Android tablets: Motorola XOOM returned, Honeycomb half baked at best

Android tablets: Motorola XOOM returned, Honeycomb half baked at best

Summary: "Mister Honeycomb, here is a Google Voice credit. Take it, call your creator, and tell him there is serious doubt about you ever succeeding as a tablet operating system."

SHARE:

Android tablets don't really seem to have a very good track record in this household.

I feel like a technology industry version of Charles W. Kingsfield, the brutally honest, callous first year professor at Harvard Law School depicted in the 1973 film The Paper Chase (played by the legendary John Houseman) whose first order of business is to tell his students that the person sitting next to them will never graduate.

Paraphrasing Kingsfield, I have the following advice for Google's Android 3.0 OS and any product which is currently based on it:

"Mister Honeycomb, here is a Google Voice credit. Take it, call your creator, and tell him there is serious doubt about you ever succeeding as a serious tablet operating system."

Honeycomb, despite all of Google's efforts to make it an effective competitor to Apple's iOS is a failure. All the current indications are that the first device to ship with it, the Motorola XOOM, is a complete sales dud.

And this is an absolute shame because the XOOM is an excellent piece of hardware. The build quality is fantastic, and it has a powerful dual-core nVidia Tegra 2 chipset with 1GB of onboard RAM, a brilliant 10.1" 1280x800 LED display and high-resolution cameras in front and rear that exceed that of the iPad in terms of raw capability, at least on paper.

There's only one problem. The software on the device as shipped is complete and utter beta-level crap.

I don't want this post to be thought of as picking on Motorola. They clearly tried their best with the hardware. The problem is that even they couldn't fix an OS that is at best beta quality, and quite frankly, I didn't feel like spending almost $600 to be one of Google's beta testers.

So after 24 hours of playing around with the device, I decided to return it to Amazon.

It's one thing for Google to run a service like GMail in beta for close to an eternity. But GMail during its beta cycle was and still is a free product for most consumers. However, Android Honeycomb tablets cost money, and if you actually happen to be a person that decided you needed a 3G/4G version of one, you're committing to a carrier like Verizon to pay for two years of wireless service as well.

You expect there to be a certain level of polish and maturity on the software in a $600.00 consumer device. The problem is, there's nothing at all polished about a Honeycomb tablet.

Nobody should spend that kind of cash to be an OS beta tester, and it doesn't matter if you're spending less money on an Acer Iconia A500 or an Asus Transformer or a G-Slate either, when you can get an equivalent iPad 2 for almost the same amount of cash that works perfectly.

I may have been too harsh on the Samsung Galaxy Tab when it first came out. My primary objection to the device at the time was that the browser experience wasn't very good compared to the iPad 1, and that the first and foremost important function of a tablet was for browsing.

However, all of the Android 2.x applications ran flawlessly on it, as expected. It behaved like a giant smartphone, which it basically was. But I didn't need a giant smartphone, so I sent it back.

Indeed, the browser on Honeycomb versus Froyo or Gingerbread is vastly improved. But would I characterize it to be as fast or even as stable as the browser on the iPad 1 or the BlackBerry PlayBook? Absolutely not.

If that were the only problem on the XOOM, I'd probably be keeping it. However, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

While there are well over 100,000 applications available for Android, 99.99 percent of them are not properly optimized to run at the higher screen resolution on Honeycomb tablets. Some of them stretch UI elements out, and otherwise run normally, which is fine.

[Next: App Optimization is the tip of the Iceberg]»

However plenty just plain crash, do weird and strange unexpected things, have UI elements placed in unusual or unusable areas, or just refuse to install. You expect extremely popular applications like FaceBook and Twidroyd, while not yet fully optimized for Honeycomb to at least behave normally. They don't. They either act in a weird and unstable fashion or just blow up in your face.

This issue is made even worse by the fact that the re-vamped Android Market on Honeycomb is just plain broken. It blows up constantly and fails to install applications at least half of the time. And it feels to me like Google is doing very little to curate their Android Market to ensure that apps that don't work properly are prevented from being installed.

It may very well be that Google is scrambling behind the scenes to try to sort things out, but this is not a smooth OS transition like Apple does with their iOS releases. As horribly pixelated and rasterized iPhone apps might look on an iPad, they still do WORK, pretty much flawlessly for the most part, and the ones that do break get updated quickly.

Apple also removes applications that do not make the cut during OS version transitions, and notifies their developers accordingly to re-submit after it has been certified.

By comparison, there's a lot of apps on the Android Market that aren't being checked for compatibility with Honeycomb at all, and Google isn't aggressively remediating them. Instead, it's just piling on new APIs for 2.3.x and 3.0 and just hoping older apps written for Android 1.5, 1.6, 2.0, 2.1 and 2.2 will just work because they have all that legacy crap shoved in there to support it.

As it turned out, in order to install a number of popular applications, I installed Amazon's competing Appstore for Android on the XOOM and it worked even better than Google's own built-in Android Market. I find that to be pretty pathetic.

I also would like to add that the UI itself in Honeycomb doesn't at all seem natural from the perspective of someone who has been using Android phones since November of 2009. I'm a Motorola Droid owner, and since Android 2.0, I've upgraded to 2.1 Eclair, to 2.2 Froyo, and have recently been using CyanogenMOD 7 as well as stock versions of Gingerbread.

Just trying to wrap my head around the way and where the menus are supposed to show up in Honeycomb and where UI and control elements are buried gives me a headache, and it doesn't behave the way I expect it to.

By comparison, if you give an iPad to someone who has been using iPhones or iPod Touches, they'll know exactly how it's supposed to work.

And that at the end of the day is my problem with Honeycomb. It has apps that blow up in your face, the Market itself is busted, and the UI makes no sense to me (a loyal Android smartphone user) at all.

Google, take this as an object lesson. If one of your most die-hard fans and supporters of your smartphone OS over the last few years is continually tossing your tablets out because it isn't working as expected, then you've got more homework to do.

Talk to me in another six months to a year, and perhaps we'll try again. Whatever flavor of dessert you're serving that day. Just make sure it's baked before it comes out of the oven. Now get back to work and fix this piece of junk.

Is Google forcing Honeycomb tablet owners to be their beta testers of unreliable and unstable software? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Tablets, Android, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

175 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Android tablets: Motorola XOOM returned, Honeycomb half baked at best

    You say you don't need a giant smartphone, but you go on to reference that's all the iPad is. It's a giant version of the iPhone and iPod touch. I don't understand your logic there. As far as calling honeycomb useless I have to disagree. The Xoom is the worst tablet on the market because of Motorola, not android. I would recommend trying the Eee Pad Transformer to really get a feel for Honeycomb.
    frezank280
    • Moto is only one reason

      @frezank280 Honeycomb (today's version) is a half baked OS. Very UNSTABLE and unusable. It is so bad, that the developer took it out of distribution.
      wackoae
      • RE: Android tablets: Motorola XOOM returned, Honeycomb half baked at best

        @wackoae It was never released... How about making up some more lies!
        slickjim
      • Message has been deleted.

        wackoae
      • RE: Android tablets: Motorola XOOM returned, Honeycomb half baked at best

        @wackoae You clearly do, who claims 3 minutes every time they used the tablet it crashed... You can see many a review on Youtube where the Tablet did not crash on them! And here you are claiming it crashes every 3 minutes...

        On top of that, Google released it to a select few developers but never released it to the open source community and yet you lied about them taking it back!
        slickjim
      • I can crash Ubuntu (actually Linux distro with GNOME) in 10 mins of usage

        @wackoae Crashing an unstable OS in 3 mins is nothing.<br><br>Funny you bring YouTube .... plenty of videos of Xoom crashing too. The few without crash are videos avoiding everything that makes the OS crash.

        And I guess that ALL the NEWS about Google removing the OS from distribution must be lies according to your limited fandroid mentality.
        wackoae
      • RE: Android tablets: Motorola XOOM returned, Honeycomb half baked at best

        @Perlow: I remember very clearly that since the time the Kindle was announced, you attacked it fiercely and claimed that what are now the Android-based tablets would be the best thing since the sliced bread. You EXPLICITLY demanded an Android-based tablet, not just any tablet.

        The time arrived for you to recognize that you were wrong all along. It always happens.
        nomorebs
      • RE: Android tablets: Motorola XOOM returned, Honeycomb half baked at best

        @wackoae All what news? The news says Google puts AOSP on hold which means they delayed the release and nothing more!

        Also, I searched "xoom crashing" on youtube... 30 links and 24 of them didn't even involve the XOOM, 1 was a hacked attempt to get iOS on the XOOM and for the most part the others didn't even show a crash!
        slickjim
    • OS and apps on Galaxy Tab are phone OS and phone apps..

      @frezank280.. exactly the same.. no changes what so ever to take advantage of bigger screen.. galaxy tab running android 2.3 is literally a giant phone that simple runs a blow up, stretched phone OS and phone apps.. no significant increase in usability and utility..<br><br>this is not the case with iPad.. iPad has over 65,000 optimized apps and an OS that supports those apps and extends the available GUI elements that allow apps that run on iPad to be more than the phone versions of those apps.. the apps are in fact what make the device what it is and how it gets used.. the usability and utility of the device is improved because you can see more and do more at a given time via multiple panels, toolbars, floating panel etc.. these type of GUI are not available, nor would they be appropriate for a phone because of the smaller screen size.. if you look at the hardware.. yes, an iPad is really just a big iPod touch.. but it's not about the hardware.. it's the software that makes the device what it is and what makes it more than just a giant phone..
      doctorSpoc
      • RE: Android tablets: Motorola XOOM returned, Honeycomb half baked at best

        @doctorSpoc
        I totally agree with you.
        Ram U
      • RE: Android tablets: Motorola XOOM returned, Honeycomb half baked at best

        @doctorSpoc
        ". . . and what makes it more than just a giant phone.. "

        Like you, I am fed-up with this analogy. It take a fair idiot to call the iPad a giant phone when it doesn't even have phone capability. It is about as relevant as calling a car tyre a giant lettuce leaf. :-)
        Wakemewhentrollsgone
      • RE: Android tablets: Motorola XOOM returned, Honeycomb half baked at best

        @ptorning Okay, how about a giant ipod touch then?
        The_Omega_Man
      • RE: Android tablets: Motorola XOOM returned, Honeycomb half baked at best

        @The_Omega_Man

        Or, what not call it what it is . . . an iPad!
        Wakemewhentrollsgone
      • Indeed it may be.......

        @doctorSpoc

        Bur some of us want a device that can be loaded with a film, or media without hooking up to an itunes account. Not a big issue to you perhaps but I cant get itunes at work, and am expected to do all the updates and media loading at home. Not interested. I want to work, then go on holiday with a stack of films on SD cards and plop them in as I see fit. That's just one example of being locked in.

        I've said this many times; I have an ipad and an iphone at work but choose to use neither. Can't be bothered with an iphone that omly lasts a day (max) on a charge, and cant be bothered with the constant password entry required on secure ipad apps. Great devices for consumers at home... to many workarounds for enterprise. Give me a secure device anyday, as opposed to a handful of secure apps. BB torch for me, and still wishing the playbook but politics are at hand. It's not as if someone can purchase loads of ipads then say they're crap for the job.... nope, they have to be used.

        Then again there's not many folk can admit that their hard earned cash doesn't get them the easy access they would like is there? iTunes is the best... it must be cos Apple make it. Ha ha.... step back and get a grip on the reality !

        ps many ipad apps were simply the same as the phone apps so please dont spread untruths that most apps were released specifically for the ipad. Remember the x2 button on some to make better use of the screen? I do ! Such things take time and effort; and it will come, I have no doubt. I've no axe to grind either.. I'd rally like everyone to pick a device that works for them and shut up. There's so much bias it's impossible though.
        johnmckay
      • RE: Android tablets: Motorola XOOM returned, Honeycomb half baked at best

        @GetReal-mac.com<br>"ps many ipad apps were simply the same as the phone apps so please dont spread untruths that most apps were released specifically for the ipad."<br><br>I do not understand your point. There are more than 65,000 apps specifically optimised for the iPad. The last I read, there were only about 100 for Honeycomb, though I expect that has risen over the past couple of months and will no doubt reach roughly the same level as the number for the iPad. So, there are numerous apps written specifically for the iPad.
        Wakemewhentrollsgone
      • RE: Android tablets: Motorola XOOM returned, Honeycomb half baked at best

        @doctorSpoc ... I have put my xoom through its paces for 3 weeks and I have to be honest. No crashes, no issues except how to copy my contacts from outlook to my xoom. Honeycomb has been fast, responsive and a joy to use. I dont want an oversized phone or an identical experience. With respect to the SD it should have been working on the XOOM prior to release. Google should also have had its services like google books available internationally. Apple seems to have no problem with this, but google does. This should not have happened.
        People should keep in mind that android users are not apple users. We don't mind things being different otherwise we would have bought iphones and ipods, but we do want them to work well and we do want google to get off its butt and fix what is wrong SOONER rather than later.
        striker67
    • stop spreading FUD!

      @frezank280
      Android and XOOM rock and the code is OSS.
      do you work for Apple...or M$?
      Linux Geek
      • RE: Android tablets: Motorola XOOM returned, Honeycomb half baked at best

        @Linux Geek He's not spreading FUD but is reporting the facts about the Xoom and Android 3.0. Sorry that this sort of thing offends you but I guess it sucks to be a fandroid when confronted with the facts about the Xoom after all the trash talk about how it was going to be the iPad killer...
        athynz
      • RE: Android tablets: Motorola XOOM returned, Honeycomb half baked at best

        @Linux Geek Wow , looks like a honest truth hurts..
        ItsTheBottomLine
      • FUD

        @Linux Geek

        I consider myself to be a fandroid and I couldn't buy the Honeycomb mess. I mean, I think the flaws that are reported are usually overhyped and oft repeated. It isn't THAT hard to find settings in Honeycomb. In truth I think that the biggest downfall is that they tried to overhaul the GUI. They tried to fix something that wasn't really broken.

        I think the strangest part about Honeycomb, and the thing I have YET to see mentioned, is that it seems to be designed from the ground up for left handed people. Since this only covers 10% of the worlds population...

        Did anyone else notice that when holding this right handed the Menu, Back and Home buttons were not only hard to reach but usually cause you to block your view of most of the screen? I know it's a small issue but shouldn't something like that be designed so that the end user can place those actions anywhere they desire? It's soft keys so why not?
        kwabinalars