The Usual Tech Ramblings

Android Toys

Okay, less toys, and more toy. Not only does our other entity work with Apple devices, we have an Android application. Currently development has been done using personal equipment, which has stunted the development to what few android phones we had available. So we decided to pick up a few more Android devices for them to work with.

Due to an unusual glitch in procurement1, an order of 2 Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 devices ended up as 2 boxes of them, so we ended up getting a shipment of 25 units. My boss is working on figuring out what to do with the excess, but has decided to keep a few of the extras, so we’re sending 2, originally planned, units to the other office, and keeping 2 for us to play with.

First impressions? I’m going to break it down into hardware, and software.

First up, hardware. It feels like it’s all made of plastic. This is a good thing if you’re considering weight to be a factor in your tablet devices. The problem is, they used a faux brushed aluminum backing, which looks sort of cheap to me. The edging looks to be injection molded plastic, you can see the seams near the curved corners. The edging has tiny knicks in it which I can feel with my thumb. I don’t know if this is because I had it in my laptop bag, or if it came that way.

One thing that has me slightly baffled is placement of the power, and headphone jack. On one hand, I can see why their positioning makes perfect sense, on the other hand, it’s a completely mystery. The power connector is smack in the middle, at the bottom, if you’re holding it with the longest edge down. This makes sense because if you have a dock, it can seat nicely into a power connector, but when you’re holding it, or have it in your lap, you’ll have a nice power connector jabbing you in places it shouldn’t be jabbing.

The headphone jack is the one that gets me the most, and it’s most likely for a silly reason. The headphone jack is located about 1” right of center at the top of the screen, when held horizontally with longest edge down. Are you wondering why I think this is a stupid place? Plug in the headphones, and if you have the device in front of you, guess where the cable goes? In front of the screen. The solution, you have to either hold the cable to the side, or run it behind the tablet, which means you lose about 6” of headphone cable just to get it our of your view. This location doesn’t seem too terribly bad when you’re using it to play music while reading a vertical ebook for example, but watching a movie (which fits nicely with the dock, and power along the bottom) it seems to hamper viewing.

The final hardware issue that got me was power itself. Not the placement of it, but the requirement. Battery life seems to be okay, I got away with watching two 90 minute episodes of a show I’ve been watching on Netflix, as well as reading about 30 pages of a large PDF, surfing the internet, installing various applications, constantly updating my work email, and relatively heavy internet usage. It seemed to manage all this on a single charge, over 5 days. The problem came late Sunday at about 22:30 as I was laying in bed watching TV. This weird bleep alerted me to something I didn’t know of, so I looked, and it was sitting at about 15% power. I’d left the power block in the office, but I had the USB cable in my bag, so I plugged it into my computer thinking it’d charge… Nothing. A quick search revealed that the Tab has a rather healthy power requirement. The power adapter, at least the US model, draws 2.5A. That ampere requirement puts it 5 times higher than the USB 2 specifications will allow for a device to pull. So I grumbled, and searched briefly to see if there was a way around this. There are some documents on how to do it with a rooted Tab, but I’m not going there with work gear, so I settled in for night, expecting the device to be dead by morning… I was wrong, it was still sitting at 15% when I woke at 6am. This gives a bit of a testament to the battery life of the device.

I was quite impressed with is the choice to have 2 speakers. This is great because if you’re holding it, one speaker frequently gets covered up. Also in a portrait orientation, you still have one speaker uncovered if you’re resting it on your lap.

The cameras both seem okay, and don’t seem to have any objections to low light pictures, even without flash. They get a little grainy, but nothing terrible.

Now ranting on hardware is done, it’s software’s turn. I don’t have a huge amount to say on this. I’ve been using Android on my cell phone for a while, so I had a rough idea on what to expect, but I was actually disappointed in the platform as a whole. Email handling seems to be an after-thought. It seems to have no concept of sub-folders, as it decided to alphabetically sort ALL of my folders into a single level format. This is fine if you’re that way inclined, except I have lots of nested folders, for example Notifications\Corporate\Staff. This just got just displayed as “Staff” and was sorted right next to “Sent”. While this isn’t a huge problem, it’s one thing that urks me. This isn’t just on talking to Exchange, the handling of my personal IMAP server was worse. It had no respect for namespaces, so anything that was a ‘subfolder’ due to namespaces was listed out as a complete folder name. For example I have folder called SquirrelMail.Users.Admin, the IMAP NAMESPACE command says that . is a folder delimiter, so that should be read as Admin is a sub of Users, which is a sub of SquirrelMail. Instead, this is displayed exactly as it is named, SquirrelMail.Users.Admin. This makes for a messy list because there is no way to collapse folders I don’t want to look at on the device. That being said, Gingerbread on my Motorola Atrix handles both cases just fine, so I’m thinking it’s a quirk of Honeycomb. Other than that, the software seems pretty indifferent to my Gingerbread cell phone.

On a better note, the platform is fast. I should hope it would be anyway, it has the NVIDA Tegra 2 in it, which is a dual core processor, along with 1GB RAM to play with. Everything seems to load nice and snappy, and leaving stuff running in the background doesn’t seem to hamper performance. The wireless A/B/G/N support is nice too, especially as I have N at home and work. It never seems to have an issue getting a lock whilst swapping between work and home. Samsung’s “Social Hub” could do with disappearing. It doesn’t bring anything to the table that the dedicated apps from the various social providers don’t already give, but it does it in a mediocre way.

It does come bundled with QuickOffice, which seems adequate for general document editing and such. QuickOffice’s PDF reader seems to handle PDFs much nicer than the eBook application, or at least the big PDF I am currently reading anyway.

Flash support seems to be one of its big marketting points, they make a strong emphasis on the packaging material, though I’ve yet to have a need for it. The one site you’d think you need it for (YouTube), has an Android app, making the need for it minimal. Not saying there aren’t people that use Flash heavily else where.

There are, of course, no shortage of games. I’ve not tested any out yet, but my son is dieing to get his hands on them. Maybe I’ll let him play, and see what he thinks too.

Overall? I’d give it a 7.5/10. Unfortunately it’s coming late into a market already dominated by the iPad. It’s a pricey device2, with some hardware quirks I’m trying to understand, and get around. I’m also slightly disappointed in Honeycomb. I was expecting a little more out of it, but I just don’t see it.

My next post on toys will probably put the iPad against the Tab, and see how they stand up against each other.

  1. Not the first one. 

  2. At $500 for the 16GB WiFi Only model.