State of the slate: The glitchy nature of Android tablets

State of the slate: The glitchy nature of Android tablets

Summary: It is a two-horse race in the tablet space, and the number two solution is just not good enough yet.

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I am referred to as the Tablet Guy by many acquaintances as I have been using them for a decade. I started with tablets when they weighed over four pounds, and have upgraded more times than I can count. Tablet hardware has evolved wonderfully and slates are now thin, light and full-featured. Unfortunately, the software driving them has not kept up with that evolution.

I will ignore the elephant in the room of tablets as I don't have nor use an iPad. I owned the original iPad (and tested the iPad 2) and liked it a lot, but sold it when the smaller Galaxy Tab came along. This started me on my Android tablet adventure, which has included many of the top models. I am currently using a Galaxy Tab 10.1 and a ThinkPad Tablet in addition to the original Galaxy Tab. I have evaluated the Motorola XOOM, Acer A100 (first 7-inch Honeycomb tablet), Lenovo K1, HTC Flyer, and several other Android tablets over the past year.

See also: HP TouchPad: Everything you want to know; Review: Motorola XOOM, brimming with unrealized potential; Hands-on review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1; Hands on with first 7-inch Honeycomb tablet: Acer A100; Lenovo IdeaPad K1 tablet: First impressions; ThinkPad Tablet: Ready for the boardroom; ThinkPad Tablet vs. Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 as laptop replacement

I own the HP TouchPad and have written a lot about it as I like it a lot. I find it more enjoyable to use than all Android tablets I have tried. The problem is that HP has orphaned the tablet and possibly the entire platform, so a long-term user relationship is not in the cards. It is hard to justify using the TouchPad as my main tablet for that reason. While HP may continue to update the software for a while, I do not believe it is realistic to expect that to continue much longer. I can't believe app developers will either, with no new users coming along.

I have a PlayBook but can't remember the last time I took it out and used it. The path RIM has taken with the PlayBook couldn't have rendered the device more ineffective had that been the objective. Too many core functions missing at launch, too long to get them working on the PlayBook, and now the confirmation that version 2.0 of the software won't be out until next year. The PlayBook is effectively dead to me.

Google is getting ready to release Android 4.0, aka Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), and it looks pretty sweet. Of course we've seen it running mostly on phones, and it is not clear how much improved it will be over Honeycomb on bigger screens. This concerns me as I have been less than impressed with Honeycomb on tablets.

Every Honeycomb tablet I have used has issues that interfere with a smooth user experience. One tablet reboots at random during use, another crashes and shuts down while sitting idly on the charger, and most of them have frequent lags that interfere with normal usage. All of them fail regularly running the Android Market, Google's own app store app. Don't misunderstand me, these tablets do everything they should do and being Android have a decent selection of apps to choose from, but they aren't smooth operators.

In my view a tablet should be a device that you just pick up and do things with it. No lag, no discovering it has shut down unexpectedly; just pick it up and do stuff. The system should run smoothly, without hiccups, and things should happen instantly. The hardware is more than good enough to handle this, and the software should support it. While I'm sure many Android tablet owners are quite happy with the way they work, in my own experience operation is lacking.

I am not saying that Android tablets are not good, they are. I am not saying that no Android owners are happy, they are. I am stating that my own experience with Android tablets has been wanting, and I don't see it getting better any time soon. Maybe ICS will help, but it's too early to tell until we see some actual products.

While Android is great for customizing the user experience, after fidgeting with it on a tablet for a while I want it to work smoothly as desired. That doesn't happen in my experience, and thus my unhappiness with Android tablets in general. At the end of the day I want to just pick up a tablet and use it, without hiccups, and that doesn't happen.

Topics: Hardware, Android, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets

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  • Android tablets do not have to be that smooth and consistent since these ..

    ... for geeks like nearly all of us here at ZDNet (no normal sane person ever visits such site), who really like customizations.

    You can not have both smoothness of experience and freedoms of customizations at the same time.

    So you are buy iPad and see no hiccups (most of normal people), or you buy Android tablet and customize it any crazy way you want (geeks) unless seller/carries tries to blocks something.

    (To be fair, the second way also includes buying an iPad and cracking it to use Cydia for basically limitless customizations.)
    DDERSSS
    • Why not?

      @DeRSSS You say "You can not have both smoothness of experience and freedoms of customizations at the same time."

      I say, why not? I'm not spending that kind of money on any tablet, regardless of manufacturer until I can have both.
      cornpie
      • Transformer

        @cornpie

        I just bought an Asus Transformer. It seems to work nicely out of the box, and I've made it an integral part of my network. I'd say that covers both.
        Tsingi
      • RE: State of the slate: The glitchy nature of Android tablets

        @cornpie
        I also bought an Asus Transformer and have been incredibly pleased. I use it daily at work, and would use it exclusively if I didn't need certain products (Visual Studio, some MS Office features in Outlook, etc.).
        SmAcKjAcK
    • RE: State of the slate: The glitchy nature of Android tablets

      @DeRSSS All I can say is Thank God for iPad. I bought mine in June and my battery lasts a full week with heavy use. It never crashes, freezes or anthying, it truly just works... it is simply amazing. I can't even say the same about my iPhone... it does hang sometimes with appsl like Google Voice.

      I wonder why the author won't just use the best tablet out there??
      Hasam1991
      • No other tablet comes close.

        @Hasam1991
        "I wonder why the author won't just use the best tablet out there??"

        It is too bad that there aren't at least a couple "best" tablets out there depending on what your needs are. As it is, there is only 1 tablet that anyone should buy since there is no set of requirements that would lead an educated consumer to purchase anything other than an iPad.

        It is a sick market. We all lose.
        toddybottom
      • RE: State of the slate: The glitchy nature of Android tablets

        @Hasam1991 Horses for courses... We are looking for a tablet for a customer currently. It has to have the complete Java stack implemented - that rules out Android and iPad (the former uses Dalvik and key parts of Java are missing, the latter doesn't "do" Java).

        That pretty much leaves us looking at Windows and Linux tablets, which are few and far between at the moment. We have tried a couple of Atom based (which is what most people are releasing), but they are abominable, yet Sandy Bridge based tablets are like hen's teeth at the moment.
        wright_is
      • RE: State of the slate: The glitchy nature of Android tablets

        @Hasam1991

        Likely because there isn't one single "best tablet out there". Everyone has different needs, wants, and thus their "best tablet out there" might not be an iPad 2.

        @toddybottom

        I am sick and tired of you saying that there's no reason why anyone would want to buy anything other than an iPad. There are plenty of reasons to buy an alternative tablet, so please educate yourself before you come here and whine about how it's a sick market.

        It's a competitive market where Android and iOS are trading blows. iOS is on the top right now, but Android is doing alright. 26% of the market, according to the IDC, is not the best... but it is hardly dead.
        Michael Alan Goff
      • RE: State of the slate: The glitchy nature of Android tablets

        @Hasam1991
        iPads are great for consuming data, but not for creation. With Windows Slate, you have an actual laptop replacement as they have the same insides, but just add the touch experience. And while they are more expensive, as a laptop replacement, they become cost efficient. So in education, they can run all the flash apps that schools still use; they work with all the existing line of business apps that enterprises use (not to mention they are more secure and can do things like being dropped into an Active Directory). And there are lots of cool consumer apps out there and more being developed all the time. As for hardware, while the batter life wasn't great before, newer models from Samsung are advertising 7 hours... And the cool stuff you'll be able to do with Windows 8 will be amazing!
        stevesu*
      • RE: State of the slate: The glitchy nature of Android tablets

        @ toddybottom

        There will be more good tablets as soon as manufacturers realize that Android is a joke (or rather, a plot to get them fill the Google need for spy data).

        Too bad HP was tricked to abandon their tablet...
        danbi
      • Lets not let Apple off that easy

        @Hasam1991 Have you updated to ios5? I hear the Music app is a mess. The last firmware update cleaned my iPad of everything I'd put on it. Every .pdf or .avi I'd downloaded for reading or watching. All gone with no hope of recovery. I fail to see how iPAD qualifies as "smooth" just because it doesn't crash while charging. Surviving firmware updates without deleting the users personal files would be a nice, "feature" of "smooth".
        mjr123
      • RE: State of the slate: The glitchy nature of Android tablets

        @Hasam1991 Your battery lasts a full week with heavy use? I call BS! I have an iPad, and Android. Yes the iPad has great battery life, but not a week with heavy use!
        serpentmage
    • RE: State of the slate: The glitchy nature of Android tablets

      @DeRSSS yeah and then your iphone becomes super buggy and then ultimately bricked. i would recommend apple users who want the apple experience to stick with what they have invested in. if you want to play with your phone, go for android instead.
      xeptf4
  • RE: State of the slate: The glitchy nature of Android tablets

    That is interesting that you have had that many problems... I have owned only the Toshiba Thrive (only Honeycomb Tablet) and I have not experienced any problems with lag or crashing.

    I did experience a power button problem during the first week of ownership but that was corrected with the first update I received. I receive an update about every two weeks on my Thrive and could not be happier. I am usually happy with Toshiba products though.

    My own personal experience though. James maybe you should pick one, Thrive, up. I would be interested to see if you experience the same problems or if i have just been lucky.

    I also have an iPad and a PlayBook and do not use either as extensively. If it was not for iTunes I would probably be using the iPad more than the others. But I cannot get past that.
    heathman
    • RE: State of the slate: The glitchy nature of Android tablets

      My experience with the thrive has been similar. I've also been fooling arround with some movie players that have been tweaked for the Tegra chip (diceplayer, rockplayer) and am astounded how well they deal with 1080p video thanks to hardware decode.

      I've found a few apps that don't work so well, but in general, nothing is glitchy.

      No fruity themed playthings for me!
      jdw187
    • RE: State of the slate: The glitchy nature of Android tablets

      @heathman

      +1

      I don't have a Toshiba brand tablet but I bought my son an Asus a few months back and he hasn't had any of the problems that James describes with his Honeycomb tablet.

      Personally, I use the new Archos 80, which was very stable but after the last update, it does freeze on me every now and then; not often though. I expect Archos will line that issue out again soon. Also, besides layout, I don't really see a whole heck of a lot of difference between Honeycombe and the previous version of Android. I do agree that it was less than stable when it first released and still has a few glitches in it but I like it personally.

      I also own an iPad and support others who do as well and it's not without it's faults either. I had an app screw up just this morning and had to reinstall it to get it going again. I rarely use my iPad for anything except testing and supporting my users but I've had it lock up on me before and I've had to talk users through resetting theirs after a lockup as well. I'm not saying it's not a good tablet; just that it isn't as perfect as everyone likes to claim.
      kb5ynf
    • RE: State of the slate: The glitchy nature of Android tablets

      @heathman
      +1 -- I got a Thrive when they first came out. The infamous sleep problem was fixed with an update a month or so later and I haven't had a problem since, and as an app developer, I use mine most of every day. I also have a 7" Archos 70 with internal 250GB hard drive and have never had a problem with it either.

      While I'm posting -- Kendrick: Get a new picture. That smirking, looking-down-your-nose pose is not designed to generate good will in others.
      nfordtchrpub
    • RE: State of the slate: The glitchy nature of Android tablets

      James As a follower of yours, I wish you had time to use the Thrive, with all its ports and replaceable battery it - yes after updating the ROM and increasing the speed- runnings so well I have not used the notebook and decreased the workstation and smart phone - other than using it as a connection when away form WiFi - I also gave away my Nookcolor as it was just sitting around unused....IF the Thrive gets Honeycomb I will be one happy camper, as it was about 1/2 the cost of the others and has so much more!
      heredavid
  • RE: State of the slate: The glitchy nature of Android tablets

    I have the Transformer, so far I like it.
    I'm not bothered that much with market crashes or apps crashes, but the most that bothers me is the lag.
    I've been trying to get an answer for this question:
    will ICS help stability only (reduce app crashes)? or is it going to fix the lag too?
    Gon_M_KO
    • RE: State of the slate: The glitchy nature of Android tablets

      @Gon_M_KO Having had the transformer for 2 months, I'd never buy a conventional laptop again. Given the lag though, I'm hoping ICS fixes it, otherwise I'm trading up for the Transformer 2 and it's Kal-El goodness. If more cores and ICS can't solve the lag, there are some serious issues.
      MagnaCartaHG