Froyo Tablets Are Embarrassing

This week I visited the Gadget Show Live, a huge consumer electronics show in the UK, where a number of companies were showing off their Android tablets. The Xoom is very impressive, but as a self-proclaimed “Android guy” I was actually embarrassed by the other tablets that I saw.

Froyo is Not Designed for Tablets

Android 2.2 is a great OS for mobile phones. It’s well-designed to take advantage of the 3″-4″ screen, the form factor, and the range of capabilities of the various devices.

Stick it on a tablet, though, and it sucks. Look at this promotional poster:

The eTouch Blade: a budget Android tablet

Look at the icons on the photo on the left. Just like on a phone, you’re restricted to four icons per row — even though the screen is more than double the width.

Is that picky? You bet. But it’s just one example of a hundred that demonstrates how the Froyo interface is not designed for tablets. When you’re actually using one of these devices, you can feel all these little irritations building up, so that the overall experience is actually pretty lacklustre. People mocked the iPad at launch for looking like a big iPhone, but if you’ve ever used one, it’s clear that the operating system was redesigned to suit the larger size, while still retaining the familiarity of the iPhone’s interface. With so many of these cheaper Froyo tablets, it really does feel like you’re using a big phone.

Is This a Problem?

To be fair, Android’s strategy is not to build a better iPad. Google seems to want Android to fill all the gaps that Apple’s marketing doesn’t reach, which is why there are a million Android phones of different shapes and sizes, but just a few iPhones with one clear top model: this year’s.

This works really well when it comes to cell phones, because almost everybody feels they need a phone, and Android has something to appeal to every budget. But tablets are luxury devices. Nobody actually needs one, let alone an affordable one.

So when somebody does get a budget Android tablet — perhaps as a gift, or because they had a little spare money and wanted to see what the fuss was about — it’s going to be their first impression of having a tablet. It’s going to be their first impression of having an Android tablet. And it’s going to be a poor first impression. That’s not the case with an iPad.

It doesn’t help that the budget tablets have a far lower quality build than the iPad, either. That’s unavoidable, of course, simply due to the cost of the materials, but it’s another bad point towards the user’s first impression of Android vs iOS.

Honeycomb is Awesome, Though

It took a while, but I did manage to get my hands on a Xoom, after a long wait. The difference in the interfaces is immediately obvious. It’s clear that Honeycomb is designed for tablets; in this case, there are a hundred little things that the OS does right which all add up to a much better experience.

Spreading the word, one demo machine at a time.

One such example is the Chrome-like tabbed browsing, which you can see in the photo above. For more, see our coverage of the Honeycomb announcement from earlier in the year.

Now that I’ve had a chance to play with the different tablets myself, I can understand why Google locked down Honeycomb to prevent manufacturers from shoving it onto phones or other devices where it doesn’t fit. I just hope that customers’ experiences with Froyo tablets haven’t put them off the idea of an Android tablet completely.

  • Alex

    Sorry, but your arguments are a little weak.
    I have a Nook Color with FroYo, and have 6×8 icons on the home (thanks to ADW), and the chrome-like tabs (thanks to Dolphin Browser HD).
    CyanogenMod now brings the Back and Menu buttons on the toolbar (on Gingerbread), and SoftKeys brings all the buttons plus a d-pad overlayed.

    All of them are free.

    Maybe the chinese assemblers don’t want to work too much to test them and just put FroYo on the hardware without testing, but this doesn’t mean that a tablet absolutely need Honeycomb (plus, I don’t like the Gingerbread interface :P)


    • Michael James Williams

      Sure, but look at what you had to do:

      Root the device
      Install a custom ROM
      Install three separate apps

      …just to get a decent tablet experience. My point’s not that a good Froyo tablet is an impossibility, but rather that the Froyo tablets that exist at the minute suck, and are going to give a bad first impression of Android as a tablet OS.

      Those are great tips for making a Froyo tablet better, though — thanks for sharing :)

      • Jake

        I too think your arguments are a little weak.

        I haven’t had to root my Galaxy Tab, nor install a custom ROM.
        I can fill my home screen(s) with a multitude of icons by installing Launcher Pro ( or any of the other launchers available ).
        Tabbed browsing, just install Dolphin or Opera.

        I understand the point that Froyo was not designed for tablets, but I wouldn’t exactly call it a lackluster experience.

        • Michael James Williams

          Fair point. Perhaps I was a little harsh on Froyo as an OS. But have you been to one of those trade shows? The overwhelming impression is that Android tablets are pretty poor, and a distant second to iPad. It’s good to hear that the people that have them do enjoy them though :)

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  • Steve Collins

    It really made my heart sink when I read that horrible title “Froyo Tablets are Embarassing” I bought myself a Galaxy Tab 7″ and can honestly say I love it, I dont surf too much but use it mainly as a travelling movie and music machine, as my GPS unit loaded with Sygic, as a portable document viewer editor and creator, and with a ton of other applications that all scale perfectly on the 7″ screen. I really enjoy the device very much, it is responsive and has a beautiful screen. I have no interest in rooting it flashing it or anything else, I just use it all the time and love it. Definitely not lacklustre. I think that some reviewers catch this disease called “OETHTG” over exposure to high tech gadgets, and to them once something is not new anymore it simply becomes relegated to the crap bin. Dont despair fellow Froyo users, love your gadget like I love mine. SD & Drag and drop rules!

    • Michael James Williams

      Hey Steve!

      I’m glad to hear you like it :) I know lots of other people like theirs, too. My point wasn’t “Froyo tablets are awful”; it was that, if you look at lots of tablets together — iPads, Froyo tablets, and (the then-rare) Honeycomb tablets — Froyo tablets generally look cheaper and less appealing than the others, which reflects badly on Android as a whole.

      This is partly because many manufacturers just don’t put the effort in. There are a lot of Froyo tablets out there at a budget price and with the build to match (cheap hardware, lazy design). Froyo tablets are also often demoed with just stock Android — no launchers or widgets that better suit the larger screen.

      So, I believe decent Froyo tablets do exist (clearly you’re happy with yours!), and that tablets that don’t look so hot out of the box can be made awesome with a few downloads, but when the manufacturers don’t bother to put the effort in, it makes Android look like a poor platform, which is a shame.

  • Michael James Williams

    I’ve been thinking about this, and I want to clarify my stance. I’m not saying “all Froyo tablets are awful, with no capacity to be even worth glancing at!” I’m saying, “the cheap Android tablets that are running a version of Froyo not optimised for tablets are making Android tablets as a whole look bad.”

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