Technology: A commentary on Android tablets

About a year ago I got an Android tablet. An Asus eee Transformer, with accessory keypad; I think the tablet model number is TF101-A1, to be precise.

My Asus eee tablet with attached keyboard

My Asus eee tablet with attached keyboard

 

After a year of working with it, including going on a 10-day complete immersion trip when I first got it (meaning I took it on a trip & didn’t take any other laptop, so it was either figure out how to use it, or have no e-mail or web access for most of the days), my conclusion is:

Nope. And now I understand why The Register calls these things “fondleslabs”.

So, to break my critique into three different areas: hardware, operating system, and applications.

Hardware

The tablet is nice. Nice display. Keyboard is not bad, although like all notebooks about this size, the keyboard feels a bit cramped to my hands and it’s difficult to type much without accidentally hitting the touchpad and sending the cursor off to who-knows-where, usually midword.

Typing for any length without the accessory keypad is very frustrating.

And I CANNOT get this stupid thing to hold a battery charge! If you look at the picture, you’ll notice it has the charger cord plugged in. I’ve tried about three separate times now to get it fully charged up (both tablet and additional battery in the accessory keypad) and then turn it off and let it sit for about a month or more without touching it.

EVERY SINGLE TIME the battery has been completely drained when I check back on it after a month. I don’t know if it’s waking itself up to check for updates, or what it’s doing. I suppose I could set it to airplane mode (no wireless transmissions of any type) every time I turn it off, but that seems a heck of an unnecessary step.

Yes, it’s possible there’s some setting I could find if I dug down into the menus that would say something like “Never turn on except for user-initiated power button” or something like that.

But that brings me to my second category:

Operating System

First off, there’s Google’s ever-present tracking. If you want to do anything on anything that is Android (and you haven’t yet cracked the O.S., and I’m don’t know if you could get away with tracking even if you did that), you are being tracked by Google.

  • If you want to download anything from the Google app store, you have to sign in with your Google Gmail account.
  • Most Android devices have GPS capability, usually you have to explicitly turn that off.
  • Any web access is tracked by Google. And if you want to use a different web search engine than Google in any web browser on your Android device, that takes extra steps too. (And once you start using Google as your web search engine, that’s another layer of Google tracking.)

So, I have a gmail account that I use only to access Google sites like YouTube if there’s a video I absolutely have to see and have to login to watch, or to access the Google Android store. I don’t use it for anything else. That’s how I — well, I don’t get around the tracking, but I keep it a little bit more limited (hopefully).

But aside from that, there are some differences between the tablet Android operating system and the smartphone Android operating system.

For starters, leaving three or four web pages open in my tablet’s browser (any of the browsers, I’ve had this happen with the default Android web browser, Opera, and Firefox) will result in a low memory warning within about 30 minutes. This is more properly an application comment, but there’s also something about the operating system memory allocation that is screwy too if it’s regularly having this problem.

There are slots for memory cards, but it can be difficult to figure out which files are on an internal memory card and which are on the memory card you inserted into the memory card slot.

And there are a lot of options buried in some non-intuitive spots in the settings menu.

Yes, there are a lot of things that are impressive about the Android operating system and it’s probably far superior to anything I’d come up with if I had to code an operating system myself.

But there are also a lot of things that are frustrating. For instance, on my tablet, there’s not really a way to close an application. I can back out of an application, but if I pull up a list of active applications, the application I backed out of is still active. So I have to download an app like Task Killer if I want to actually CLOSE an application, not just minimize it off screen.

Applications

And here is my biggest gripe with this tablet: it’s crippled if I don’t have an active internet connection.

Not all applications have users manuals. But even most of the ones that do, that user manual is hosted on the web. So, no internet connection, no user manual.

There’s a Microsoft Office clone that came on the tablet, and lots of others that are available, but they all seem to want to use web-hosted document locations more than they want to use anything stored on the tablet itself.

And for a lot of applications — including the MS Office clones — there’s often no user manual at all. Yes, a lot of the buttons are fairly intuitive. A lot are not.

When it comes to web browsers, there’s still many frustrations. When you open a web page, you have sent a query to that web site that (usually) includes your operating system. Although it seems to be slowly changing as more Android tablets show up, many websites will assume that if your browser says it is on an Android operating system, then it’s a phone with a phone-sized screen. And so the website will send you to a “mobile” page. Some websites have an option to go to the full website from the mobile website; some do not. This is not really the fault of the browser, but it would be nice if the browsers had an option to not send the name of the operating system when they request the page (I’m actually not sure if that’s possible under HTTP guidelines, but this is my rant, and I’d still like that feature).

Also, regarding web browsers, all of them seem to have two options for cookies: either all cookies are accepted, or all cookies are rejected. I’m one of those people who like to pick and choose which cookies I accept from which sites, and this all-or-nothing approach is another irritation.

And then there’s the whole issue of so many applications being made for Android smartphones and not Android tablets. So same things you get out of the Android store will work on both and some will have display problems when run on a tablet.

===

I recently went to a class where it was mentioned that if you look up “Diffusion of Innovation Theory”, you’ll find that Innovators are about 2.5% of the population, Early Adopters are about 13.5% of the population, the Early Majority and Late Majority are both about 34% of the population, and the Laggards (who are averse to innovation) are about 16%.

Android smartphones are nice. But based on my experience over the last year, I’d say the Android tablets are great as fondleslabs — meaning slabs you fondle and ooh and aah over how shiny it is and the pretty websites and games you can display on it — but as true laptop replacements they probably only work for the Innovator and Early Adopter sets.

I’m sure there’s a lot of people who have had WONDERFUL luck taking an Android tablet and making it into a full-blown replacement for any Windows or Mac laptop they previously owned.

I’m not one of those people.

I’ll still keep my tablet, there are times when it’s handy. But it’s nowhere near a laptop replacement for me.

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