The frustrating experience that is Android Honeycomb on tablets

Summary:The Android Honeycomb user experience on tablets is so full of inconsistencies that frustration quickly sets in with the new tablet owner.

I have been all over the Android platform since the first phone hit the scene. I saw the potential of Android on phones and have followed its evolution through Froyo, Gingerbread, and now Honeycomb.

My current phone is the Gingerbread-packing Nexus S 4G (which I dearly love) and my original Galaxy Tab (also running Gingerbread) has more miles on it than my car. I have used more tablets with Honeycomb than anyone I know, and after hundreds of hours of use I still find Honeycomb tablets to be totally frustrating to use.

Last week I outlined my dream tablet, and detailed what I need to make a tablet a key part of a productive system. These needs are uniquely my own, I freely admit, but they are what it will take for a tablet to fit in my work day. I realized after publishing that article that the Logitech/ZAGG keyboard I like for the iPad is now available for the Galaxy Tab 10.1 I own. I know two tech journalists I respect (@harrymccracken and @EdFrmBrighthand) who swear by the ZAGG with the iPad for use as a laptop replacement, and having seen this in action it got me to thinking that the Tab 10.1 with this keyboard would be worth trying first-hand.

This weekend I dropped $100 on one for my Tab, which should be here in a few days. I am going to make a serious attempt to use the Tab 10.1 as a work system using this Logitech keyboard. To that end, I spent the last few days with the Tab getting it ready for the experiment. It didn't take long before the frustration level with Honeycomb raised its ugly head yet again.

My buddy Dwight Silverman of the Houston Chronicle and Techblog summed things up with this tweet over the weekend:

This conversation on Twitter was part of my grousing about how frustrating I was finding Honeycomb yet again. My ranting was the result of the inconsistent interface that is Honeycomb, no matter the particular tablet. Frequently accessed controls are sometimes in the upper right of an app window, and other times in the lower left (appended to the main Honeycomb system controls).

This makes switching from one app to another in Honeycomb, something Android excels at given good multitasking, less than intuitive. I constantly have to stop and think about what I want to do next, which should be a fluid operation if the interface was well designed. You can blame the app developer for putting these controls in different places, but something that affects operation at this level should be controlled by the OS. If certain controls would be better in one particular place then the OS should force that.

Google has left too much control over the interface in the hands of app developers no doubt to be "open". That is not a good thing in this case as the result clearly demonstrates. Frustration should not be caused by simply using a system.

Android is a great platform with tremendous potential, but Honeycomb falls short in too many areas. In addition to the frustrating interface, the confusing update system hits the user in the face all the time. My Tab 10.1 is running Honeycomb 3.1 which was just released by Samsung, yet 3.2 is the most current release. I have no idea if this Tab will ever get 3.2, which addresses problems some owners of other tablets report with 3.1. If an app is giving me trouble on the Tab running Android 3.1, it is not uncommon to find that the problem goes away with 3.2.

This leaves the Honeycomb tablet owner in a real bind, as the app developer has no desire to address a problem that exists while running 3.1 that disappears with 3.2. The customer is thus left in the lurch created by the abysmal update system that is Android. Differences in the Honeycomb implementation on different tablets further muddies the waters.

This situation was demonstrated this weekend given a problem I am having with the Tab 10.1. I need to run the remote desktop app LogMeIn Ignition (LMI) on my tablet to address particular needs the tablet alone cannot handle. I have used LogMeIn on the iPad, iPod Touch, and my original Galaxy Tab running Gingerbread with no problems. It is a great solution for those needing remote access to a Mac or Windows PC. The problem is it doesn't work on the Tab 10.1 at all.

I can run LMI on the Tab 10.1, but it crashes with an "out of memory" error immediately. Online searches about the problem showed that the situation has existed on the Tab 10.1 for a few months. They also showed that LMI worked fine on the ASUS Transformer when it was running Honeycomb 3.0.x, but when that tablet was updated to 3.1 and 3.2 the app stopped working. More disturbingly, owners of the new Toshiba Thrive tablet, which comes with LMI pre-installed by the OEM, can't run LMI without the errors.

This compatibility problem with apps and OS version is behind Silverman's "slate of FAIL" comment. The average consumer has no desire to troubleshoot errors of this type, and often has no ability to deal with all these different OS versions anyway. Honeycomb gives an inconsistent user experience from the interface controls to the ability to run all apps on any given tablet. That is more frustration than most users are willing to bear.

Related:

Topics: Android, Google, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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