A funny thing happened on the way to my iPad soapbox.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983
An iPad lover finds Android a delight
August 26, 2012
By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, The Post-Standard
Buying a $70 Android tablet held two pleasant surprises. The first, as I reported on last week (www.technofileonline.com/texts/tec081912), was the tablet itself. For a fraction of the cost of an iPad, the Mac Speed Trio 7C tablet had a good screen, decent sound, a pleasant control layout and, because it has a 7-inch screen, much easier totability than an iPad.
Stuff I usually do on my iPad -- email, web browsing, note taking, conferencing -- worked OK on the Trio, and the smaller screen didn't get in the way except when I viewed complicated web pages.
The second surprise is much more important. It's the way the Trio works. In other words, my amazement came from the tablet's operating system, Android.
For a guy who uses his iPad every day, who teaches classes on how to use the iPad, who writes on the iPad (and about the iPad in the newspaper), I was ready to dismiss the little tablet as a poor iPad wannabe. Android? Who needs Android when we have Apple's superb iOS, the operating system of Apple's "i-devices" (iPad, iPhone and others).
That's how I thought I'd feel. But a funny thing happened on the way to my iPad soapbox: I realized Apple's iOS might not be so superb after all. It's good. It might be very good. But "superb" isn't the way you'd want to describe iOS after seeing what Android offers.
For example, Android lets you plug many kinds of USB devices into your tablet. (Hello, Apple? Are you listening?) They can be thumb drives or external hard drives or mice or printers or just about anything else. The iPad has a port that allows very limited USB hookups. You can plug in a camera's USB cable or a camera's memory card and that's about it.
Android lets anyone create an app (a software program) and sell it or give it to you. Android apps don't have to be approved by Big Brother Apple. (To be fair, Big Bro in Android is Google, and Google does try to weed out scams and viruses from the immense collection of Android apps.)
Android is clever. iOS is nice but not actually clever. (Apple? Are you listening?) The wallpaper in an Android tablet can be animated, for example. Screens can be customized any way you want. Apps can have shortcuts. Browsers can download anything at all, just as on a computer. (Hello, Apple?)
Just as with the iPad, an Android tablet can get free or paid apps from an online app store with no fuss, no muss. My Trio tablet refused to connect to the main Google Android app store -- others report the same problem -- but it was able to get apps easily from Amazon's app store.
Android handles he job of running more than one app at a time MUCH better than Apple's method. It does it just like your Mac or Windows PC does. Apps can be off-screen (minimized, in other words) and still run fine. You can fire up a few dozen and they all keep keepin' on.
And you can clear them all out of memory with a single touch. (I use an app called Android Booster for that.) On the iPad, you have to do this one by one, a ridiculously tedious task. There's no app for it. (Apple? Hello?)
The Trio tablet is running Android 2.3, an out-of-date version. So far, it's resisted my attempts to upgrade. Basically, there's no support from Mach Speed, so I'm digging around for help online. Write with help if you know a way I can upgrade my Trio.
Android has many other great features. We'll talk about some of them in a few weeks.
A quick additional note: As I was writing this column, I saw ads for quite a few other cheap Android tablets, one for as little as $60. I ordered a second Android tablet, the Coby 7042, for about $100, and found it even more enjoyable than the Trio.
The floodgates are opening. I wouldn't be surprised to see 7-inch Android tablets, with all the standard features, selling for $25 by the end of the year. Apple will have its own mini-tablet soon, and the price competition could be a brutal blow to Apple; there's no way it would sell small iPads for such low prices.