Last Friday I bought a Samsung Galaxy Tablet. The buy was not for me, but for my wife. She wanted the Galaxy Tablet because while she liked the iPad she thought it was too heavy for her to commute with. Though the condition was that if she did not like the Galaxy tablet I would swap with her.
Doing the Initial Information Hunt
While I like gadgets I hate paying quite a bit of money for gadgets and then not use them. The Galaxy tablet is neither super expensive, but it is not cheap either. Granted the feature set with its WiFi, GPS, Camera, and 3G is nice, money is money.
Thus having done my research and having made the decision to purchase the device I thought my biggest problem would the screen size.
Introducing the Devices
I am not a newbie when it comes to portable devices, and the following snapshot shows all the gadgets I use.
Missing from the picture is my Origami, which could be thought as the precursor to the tablet. But since Origami’s are not for sale anymore and I don’t use it it is not included in the picture.
What About the Weight?
I bought my first portable notebook in 1992 and it was a 80386sl (not a typo!). I remember that device very very well since it was my first and last black and white LCD, and it was light. The following snapshot is the best example I could find on the Internet.
Ever since then there are three things that I care about in a portable computing device; weight, battery life, and freedom of the device. Some of you might say, “what about price Christian?” Well today’s prices are a joke when I look back at what I used to pay. I once, and only once, paid about 6’000 USD for a notebook. Today’s prices are a bargain.
I care about weight because I have had to carry many heavy notebooks and I am tired of it. I care about battery life because I had to go through situations where my notebook would get an entire 30 minutes. And I care about freedom because proprietary architectures have caused me problems to no end.
When I weighed all of my portable devices here are the numbers I came up with.
- Notebook: 2174 g
- Netbook: 1174 g
- iPad: 880 g
- Samsung Galaxy Tablet: 386 g
- iPhone: 162 g
- iPod Touch: 136 g
The HP tablet notebook is a purchase I do regret. With tablets like the Galaxy tablet or the iPad I would never again buy a convertible tablet. It is not worth the money nor the weight, nor the battery life. Get a cheaper lighter notebook or netbook and your back and pocket will like you more.
What completely surprised me is how heavy the iPad is vs the netbook. They are not that far apart. And when I hear people complaining about the weight of the iPad I can understand why. The Apple given weight is less and it is because it does not include the jacket that is in the above picture. The thing is that with the iPad the jacket is not optional in the usability sense. When the iPad is held in the horizontal format to be able to type you need to place the iPad on a flat surface. Without the jacket that becomes downright tricky.
The second surprise was the weight of the Galaxy Tablet in comparison to my iPhone (smartphone). The Galaxy Tablet is only twice the weight and you do notice how lightweight it is. After three days of intensive usage the iPad is heavy. Last night when my wife took ownership of the Galaxy tablet said to me, “oh wow this is light and comfortable to hold".
What About the Screen Size?
Before holding the Galaxy Tablet in my hand the screen size was the biggest concern. Most people have the same concern. If you were to do a quick brush when comparing screen size yes the 7” screen is less usable than a 10” screen. However, what is not addressed is the readability. After all just because they are not the same size does not mean that they are not the same readability. The Galaxy tablet is 1024×600, and the iPad is 1024×768. From a pixel perspective there is not much difference. Additionally anybody who has seen or held an iPhone 4 knows that pixel count is important.
So I decided to focus on the readability of the device and decided to use the website http://www.tagesanzeiger.ch as case study on readability of a website. Following is a snapshot of the same web content on three devices.
What I found interesting is that on all three devices the website content was good enough to read. Yes as the screen size increased more content could be viewed, but it was not as if you could not read the content.
This is one of my first important points. The screen size does not matter. What matters is how responsible the website is with your device. For the iPhone, and Galaxy tablet mobile content was sent. Whereas for the iPad the full website (albeit minus Flash) was sent. Tagesanzeiger took the time to make sure that you get the full experience.
This taking the time to do things right is not happening at all websites and that is what makes surfing the web with portable devices a potentially painful experience. For example I could say that because the iPad does not render flash content it is messing up the web.
For example a responsible website might only send out the hifi edition of the website, but make the website readable by employing the use of columns as illustrated again by the TagesAnzeiger example. (MarketWatch is an example of website that uses columns instead of sending out of mobile content)
This is why I feel that the debate on the size of the screen is actually missing the point. The content can be made readable so long as the content developer follows the original intent of web which is to let the HTML content flow based on a layout. Do that and guess what it works! Who would have thought (sarcasm).
Battery: How Long Can I Go?
This is going to be blunt! Battery life for the iPhone sucks! Or more simply put battery life for any smartphone bites the big one. Yes yes many say, “oh oh I can get 10 gazillion days with 3G, Wifi, and GPS” My answer is, “can I sell you some land in Florida!” because I can’t. But I don’t need to whine about my case. Just do a Google search on battery life [iPhone | Android | Smartphone]. There are literally thousands of pages on the Web that ask, “why can I only get 2 hours from my battery.” Thus battery life on a smart phone sucks. On the other end of the spectrum I have an iPad. I can easily get 3 to 4 days with usage, keeping Wifi on, and checking email.
The Galaxy tablet falls somewhere between the smart phone and the iPad. I can use more services more regularly with the Galaxy tablet, but definitely less than the iPad. I am not doing jumping jacks, but then I am also not crying like my Smartphone. What I would really like from Galaxy is a backup battery solution. I would like an addon that maybe makes the Galaxy as heavy as an iPad, but gives me days of power. I don’t think that would be out of the question.
How Comfortable Is Typing?
I am a thumb-typer, but cannot type, for the life of me, on a Blackberry. I learned to type on a touch screen (iPod Touch) and am very comfortable with a touch screen. So the question becomes how nice is it to touch type on the Galaxy Tablet.
The iPhone or smartphone can be very easily thumbed using a single hand. The Galaxy tablet on the other hand is not as comfortable for a single hand operation since the thumb has to extend too far across the screen. Though for two thumbs the Galaxy tablet is a dream. When I was demoing typing in front of my wife (who is a BB user) she said, “wow you are fast!” When she used the Galaxy tablet she was pleasantly pleased on the usability of the keyboard. She commented, “this is really nice”. The iPad is not meant for single thumb usage. It is barely a two thumb usage device. My wife and most others seem to chicken peck type while using the iPad in the vertical configuration.
The way to get anything done on the iPad is the horizontal configuration with the jacket propping up the device shown as follows.
Application Point and Click Comfort
On a touch screen there is no mouse and everything is accomplished by touching and dragging. Since smaller screens have less space to touch and drag the question again becomes whether or not a larger screen is better. What I have found is that with a 10” screen applications while being able to show more content, show less and make the UI more clunky. For example the following application which will remain nameless (as it is a nice application) illustrates how too much space is not a good thing.
This is a list box with plenty of empty space. For me to find anything is downright painful since I am constantly scrolling. Just like the music listing on an iPhone. This form of layout makes plenty of sense in a smartphone as there is limited empty space. And on a smartphone it is the quickest way to navigate content.
Another example of an application that is butt ugly and hideous on the bigger screen is Bloomberg as shown by the following example.
Bloomberg on my iPhone, or the Galaxy Tablet are fantastic to use. But on the iPad Bloomberg is clunky and badly designed. The information is mixed everywhere and it is hard to figure things out.
But not all is lost and this is the key to my point. If you have more screen space you need to be able to use it wisely like the following snapshot of StockSpy.
The usability of the application does not depend on screen size, but how you use that screen space. Like in the web navigation example it really depends on the application and how it uses the space. Choose bad applications and it is a bad experience regardless of screen size.
What Kind of Software is Available?
Software wise I am not going to say that Android has more software. It has less. But what I am finding out is that the software in the iOS AppStore is starting to repeat itself. Take for example Rushhour from the AppStore. A nice move the block game to free your car. One version of it on Android, and six gazillion versions of it in the AppStore. Or how the next physics games on the AppStore. They are all alike! Thus what I think is happening is that the AppStore has more things that do the same thing.
What I am saying is that maybe your favourite game or app will not be available on the Android, but a derivation might be. I myself was not disappointed as I found whatever I need in one form or another.
Though I do wish something like Flipboard would be on the Android. That is a truly unique and interesting. However, even with that I found an alternative, namely Google reader service with the pulse reader application. Basically gives me the same result of data.
My Feelings and Thoughts
When I originally ordered the Android for my wife I thought I knew where the problems were. And at first blush I saw the problems. But it was not until I searched, prodded and tweaked my device I realized what Android was getting at.
My wife who is now gladly using the device said that had I not tried to figure out the device she would have been lost. Her frame of reference is the iPad and thus she was thinking in the context of the iPad.
The Galaxy Tablet is not the iPad it is a different experience and approach. I would argue it is a good approach! But the two don’t mix as illustrated by the following Google app snapshot on the iPad.
Yet on the Android these services just fit in. In fact to start up your Android device you need a Google account. Then all of those services that fit like a square peg on an iOS fit like a round peg on an Android.
Apple’s model is based on what Apple allows you to do, no more and no less. So for example sharing files among apps on the iPad is downright painful. But yet on the Android is a snap. But with an iPad reference you forget about that freedom. Like the freedom to send attachments with an email.
I had to look very hard and realized with the iPad it is simply not possible. It is this freedom and ability to extend that distinguishes itself from the iOS.
The other thing that I truly appreciated with Android and the Galaxy Tablet is that I did not need an iTunes type software. iTunes is a POS! For a company that seems to want to do things perfectly, who and why they developed iTunes is a question. I don’t even want to start ranting of all the failings of the iTunes software approach, and will leave at that it is a POS!
What I also realized is that the screen size is actually irrelevant since it all depends on the developer of the application or website. If that developer was careless and just did not care then the luxurious screen space on an iPad is completely wasted and the resulting UI is just ugly.
Take for example magazines. You would figure that magazines would be an automatic fail on the Galaxy Tablet as illustrated by the following picture.
That text is hard to read and would require you to constantly zoom in and out. As has been the case with smart phones. But the magazine reader (zinio) came up with a brilliant solution in that they added a text button. The text button switches the magazine text in plain ol’vanilla text like the following snapshot (excuse the blurriness due to my hand shaking).
The problem here is not the device, but the software powering the device.
I am not saying that I don’t like my iPad, as I am still using it. I am saying that the Galaxy Tablet is a REALLY nice device. The slagging and train wreck comments are simply unjustified and had they taken a deeper look they would have been surprised.
So in the end the conclusion is that you need to look at all devices and ask yourself what are you interested in? What are your needs. Then if possible borrow somebody’s device for a day or two. That way you can make the best decision.
For myself I have concluded that I regret my iPhone purchase (wish I had an Android phone) don’t regret my iPad purchase, and am pleasantly surprised and tempted to get my own Galaxy Tablet.
The funny thing is that I said nothing about Flash? And yet people say, “oh look this device has flash.” I ended up changing the web browser to download Flash on demand. But wait, this means I surf the web like iOS, however it is up to me whether or not I want to see the flash content. Understand that, then you will understand this Samsung Galaxy Tablet and Android.