The frustrating experience that is Android Honeycomb on tablets

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.


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

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  • The problem is

    Google isn't doing what they should be doing.

    I know a lot of people hate Apple for their approach, but there can be some cues taken from them. There should be a standardized interface for apps. There should be a better vetted app store. There should be a couple of other things that have very little to do with the OS and 100% to do with the marketplace, so I won't go into them.

    Don't become Apple, but do learn from them.
    Michael Alan Goff
    • RE: The frustrating experience that is Android Honeycomb on tablets

      @Michael Alan Goff

      In the current world of Apple vs Android rage going on, this comment was a breath of fresh air........ I totally agree.
      Mountain Monkey
    • RE: The frustrating experience that is Android Honeycomb on tablets

      @Michael Alan Goff

  • too many whiners

    I don't think people who whine or bash android own an android device.
    They must be windoze or apple drones.
    The Linux Geek
    • RE: The frustrating experience that is Android Honeycomb on tablets

      @The Linux Geek you are disgracing us linux users. People can complain if they are not satisfied, this is how innovation comes and this will lead to progress. Whining is not intrinsically bad.
    • RE: The frustrating experience that is Android Honeycomb on tablets

      @The Linux Geek Did you read the article? This guy uses android *all the time.* How can you not understand that?
    • RE: The frustrating experience that is Android Honeycomb on tablets

      @The Linux Geek
      I don't think it has anything to do with what you suggest.
      The global user experience on any Android tablet available today is, from an objective standpoint, largely inferior to the main competition.
      Anyone who denies this fact is likely blinded by some subjective preference - which can be understood.
      Does this make Android bad? No, just not at the same level.
    • Flag is not code for "I disagree with you"

      (title is a comment on LG getting flagged for no good reason)

      @The Linux Geek - I've been using honeycomb on the samsung 10.1 without particularly noticing inconsistencies, but I switch between Apple and Windows environments day to day, if that doesn't bother me, the trifling UI inconsistencies noted here certainly wont. I note that the author got a physical KB for his tablet. With respect, I think he's missing the point of tablets and should go back to laptop/notebook format.
  • Normal users don't care

    Ask a non-tech user what version their Android tablet has and you'll get a blank stare. They do not care. They only care about playing Angry Birds and FaceBook. More technical users are the ones wanting the latest updates. And by the way, good luck with your Samsung getting timely updates.

    The point is: no one buys Android tablets anyway that is considered a "normal" user. They buy iPads. And those of us who do buy Android tablets know of their short comings, but buy them anyway because we are geeks.
    • Last I checked, geek means SMART

      @nalonge@... SMART people won't waste money on a product that is known to be inferior and crappy.<br><br>So please, stop with the geeks want what ever Android crap is thrown in the market .... real geeks are too smart to waste money on junk products.<br><br>Now wannabe geeks (tinkerers without the smarts) .... that is another story.
    • RE: The frustrating experience that is Android Honeycomb on tablets

      ACTUALLY, I'm a geek and I buy an Android because of the IPAD's short comings...its just too limiting
  • RE: The frustrating experience that is Android Honeycomb on tablets

    Sorry, but LogMeIn works fine on the Motorola Xoom. Maybe it's not the OS, but either the Tab or some of the other apps you have installed.
    • RE: The frustrating experience that is Android Honeycomb on tablets

      @rodtrent And that is the very problem addressed in the article. Tablet buyers want to turn it on and do stuff, not try and figure out why something doesn't work.
      • RE: The frustrating experience that is Android Honeycomb on tablets

        JK, as a long time reader of yours since you joined zdnet the fairness of your entries has decreased.

        On this topic the implied bias shows up most clearly in this phrase: "Tablet buyers want to turn it on and do stuff". Thank you for speaking for me, but please don't. What range of things people want to use their tablets for is still a very new work in progress. Some of us geeks don't want to be in Apple's silo or Microsoft's tarpit. Some just want to read a book and do fairly simple things. Others want some sort of more integrated user experience and are willing to do with less application choice and freedom of use. Apple is great for them. Others might want similar applications as to what is on their desktop. I'm not sure how that area is going to shake out but I'm sure MS will try to leverage that.

        Early Android sucked 'cept for developer hardcores. But it showed enough promise those people picked it up and gave it early momentum. Now it is crushing its competition. Apple won the battle and is now suffering in the war. I wouldn't be surprised if we seem a similar sequence of events for tablets. In any case somehow taking the early market and projecting it as how the things will be into the future seems at best ill advised if not just plain wrong.
    • RE: The frustrating experience that is Android Honeycomb on tablets

      @rodtrent - this is exactly the point - you buy an app with no idea whether or not it will work! It doesn't happen with an ipad!
      • iPad?

        As much as I would like to say so, the iPad is not bullet proof, either. Apple DOES go out of it's way to let developers know they are on thin ice where apps sold through it's iTunes and Apps Store are concerned. If an app gets a lot of negative feedback, Apple gets on the developer to fix the bugs or risk being black listed. The main reason Apple has far fewer problems with it's mobile OS is they have one uniform platform it operates from. That continues to be Apple's ace in the hole.
  • RE: The frustrating experience that is Android Honeycomb on tablets

    One of the main reasons I bolted from the Android platform was the utterly clueless, haphazard way Google has handled their mobile OS updates. I remember distinctly the day I moved from a G1 to a MyTouch and how I couldn't understand why my new phone wouldn't update itself "OTA" to the latest Android OS, which I had on the G1. After having to trawl through obscure websites habituated by zealous Android geeks just to get the latest update and then having to install it manually, I just got sick and tired of the hassle of trying to stay up to date on Android. So I got an N1, but even with that, waiting for OTA updates was like watching paint dry, so I always ended up updating manually from some dubious update link on the web. Finally I realized Android is a royal cluster(rhymes with duck) and ditched it.
  • RE: The frustrating experience that is Android Honeycomb on tablets

    Honeycomb is an avant-garde environment for bolder people, unafraid to deal with the occasional bugs that are present in an experimental and on-evolution product.
    • RE: The frustrating experience that is Android Honeycomb on tablets

      @MainCore "experimental and on-evolution", really dude? On version 3.x of a product? And oh yeah, we are paying $500.00 for this "experiment". Come on. Google didn't even throw their Beta tag on it. They think it's ready for prime time. You think a casual user is dropping 500 clams on an experimental product?
  • Hope springs eternal!

    I want to believe - that Google will learn from experience (and articles like this one) and reform, revise & revisit.