2011-02-13

[Android OS] Tablets and Aesthetics

For those who may not be aware, I am a gadget junkie. Free Software advocate wouldn't be an inaccurate description for me either. Given this combination of interests, I've gone bonkers over the latest batch of tablets using the Android OS. I have a ViewSonic gTablet (currently loaned out to another gamer), and a Samsung Galaxy Tablet. Given these differing devices, I've come to a few conclusions about my personal sense of "portable computing aesthetics". Enjoy my ranting after the break!


Screens
ViewSonic gTablet- 10.1" diagonal
Samsung Galaxy Tab- 7" diagonal


My wife owns an iPad, which I find to be a nice screen-size. The ViewSonic device in my Android corral has a similarly-sized screen, but suffers from a few design difficulties that keep it from being my go-to gadget. First, the screen is not centrally located on the device. This means the border between the edges (top and bottom) are not equal. There's a larger gap between the bottom than the top.


Why? Poor design, that's why!


Asymmetry is a deal-breaker in evolution. Individuals with too much variation are not seen as attractive as more symmetrical people. It's wired quite deep in our brains, and mine complains when I use the gTablet. I should be able to invert the screen without having to change my viewing orientation. The Galaxy Tab doesn't suffer this affliction. The ratio of virtual pizza to virtual crust is even on opposing sides (but a little thicker on the top/bottom axis). Symmetry I can deal with. Asymmetry evokes images I'd rather not have in my head...


ROMs
ViewSonic gTablet- Touch-n-Tap v1.0.3 shipped / Touch-n-Tap v2.2.3 installed ASAP
Samsung Galaxy Tab- Android 2.2 stock with Samsung-themed apps instead of stock Google apps


Samsung is evidently quite proud of their Home Screen app and the tweaks they've put on the stock Google Applications (like Mail, Gallery, and the Browser). However, their native color scheme makes me nauseous. Back when I was young and inexperienced, I painted miniatures for my roleplaying hobbies. I once abused a WarDancer mini with a horrid blue skinned / green hair color scheme. I get dizzy looking at this miniature to this day. Samsung's "native" color scheme? Evidently, they used that WarDancer for their reference palate. Blue for everything, green for highlights and progress indicators. Ouch!


Why not just put stock Android on these devices? Because they're clinging to sales paradigms from the era of Sears and Roebuck...


They believe they can mediate the end-users' experiences by putting their horrid colors all over Google's applications. Quit it! Just give me Android and let's face the fact that you're a hardware provider. Nothing more. If you want to give me options for Samsung apps, they should compete with everything else in the Market. If they are worth it, they'll thrive. If they stink, they'll die quietly starved for attention. (Anyone else notice a theme of "evolution" emerging in this post?)


The stock ViewSonic ROM is so horrible that Staples pulled the unit from their sales floor because, once people got it home the built-in software allowed them to do nothing useful. They went even further than Samsung does; replacing all aspects of the stock Android experience with things they haven't really given any design time. Once you get this device rooted and running an alternate ROM, it becomes useful. However, "average" users of portable electronics aren't going to do this. They can't. Stop selling an experience, and start selling me hardware. Stock Android people!


Syncing with PCs
ViewSonic gTablet- standard Android-device-as-thumbdrive
Samsung Galaxy Tab- Proprietary Kies protocol


On the ViewSonic, it feels like the designers didn't give any further consideration to the sync method. They were busy writing the TnT interface. So, the default Android system managed to squeak into the mix. One of the saving graces here is that the default sync provides handy access to the SD card; the ideal vector for root-a-licious usurpation of the ROM. Bang!


Samsung has put its own software update method on their Galaxy devices. Phones, too. No over-the-air updates for any of these gadgets.


Lame.


Maybe the next generation of devices will overtake these early gadgets by addressing these problems and bringing a more seamless aesthetic to their designs.