Android tablet impressions

  1. I have recently had the chance to make my very first acquaintance with an Android tablet and thought I'd share some of my initial impressions. I believe tablets are worth attention, but they're not without problems.

    The Tablet I've been trying out is the relatively new Galaxy Tab 2 from Samsung, which features a 7 inch screen. It comes installed with Android 4.0 and TouchWiz.

    Using a tablet

    I think it's a breeze to do things with gestures. Sadly, not all applications take full advantage of them, even if it would make sense to do so. They are great if done right. Things like tapping, scrolling and zooming generally works very well, but I find that every now and then I accidentally trigger the wrong type of event.

    The touch interface is useful, but it also has some inherent problems. The most annoying one is that it's very hard to successfully tap small objects on the screen. This is usually a limit of the software, but sometimes you have to live with it, such as when you are browsing the web. Regular web pages are hard to use efficiently due to the limited resolution of a tablet screen, but even pages made for mobile devices may be poorly optimized. You can bypass the problem somewhat by using zooming gestures. Other possible issues includes input latency and precision, especially in real-time games, and ineffectiveness of on-screen keyboards, even though there are some alternative keyboards out there that has some nifty features. Some applications accept voice input as an alternative.

    Tilting is a feature that allows you to switch between portrait and landscape modes simply by turning the tablet. It usually works very well. One of the more interesting uses I've seen of this feature is to emulate a car's driving wheel. Not all applications are optimized for tilting and tablet screen sizes, however. Some applications also forces a certain mode.

    One of my hopes for tablets was improved ergonomics compared to desktop computers, but I have come to the conclusion that this is not the case. While gestures with fingers and tilting with hands seem like more natural movement, the body stature that comes naturally from using a tablet is poor, in particular the tendency to lean the head forward. Longer periods of use easily cause strain in the neck and arms. I find that lying on the back helps on the neck issue, but holding the unit above your head while at the same time making gestures is very tiresome and difficult. Desktop computers have some of the same problems, but the strain is easier to reduce.

    My experience so far is that certain types of software works very well on this platform, while others don't. Firstly, the software needs to hold some value beyond what a website can. Secondly, the touch interface must fit the nature of the software. In addition, the software must be well adapted to the interfaces in meaningful ways. This include making interactive elements easy to identify and trigger, and making sure gestures are intuitive so as to not surprise the user with unexpected results.

    Experiencing Android (4.0) and TouchWiz

    The Android operating system is fairly good. Compared to desktop operating systems, however, it's a bit too simple. There are some issues, and some of them obviously stem from the limits of smart phones, which it was originally designed for. Since Android is based on Linux, it's possible to gain root access, but it requires special procedures to achieve and circumvents the intention of the system.

    Android was not designed for multiple users, so there is only one, default user. You can, however, register external user accounts for integration with services, such as Google mail for example. Some applications makes good use of this feature, and also allow switching between registered accounts, but not all of them do.

    You can easily go back a step with a the back button. I often find myself tapping the wrong things and have to use this button to undo it. While that can be annoying, it's a bigger problem if you also happen to click the button too many times. There's no forward button, so you have to repeat your steps, if you can remember them.

    There's also a button that allows you to see your recent programs. However, it doesn't make distinctions between active and closed programs. Applications does not have universal buttons for minimizing or closing, but some applications offer their own. You can terminate applications and free up RAM by using a task manager. It seems there can be only one instance of an application at a time.

    Android uses a flat file structure, and there are predefined folders for things like downloads and pictures. Additionally, each application typically comes with its own folder. There doesn't seem to be any way to override or customize this structure. Downloading a file always places it in the download folder without any dialog.

    Applications for Android are installed through a store, such as the default Google Play store. Doing so is very easy. Before any chosen application is installed, you are required to approve a set of permissions. The different permissions are difficult to understand, and many application developers are very liberal as to what permission they require for their application. This opens the possibly of compromising your personal data, so one should take care to look it through. There are a great amount of applications available, also for free, but it's hard to find the really good ones.

    The future

    I think tablets have come to stay, in some form or another. Even if there are problems and limitations with them, they offer a different experience. Some software just fits well with hand-held touch-enabled platforms. It's also rapidly becoming the technology of choice for access and entertainment in the home and on the move. They're even starting to appear in offices. I think we're going to see some very interesting innovation in software, and hardware, in the future.