I was a Honeycomb early adopter. I bought the Motorola Xoom, excited by the prospect of a tablet operating system different than iOS (finally!). Given Android’s track record of attracting OEMs, I was also excited for a wave of varied Honeycomb tablets. And indeed, the wave of hardware came (and hasn’t slowed down since). You can opt for Honeycomb tablets of all different shapes and sizes: some slide open to reveal a keyboard, some attach to a dock with a keyboard, some let you choose the screen size. Most Honeycomb tablets are also powered by a dual-core CPU with about 1GB of RAM, so on paper, there’s no shortage of power.
But Honeycomb is a disaster. It’s slow on nearly every tablet I’ve tried, the apps are horrible, and the UI feels haphazard. Granted, Google probably knows this, and within a couple of months, we’ll hear about Android Ice Cream Sandwhich, which will bridge the gap between Android for phones and Android for tablets, and is likely to fix most of what is wrong with Honeycomb. But today, Honeycomb has some real big problems. Let’s look at them.
Many revere the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and its brother the Galaxy Tab 8.9 as the best Android tablets on the market. They are powered by a Tegra 2 CPU dual core CPU with each core capable of clocking at 1GHz. It also has a full gigabyte of RAM, providing ample multi-tasking prowess.
The other day I received a Galaxy Tab 8.9 review unit. I was excited to try the best of the best after using other tablets like the Xoom, Asus Transformer, and HTC Jetstream. Upon unboxing the tablet, I was impressed by the hardware: it was thinner and lighter than the iPad and had a very attractive design.
After powering on the device, I set up my email, removed some of the default widgets from the home screen, set up browser favorites, turned off screen animations (to save a few CPU cycles) and more. During this process, where I was bouncing between apps quickly, the device stuttered often. The app drawer animation wasn’t smooth, widgets would update only after about three seconds (or not at all), the fast-app switching interface took about two seconds to open, the browser exhibited poor performance, several apps would force close (including the Market) and at times, the device became unresponsive, requiring a soft reset.
And this behavior is not unique to the Galaxy Tab 8.9. The aforementioned Honeycomb tablets I’ve used had the same performance issues. Is it the Tegra 2 processor that isn’t tuned right for Honeycomb? I doubt it: even the HTC Jetstream, powered by a dual-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon from Qualcomm, has these same performance issues. It’s the software, Honeycomb, that is the problem.
Compared to the iPad, there is a paltry selection of tablet-optimized apps available for Honeycomb. Don’t get me wrong–the apps that are Honeycomb optimized, like CNN, WeatherBug, and IMDB, look fantastic, but by our count, there are only several hundred such apps, compared to the iPad which has tens of thousands. Where’s the New York Times and Wall Street Journal Honeycomb apps? How about Plants vs. Zombies? Why hasn’t Honeycomb attracted the big app titles?
And of course you can run Android phone apps on Honeycomb, but often times apps become unusable, as most aren’t made for the higher resolution. Graphics are fuzzy, you have to use a new menu button in the bottom bar, and a lot of the time, certain UI objects aren’t usable. Compare that to the iPad where nearly 100% of iPhone apps work, albeit without full-screen scaling.
I think that developers are holding back on making Honeycomb apps in anticipation of Ice Cream Sandwich, where they’ll be able to build one app to work on phones and tablets.
And why does the Honeycomb Market not work in Portrait?
Having the home/back/fast-app switching button along the bottom removes the need for buttons, which is a nice touch that has allowed OEMs to make some very slick buttonless hardware. The notification tray is also neat, though there is still no way to clear all notifications in one shot. Given that so much focus is placed on the bottom of the screen, it confuses me why Android developers are placing menu items at the top of most built in applications. It creates a lot of hand movement as you tap the bottom of the display to move between apps, then hit the top of the display to manipulate a given program. Or, maybe I’m just lazy, but this seems inefficient.
The Next Generation of Android for Tablets
There’s no doubt that Android for tablets has a bright future, but 2011 wasn’t a good year for the platform. Next year we’re going to see Ice Cream Sandwich tablets that bring quad-core Tegra 3 processors with true HD displays. Faster hardware coupled with better-optimized software is going to mean great things for consumers. We’re just going to have to wait a bit and endure Honeycomb for a bit longer.