Android Wars

This post was originally called Tablet Wars. Then I forgot to post it before I ended up with a third tablet. Now I’m on my fourth Android, and the latest isn’t a tablet.

Three Tablets and a Small Android

My first Android was the ViewSonic gTablet that I bought from woot for about $280. When that died, I graduated to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7″ from Best Buy, on sale for $300.  When I returned that, I couldn’t bear to leave the store without another Android and bought the Asus Transformer for $400. Then woot, usually the ones to get rid of old stock, had an exclusive sale for the Samsung Galaxy S Wifi 5.0 for about $180, which isn’t yet released officially in the US. (I’ll refer to this later as the S5 for brevity.) So here is my comparison, what went wrong with the first two, why the last two are the best, and why I can’t stop buying these things.

Hungry for an OS?

The Asus is the only one running the Honeycomb OS, version 3.2, made specifically for tablets (3.x is for tablets). All the others have Froyo 2.2, which I discovered is shorthand for frozen yogurt. (Who already knew that?) All the OS versions have food names: cupcake, donut, eclair, gingerbread, and the future ice cream sandwich.

Size Matters

The gTablet and the Asus are both about 10″. These are measured on the diagonal, so the 7″ Tab seems about half the size of the 10″, and the 5″ is possibly a quarter of the size.

I bought a bag for the gTablet, which also suits the Asus. The Tab fits in my purse. (Not that I use a purse, but I do own a couple. So I used one for a couple weeks for that.) The S5 slides easily into my back pocket. It is the same width as my Palm TX and a little taller. I was not the only person to notice that someone had finally created an Android replacement for the PDA. Palm OS is unfortunately obsolete, but I still rely on my PDA. Once I get all my data out of that and into the S5, I’ll be sad to retire it.

Because the S5 is not a phone, some people are calling it a tablet. I prefer not to, after having three others. I consider a tablet to be much bigger. It’s, you know, tablet sized.

Monitor Matters

The biggest complaint from everyone about the gTablet is it’s viewing angle. As one person put it, for something that is entirely a screen, and from a monitor manufacturer, it should have been better. I really only noticed it while playing games in bed, propped up on my elbow, with the gTab lying flat on the bed.  It did offer more privacy where my neighbors couldn’t see it so well, like on a plane. Other than that, I think they all have beautiful displays.

Charging Matters

The gTablet died just as I started traveling with it. I really wanted to use it all week at a genealogy conference. (I wanted to not bring my laptop, but didn’t feel confident that the gTablet would suit all my needs. Of course, if I didn’t have the laptop, I might not have dropped and killed the gTab…) It was charging, fell off the chair, and the AC plug just disconnected itself from the circuit board. (I dissected it later.) It never charged again. Very sad. But it uses a standard plug and if it was the charger itself that had broken (like I initially thought), I could’ve gotten a replacement at Radio Shack.

The Asus has a proprietary connector for charging. The wire just beyond the connector feels a little flimsy to me. I saw a few complaints online that it stopped working for other people, and a replacement is expensive.

The Galaxy Tab has an apparently very rare but not proprietary plug. The S5 has a standard micro USB.

Market Matters

The gTablet has to be hacked to get to the Google Market, where too many Android apps can only be found. Even then, I still didn’t have access to many apps. The other three come with the Market. I read that the Tab had limited access, and I noticed a couple things missing. The Asus probably has slightly different access also, because it’s a different OS version. The S5 seems to have almost everything.

There are a few apps I’ve found that Market says are incompatible with all of my Androids. The requirements match, so I have no idea what they’re doing.

Typing Matters

All three tablets, even the 7″, are easy enough to use with the on-screen keyboards. The gTablet needs an app to use the bluetooth keyboard that I purchased specifically to use with it. Even then, it has some trouble.

The wifi Tab has the bluetooth keyboard support deliberately deactivated by Samsung. This really bothered me, especially after avoiding the Verizon 3G version (for $100 less) because of the same problem. The 3G has better hardware than the wifi version. I was ready to live with the lesser hardware, but not when I discovered the keyboard issue, which was the reason I returned it.

So when I returned the Tab, I brought my keyboard to the store. I was really there to check out the Acer Iconia because I’d just read there was a 7″ version and I was loving the size of the Tab. I knew the store didn’t have it, but they had the 10″. I ended up turning on the bluetooth on both the Asus and the Acer, and both paired up flawlessly. I decided not to leave the store without another Android and bought the Asus. (The two were virtually identical with only a couple of differences.)

I was incredibly pleased when the keyboard also paired right up with my S5. I learned quickly how to type with the on-screen keyboard, but can’t fathom how people with even smaller screens can type so much.

The Asus does have one advantage when it comes to the bluetooth keyboard. When the keyboard is paired, the on-screen keyboard is hidden. I don’t know if there’s a setting for that on the S5, but I’m sure there’s a hack somewhere. Especially with a smaller device, on-screen real estate is more precious.

Hardware Matters

The hardware inside the gTablet was compared to the Motorola Xoom, which I assumed was good given the higher price of that one and the other geeks who raved about it. The wifi Tab has lesser hardware than its 3G siblings. It lags on its home screen with the included launcher. Once I installed LauncherPro, it worked better. The other two are wonderful. The S5 has the same processor of the 3G Tab. I’m skipping the technical details, so I won’t look up the processor GHz and such for each. (But the S5 has the 1GHz Hummingbird processor, if you know what that means. It’s the only one I know about without looking it up.)

Differences

The gTablet is the only one with a regular USB port so I could plug in a flash drive or just about anything. (The Acer Iconia has one also.)

The Asus is often reviewed with its keyboard, which practically doubles the battery life and includes an SD card slot and two USB ports. But I had no plans to buy their keyboard since I already have one.

When my gTablet died, I considered buying an identical replacement. However, since I was already started with Android, I realized why I shouldn’t. There are numerous apps that require a camera or GPS. I want to use them and the gTab doesn’t have them. (I had a couple of GPS-faking apps, but when I hacked it for the Market, they stopped working for me.) Specifically for genealogy purposes, both the BillionGraves and RestingSpot apps require GPS, BG requires the camera, any scanning of QR codes needs the camera, etc.

All of my Androids since the gTablet have had GPS and camera.

No Cell Phones

None of my Android devices has been a cell phone or received 3G or 4G signals. They each require a wifi signal to connect to the Internet. This does put a damper on things sometimes, like apps where you check-in wherever you go or if you want to be in constant contact with people via Twitter or instant messaging.

I bought a 4G wifi hotspot for my trip (the one when the gTablet died) but did not buy a long-term plan. I can activate it whenever I want and have done so. It has a very short battery life, compared to the Androids, but it will allow any of these devices to connect online wherever I can get the 4G signal (in all major US cities). Also, it allows five devices to connect at once. Many Androids allow tethering (using the cell phone signal to connect another computer to the Internet), but sometimes the cell plans do not allow it.

The Winners

I definitely improved on my device with each purchase. The gTablet was my introduction to Android. The Galaxy Tab was my introduction to what an Android should be able to do. The Asus Transformer is what an Android can do. And the Galaxy S Wifi is the replacement for my Palm.

I loved the Tab, and especially the size of it. It’s similar to the Kindle and the Nook, smaller, easier to hold. It was the lesser hardware than the 3G version and especially the lack of keyboard support that made me return it.

I loved the Asus. It is a little bigger than the gTablet. But it has the newest version of the Android OS and does not need to be hacked to work. I almost kept it, but I anticipate a drop in price when the next version comes out. I’ve already seen some early evidence of that. If it wasn’t for buying the S5, I have no doubt that I would have kept it.

I love the S5. I also love that I have a device that hasn’t been released in the US yet. Several other purchasers tried to research it; one person determined that we have the Central American and Caribbean version. For once, I’m actually ahead of the technology, sort of.

I Keep Coming Back

Once I had my first Android, I was hooked. When it died, I was crushed. I almost couldn’t replace it fast enough; I just needed to have another. I was hoping to transfer my affection and my data from Palm OS to Android. My affection is certainly there, but I haven’t finished with all of the data quite yet.

I don’t remember when I bought my first PDA, but it was a Visor Handspring and the 1990s. When that died, I replaced it with a Sony Clie, and then the Palm TX in 2006. The Palm is still going strong. When I leave the house and make sure I have everything in my pockets (wallet, phone, keys, etc.), I always check my back pocket for my Palm. Well, now it will be my S5 instead.

When you hear advice that you should always have pen and paper or a smartphone to record people’s phone numbers or other information, that back pocket is what I reach for.

I might have been happy with the Palm forever had I not tried Android. But the TX would have eventually died and the only replacement would be someone else’s 5+ year old used PDA. It was time for something new and I’m thrilled to find that Android is an excellent successor.

I’m not the only one who instantly fell in love with their Android, am I?
(Well, OK, iPhone users can comment too.)

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