I got one of these at Google I/O. Despite it being generally inferior to an IPad (more on that later), I like it quite a bit. There are two main reasons. The first is home screen widgets. These are widgets you add to the screen that tell you more information than “you have 13 unread messages” or “3 people pinged you on Facebook”. The GMail widget, for example, lists the unread messages. The calendar widget shows your upcoming appointments.

But that’s the main reason I like it. Because it’s so inferior to the IPad, my wife and daughter aren’t constantly borrowing it so I don’t have to fight for its use.

Why is the IPad better?

Try them both for a month and you’ll see. And that doesn’t mean try them with a thinly veiled bias toward Google because Apple is not developer-friendly and is closed and uses unfair business practices, etc, etc, and so on and so forth. Just use the two devices and tell me which one is better. If you still believe the Android is better, then we simply disagree and neither of us will convince the other.

That said, here are my reasons.

First, the IPad is just generally more intuitive. The first thing you see on the IPad is “Slide here to open”. On the Android, two concentric circles. If I recall correctly, you need to slide the inner one outside of the outer one to get it going.

Second is the design of the device. The power button and volume buttons are positioned in such a way that they are easy to hit accidentally, depending on serious an Angry Birds player you are. Furthermore, in lieu of a big black home button baked into the hardware, there are three omnipresent software “buttons” in the bottom left of the screen. These represent, in order, “Go back”, “Go home”, and “Show some recent apps”. The last ones a little iffy. I know Android allows apps to run in the background so it may be all the currently running apps. Regardless, the positioning of these buttons, which is right below the keyboard when it’s on-screen, has led to a great deal of frustration.

There’s another thing about the black button on the front of the IPad that you don’t really notice until you’ve played with the Samsung tablet. When you look at an IPad, you know where the power button is based on where the button is on the front. Not so with the Samsung. There is but one feature on the front that can help you orient yourself. That’s the camera lens which is very easy to miss at a glance. More often than not, I pick the thing up and run my hands along all sides looking for the power button.

There are several other little things that add up to a general sense of annoyance. First is the fact that the screen will dim at odd times. Normally, it will dim when not in use but not always. Sometimes, it will happen when I’m in the middle of doing something on it.

Next is a general philosophy thing with Google, I think. Here’s an example: when the keyboard pops up, there is a little keyboard icon in the bottom left. Clicking it displays four options:

  • English (US) keyboard
  • English Voice
  • Samsung keypad (selected by default)
  • TalkBack keyboard

There’s also an option to Configure input methods.

This, in my opinion, is configuration by committee. As far as I know, Apple offers a single keyboard configuration. If they don’t, then the default one works great and I’ve never had to seek out another. On the Samsung, I tried all of these when I first got it, then switched back to the default one. Now, three months later, I can’t even remember what the TalkBack keyboard was. What I do remember is that each and every one of these options had their own individual set of settings.

The predictive text is another example. First, it’s not on by default. This is good because turning it on leads to another set of options. Do you want word completion? Next word prediction? Auto-substitution? I have no clue because all of those sound the same to me. Other cryptic options include: Recapture and XT9 my words.

The implementation for predictive text is also cumbersome. As you type, suggestions appear above the keyboard. Often, the application above it will jump up and down as the suggestion bar appears and disappears. This, to me, is just plain sloppy user interface design. An even worse design: One of the input settings I mentioned above was auto-substitution. Inexplicably, this is active in password fields. That is, whatever you’re typing in a password field, it will auto-substitute what it feels you should be typing. And because it’s a password field, you can’t actually see what’s being substituted in.

I have a laundry list of other minutiae but I’ll wrap up with something more substantial. I’ve had to reset the device twice in the three months I’ve owned it. The first time, I kept seeing “Entering upload mode. Upload_cause: unknown” when I’d boot up. I was still able to boot up so I did the ol’ factory reset from somewhere in the sea of settings.

The second time, I hit what I’ve now discovered is a known issue called the “boot loop”. That is, the initial boot splash screen would keep playing over and over again in an infinite loop. (Infinite being relative to my patience, of course.)

Solving this involved:

  • Installing USB device drivers
  • Installing the Android SDK
  • Downloading a recovery image from a sketchy website
  • Booting through the USB drive
  • Reinstalling the recovery image

The quotes are because I don’t know the actual terminology. Searching for this problem led me on a merry journey involving terms foreign to me like “rooting” and “fastbooting”. As with the tablet itself, there are at least three options you can use to access your tablet from your computer: adb, fastboot, and PDANet.

Determining which one to use and how to use them is not the sort of thing I’d ask my wife to do. The information is strewn across message boards and very often, the poster assumes the reader is not of the “I don’t want to recompile the thing and hack around; I just want my &*%$ tablet back” ilk.


So overall, if I were to choose, I would definitely go with an IPad. There are some nice features in the Android but they’re not quite there. It doesn’t appear the same thought to the overall user experience was part of the process.