It wasn’t long after the thinner, lighter, better Galaxy Tab 10.1 was announced that we heard Samsung would bring its TouchWiz skin to Android’s tablet OS, Honeycomb. After much debate over whether Honeycomb was truly ‘open,’ and not a closed iOS like environment, here we are. Starting today, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 owners will start to see OTA updates pushed to their devices, offering the first skinned Honeycomb experience. We’ve got it now, and this is more than just a few widgets. Was it worth the wait, or will users avoid this optional update as long as they can? 

 
 

Skins are Evil/Great

Let’s go over a few things that this update is not. This update is not Android 3.2; however, we did receive assurances that the heavy lifting for TouchWiz has already been done so there should be no delay in rolling out 3.2 and it’s graphics and UI enhancements. This update is not a cure for all the bugs that continue to ail Honeycomb; the occasional sluggishness and random Force Close events persist. This update is not a lag inducing crime against Android users; any enhancement that burdens the CPU or GPU at all will inherently result in some worsening lag, either in the UI or in opening, closing or using apps. But the lag we’ve seen is nothing too jarring, nor is it so far off from what’s normally found on Honeycomb. So, what is this update? Samsung described three key areas they wanted to enhance with what’s known now as TouchWiz UX; Ease of Use, Fun and Entertainment, Open for Business. By far, the most outward of these enhancements is Ease of Use, so we will start there.

 

Widgets and Apps

TouchWiz introduces three major enhancements, LivePanels, MiniApps and the Quick Panel. The last is the simplest of the lot and the easiest to dispense with; the same set of toggles we’ve seen stuffed into most skinned UI’s on Android is now present within the Notification shade, allowing users to manipulate all the devices radios, volume, screen brightness and vibrate functions with just a press. Hardly revolutionary but a good way to bring up some settings that were previously buried in menus. 

The MiniApps may be one of the more compelling additions. Tucked in a hidden OS X style dock are six applications that are unique and redundant at once. The applications are a task manager, calculator, calendar, world clock, music player and finger or stylus driven memo pad. None of these apps are terribly novel but they are each blessed with something not seen in Android yet. When the app is pulled up it appears as an overlay atop the screen, any apps previously on the screen will remain open below the MiniApp. The app will then remain overlaid until closed manually, meaning you can continue working on other apps and even change home screens and the MiniApp will be there, it even takes on a transparency affect when focus is moved from it so you can see what’s behind it.

The Task Manager MiniApp alone on one homescreen [above], and then overlaid over another homescreen with populated widgets [below].

The best use case for MiniApps is writing in the memo app. On a PC it’s easy to keep a text window open along side or over a browser window opened to a relevant item and switch between them. Previously on smartphones and tablets this sort of work flow was dreadful because of the jarring and often slow transition from one app to the next and back. This enhancement solves this problem for these six apps. If you have little use for any of these apps (certainly the World Clock’s utility is beyond me) then you’ll have little use for MiniApps; we’re inquiring whether this technique will be accessible to devs and eventually grant the ability to add or delete apps from the Dock bar. 
 
 
Live Panels and Hubs
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  • fforblack - Monday, August 08, 2011 - link

    you think iOS is very ugly? Have you seen the devices called honeycomb tablets? Just because an operating system doesn't have widgets doesn't mean its winnows 98. No one is going to be staring at widgets all day after they buy a tablet. People want applications. People want something that's fast and responsive. People want something that's pretty. That's what the iPad offers. Animations? Have you ever used an iOS device? I feel like you don't even understand what you are saying. If anything acts like old software, go and study Android's operating system. Study the methods it uses for rendering. Study how it was rushed out for mass release. Personally, I think that for how it was rushed, google did a very good job. But that didn't stop it from being laggy and slow, not to mention the broken UI. I understand you like android, but don't without valid points, criticise an OS you haven't experienced because of a bias you have. Reply
  • kylewat - Friday, August 05, 2011 - link

    I find the insinuation that the tablet wars, or for that matter the smartphone wars will be dominated by iOS and Android. Proclaiming such nonsensical opinions, especially from a review site is disheartening. The future of the tablet will be determined by the buying power of the consumer and enterprise, just as the Apple II was a success at the beginning so may there similar tablet brethren. Anyone who has used Windows Phone or WebOS knows they are worthy competitors and perhaps all they need is some enterprise backing which they are both capable of achieving. Or perhaps consumer taste will change...

    Even more fitting however, for both the public and the industry would be a more platform independent world. It's hard to see any single OS dominating when you look at it from the standpoint of why they came to power. Why has OSX succeeded as of late? Is it because they got developers to create true compatibility with windows? Yes and no, computing has really moved to the browser and developers have stopped developing for the OS. This has enabled people to move to phone browsers as well--- I don't care if it is a two horse race or not- but to hear such close minded comments from a review site... it just doesn't work for me.

    I'm not a Windows Phone or WebOS backer either. I have an iPhone and iPad.
    Reply
  • steven75 - Friday, August 05, 2011 - link

    Look at how the world standardized on Windows. It's just easier when the same software works everywhere. I agree, there are some major downsides when that happens. Reply
  • zeagus - Friday, August 05, 2011 - link

    I don't think it's a question of dismissing them out of hand - this site is known for having a big soft spot for WebOS. However, the fact that the TouchPad price was slashed and with coupons can be had for $299 today makes me worry that HP is shrugging about WebOS instead of gearing up for battle. I don't think it's ridiculous to say that the two largest players currently (and one of them dominates to the tune of 20:1 or more right now) will remain so for the foreseeable near future. HP needs to get serious and MS needs to actually get in the tablet game; it seems MS is waiting on Windows 8 and betting the farm on people wanting a full-blown desktop OS on their tablets. We'll see how that works out for them. Reply
  • JasonInofuentes - Friday, August 05, 2011 - link

    Have no doubt, I'm not happy with the situation, it's the reason why each of them has to advance and innovate as quickly as possible. But the zeitgeist of technology is much like the zeitgeist of soda or politics. There's Coke and there's Pepsi, there are the Democrats and the Republicans. And there are Android tablets and iOS tablets. This is the way it is. And it takes time for transitions to occur, unfortunately history tells us this usually happens explosively and destructively. (The whigs imploded in 1856; that's how we ended up with the two party system we know today.)

    The good news, the tech industry moves faster than the political industry. The Republican Party is a little over 150 years old, Coke is a little over 100 years old and Android was first dreamed up a little under 10 years ago. When Android was born, RIM, Palm and Nokia were the dominant powers in smartphones. RIM, HP (nee Palm) and Nokia are treading water. Will Windows Phone and WebOS have a chance at breaking through and netting big sales? You bet. But both of them have a long way to go before that happens. Did I leave RIM out of that last question? Yes, because based on their QNX roll-out we shouldn't expect them to be major players in this space for several years.

    I'm sorry you were disappointed you with our analysis, but I won't apologize for our analysis. The WebOS experience has inspired Google and Apple to improve multitasking on their OSes, and I love it. The Windows Phone experiences will hopefully inspire each of them to streamline their UI's, embrace minimalism and simplicity over fancy animations and neon lights. But I can talk about Android or Apple till I'm blue in the face without ever bringing them up, because neither of them have moved the conversation this year. And Android will have had three major OS releases before the year is up (Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich).

    In the meanwhile, please remember that we appreciate your comments immensely. And we will always invite you to contribute them. This dialogue is important. It makes us work harder to innovate. It makes us work harder to our jobs better. So keep up the good work.
    Reply
  • kc77 - Friday, August 05, 2011 - link

    I'm still trying to figure out about when this sluggishness is supposed to occur. I've got the 10.1 and at no time am I locked waiting for the tablet to perform. Same goes for forced closes. From the core apps.... sorry it just doesn't happen. Reply
  • JasonInofuentes - Friday, August 05, 2011 - link

    I'm glad you've had a flawless experience with the 10.1, and there's a reason we generally recommend it over other tablets. Samsung spent a lot of time trying to refine the experience so that there was less of the sluggishness and bugginess seen on other Honeycomb tablets. Our review sample has been a joy to use, both before and after the update. But we have experienced FC's and sluggish behavior. For me the most consistent FC was when deleting lots of e-mails in the Gmail app, thankfully that behavior's gone since the update. If you manage to get through the year without an FC or ever feeling like your device is sluggish, please send it our way for a teardown and some analysis. We'd love to see how they managed to cram a horseshoe in there.

    Jason
    Reply
  • fforblack - Monday, August 08, 2011 - link

    LOL! Reply
  • kc77 - Sunday, August 14, 2011 - link

    Thank you for taking the time to include more information within your comment to me than the actual review itself. It's nice touch that I'm sure we can expect in the future.

    "I'm glad you've had a flawless experience with the 10.1, and there's a reason we generally recommend it over other tablets."

    Did I say it was flawless? Nope but it surely isn't the buggy sluggish nightmare you're trying to make this product out to be. Most of the issues with Honeycomb tablets have been around 3.0 not so much with 3.1.

    "Our review sample has been a joy to use, both before and after the update."

    Hmm really? I couldn't tell from your review. Maybe it needed more words.

    "For me the most consistent FC was when deleting lots of e-mails in the Gmail app, thankfully that behavior's gone since the update. "

    So that would be FC's within a specific application. Don't you think a review should have actually mentioned WHAT application it was? Since the OS is pretty good at telling you what crashed it would have been nice to know. Rather than saying a general statement on page 1 making it sound like it applies to everything, while not really mentioning it on page 2. On that page you've recognized that lots of apps running = sluggishness. Thanks for putting that epiphany to text.

    "If you manage to get through the year without an FC or ever feeling like your device is sluggish, please send it our way for a teardown and some analysis. We'd love to see how they managed to cram a horseshoe in there."

    Now why would I give you my unit when you can't bother to be more specific within a review with the hardware you have? That's a end user problem, and not so much a hardware problem. If you spent a little less time FUD'ing the article and a little more being specific as to what exact applications caused problems I'm sure sending you my unit wouldn't even be necessary.

    But thank you for responding and thank you for your hard work. It's been lovely seeing additional detail here that didn't make it in the three pages of the review. It's been eye opening.

    -K
    Reply
  • MrSewerPickle - Friday, August 05, 2011 - link

    Just my two cents but I wouldnt describe the media hub apps UI as just "tolerable". In fact in my opinion its one of the smoothest, most qualiity media applications avaliable on Android right now. Was the author frustrated about having to write a review on TouchWiz? I know how I can be when asked to work on something that I could honestly care less about..... Reply

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