also so annoying at the same time. Read past the break to find out why.
Now if you’d know me in person you’d know I’m almost militantly against Apple products. I don’t like the smug faces of Jobs/Ive et al. I don’t like their prudish approach to what content they permit and what users can do in terms of customization and personalization. And don’t get me started on the creepy turtleneck and the dogmatic style of their keynotes. BUT I will have to compromise and say that they have set the stage for what a mobile OS, be it on a phone or a tablet device, should look and feel like.
I’m not questioning the build quality or the screen, they’re both quite amazing. I’m also not questioning the fact that apps look gorgeous and seem to have a lot more thought put into them than a good bunch of what’s running on Android, but there’s quite a few things coming from Android that bother the shit out of me.
The GTablet was a heavy plastic slab with a screen inferior to most phones these days. But I never almost dropped it three times in a row. The metal back of the iPad looks spiffy and gives a nice feel, but it’s slippery to an annoying degree. The tapered edges make it look slimmer than it is, but the slim lines around where you’d be holding it give little to grip onto. People that complain about the thick bezels should try holding it closer to the edge and realize that it’s impossible to use without them. One more thing about the hardware and I’ll get to what’s actually important: how this compares to Android on a tablet, even more so to what Android should and will be come CES 2011. Controls: for people familiar with Apple mobile products, you’ll know that there’s only a lock button and a home button to do all the maneuvering. This means that all menus must be visible on screen and the execution of this is often minimalist with nondescript icons on navigation bars that could be tucked away and accesses with a menu key (Android win).
The Market: Apple keeps taunting with the number of apps that are available and certainly there are quite a few gems. As far as I remember, on my first-gen iPhone the market had a bunch of tabs like Top Free and What’s Hot that helped find apps easier than Android thus far. The Genius feature is a built in version of Appolicious for Android that looks at what’s installed and recommends goods apps. I found quite a few cool apps, but it also recommended a bunch of Farmville clones (NOT INTERESTED) and apps in Arabic or Japanese, which aren’t that useful since I don’t speak either.
When you install an app it minimizes the market and throws the app on the second home screen, even if you only want to use one screen with a bunch of folders. Reorganizing apps is easy to do on the PC in iTunes (which kind of defeats the purposed of a tablet) but slightly tedious otherwise. Also, once you get back into the market, it won’t remember what page of the top free apps or whatever category you were browsing and it’s back to tapping through pages again. What’s more, apps install one at a time, and update the same way, there’s no indicator of how many people have downloaded the app to gauge it’s quality and there’s plenty of crapware even with Apples careful selection process for apps (crapware here refers to apps that don’t work properly, i.e. a free guitar app that had the strings reversed and sounded horrendous once you plucked more than once string at a time).
It’s nice that the bottom dock can be customized and Folders include icons of the apps inside so you can find stuff easier, but I’ll take Launcher Pro over a static dock (or any other dock for the matter) any day. However, overall, the menus and user experience feels a little more integrated than on Android. Once you manage to figure out where things are, they’ll mostly be in the same place. But coming from Android and being the kind of Android user that’s gone through 10 different ROMs on his phone, I can never shake the feeling that the iPad is just a little too simple for its own good. I don’t think this is just my perception, but I feel like tablets should ultimately be replacements, not additions, for our computing devices. If I can pair a keyboard and get some sort of Office experience on it, all else I need is a browser and a music client. The iPad’s got all that, but it just doesn’t feel like a full-fledged computer.
Multitasking is still clumsy and not all apps are optimized to run side-by-side with others (in fact, a good number free and lite versions of apps haven’t been updated since before multitasking came in 4.2 so they only work by themselves). Also, I’ve seen a good deal of force closes and on the fifth day the OS died completely and had to be restored from an incomplete backup from my computer, wiping half of the apps on it.
In conclusion, Apple set the stage again for how the basic interaction should occur on a touch-tablet device. It’s now up to Android to bring a less easy to use but more comprehensive experience to the tablet. Honestly, if they integrate Google Docs with the system, get rid of the ‘recently open’ kind of multitasking for a ‘currently open’ one and get the following three apps on Android, I’m sold for whatever tablet comes out, as long as the screens quality is good and it’s got a Tegra processor and at least 512 MB of RAM.
Here’s my top pick for iOS to Android apps that Google should convince developers to port:
Awetorium - a visually stunning music explorer for Indie music. Great selection of music and quite the experience to look at.
VLC - The answer to the annoying practice of converting clips and movies to make them play in formats accepted by Android (yes, better than RockPlayer)
Flipboard - A more refined version of Pulse. Doesn't yet have access to that many sources, but it looks and feels more natural.
Image from Wiki4Android