iThing vs. the Robot
March 14, 2011 4:08 PM   Subscribe

I greatly desire a tablet, but am kind of over Apple. Are the Android tablets any good?

I've spent the last hour going through the archives, and don't see an answer to my questions. So...

I've had an iPhone for 2 years. I've been very happy with it, but now Apple is making me mad. They declined an app that would have been very handy for me (the Sony E-reader), and the fallout from it has brought into question whether the Kindle application and other similar apps will still be around (it's an in app purchasing question, from what I understand).

The tight hold Apple has on the market is getting to be wearying. I am beginning to think when my contract is up I will switch to an Android phone (among other things, I miss keyboards). I use Google products for most things, I won't lose a lot of productivity if I switch.

This brings me to my question - I wanted an iPad, but all the things that are annoying me about the iPhone would still be in play. I have been thinking more about getting an Android tablet. The problem is that I have NO IDEA where to start looking. I know that there are a huge number of non-Apple tablets coming out, but I've also heard that a lot of them are terrible.

TLDR: where should I start looking for info on Android tablets? Is getting a droid tablet worth it, or should I just suck it up and pledge fealty to Apple already?

Is the Android app market terrible? I realize that it is slightly sketchier than the iThing app market, because it lacks the iron control of Apple.

I will be using the tablet for screwing around on the internet, reading ebooks, and so I don't have to drag my laptop around when I travel. Thanks in advance for any n00b questions you can help with.
posted by bibliogrrl to Computers & Internet (32 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have a tablet but I do have an android phone. There is nothing wrong with the android market and I have really not found it the least bit "sketchy".
posted by RustyBrooks at 4:11 PM on March 14, 2011

I think it's *kind* of sketchy. I'm like you. I started off with an iPhone - had the first three revisions, in fact - but then I kind of soured on the whole thing. I think the Android market is *kind of* sketchy, sometimes - I see a lot more in the way of what I would call "trash apps" - but I mean, it's not like Time Square in the 80s. You can actually check it out here: - it's kind of slick. You can install apps via the browser on your PC and it will push them over the air to your phone (or tablet).

My read on the tablets is that they've been sort of less than impressive. I hear good things about the forthcoming Xoom from Motorola, which is the first tablet (I think) to sport Android 3, which is kind of custom rigged for tablets. And it's got some massive horsepower.

here is the website.
posted by kbanas at 4:15 PM on March 14, 2011

Response by poster: RustyBrooks - kbanas has it - I meant 'sketchy' (should have used quotes) in the sense that there are more junk apps, because they aren't as vetted at the Apple App store.
posted by bibliogrrl at 4:20 PM on March 14, 2011

Unless you're in a big hurry to get a tablet, get your Android phone first and see what you like and don't like.

iPad = iPhone with a big screen and no phone. Android tablet = Android device with a big screen and (usually) no phone. Anything you don't like about the iOS & marketplace will carry over to all Apple devices, and the same goes for the Android OS and marketplace if you switch platforms.

And know that there are some brand-name apps on the iOS platform that don't have Android versions (yet), but the opposite is less common. So if you're going to divorce Apple over one third-party app that it didn't accept, be prepared to do some deep app shopping in the Adnroid market in advance to make sure it doesn't happen again.

P.S. There are lots of good e-reader apps for iOS; any reason the Sony version was a must-have?
posted by bartleby at 4:23 PM on March 14, 2011

The Motorola Xoom is probably the most eagerly anticipated, and maybe coming out 3/27, so you may want to wait until you hear users' opinions on that one.

If I were tablet-shopping, I'd definitely want to see a Notion Ink Adam with a Pixel Qi screen, which , with the backlight off, is supposed to be much more pleasant than a regular LCD screen for reading, which is one of the things I'd be most interested in.
posted by Zed at 4:25 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Currently there is one real Android tablet: the Motorola Xoom w. verizon 3G. Several more Android 3 tablets are rumoured to be coming out in the next month or so from a variety of manufacturers. So I'd wait a bit before making a purchase. There may be a cheaper wifi-only Xoom as well as 3G tablets from carriers other than verizon.
posted by GuyZero at 4:26 PM on March 14, 2011

I really love my Droid phone, though it is by no means the latest and greatest Android thing. It is fast, has a beautiful screen and instant internet access, plus the stellar GPS that comes with the Android softwear. I have an Itouch too and I like it, the apps are slick, but I have a good deal less flexibility and control with it than my Droid.

The sketchiness of apps, as I understand it, is much more pronounced right now for tablets than phones. And if it helps you, I have seen that change dramatically over my past year of Droid ownership in terms of apps available for phones. Nowadays virtually every nice Iphone app has an Android counterpart. I would be shocked if you don't seem similar very rapid adoption of Ipad apps for Android tablets.

I'm thinking if I go tablet I may get the Xoom or the next iteration of it, as it already reportedly has a better (and bigger) screen and camera than Ipad 2, plus will apparently have 4g capability, plus has SD card and USB capability, plus plays well with Flash.
posted by bearwife at 4:29 PM on March 14, 2011

The Xoom is pretty awesome, I have to say. Yes, it's basically a big Android phone, but it's quite fast (dual core 1.2 Ghz processor) and the tablet-optimized apps (Gmail, Maps, YouTube, etc) are very good and a big improvement over the phone equivalents. The GMail app in particular is very nice.

I've been using mine a ton since I got it a couple weeks ago, and I have 3 Android phones that are sitting sadly watching me spend all my time on the tablet. If I could connect it to my corporate network it would probably even replace a laptop for what I use a laptop for (just mail and web --- I do real work on desktops). Been using a Bluetooth keyboard with it some of the time.

Quite fond of the 3G version, and looking forward to the 4G upgrade.

As far as apps go, the phone apps all work but some look weird. Tablet apps (or tablet versions of phone apps) are popping up every day, at launch there were only 16 but there are several times that now only a few weeks later. And if you install the phone version of an app and the developer fixes it for tablets (to take advantage of the screen size, etc) updating the phone app is all you need to do (dont need to find the separate phone app -- Honeycomb market knows what device you're on). For example, one of my favorite Android games is Robo Defense, which initially was unusable on the tablet but got updated a week or so ago and is very nice now.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:33 PM on March 14, 2011

I have an HTC Evo which is kind of like a small tablet or a big phone. I love it, but YMMV. I'm seriously considering getting a color nook and rooting it to vanilla android a la:
posted by lumpenprole at 4:49 PM on March 14, 2011

I'd recommend getting a Nook Color and rooting it... You'll lack certain features, like a camera and gps, but you can get it for just $250 (used to be $200 through ebay, but that ended March 3rd), and it's fully capable of what you suggested you need it for.
posted by gryftir at 5:40 PM on March 14, 2011

I have the Motorola Xoom. The hardware is comparatively good (well, at least was, until iPad 2 came out), the operating system... Not so much. It feels like it could have been great, but something went amiss.

There are very, very few tablet-specific Android apps as I'm writing this comment. Draw your own conclusions.
posted by halogen at 6:01 PM on March 14, 2011

vs the new Palm too?

I in the iPhone + iPad crowd but were I to update I would consider the new WebOS phone and touchpad. You're going to be hurting for apps, but that seems to be true of all the nonapple camps.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:26 PM on March 14, 2011

I was also eagerly anticipating getting an Android tablet, but it seems to me like the time isn't quite right, yet. The non-Honeycomb (Android 3 is "Honeycomb") tablets are a joke, and the Honeycomb ones are just arriving. Reviews of the Xoom, the first Honeycomb tablet to have been released, suggest that it has a lot of potential, but seems rushed to market, and a lot of things don't yet work or don't yet work well. I think the Android tablets will get there, but I bet it'll be several months before the various kinks are worked out. My personal solution was to get a Nook color to play with and hack on for the time being (they're cheap), and plan to get something real in 6-9 months.

A couple of other comments in response to other commenters: someone said the iPad 2 makes the Xoom no longer cutting-edge, but I don't really get that at all. Apple has been touting the amazing reading experience on the iPhone 4, and how nothing compares to it, but they still shipped the iPad 2 with the exact same low-resolution display as the iPad 1. It's less than half the pixel density of the iPhone 4, and less, even, than the original iPhone. It's basically just the same device they released a year ago, only a bit thinner, with a slightly better processor, and with the addition of some really crappy cameras. I think it's a perfectly respectable device, but it's not the game changer Apple claims it is.

To the person asking about why that reading app was important since there are others, it seems changes to Apple's terms of service will mean most book apps (including the Kindle app) will get pulled sometime this summer, and iBooks will be the only game left in town.
posted by andrewpendleton at 6:57 PM on March 14, 2011

Response by poster: Yep - I have a Sony Reader, and I was very excited when they got ready to release the app - it came out for Android and then Apple said Nope.

As for the HTC Evo, no way would I get one. My boyfriend got one as soon as it was released, and had a hardware problem (that is a known problem but that HTC won't admit to). So I wouldn't even consider it for myself.

The nook idea sounds ok, but I am a little surprised at how expensive everything is. (I KNOW. I live under a tech box). I almost wonder how crappy the cheap ones from Hong Kong are. And it is looking more likely I'll end up getting an iPad 1 - solely based on price.
posted by bibliogrrl at 7:17 PM on March 14, 2011

I have one of these: HP Slate 500. At $800 it's a little on the expensive side, but it runs Win 7 Professional. 2G of RAM, 64G SSD, and it pretty much runs anything that will run on Windows. (Including flash!) Indeed, if you use its USB port to plug in a keyboard and a mouse, it is indistinguishable from any PC.

I like it. I got it as a gee-whiz toy, but it does what it's supposed to do.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:28 PM on March 14, 2011

With the cheap import tablets you're generally looking at a resistive touch screen (something that's slow to respond and frustrating to use) and bad battery life. They may only be 100 something dollars but I don't think you'll even get that value out of one.

The iPad is awesome for reading papers and books. I would caution against anything with a smaller screen. I had a sony ereader but only ever used it for novels. It more or less wasn't usable for anything that required frequent scrolling around.

GoodReader for the iPad is pretty fantastic. They've basically programmed workarounds that mitigate the usual apple problems. There's file management, options to switch the background to any shade of gray-for dark environment reading, two way synchronization of files even via dropbox, all sorts of text and ink annotations....its really fantastic. $1.99

There's a big advantage to having so many developers and programs out there. Regarding the sony reader software, are you mainly interested in the purchasing of books or in carrying over your old collection?
posted by Chekhovian at 7:32 PM on March 14, 2011

I am an Apple fan. I pretty much have all Apple gear (MacPro, 2 MacPro laptops, one MacBook, iPod Touch). BUT I love love love my Android phone, I love it so much I want to get an Android tablet, rather than an iPad. I have access to an iPad and can get one of my very own, but I really prefer the Android operating system. As for reading books, I would not want to read them on an iPad. I have tried. I prefer my Kindle.

As for the Android market, I haven't noticed that it is any worse or better than the Apple market. I am familiar with the Apple market, since I have an iPod Touch and use the Apple market extensively. There are some very good Android apps.

I did not get an iPhone because of connectivity issues related to the remote area where I live.
posted by fifilaru at 8:57 PM on March 14, 2011

I have an Android phone, and generally prefer it to my wife's iPad.

However every time I go to the Apple App Store on my wife's iPad, I am extremely impressed by the fact that most of the apps are nice, and have real world uses.

I hardly ever go to the Android Market because it seems like a very high percentage of the available apps are junk, or otherwise worthless.
posted by imjustsaying at 2:46 AM on March 15, 2011

I have a rooted Nook and am very happy with it. It is simple to do if you are good at following directions.

With that said, you do get what you pay for. For it's price, the Nook is a great deal, but it is no Xoom or Galaxy.
posted by toddst at 5:23 AM on March 15, 2011

Response by poster: Checkovian - I want the reader program because I have a sony, and would like to carry over my library.

It looks more and more like I'll end up getting an iPad after all - the 1's are really cheap (comparatively) and a lot of the apps I have should be transferable? (does it work that way or do you have to buy twice).
posted by bibliogrrl at 6:18 AM on March 15, 2011

Just wanted to stump for the Samsung Galaxy Tab - it seems to get no love from the various tech publications, who act as though it doesn't even exist. Not sure why, because I love it - traded in an iPad to get it, in fact. It's better in every way.
posted by danwalker at 6:53 AM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

This might sound counterintuitive, but I think I'd recommend getting an iPad 1 (since the prices are dropping) with the intention of keeping it for a year and learning exactly what you do and don't like about it (as you have with the iPhone), so that in a year's time, the Droid market will have matured substantially, and you'll be perfectly ready to drop $$$ on something more worthwhile than today's offerings.
posted by kimota at 7:35 AM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have an iPad, but here in China I've seen quite a few Galaxy Tabs so that might be worth checking out.
posted by arcticseal at 7:59 AM on March 15, 2011

Best answer: Apparently the free app Bluefire will allow you read DRM'ed epubs on the iPad. You should be able to transfer your stuff over. Calibre may help with this. I don't generally pay for books (but I read many many books ;-) ) so I haven't had cause to test this myself. Sidenote: I've found that the iPad generally handles whatever strangely formatted PDFs you can find out in the wild much better than the sony reader.

Also per your question: all the apps purchased under one iTunes account get mirrored to whatever other devices are sync'd to that same account for free.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:37 AM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

My understanding is that some apps are transferable - if they're universal. Some apps producers choose to build separate iphone and ipad apps and charge twice.

I like kimota's suggestion, if you're not into rooting the Nook Color (I don't think I'd be up for that either). You can already get a cheaper iPad 1 from Apple, but if you wait until the iPad 2 is widely available, I bet you'll be able to get even cheaper second hand ones.
posted by Salamandrous at 10:06 AM on March 15, 2011

Best answer: Regarding app transfer: all the iphone apps will be transfer to the ipad. Those that do not have an iPad version will still run on the iPad but will run at either normal iphone resolution (about half the screen area) or you can pixel double them...which is not pretty.

I think the "HD" apps are only for the iPad. They're resolution upsized for the iPad screen and also commensurately upsized in price. I haven't tried to run an HD app on the iPhone, perhaps its possible.

Those of you with the Android universe, how is the diversity of the app selection (modulo the spyware stuff)?

With the iOS system there seems to be 4-5 versions of each main class of app and enough competition between them to really spur innovation and update wars. But you basically have to buy each one and try it before you really know which one is best. In my search for an optimum I've installed NoteTaker HD, Noterize, PadNotes Notes Plus, MobileNoter, I only use NoteTaker HD. I basically spent $20 to find it, but NTHD is really awesome now. I wish I could sell "used" apps and that the app store weren't so hard to search. That there are apps to search the app store is sort of obscene.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:21 PM on March 15, 2011

Best answer: Good timing on this question. I was in your shoes until yesterday, when I pulled the trigger and bought myself a nook Color. I rooted it last night. I am not a total techie, but I was able to follow the instructions and it worked eventually (took about an hour and a couple of failures). Now I am very happy. Most of the apps I use daily on my iPhone are available in the Android market, and the screen is really nice. I have now installed Google's Books app and Amazon's Kindle for Android app, so I have at least three different ways to get books (including the B&N store). I'm adding a 16GB microSD card ($20 shipped) to the onboard 8GB. For the price, I think I am getting an amazing deal. Better than a Kindle (color, touch screen), cheaper than an iPad, and I am not missing anything I wanted in a tablet.

Hope this helps. Feel free to memail if you have any questions.
posted by acridrabbit at 5:55 PM on March 15, 2011

My iphone4 using wife got a Xoom. It's pretty fast, but it's going to be some time before there are more good apps for it.

She likes it.
posted by j03 at 3:03 AM on March 16, 2011

Response by poster: acridrabbit - I may take you up on that. Hmm, but it doesn't come as a 3g. But this is something I will look into.
posted by bibliogrrl at 7:22 AM on March 17, 2011

Response by poster: FYI - We'll probably get an iPad, simply because it will do everything we want/need, right out of the box. And 3g. But I can also see maybe one of those rooted Nooks ending up around here. Thanks for all the answers!
posted by bibliogrrl at 7:24 AM on March 17, 2011

I don't have a tablet but I do have an android phone. There is nothing wrong with the android market and I have really not found it the least bit "sketchy".
posted by RustyBrooks

You can safely ignore every comparison to the android/iphone market. They're not comparable, and the chances of another tablet catching up to the iPad in the near future (as many believe android has to the iPhone) is near zero. So the choice is to take a stand against Apple (which I don't get, but whatever) or have a second rate tablet.

I hear good things about the forthcoming Xoom from Motorola, which is the first tablet (I think) to sport Android 3
posted by kbanas

Although the Xoom has a lot to offer, the product feels very incomplete. A surprising number of promised hardware and software features are not functional at launch and will have to be enabled in future updates. The Xoom’s quality is also diminished by some of the early technical issues and limitations that we encountered in Honeycomb. Google’s nascent tablet software has a ton of potential, but it also has some feature gaps and rough edges that reflect its lack of maturity.

I wouldn't trust your sources.
posted by justgary at 8:22 PM on March 17, 2011

Response by poster: We ended up getting a 32g wifi only iPad from Verizon for $399. Such a great deal.
posted by bibliogrrl at 7:29 PM on March 27, 2011

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