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:
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.
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.