Having a tedious time with the current generation of mobile devices.
May 18, 2013 4:19 PM   Subscribe

I've been a late adopter of mobile computing stuff, but since February I've been giving a tablet (Nexus 10, Android 4.2.2) and a smartphone (a Nexus 4) a chance. I can't stand them. Why isn't the experience "clicking" for me?

Here's a litany of complaints. They are merely representative, and I don't expect every one to be addressed individually.
  1. The tablet (and, to a smaller extent, smartphone) touchscreen experience is clumsy and unresponsive, especially compared to my older slate laptop. It really feels like using a computer while extremely drunk.
  2. Mobile sites are clumsy and unresponsive: radio buttons highlight, but don't get activated when pressed with vigor, other actions and presses get detected only intermittently, etc.
  3. The stylus is fat and clumsy. My fingers are fat and clumsy. The fine-tip stylus (a Jot Pro) offers little improvement.
  4. The onscreen keyboard pops up and down unpredictably. Clicking on a text field sometimes fails to summon it and there is no obvious way to summon it otherwise.
  5. It takes an extra button press to access the number keys.
  6. Automatic spelling correction is intrusive even on the least aggressive setting.
  7. Accurate text selection is difficult. Accurate cursor positioning is difficult. The cursor suffers from weird latency issues.
  8. Text is only rendered in high quality where the application thinks you're looking.
  9. Scrolling quickly on long web pages (e.g., Metafilter) is difficult and the scrollbar is not pressable and also hard to see.
  10. Inability to access the file system makes me feel literally disabled. Installing an app to access the file system reveals a complex directory tree with obscure folder names.
  11. The proliferation of single-function apps represents unnecessary mental overhead.
  12. Apps have jawdropping functionality gaps. The Gmail app won't let you empty your trash. A note-taking app I downloaded offers no way of deleting files.
  13. Reliance on private, "cloud-based" storage services for personal files feels downright stupid. There's storage right on the device, why can't I use it.
It really feels like these devices are trying to channel my usage into specific and (for me) unnatural and limited patterns. I have little interest in mobile music, games, or TV content, so perhaps I'm not a very typical user. Hope me, Metafilter, I am almost at the point of giving these things away.
posted by Nomyte to Technology (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
It is probably not very clear how I expected to use the tablet. I hoped it would basically replace my laptop for most lightweight computing tasks.
posted by Nomyte at 4:33 PM on May 18, 2013


Chrome, the default browser on the Nexus 4 and 10, isn't very good. Firefox renders better, but in my experience neither are as good as Safari / Chrome on iOS.

Did you encrypt the storage on your devices? While it sounds like a good idea and incurs very little latency on desktops and laptops, on Android devices it is an experience killer. I didn't learn this until after eight months of complaining to confused Android users.

You can use Dropbox, Google Drive, or Skydrive to get files onto your mobile device. You can't really treat 16 GB of storage on your tablet as equivalent to 500 GB on your desktop. As tablets are considered replacements for laptops/desktops and not "companions", few people are interested in plugging them into each other.

You may want to think about getting a bluetooth keyboard, or looking into other software keyboards. You can't really wedge a numpad onto a 4.7" screen.
posted by meowzilla at 4:54 PM on May 18, 2013


I feel this thread is about to become getamac -but here's my two cents

A lot of these issues are tablet - and you just get used to them. Tablets aren't PCs, they don't behave in the same way. And yes, the UI will channel your usage into limited patterns, because it's limited - processor, input, screen space all conspire to make usage more difficult than it would be if you were using a PC.

You also get what you pay for in a tablet, Nexus 10s are pretty cheap, Play with a similar ASUS or HTC - even a iPad 10" and they are far more responsive.

if you want to see the file system you can download es file explorer - it's free and is pretty good.

Before I download an app I read the reviews, if most people say it sucks for a certain reason then I'm forewarned.

There is no reason why you have to use proprietary cloud storage - is there a particular app that's forcing this?

I don't think that mobile gmail not allowing you to empty trash is particularly jaw dropping - swipe the message and it goes away. Is trash emptying really that important?
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 4:56 PM on May 18, 2013


I have an Asus eeepad Transformer tablet (Android 4.2.2) and Samsung Galaxy s2. I've had the tablet for almost a year now. I understand your frustration with the tablet. Here is my advice fwiw...

Mobile apps with the android tablet don't work very well. Facebook mobile app is a mess on it. My suggestion is to use your browser and access the desktop version of your websites on your tablet (usually found in the browser settings. I started doing that and it was a lot better.

About the browser: The proprietary browser is laggy, and buggy. You are better off using Chrome or Dolphin or some other browser to surf the web on your tab than using the browser that came with your tablet. The only thing is that Chrome for Android is not flash compatible.

Because I have an eeepad, I was able to purchase a keyboard meant for my tablet, and it made my life with the tablet so much better. I hated the keyboard on-screen. I'm no expert with what I am going to say, but maybe you could get a bluetooth keyboard for your tablet? Might help...To that end, if you are using the on tablet keyboard, disable the autocorrect if you can in the settings. This was about the first thing I did because autocorrect makes me cranky.

I have used a couple of stylus pens for drawing on the tablet and surfing. I think the make of the one I've used is the Dagi Stylus pen. They are quite good, but might be too fancy for what you need. :)

Again, with the gmail app, I just access my emails through the browser. It seems that as "good" as these apps are for the mobile phone, they don't measure up at all for the tablet.

Inability to access the file system makes me feel literally disabled. Installing an app to access the file system reveals a complex directory tree with obscure folder names.

Why do you have to access a separate app to access the file manager? Your tablet should have an icon on your desktop that can do this.

I never access cloud-based anything to save stuff on my tablet.
posted by MeatheadBrokeMyChair at 4:59 PM on May 18, 2013


I feel this thread is about to become getamac -but here's my two cents

Well, only complaints 5, 10, 11, and maybe 12 (if you squint) on that list are valid for the iPad.

It is probably not very clear how I expected to use the tablet. I hoped it would basically replace my laptop for most lightweight computing tasks.

It sounds like you have expectations that aren't in align with your products.

I'd read this article: I swapped my MacBook for an iPad+Linode and see if you could come up with a way to do something similar in the ecosystem you prefer.

For the record, I am a gadget junkie and have many of the other products named so far in this post.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:18 PM on May 18, 2013


The people developing these new devices have to varying degrees, used them to take the opportunity to rethink the traditional windows/icons/mouse/pointer computing parigdim. Some of your frustration seems to stem from wanting to do things the way you are used to doing them. So i think you might find yourself happiest with an ultrabook.

Some of your other complaints sound like they are caused by the cultural norms of Android and Android development, which seems to tolerate a lower standard of refinement than other ecosystems. At the very least, a lot of android tablet apps are really just phone apps that have been scaled up.

You might be happier on some of these points if you were in the iOS ecosystem. On the other hand, some of your existing annoyances would likely be even greater, and you'd have new frustrations to boot, which is why I suggested going with an ultrabook instead.
posted by Good Brain at 5:49 PM on May 18, 2013


I'm not overfamiliar with the products you're using, but I think the issue might be in your expectations and not necessarily the technology.

It took me a long time after getting a smartphone to start using it for tasks that would be easier done on my laptop. Even now, if the choice is "use laptop to do some restaurant research on Yelp and make a firm plan for lunch" vs. "use Yelp app on phone to find a nearby restaurant wherever I happen to be at lunchtime", I will usually choose the former. I think for the first 6 months I had an iPhone I used it for talk, text, casual gaming*, and checking email. (Not writing emails, just seeing what was waiting for me.)

I also think it's probably a mistake to use a tablet for everything you use a traditional computer for. I think tablets are great for reading, watching video, using the internet for certain things, and storing/accessing certain kinds of information. I think tablets are less good for typing-intensive tasks.

*In terms of basic issues like screen responsiveness, typing, and getting the mechanics to behave correctly (or adjusting your expectations of that sort of thing), I think casual gaming is a great introduction to using a touch-screen device. You have to spend a lot of time clicking and dragging and swiping and the like. Eventually you get used to it and know what to expect.
posted by Sara C. at 6:03 PM on May 18, 2013


You can use Dropbox, Google Drive, or Skydrive to get files onto your mobile device. You can't really treat 16 GB of storage on your tablet as equivalent to 500 GB on your desktop.

No, but I can expect it to be equivalent to a laptop with that much storage (well, 32GB in my case). That used to be a perfectly serviceable amount of storage space. I see no reason to rely on wifi availability and an external storage service like Dropbox to manage text files. I find the default reliance on cloud storage to be a huge weak link (especially now, while I'm waiting for the Comcast guy).

Mobile apps with the android tablet don't work very well. Facebook mobile app is a mess on it. My suggestion is to use your browser and access the desktop version of your websites on your tablet (usually found in the browser settings. I started doing that and it was a lot better.

I already resort to this, but the effectiveness of this approach is limited by the overall sluggishness of the device and the severe limitations of touch-based input, especially on a small screen.

It sounds like you have expectations that aren't in align with your products.

Well, yes. As I wrote above, unless my experience somehow dramatically improves, I will simply get rid of the tablet. Right now it feels like an expensive toy computer that's specialized for shopping and media consumption, which is the farthest thing from what I actually want.

So i think you might find yourself happiest with an ultrabook.

I already own a slate which works wonderfully for almost everything I need. Its only limitations are weight and battery life. I hoped a tablet would be a good device for things like reading academic PDFs, but managing an intricately organized 2GB library of PDFs, text scraps, and scans is not something I look forward to doing in Dropbox or Google Docs.
posted by Nomyte at 6:06 PM on May 18, 2013


I hoped a tablet would be a good device for things like reading academic PDFs, but managing an intricately organized 2GB library of PDFs, text scraps, and scans is not something I look forward to doing in Dropbox or Google Docs.

It sounds like you need Evernote.
posted by Sara C. at 6:10 PM on May 18, 2013


There is a chance you got a bum tablet. If it's still under warranty, send it back. My brother has a Nexus 10 (and the newest iPad to compare it against), and he has no complaints over its responsiveness or interactivity. Kind of the opposite, to tell the truth. Whatever problems you're having with the tablet are not endemic to the breed - so it's likely a hardware issue.

The phone issues are likely due to the tradeoffs the built-in browser makes. Install Dolphin or Firefox, and see if you like those better.

I have an earlier Samsung Galaxy Nexus HSPA+ (There's a mouthful), which was the Google-branded phone before the Nexus 4. It's insanely awesome compared to other, newer high-end kit, including the iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S4 - quick and responsive, with an intuitive and accurate UI in Android 4.2.2.

If your tablet and phone are not this, then send them back. Something's wrong at the hardware level, and yes, the laws of probability do indeed permit both to be borken at the same time.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:14 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Honestly, it sounds like you're trying to replicate/extend your Windows tablet experience, and you're just not going to get that completely with Android. As someone who has a proliferation of tablet PCs, I've personally resigned myself to the fact that what I really want is an updated MS Surface Pro with the Haswell chip. If you haven't already, it might be worth checking them out to see if they're a better fit with your expectations.
posted by evoque at 8:24 PM on May 18, 2013


No, but I can expect it to be equivalent to a laptop with that much storage (well, 32GB in my case). That used to be a perfectly serviceable amount of storage space. I see no reason to rely on wifi availability and an external storage service like Dropbox to manage text files. I find the default reliance on cloud storage to be a huge weak link (especially now, while I'm waiting for the Comcast guy).

You can transfer files to the tablet directly with a USB cable, and setting up the tablet in MTP mode (Settings -> Storage -> Menu button). If you're on a Mac you'll need software here: http://www.android.com/filetransfer/

There are also ways to directly connect USB Drives: http://www.androidcentral.com/android-advanced-usb-otg-nexus-4

I'm not really sure by what other means you are looking to get files onto the device. You want something like a network share?
posted by meowzilla at 8:26 PM on May 18, 2013


You should disregard my previous comment; MTP was designed specifically for media, I thought it was for mass storage.
posted by meowzilla at 8:59 PM on May 18, 2013


You can transfer files to the tablet directly with a USB cable, and setting up the tablet in MTP mode (Settings -> Storage -> Menu button). If you're on a Mac you'll need software here: http://www.android.com/filetransfer/

There are also ways to directly connect USB Drives: http://www.androidcentral.com/android-advanced-usb-otg-nexus-4


Thank you, these are both great reminders!

In case anyone was confused by what I was referring to as a "slate," I meant a laptop that can fold into a tablet, but otherwise runs a normal OS and so on. Mine is a Fujitsu 901. Again, apart from its weight, it's a wonderful device.
posted by Nomyte at 9:00 PM on May 18, 2013


You should disregard my previous comment; MTP was designed specifically for media, I thought it was for mass storage.

Oh...
posted by Nomyte at 9:04 PM on May 18, 2013


I love your thread. I moved to tablet 3 days ago for light use when my 6 yr old netbook finally developed one fault too many. I too have fingers the size of black puddings and am forced to use a stylus which I find clumsy. I agree that cloud storage is daft. A lot of the apps are shite. It takes me back to my first proper PC back in the early 90's. I am also experiencing the same discomfort at losing control of MY system.

That said, I am not suffering any latency or response issues. I would go back to the retailer and ask em to compare it with another of the same make to ensure you aint got a lemon.

In terms of app functionality, I am finding that a lot of features take a while to find. A lot of apps seem to be easier to use in portrait format. This site is a pain. It has font sizing issues and is uncomfortable to use both

Good luck my fellow adventurer. Let me know how you get on.
posted by BenPens at 10:45 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


As I wrote above, unless my experience somehow dramatically improves, I will simply get rid of the tablet.

Tablets are really a very special-purpose niche item which doesn't have a lot of general-purpose uses, especially for someone who is otherwise a frequent computer-user who already has a lot of uses for a computer already that a tablet can't really replace. Until you have some killer app for it that becomes a must-have, either personally or for work, I suspect you won't get much out of a tablet. I most frequently use my iPad for looking up recipes in my kitchen (that's an expensive recipe book). Other people use it to stream netflix while sitting in bed. Unless you find that niche use for it, I doubt you'll get much use out of it. You already know how to use a computer-- stick with that.

The smartphone, on the other hand, really does change your life, and I say this as someone who squeezed as many "smart" services out of my dumb phone as I could until I got an iPhone. The appeal is the shear number of things you can look up or just "do" without having the wait until you get to your computer to do. Anything that is greatly helped by doing something "right now" is suddenly easily and seamless with a smartphone: looking up things on google maps, tracking expenses, various gamification apps that allow you to track your progress/performance on things you're doing, ability to check and reply to email in real-time, etc.
posted by deanc at 11:08 PM on May 18, 2013


The experience isn't "clicking" for you because you want to replace your laptop with something that isn't a laptop. Tablets and smartphones give you nice features, but with a lot of compromises. Can you type as quickly or accurately on a touch screen as you can on a laptop? No, me neither. So, you have to go buy a bluetooth keyboard. So, you essentially recreate a laptop. Can you plug in your usb devices? No, didn't think so.

Honestly, tablets have their uses, but if it's not working out for you, just buy a sub-notebook (not a netbook). Get a 14" Thinkpad or something similarly small and lightweight and stop trying to work around the things tablets make difficult or impossible.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 11:16 PM on May 18, 2013


On the MTP front, it's not entirely cut-and-dried: yes, it's intended for media and has "media" right there in the name, but there's no techical reason why it wouldn't work for arbitrary files. It seems that some MTP programs arbitrarily restrict you to transferring only media-related filetypes, which can apparently be worked around by simply renaming mydocument.pdf to mydocument.mp3 before transferring -- or doing the same with a zip file for multiple documents. This is ludicrous and infuriating but perhaps good to know in a pinch. More details here. Anyway, first thing to do is just to try it with arbitrary files, because it might work.
posted by pont at 12:46 AM on May 19, 2013


I haven't had any trouble transferring files over MTP to and from anywhere I like in the file system (granted, I haven't tried any of the more system-y directories, but I can see them). If you do have trouble, I think enabling Developer Mode (it's in the Settings) gives you another way to access the FS.

I also try to choose apps that either explicitly let you save to local storage or just automatically save copies of your files locally, even if they don't go out of their way to tell you about it.

I do think that laptops still offer a much better experience for most things, though.
posted by trig at 1:25 AM on May 19, 2013


Current tablets - be they Apple, Android or whatever - are designed as media consumption and entertainment devices. Some people find ways to use them as productivity tools but that was never the design goal, so you have to work around the limitations of the platform if you want to use them in ways for which they were not designed.

You also have to bear in mind that even the fastest tablets are woefully underpowered compared to a modern laptop - that's the price you party for having a device that can go for hours on end without needing a massive battery.
posted by pharm at 6:54 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


nb It does sound like you may not be using the touchscreen correctly though - you don't need to 'press with vigor' because the screens on modem tablets are capacitive, not resistive. They respond simply to bring touched - pressing harder won't make any difference.
posted by pharm at 6:59 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


By "press with vigor" I meant having to press several times before getting the desired result. For example, as often as not, on the mobile Metafilter site in FF for Android, pressing "skip to menu" results in the button responding visually (it highlights in yellow) without actually completing the action (skipping to the navigation menu at the foot of the page).
posted by Nomyte at 2:08 PM on May 19, 2013


That's definitely sounding like some sort of hardware issue, since if anything I've found the Nexus screens to be almost too responsive at times.

On the USB file transfer thing, you can definitely transfer any file over without needing special workarounds (On Windows, at least. Linux is a bit more hacky last I tried) It'll sometimes pop up a "This device might not be able to play this file. Continue?" thing, but otherwise, it treats the internal media as its own drive.

As for the obscure file names when accessing the filesystem, that's just the Linux system. If you go to the SDCard folder (Many file browsers have a shortlink to it), that should put you where you're used to working within.
posted by CrystalDave at 5:19 PM on May 19, 2013


I'm not very techy so I don't know if my comments/advice are what you are looking for but on the off chance you are a not techy person like me I thought I'd comment. I am worried you'll think I'm being patronizing, but I am trying to offer some ideas based on what I've learnt as a lot of your problems sound like stuff I went through when I first got my tablet. If you are wanting more technical solutions please forgive my less erudite suggestions.

For 1 & 2
As others have suggested you could have a dodgy phone and tablet. I know however, when I first started using tablets I had real trouble getting them to register my finger touches, which I finally put down to the fact I have very rough dry hands from gardening. Touch screens work using conductivity, if your fingers are like my dry and rough they are not good conductors. I found moisturizing my hands regularly helped as did keeping the screen meticulously clean of smudges etc.

4&5&6
Have you tried other keyboards. I am not a huge fan of the built in Android keyboard (though it has gotten better), but have finally found one I like called Swype, but there are many other ones out there so chances are you can find one that suits your style. I'd recommend a keyboard where you type by moving your finger across the screen instead of hunt and picking the keys style. The swiping instead of typing helps eliminate some of the need to be super accurate in your typing, it does take a little while to get used to but you can get some good speeds with a bit of practice. The Swype keyboard I like has the buttons on the main screen you access them by holding the buttons down, I know other keyboards do the same thing. And again with the spellchecking, trying different keyboards with different styles of autocorrecting etc might help you find one you mesh with better.

9
In most cases you don't need to access the scrollbar to actually scroll down a page you can do this simply by swiping the page. I access Metafilter all the time form my Nexus 7 and that's how I get up and down and around the pages.

10
This is probably a dumb answer to this question, but have you tried simply plugging the tablet into your computer and accessing it like a memory stick. You can easily search, find files and move them around. There are also file manager apps you can download that make this easier too. It doesn't solve the problem of the weird file names, but makes it a lot quicker to move things around when you need to.

11
Aps by nature have to be small and single function, if you had fully functional software like you have on a laptop you would need way more processing power etc to run them. If you find a cluttered screen mentally overwhelming (and I'm the same the cluttered screens drive me crazy) it is pretty easy to set up folders to keep like things grouped together and out of sight.

12
Apps are not full blown software, they are not designed to replace full blown complete software (yet) they are a media consumption device that does some other things. There are other Apps for email if you want try them out and other notetaking Apps. Because there is so much choice in Apps it can take a while to find the one that works best for you. This large and ever increasing selection can be a pain in the ass because you have to hunt to find something that suits exactly what you need, but can also be the fun part too as you can usually find exactly what you need out there.

13
You don't have to rely on cloud based storage. I know my Nexus 7 can be used with a thumb drive for storage and I imagine the 10 could be (and yes there is an Ap for that too) and you can store a lot of data on the tablet itself.

Ack that got very long.

TL;DR - There's a chance your tablet is faulty. There are Apps to fix or work around a lot of your concerns.
posted by wwax at 7:26 PM on May 19, 2013


Nah, I get the "was that press selecting some text, highlighting something briefly or actually clicking on a link" thing on both my Android devices: I suspect it's a combination of touchscreen ambiguity and bugs in the browser. Selecting text is always problematic (and has been on all the touchscreen devices I've tried, be they iOS, Android or whatever).

Personally I think the OP is trying to use Android devices in ways which they are simply not designed to enable, combined with unfamiliarity with the ways in which the underlying platform actually works (which the OS goes out of it's way to hide from you) is what is making the entire experience frustrating for them.

OP: Android and iOS devices are not designed to be general purpose computing hardware. If you have specific workflow needs, then it's possible that some combiation of hardware and Apps might let you do what you want, but you're almost always going to be better off with a Windows / OSX / Linux laptop than a tablet as soon as you "step outside the reservation" as it were.
posted by pharm at 10:14 AM on May 20, 2013


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