Taste of Froyo in a Galaxy of tablets

I could have waited till this Friday for iPad 2 to swing by here in Toronto, but I had the Galaxy Tab pegged months ago.

AndroidIn my continued effort to remain open-minded and OS-agnostic in the relentless pursuit of exploring, assessing and quantifying digital experiences from all platforms (web, desktop, mobile etc), I figured it’s high time for the Android experience.

Many tech bloggers have blathered about the Galaxy Tab and you can probably look up the various reviews from the likes of Engadget, Gizmodo, BGR etc. But to be clear, this post is not meant to be a review per se. It’s more like my first “Ode to Android”.

Orchard life
‘Orchard’ is an image that pops up in my head when I sometimes think of Apple: a sanctuary of good design, visionary, hyper protective of its ecosystem and why not? Only the most innovative, trend-setting crops are produced right? (Even ones you have to hold right)

I completely dig my iPhone 3GS and have grown to really appreciate the touchscreen user experience. So for two years, I’ve lived in the Orchard and seen a world of exceptional beauty. That’s right. One world, one view.

Intrepid class
First, I must say that after a few days the Galaxy Tab is growing quite nicely on me. I really like its midsize feel, how easy it is to hold with one hand, and how the more I use it, the more the iPhone starts to look and feel miniscule in comparison.

USS VoyagerAlso, I find the Tab’s seeming thickness to be negligible, while its viewing area on portrait makes it ideal as an e-reader (Kobo-enabled). Using the device in portrait is perfect for viewing/processing almost 80% of activities (e.g., news, email/SMS, task management, drafting content like this blog post, etc.). In my opinion, the width of the viewing area is just right (not so stretched that it looks big and awkward, not too small that I’m having to go on landscape all the time).

Oh and of course, what’s a tech related post without reference to Star Fleet? A down right boring one that’s for sure. Aaanyway, so here is how I see these devices in comparison to starship size and class:

  • iPhone = USS Defiant
  • Galaxy Tab = USS Voyager
  • iPad = USS Enterprise

But please don’t hold that comparison (and any mild attachment I may have to all things Star Trek) against me. Haha.

UX worm hole effect
Unlike some die-hard fanboys who are born and bred from the cradle of Orchard and claim anything Apple to be unparalleled in UX design, I do feel that the Froyo-enabled Galaxy Tab is the ideal tablet format (heck, front and back facing camera? Face2face video capability off the bat?)

No offense to my friends/follows who are deeply rooted in Orchard life, but I think sometimes you folks undergo what I see as a type of worm hole effect when you come across non-Orchard devices.

Essentially, you take the painstaking leap to cross the threshold, yet once you end up on the other side, you expect to see a universe that ought to be encoded in all things Orchard. But the minute you begin to explore how things work in this different universe,  you immediately start setting every function and interface against an Orchard standard: comparing the orange you are looking at to the apple you all know too well.

This is not a new perspective. But it is something we should keep in mind when looking at evolving technology and the multitude of devices that proliferate as a result.

Different does not mean poor build
Below are some initial impressions on some of the GalaxyTab’s UI design, in comparison to to ones typically deified by children of the Orchard. I am drawing this out to further elucidate on that orange-to-apple scenario. And kids, just because it doesn’t function the same way, it most certainly does not imply poor build.

  • Home/Back buttons: Unlike the iWhatever, the main navigational interface may throw you off initially, since they are all located at the bottom of the device in portrait, which–some may argue–can be awkward when switching to landscape. So all “back” clicks are done via the bottom nav.
  • Character/text selection:  Typically, with an iWhatever, you’d tap and hold to select, copy/paste, modify etc. This is interesting because that action alone is somewhat reminiscent of a brushstroke or painting with your fingers. The action is clearly intended for drawing, designing etc. However, with the Galaxy Tab, all you do is tap once (say on text) and an icon that looks like a teardrop (which when selected opens up more options for action) with a flashing cursor above it appears. And all you need to do to move that cursor is select the character or space where you want it placed. This action, to me, is akin to writing, word processing.
  • Web browser nav:  Perhaps what may seem puzzling is the absence of Chrome (Google’s native web browser) in the apps Market (Android’s equivalent of iTunes).  The Tab does come configured with a web browser, which oddly enough is called “Browser”(that actually made me chuckle). And for all other available  browsers (Firefox, Opera, Skyfire etc) each respective browsing experience is different. With Firefox, for instance, you can flip the screen left or right to call out a side bar with further options to go back, front, bookmark etc. I am still debating which one I want to set as default.Samsung Galaxy Tab
  • Market: Apps, apps, apps! It’s no wonder we often hear tales of the Android Army and their force to dominate the mobile space. Although not everything is all that ducky with this picture, as there have been concerns with the lack of regulation and oversight in the Android apps development ecosystem. Ergo, higher chances of buggy, corrupt or malware infested apps making their way into Market. I did however download “Antivirus Free” a neat little Droid app that detects any new apps installed in your tablet, scans and cross-references for any malicious apps and confirms whether or not the install was clean. Oh and the other bonus? Since I’ve so far only downloaded free apps, I’ve not not had to submit a credit card once. How sensible is that?
  • Notifications bar: This is a beautiful, genius interface.  Each time you receive new notifications or updates, the device will ping a lovely sound (configuration needed) and the very top bar will pop up the icon of the app where the notification comes from. With grab-n-drag down, you are presented with all notifications in one view, with choice of selecting which one(s) you wish to attend to, ignore, or to clear all. On top of that page, you also have the option of toggling to activate/deactivate any of the following: WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, Silent mode, Orientation lock.
  • Sounds for notification: This may seem like a minor point of contention, but @newteric and I agree that compared to the sound file defaults available in iPhone, the quality of default sound files in the Galaxy Tab are aurically pleasing. Somehow, they really nailed this component. The sounds are distinctly atmospheric, ambient that hearing them ping on the device makes for a gentle, unintrusive experience.
  • On/off switch: Back in January, BGR reported rumours of Apple considering removing the Home button from the iteration of iPad and iPhone. However, Apple Insider‘s recent post seems to confirm that the  signature Home button will still appear on the iPad 2. While it took me a while to get used to the Home button, in the long run, I don’t know if it makes good design sense to keep it right on the touch surface. Does its placement right on the working surface limit more expansive development of the UI? In my mind it does, but I’m not UI expert, just an awfully pensive user and technophile. But the Tab has this covered with an On/Off (or Home button) switch placed on the right side of the device’s frame.
  • Social Apps: I notice for certain apps, like Twitter for Android, that when you click to view a tweet, it’s the exact same experience as with an iPhone, except larger and you don’t have to hold the device away (nor a certain “right way”) to view it clearly. However, I did notice a slight nuance with links on tweets. Typically, when you click on a link in a tweet it would open the link within the Twitter app. Not in this case: it opens to a browser and takes you out of the Twitter app. Now this has nothing to do with the Galaxy Tab itself, but more with how the Android app is developed. Not a world-ender by any means.

There’s so much more to cover and experience with Android. As I become more accustomed to using the device, I plan to share my thoughts on the various business use cases for this tablet.

But so far, Froyo tastes yummy. What about you? What has your tablet experience been like?
> Android graphic sourced from large-icons.com 
> “USS Voyager” image sourced from drexiles.files.wordpress.com
> Worm hole image sourced wallpapers-free.org
> Galaxy Tab image sourced from androidcentral.com
> Ambient ping image sourced from quadropolis.us

2 thoughts on “Taste of Froyo in a Galaxy of tablets

  1. And an ode to nice it is, and vice versa 😉

    Since DM’ing you about that SM monitoring experience where a client had missed a rather important element of a smear campaign to their reputation because the iWhatever device they used excluded it from their browsing experience, it turns out that there can be a cost to pursuing the Orchard lifestyle and overlooking the core business requirements of a full Web browsing experience.

    I don’t mean to derail your most excellent and balanced post, but seeing the possibilities of a full spectrum Web being delivered in a polished instrument, capable of loading up to 6 browser tabs without any lag in performance, nor any restriction on the content, I can’t help but feel like the inquisitive child who is beside themselves with the conveniences of modern living, wondering how on earth (maybe galaxy would seem more apropos) did we get by before the Tab?

    Joseph Fiore | RepuMetrix Inc.

  2. @Joseph Fiore technology never fails to amaze and amuse, my friend. hence, for this post, it was key that i place emphasis on the importance of keeping an open, holistic view when exploring the different forms of tech. that at the end of the day, user experience is the ultimate common denominator and should be the key force dictating how technology is shaped not the other way around. much to be discovered with tablets. while it’s not exactly a ‘tricorder’ one can’t help but fantasize about the next evolutionary stage. exciting indeed.

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