The Software

So the Iconia was my first real extended experience with Honeycomb, and I must say that while I’m impressed with what Google has going here, they’ve got some work to do. For the first time, Google’s UX is a cohesive, attractive, and polished experience. Really, it feels like all of a sudden they figured out what good UI design actually looked like. I suspect hiring away Matias Durante from the webOS team made a big difference here. Also, if the TRON: Legacy art direction team wasn’t paid a consulting fee for their contribution to the design, they really should ask for one.

It’s like a sci-fi retake on what a touch-friendly Windows would look like. And before anyone gets off on me for the comparison, I’d like to direct you to the systray in the bottom right, and the basic function keys in the bottom left. All they need to do is move the app launcher into the bottom left corner for the analogy to be complete.

I like the way Google went here, basically creating a UI similar to most full-fledged operating systems and integrating some elements of a smartphone operating system, instead of just scaling up a smartphone experience the way some other companies are doing it. For the first time using a tablet, I felt like I could be reasonably productive on it.

Most of the time when I’m writing, I have three things open—browser, IM, and music. Most of my writing is done in Google Docs, which makes it really convenient to hop from device to device as I’m writing. The Google Docs app for Android is still a smartphone app, so the UI in Honeycomb is mediocre at best, but it works for quick documents. Google Talk and Music are both very well integrated into Honeycomb, and the new notifications system makes it really easy to control them. Given the multitasking menu, switching between the browser, Google Docs, Talk, and music is relatively easy. The entire OS feels less limiting than any previous tablet operating system, which plays a big role in being more productive.

There’s a couple of missed opportunities with regards to the multitasking menu. A way to close apps would be brilliant, and being able to scroll through more than 5 preview windows would make the menu more useful (Google added this into Android 3.1, so it'll come to the Iconia soon.) The closing apps part of it seems like a no brainer; Google is the only one to give you a task manager with no way to terminate running processes. WebOS, iOS (yes, that’s a task manager, whether His Jobsness will call it that or not), QNX (which is similar to webOS in this regard), and even the upcoming version of Windows Phone 7 all let you kill apps from the multitasking menu. Why Google doesn’t let you remains an unsolved mystery, because it makes killing tasks a pain in the rear end. Why make me go through the hassle of getting a task killer and using that when everything else required for a visual task manager is already built into the OS? It’s my chief complaint with Honeycomb, by far.

I’m fairly reliant on Google services, including Gmail, Google Talk, and Google Docs, which makes me love the Gmail/Talk apps in Honeycomb. They’re seriously awesome if you use those services. The Google Docs app, not so much. It was designed for Android smartphones, it doesn’t scale up well, and ends up being much better for viewing documents as opposed to editing them. If Google puts out a Honeycomb specific version, it’d absolutely turn Honeycomb into a decent mobility solution for me.

Third-party apps, too, are a problem, mostly in that there aren’t very many of them built for Honeycomb specifically. Yes, you can use Android phone apps, but the UI scaling just doesn’t work right. It doesn’t look as stunted as original iPhone apps running on the iPad, but it’s getting there. There are roughly 175 apps optimized for Honeycomb tablets, about 50 of which are just games. For comparison, the iPad hit the 60,000 app milestone this January. Note, that’s apps designed specifically for the iPad, not iPhone apps. And yes, I agree, they’re not all good apps—there’s probably a ton of iBeer and other worthless apps, but even if you take 1% as being high quality apps, that’s four times the total number of Honeycomb apps. Make it 10%, and you're looking at about forty times the number of apps that Honeycomb has. Think about that. If 90% of the iPad apps in the App Store are absolute garbage, there's still 40 times more quality iPad apps than Honeycomb apps in total. 1% is an exceedingly low percentage, one that’s simply not realistic, but I’m giving exaggerated numbers to show the difference in sheer magnitude. It’s not close. Google needs to get developers to port apps over to Honeycomb, and fast.

But the overall takeaway from Honeycomb is that it’s pushing tablet operating systems to something much more PC-like, in stark contrast to Apple and Microsoft, who are pushing their desktop operating systems to be more tablet-like. I like that approach; it feels like Apple is dumbing down their OS significantly, but we'll see how it plays out in the long run.

Acer’s software preload on the Iconia is relatively light, focusing on things like Acer’s own LumiRead eReading app and Zinio reader for magazines, as well as a social networking application. In addition, Acer has included full versions of Need for Speed: Shift and Let's Golf. We'll get to those last two right now.

The Hardware Gaming Experience
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  • Aikouka - Friday, June 24, 2011 - link

    You can change the control method for Real Racing HD. There are actually quite a few different options ranging from "we pretty much drive for you" to "good luck controlling everything on a tablet" :P. Reply
  • VivekGowri - Friday, June 24, 2011 - link

    Yeah, basically. Reply
  • stevessvt - Friday, June 24, 2011 - link

    I purchased the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 last weekend, hoping to love it as much as I do my HTC Thunderbolt. The 2 main programs I wanted most for it are Netflix, and Yahoo chat. Neither one is available for it. I found eack ones APK's on line, but they still wouldnt work. I brought it back and bought an iPad 2, even if they dont make a specific app for it, at least the iPhone specific apps work just fine. Shame, really, the GT 10.1 is a beautiful machine. Reply
  • berrykerry789 - Friday, June 24, 2011 - link

    I wanna win :) Reply
  • shabby - Friday, June 24, 2011 - link

    Budget not found in a $449 honeycomb tablet, now this $349 archos 10" tablet sounds interesting...

    http://www.engadget.com/2011/06/23/archos-intros-8...
    Reply
  • Confusador - Friday, June 24, 2011 - link

    I've been waiting for this review, even though I'd already decided to wait for Kal-EL, so it's nice to see that it was not lost. I do have to echo what others have said that it's nice to see the included USB port, despite the otherwise lacking hardware. Now that Android has USB host mode, I can only hope that others will start to do the same. Reply
  • Randomblame - Saturday, June 25, 2011 - link

    We will not see amazing android games until some actual game studios start developing for the platform and I fear that won't happen. They like stability, slow progress. Until the mobile/tablet market starts to slow down I think we're in a wait and see game. Direct x 7/8 era games werent that bad remember everquest? Ultima online? with bluetooth peripherials tablets can have buttons and controls but honestly we just need games that kick ass! Pocket empires is one I am incredibly addicted to despite it's ridiculously buggy crappy controls and interface. Once you figure it out it's fun and you can get past the nes style top down boring graphics. Because it's got something deeper game play! We need an epic game that gives us a reason to buy a new tablet every 6 months... Reply
  • vision33r - Sunday, June 26, 2011 - link

    Because all the big studios are busy in iOS land. New high quality iPad games comes out every week in the App Store. For example, Castle Attack HD for iPad was FREE last few days. It's a high quality tower defense game.

    For the past few years I have not found more than a dozen games on the Android market that is of high quality. Way too many low quality and poorly optimized games.

    Can't blame the devs, fragmentation hurts software development and a lot of android users are just cheapskates and drive all the quality developers away.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Sunday, June 26, 2011 - link

    What "big studios" would that be ?

    What for Win8, and then you'll see some real development happening.
    Reply
  • softdrinkviking - Sunday, June 26, 2011 - link

    this looks like its about the same LCD as the xoom?

    i tried that one out in the store, and the ipad and the LG pad (forgot the name) beat the pants off of it in view angles.
    even in the store's controlled lighting, i found the xoom hard to see and i had to tilt it around a lot until i found a sweet spot to view.
    for someone without great eyesight (me), it's really essential to have a great screen.
    these devices are basically big screens, so it should be the best part.
    Reply

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