Android 4.0.3 on the Motorola Xoom – first impressions …

I got the update the other day, and so far not a big fan – Honeycomb felt a lot more polished. The new font is taller meaning the keyboard takes up more screen space (maybe that’s an illusion though), everything is slower, tapping in text to edit is less precise (can be words away from where you tapped, and you then have to drag the cursor – Honeycomb suffered this, but not as badly), a couple of apps no longer work (including my twitter client), and email seems random in which messages it downloads, and it is the slowest app of the lot despite being bundled with the OS.

Visually, aside from the boot up screen, everything has a hint of ewwww to it – I especially dislike the analog clock, the font, the changed icons, and some screen flipping effects. I also miss in the notification tray being able to dismiss notifications individually – it is now an all or nothing affair. The only plus really is wifi seems to be running better, with a stronger signal.

Overall I pretty much regret updating – I suggest fellow owners research before updating. Other people’s comments I’ve read have been more positive, but aside from the wifi I so far fail to see the positive to it.

Apple vs Samsung vs Google vs the world

So Apple are taking legal action to try and prevent Samsung releasing their new Honeycomb tablet in Australia, and now in Europe also, on the basis of breaching patents. Some of the patents seems questionable at best (such as using a gesture to unlock the screen) and in my view it is ridiculous that such things are allowed to be patented in the first place. Needless to say Samsung are taking action against Apple for other things, Apple against other manufacturers also, and just about everyone else in the mobile industry seems to be taking action against each other for just existing. Meanwhile Google are spending a ridiculous sum for Motorola Mobility seemingly primarily for 25,000 odd mobile technology patents as a bit of future protection against such actions.

Now, I fully appreciate that some ideas are truely innovative and need protecting, but the extent to which all this sort of thing is happening all seems a tad fucking pathetic. Honestly, if company X thinks they have the superior product to company Y, why not fight it out in the shops rather than the courts?

On a side note the purchase of Moto by the big G is interesting – Google say they are out to protect Android against certain legal action, but it gives them the hardware to become an all stop shop like Apple. I’ve not been a big fan of Motorola in the past, but the Xoom is a seriously nice piece of kit (see earlier blog post) showing they have potential to compete in the hardware stakes. If Google do start giving Motorola an advantage, then (as has been mentioned on a few news websites) other Android players may “up shop” and switch to a new platform. Given how quick Motorola were in releasing Honeycomb 3.2 compared to others, who’s to say it isn’t already happening?

Google need to be very careful here – there’s already the threat of paying a per handset fee to Apple for alleged patent violations, and now there’s a chance they could alienate their biggest allies. They need companies like Samsung and HTC on side, and to do it they need to show Motorola won’t get any advantage in earlier releases or extra OS features. Motorola’s market share is currently too small for Google to stand alone with. Then again if Google and Samsung were to merge …

Could Ice Cream Sandwich be the last version of Android? I hope not, even if it’s only because it’s too stupid a name to go down in history as the end of a technological era.

Motorola Xoom wifi – first impressions

A couple of days ago I excitedly received in the mail my Motorola Xoom wifi tablet. In the box itself is the tablet, a charger, and a USB cable, along with the usual paperwork. The tablet came fully charged, and I was immediately able to upgrade to Android 3.1.

The hardware:
The tablet itself seems well built, feeling solid and slick – the specs say a lot, with plenty of storage (also further expandable with a micro SD card), two cameras, and an HDMI output amongst other things. The sound quality is quite good for a portable device using the built in speakers. The only complaints on the hardware side are the cameras need good lighting to make the most of them, the USB interface is data only (no charging), and the charger can easily come out with a slight bump. On the plus side the battery life seems very good indeed. The screen works nicely, though occassionally feels imprecise – I have hit the wrong key quite a bit in typing this post.
The OS (Android Honeycomb) and bundled software:
Again very slick. Google have clearly put a lot of work into Honeycomb – it is my first Android experience, but I am adapting to it quickly, and I definitely prefer it to Apple’s offering, though I admit to being more than a little anti-Apple. There is much integration with Google accounts for things – for instance I didn’t even have to log in to post this as my Google account details are kept in memory, and this blog service is part of the Google family. Youtube is beautifully presented on the first screen, but unfortunately the remaining screens look (whilst very tidy and usable) somewhat old fashioned by comparison.
Despite the overall feeling of slickness though, the bundled software and features are still a little rough around the edges. Icons are present for Google Books and Movie Studio though trying to run either gets you a message that they are not installed. Movie Studio can be found under apps but is somewhat unintuitive to use – you also need to keep the screen on whilst exporting, which is a hassle if working with a video if more than a few minutes. Similarly uploading to youtube requires the screen to be on.
I used a third party app (Funamol) to sync my contacts from my aging iphone to the web, and then the web to the Xoom – worked well. I then could easily merge Skype and other contacts into existing ones, though which name remained as the main name seemed somewhat random. Sadly attempting to edit any contacts now results in the contacts ‘app’ crashing.
Another gripe is in writing this blog entry, each time I press enter to try and start a new paragraph, the keyboard disappears – a minor thing, but the sort of refinement Google needs to make Honeycomb a truely awesome OS.

Extra note – I had to complete this entry on the PC, as I could not select the correct words to fix spelling mistakes – it would instead jump multiple lines up. Could be the blog, or the Android browser – either way, something Google need to fix.

Third party software:
The price of being an early adopter, third party Android software on the Xoom is a bit hit and miss. The Google Market selection is obviously less than Apple’s app store, and some apps will be missed when I switch to an Android phone in a month or so. Tablet specific problems arise when many apps are made for smaller phone screens – they either don’t make proper use of the bigger screen, or auto-rotate to a portrait view when a tablet is usually best used in landscape – some apps sadly suffer both these problems. A classic example is Tweetdeck – I love it on the PC with its multiple colums, but it is clearly a phone app here with one ultra big column, and a need to sweep left and right to view the other columns – the bigger screen could comfortably hold two or three columns.
Another surprise was Skype – no video chat. Yahoo messenger for Android allegedly does, however won’t show in the marketplace as it’s apparently not compatibe with Honeycomb. As said before, the price of being an early adopter …Flash 10.3¬†seems to work ok, though some sites are still a bit iffy. Facebook photos¬†(not sure if it is flash or not) is dodgy as, and even managed to crash the Xoom outright (it rebooted itself). Still, dodgy flash is better than no flash, something Apple will never convince me otherwise.
Conclusions:
Am I happy I got the Xoom instead of an iPad? Yes as it feels less restricted, and that it will have more to offer in the future, but Google still have a bit of work to do to make it a no-brainer for most people.