Why I Almost Bought an Android Tablet (Opinion)

Why I Almost Bought an Android Tablet (Opinion)

I’ve been a long time Mac user (since the early 2000s) and have always had distaste for the windows operating system. It’s awkward, and frequently feels counter-intuitive. Maybe it’s a personal thing – maybe I just think different.

Android vs. iOS is the same scenario, just ported to the mobile world. Android is usable, and I’ve even given it a fair shot; however, I’m an iPhone and iPad user – through and through… Or so I thought.

(The Back-story)

When the original (1st generation) iPhone came out, I didn’t give it a lot of thought. But that was before smartphones had mass-market appeal to consumers. 2 years later, I signed up for AT&T and became the proud owner of an iPhone 3G. It was awesome!

Nothing will ever compare to this. This was a phone that put itself on a pedestal, miles above anything else available at the time. Blackberry couldn’t compare – even with their near flawless keyboard – there was a night-and-day difference between the iPhone and other smartphones of the day.

6 months later, I relocated to a “rural area” (void of AT&T coverage). Given the option to jump ship without a termination fee, I took it without hesitation. I weighed my option and settled on the Motorola Droid on Verizon. Compared to my iPhone 3G, it was noticeably thicker, significantly heavier, and the operating system was far less user-friendly. It ran Android 2.1: Éclair (or some other meaningless pastry) – and eventually update to 2.2 – Froyo. It had similar concepts to the iPhone, but with a mediocre execution, yet it was one of the first widely accepted Android phones… and it was crap. Eventually (a year later) Verizon added the iPhone 4 to their line-up and I was able to ditch the Android powered brick. My experience with Android in its early days was poor, and I haven’t turned back since.

(The Nexus 7)

I haven’t had any desire to own, or even try, an Android device since owning my Droid 2 years ago. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m an Apple fan-boy, but I’m also open-minded enough to try something else if it’s going to benefit me or make my life easier.

The tablet world to me – is defined by the iPad. It is a fabulous tool for productivity, entertainment, and access to my favorite websites, apps, and games. The folks at Apple presented it on stage in 2010, and I accepted that this was the size and shape of the new class of product. Not long after, a wave of imitators and wannabe’s hit the market (a majority of them running a blown-up version of the same Android OS I had used more than a year before). There was no appeal. They were less capable than the iPad. They featured less tablet-specific apps. They were underdeveloped or felt incomplete. The iPad was king of the hill.

In July 2012, Google took stage and present their developers with “the next big thing” – the Nexus 7. It was a 7″ tablet running the latest Android OS – Jelly Bean, which was a far cry from the Android I knew. It was aggressively priced, offered lots of true Google integration, and it made me curious. Google was willing to put out a tablet and say “hey – this is the best we’ve got, and it’s pretty damn good.” …and then the reviews started cropping up.

The tech world was actually intrigued by a tablet that didn’t come out Cupertino. Now, with rumors of the iPad mini on the horizon, my curiosity has grown exponentially as to what using a device smaller than the current iPad and a device bigger than an iPhone 4 would really be like. As the iPad mini rumors pile up, so does my desire to experience that “in-between” – and for $199, I can have it now. I could satiate that hunger with a quick trip down the road, and so I hopped in the car and drove to the local Staples.

(Why I Didn’t Buy One)

Walking in the door, I strolled to the “portable electronics” section. Right in front was a small section of tablets – six, to be specific – the Kindle Fire, the Nook color (both crippled by bloat-ware from their respective manufacturers), a large Acer, a 7″ and 10″ Samsung tablet, and in the center, the Nexus 7.

Seeing all six screens lit up, the Nexus looked the best, hands down. I picked it up, unlocked the screen, and began to play. Holding the Nexus felt nice. Really nice. The small tablet was light weight, but also felt sturdy. The size was very appealing. I could hold it in one hand or two, and feel secure in my grip.

At this point, I was convincing myself even more that I wanted this tablet. But then I started to play… And things fell apart. I clicked through the preloaded apps. Nothing really stood out. Email looked ok, but not great. Google Currents (which is actually better on the iPad) couldn’t hold a candle to the functionality or ease of Flipboard. And then there was the “Play Store,” Androids equivalent of the App Store.

I searched for a few apps that I recalled from my Droid, and settled on trying Twitter. I know there are probably 100 other apps I could have chosen, but twitter seemed the most fair – I had used it on an Android phone, I have it on my iPhone and on my iPad – so I could do the most thorough comparison with it.

Opening Twitter, I expected Google’s newest pride and joy to impress me with a top-notch experience. It didn’t. Not even close. I’ve heard it before and I’ll reaffirm it. Android apps on Android tablets feel like stretched phone apps. The graphics didn’t feel special for a tablet. Text seemed too small for the large screen, images didn’t feel especially sharp, and there was wasted white space all around.

The confusion of Android didn’t end there. I decided that one of the highlights of tablets is surfing the web. Using Chrome on the Nexus 7 was disappointing. Scrolling up and down the page yielded sporadic results. 1 swipe and the page would scroll with an Apple-esque inertia. The next scroll would barely move the page at all. Double-tap zooming was less accurate than on an iOS device, as well.

Clicking small, closely positioned links was nice, auto-zooming over the area to make clicks more accurate. While the browser wasn’t the best experience in the world – it was certainly not a bad experience. Text was crisp and smooth, and images looked clear and colorful. At this point, I was addicted to the feel of the Nexus 7, but the functionality was somewhat disappointing. I left the store, still disenchanted by the Android OS experience, but craving the 7″ experience.

(The Next Apple Tablet)

The Nexus 7 is a good device, especially considering its $199 price tag. Even at that, the overall experience of Android’s OS isn’t worth it, to me. iOS is beginning to feel very dated and unchanged at its core, but Apple’s attention to smooth and simple user experience reigns supreme in the mobile world.

If Apple announces an “iPad mini” (or whatever they call it), I’ll be the first in line at the local Apple store – even if it means a week-long camp out and paying little more. If Google can produce a tablet for $199, Apple’s Rolodex of parts suppliers and stronghold over the supply chain, there is no doubt in my mind Apple can pull off a 7.85″ iPad for a reasonable price (under $279 or less) and still turn a nice profit.

I almost bought an Android tablet, and I’m glad I didn’t. My obsession over the idea of a slightly smaller screen nearly cost me $200 and a mediocre experience. A few years ago, Steve Jobs said that a 7″ tablet wouldn’t yield a good experience. Using the Nexus 7 certainly doesn’t dispute that, but it definitely proves that there is a market for it. If Apple can put out a 7-8″ tablet and see a return like the current iPad, it could easily assure Apple’s dominance over the tablet industry for a long time to come.

Would you buy an iPad mini? How much would you pay for such a device?


(The opinions expressed in this are strictly those of the author. Also of note, after multiple visits to Staples, I’ve explored various apps and am still tempted by the allure of the Nexus 7.)