Iconia Tab A500 SoftwareHaving worked primarily with Apple’s iOS, it took some time to get used to Android and Honeycomb. Immediately obvious are some touches that resemble the in-depth access and customizability of a PC than what we are used to see on the more spartan Apple mobile OS. The settings menu is filled with different options that cover virtually every aspect of the tablet. For example, the 'About Tablet' menu displays things like CPU Vendor, CPU speed and installed RAM – all things that you have to hunt for on the iPad 2.
The Android OS home screen is fully customizable with everything from live wallpapers to browser bookmarks and a complete taskbar at the bottom of the screen. Acer has preloaded a few of their apps on the tablet. The first is Clear.fi which acts as a hub for sharing media files across multiple devices on your network. To use Clear.fi, you need a home network (wired or wireless) and devices with the Clear.fi software installed. This sounds similar to TVersity and other media aggregation software, although on a local level.
The Social icon brings you into Acer’s social media hub. SocialJogger allows you to sign into Facebook and Twitter through a single interface. Since there isn’t a native Facebook app, Acer has provided a quick link to login to the social networking site, aptly named “Link to Facebook”. Additionally there is an icon for Google Talk, an instant messaging program similar to MSN and AIM.
Next is the Multimedia section which features six different apps. Along with Clear.Fi and YouTube we found Photo Browser 3D. This app lets you use the tablet to interact with photos in your photo album. For example, you can tilt the device to flip through photos in the album, although it’s much easier to just use your finger to swipe through images. nemoPlayer allows you to play music, videos and photo slideshows under one application.
MusicA is similar to Shazam and Midomi – a music identification program. Play a tune, click Identify and MusicA will identify the song title and artist. Every song I tested with was properly identified. Much like the competition, you can share your results with others via social media, watch YouTube videos of the song, or purchase them directly from 7-digital.
Aupeo! is a personal radio program that is very similar to Pandora. Unlike Pandora which limits the number of skips you can perform in a given timeframe, Aupeo! allowed me to skip as many tracks as I wanted. As an avid Pandora user, I felt at home and might actually switch to Aupeo! based on its simple UI, high-quality streams and wide artist selection.
In addition to these, I also downloaded several apps that I am familiar with from other platforms. Angry Birds looks great on the Iconia Tab, although there was a hint of lag occasionally. The Android version of Pandora, however, seems far less optimized than the iOS version. Other programs like Google Earth worked equally as well on either tablet yet still other programs were more confusing and harder to learn. For example, I installed AIM but couldn’t find the option to sign out of the service when I was done.
One thing I would like to see Android introduce is a way to navigate the file system without the need for a 3rd party app. Furthermore, it would be nice to be able to do simple tasks like take a screenshot without having to root the tablet.
Having said that, one must compare the Android Marketplace to Apple’s App Store… and well, the comparison is really a moot point. Apple’s interface is more refined and overall visually impressive, but more importantly, the App Store has a lot more programs to choose from. It’s still up in the air as to whether Android’s Marketplace will overtake the App Store in terms of total available apps, but as of now, Apple wins in this category.
Perhaps the most controversial omission from Apple’s tablets is their lack of Adobe Flash support. Honeycomb does support flash, current version 10.3. There’s no denying that many sites and web services rely on Flash to provide a richer browsing experience, but it does come at a price sometimes. While I appreciated being able to listen to live streaming radio of The Dave Ramsey Show or watching MMA videos on Sherdog.com (things I can’t do on the iPad 2), a Flash ad that loaded on CNN.com while I was trying to watch a video rendered the video feed useless. A good solution to optimize Flash use in the browser is to go into the options menu and select Plug-ins as “On Demand”. This will allow you to only load the Flash items on a page that you want to see.
My favorite new feature is the ability to connect a wider range of USB devices to the tablet. Users can now directly connect and use keyboards, mice game controllers and digital cameras. I understand the argument that a tablet is meant to be used with your hands and I would agree with that in most situations. But, if you are planning to type a long document, create a blog post or do something else that is typing intensive, a keyboard will save you a lot of time and hassle. I tested both a keyboard and a mouse and both worked flawlessly and really added a level of depth to the whole experience.
Additionally there are a number of user interface changes in 3.1; more than I could cover here, although I will highlight the most obvious ones. I picked up on more audible notifications while using the web browser, especially while typing. Along with the tactical vibration given off by the keyboard is a nice addition. Also, transitions between some interfaces appeared to happen faster than before.
Widgets can also be adjusted in 3.1. I found this useful as I could expand the size of my browser's quick links on the desktop to show more pages at once.
One thing I noticed that I'm not terribly fond of is the way web pages are refreshed as you scroll. In version 3.0, when you scrolled, most of the page was already cached and ready for display. Now, when you scroll, you see a blank area as the tablet is rendering the new section of screen. This seemed to happen each time you move in either direction and continues to occur even after you have already previously scrolled over a section of page. I noticed that it happened more noticeably on some pages than others, although I couldn't pinpoint a specific trend. I assume that this saves processing cycles which could improve battery life, but it makes the whole browsing experience seem very choppy and laggy. I would much rather the system cache the page in the background like it did in 3.0.
There are a bunch of other little tweaks across the operating system that help smooth things out, but I think that Andorid still has a good bit of work to do with Honeycomb. The OS still feels laggy in comparison to iOS despite the dual core Nvidia processor.