Android 4 – A very quick and dirty review

Android 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) Logo Courtesy of Google

My first experiences back in 2010 of Android were always a little unpleasant, it felt unpolished especially when compared to iOS. However, I recently tried out Android 4 on a very cheap tablet, although that has since died I will write here instead about the experience of the OS. It should be noted this was a very basic tablet, a single core ARM Cortex A8 with a basic graphics processor. Thus making it about the slowest experience you can expect from anything currently on the market, however even with that limitation I was pleasantly surprised.

Multitasking Performance

I was very impressed by this, even on such a basic tablet.  In general it was difficult to notice much slow down when flipping between apps. Of course the tablet I used is slow by current standards, hence the time to load applications was poor but once they were up and running for the most part problems disappeared.I often had many applications opened at once and the Android architecture made using them very pleasant.

User Experience

If you are unfamiliar with Android then the act of switching between tasks can at first seem a little hidden, this is especially true if you have just moved from the IPaD or iPhone. However, by clicking on the onscreen icon it is quick and easy to move between apps. You also just kill apps by swiping them away.

Navigating on the device either between applications, or the the home space or back is quick and easy to understand. Some cheap tablets provide physical buttons but newer ones rely on the three touchscreen icons.

App Store/Google Play

Now comes perhaps the weakest point of the experience. Unlike Apple which vets all applications for anything from security to usability there is no such detailed analysis of Android apps, this in theory can leave you a little concerned. Also you can side load apps, this basically means you can download them from unofficial source and install them. This is much like any other computer but opens you up to many potential problems, so only do this if you must.

Another criticism you can level at Android is that some tablets (my cheap one included) do not come with a working Google Play (app store) installed. Instead you have to rely on third party ones such as Android Pit, which can work but also frequently redirect you for some apps to the non-working Google Play store. This can be avoided as I said in another article but is a pain.This problem seems to apply across many of the cheap tablets these days so it’s worth checking out if Google Play works out of the box. This is a small niggle but does remind you that Android is not such a well integrated platform as iOS.

If you are really wanting to try out the concept of cloud computing I thoroughly recommend downloading Google Drive. Here you can store all your docs online and what’s more the Google Docs  (Word processor, spreadsheet and presentation) tools are available. Simply write your documents and they are automatically saved and will sync with your Mac or PC at home without any problems.  The cloud print service also lets you send your documents to any on line printer that you have permission to use. This is a very neat little feature.

Perhaps the only major downside with Android is that unlike the soon to be released Windows 8 or the current iOS platform is that the app options are not as industry based as the other two. Certainly I am sure MS will ensure superb support for it’s Office suite across all versions of it’s new OS. Apple of course also have a suite of rather nice office apps that you can use. With Android though you are sadly stuck either with Google Drive (previously Docs) which is good for basic tasks or third party tools such as Documents to Go that support MS Office. While these two solutions are ok, they come nowhere near close to offering a good alternative to Office. So if reliable Office compatibility is key for you then I’d wait for Windows 8.

 Built-in Apps

The built in email client is very quick and easy to set up either for Exchange or not surprisingly Gmail can be almost painlessly set up. Sadly though the movie player does have some codecs missing so it’s a good idea to check out the alternatives, MX Player being a good one to look at.

I may be wrong but so far I have been a little disappointed in the lack of ways to synchronise such as tasks from Exchange. There are third party apps available, but if course if like me you are using mixed devices from Apple and Windows, all of which support tasks this is a bit of a let down.

 Overall

Overall I can recommend Android and I say that as a long time Mac and more recently iOS user. Android has now matured enough to make it a good choice and  if you add to that the many more hardware options to choose from than with Apple  then I think the choice is clear.

 

About Rod McCall

Rod McCall is a researcher in the field of human-computer interaction in areas such as augmented reality, mobile gaming in-car systems and virtual environments. He has a passing interest in economics after not being entirely convinced by the rubbish presented as fact during lectures on that particular subject while at uni.
This entry was posted in IT Discussions, Mobile Tech, Reviews and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Android 4 – A very quick and dirty review

  1. Jon says:

    It has to be said that Android 4 is a great tablet OS, Google seem to have managed to fix some of the bugs from Honeycomb. The changes definitely bring it in line with iOS.

    I’m now interested in how Windows 8 will stack up on the Surface tablet, it seems there’s going to be some cool features http://blog.insight.com/2012/06/microsoft-unveil-surface.

  2. rodmc says:

    I am pretty excited about Windows 8, mainly as it will hopefully create some genuine competition in “multi-touch” sector. I hope that the very mixed comments I have seen so far are not indicative of something bad about to happen! If MS keep the platform open to as many vendors as possible, unlike Apple then I am sure we should have some real choice. So far they seem to be doing that and long may it continue.

    Also I think MS have been very unfairly criticised in recent years as Windows 7 was surprisingly good and if Win 8 is good then who knows I may say bye bye to Mac OS X.

  3. Richard says:

    I recently played around with a Nokia Lumia 900 for a few das. While the phone hardware is only mediocre, the Windows 7.5 OS is stunning and really beautuful. I love it. The (Live) Tiles are slick. Feels noch more modern and usable than Android or iOS.

    • rodmc says:

      The few people I know who have used the recent Windows Phone all seem to like it. Personally I think that MS got a little too much bad press in recent years with the result that it is now the uncool brand. This is a little unfair as they seem to have got the latest versions of Windows and Win Phone right while Apple seems to have become a little more than a marketing cult. Read the autobiography of Steve Jobs and it’s not difficult to see how this happened 🙂

      As for Nokia I am not sure what the future holds for them, they have announced another set of massive job cuts and as yet have not captured the imagination of anyone. They really ballsed up the Meego platform which was actually rather good (even if it lacked any serious apps) then moved to Win Phone which seems to smack of desperation. I gather they are still doing very well in their homeland (Finland) with their new phones, but outside of there they seem to be going into meltdown. I have not tried their new phone but one thing Nokia did do well in the past was quality, my old N95 is still functioning even if it looks like someone from the KGB designed it. Right now I just cannot see where they fit in the market place esp when they really should try to compete more effectively with Apple and Samsung, that said they should just be grateful that they are not RIM.

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