iPad versus Android

We’re now looking at nearly 2 years since the launch of the original iPad and though the device retains some of the magic, those of us there at the beginning are no longer in awe of the fantastic design that has made so many millions for Apple and changed the way we work and play.

It now seems fairly natural to be walking around with a slim glass-and-aluminium device that’s more powerful than mainstream PCs of just a few years ago – so the only questions is – WHICH tablet should we be carrying?

I recently got my hands on a 7” Android tablet running “Gingerbread” – or Android 2.3.  Since then we’ve seen “Honeycomb” and finally “Ice Cream Sandwich” but most of the cheaper tablets are running 2.3 or lower.

To be honest I would not waste my time with anything LESS than version 2.3 is it’s fore-runners were never designed for tablet use.

Until now I’ve avoided Android tablets altogether for a number of reasons including the absolutely useless “resistive” displays that many of the cheaper ones employ. These are of the old-fashioned variety you have to press on to get any response and they are deeply unsatisfying to use. One of the iPad’s best features is the utterly responsive “capacitive” display which requires no finger pressure AT ALL to work – and so that for me is the minimum I’m prepared to look at.

The Yuandao N12 Fast Tab is one of dozens of 7” tablets out there that runs Android 2.3 and on the surface of it, it’s a mini-iPad..  the 7” format means it fits comfortably into a big hand and you’d expect that to be a big plus compared to the iPad’s rather larger format. In fact there is little apparent difference in weight.

So, in 2012 how to Android and Apple stack up?

The N12 is CHEAP – I’ve seen it at £100 including VAT in the UK so it’s not in the same league as iPad price-wise or feature-wise.

Let’s look at the pluses and minuses of this particular tablet – which is not untypical of the far-eastern offerings available right now..

Minus

  • Battery life –claimed to be 20 hours standby and 5 hours video – yes, if you are lucky, more like it 4 hours of use. The iPad has never run out on standby in the time I’ve had it and gets around 10 hours of video NO PROBLEM.
  • Microsoft Exchange – The M12 cannot handle any but the simplest of Exchange setups – if the setup won’t work with email and password, there seems to be no way to get into manual setup – this is a MAJOR omission for corporate use.
  • Display – fast and responsive but ultimately at 800*480 pixels it’s an overgrown phone and the pixilation is obvious, even watching movies.
  • WIFI – the WIFI is very insensitive, picking up less signal than many phones and dropping out occasionally.
  • Limited memory – a common Android problem, although the unit has 8GB internally with access to an external memory stick, it seems that even though you can move Apps into this larger space, there is an internal CORE of 512MB RAM (this is a common limit – see specs – APPLE do NOT have such a limit) and even Apps in external memory use up SOME of this 512MB RAM which soon gets eaten up – putting a limit on how many Apps you can install – this is really unacceptable but somehow manages to escape most reviews.
  • Speed – not quite fast enough to make good use of Flash – one of the so-called Apple-killer features, the Flash performance is poor.
  • Finish – the unit has a nice Aluminium finish which unfortunately has sharp edges – after repeated handling while, say, watching a movie, tends to get annoying. This sharp edging appears to be common among the Chinese offerings
  • Reliability – the hardware seems reliable enough but Gingerbread is chocker full of bugs – the language control means that some menu items come up in Chinese no matter what you do and installations can easily be messed up.
  • The Android market has some gaping holes compared to Apple, the latter having an excellent PDF reader (GoodReader) and several other business tools missing from Android market.
  • Front-only camera which is poor quality and not that reliable – only sometimes works with Skype. No back camera.
  • No Bluetooth – yes you heard it  – no Bluetooth (the iPhone 4 and iPad2 reliably handle 2 simultaneous Bluetooth connections – in my car for example the phone is Bluetooth hands-free but also talks to a separate Bluetooth unit to play audio through the car stereo – something the old 3GS could not quite tackle)
  • No sign of upgrades available – website is in Chinese, very little English discussion on the web.
  • Large border area around the screen.
  • 16:9 wide format

Plus

  • The 7” format would fit into a large coat pocket and just feels nice
  • The screen is bright and responsive
  • The Android market has come a long way and although still full of rubbish, there are some hidden gems in there – many of which are free.
  • External memory means no limit to movies you can store on the device.
  • USB means external keyboard is easy to implement (though Bluetooth would be more convenient)

Summary

Based on the above – for me the ideal would be a 7” tablet with little border area i.e. mostly screen, running a later version of Android which properly handled Microsoft Exchange, on a tablet with at least 1024 pixels wide, rounded corners, 6-10 hour battery life, Bluetooth, sensitive WIFI, at least 1Gb internal working RAM, preferably more.

With current improvements to the Android Market, there is definitely a place for these devices. If you look at the likes of the Samsung S2 phone – slim, incredibly light, super display – think of one of those stretched to 7” or so and I reckon there is definitely a place for such a device provided the price is right (i.e. WELL under the cost of an iPad) – as yet it does not seem to exist, the NOTE being the nearest but still too small.

For now, the iPad is still streets ahead of Android…maybe they’ll keep that lead, maybe not. There is something quite nice about the smaller form factor and lower cost of the Android devices – opens up all kinds of possibilities if only the quality bar was raised…

iPad Killers? Not Likely

After all the noise made about Android killing the iPad – what do we see? A solitary Galaxy Tab which is a bit on the small side and hardly “thin” – and that’s about it – other tablets are either still in the works, still using older versions of Android – or recalled. Meanwhile the iPad has it’s new operating system upgrade, new Apps updates and now there is Apple TV -  which means that thanks to the REMOTE app, you can now use your iPad or even iPhone to control your TV, browse your music selection, make playlists and more.

I can’t think of a better gimmick for parties right now than to appear armed with wireless iPad and offer to let guests make their own music selections.  It all works and the Apple TV product is cheap.

Chances of getting compatible software on an Android device in the near future? I don’t think so.. all we need now is for SKYPE and APPLE to get their act together and put Skype video on the iPhone 4.

 

 

Peter Scargill

Android vs iPhone – a Brief Comparison

Update:

The Android phone was fine until we brought it overseas. The long and short of it is, it simply does not work. Over in the USA we’re getting messages about the SIM not allowing a connection – and yet swapping SIMs with the iPhone produces the same result while the iPhone continues to work. Orange up to now have shown that they don’t have a clue (there’s a shocker) and so we’ve a fight on our hands now getting a refund of the sat-nav software we’ve installed and getting a refund/replacement for the phone.

Incidentally though American TV shows Skype on selected AT&T Android phones, the Skype situation for Android has not changed. I’m beginning to think that in looking to see real competition for Apple, we’ve all jumped in too soon. Maybe Google should have stuck with search engines! Links like this suggest that Android has some serious problems. http://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=2845

Original Article:

We just took possession of our first Android phone the other day, the much-vaunted HTC Desire. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that this powerhouse runs at 1Ghz or whether the Android operating system is just that much more responsive, but the phone does seem to operate more responsively than you’d expect an HTC running Windows mobile for example. The screen is BEAUTIFUL to say the least with the new AMOLED display, it really is something to behold.

And that’s where it starts to go downhill. We purchased the phone from the Orange shop and as you might expect, things didn’t go too smoothly at first, the phone continued to show no signal for around an hour, we took it back to the shop and the fellow there helpfully reset the phone, telling us that it won’t operate until it’s been reset due to the text message the phone needs to receive to activate it.  The problem with that is.. what’s wrong with a message that says “please wait for incoming message” then another that says “please reset your phone” – why does everything always have to be cryptic??!!??

That done, we took the phone for a spin. The phone sent and received calls just fine and so we took it home (where we have no signal) and hooked it into the WIFI signal at home – again no problem.

If you look on the web it’s not immediately obvious where to get APPS for the Android, looking around there seemed to be several official-looking stores with nothing but rubbish in them, however a quick look around the phone (which comes with VERY little documentation until you realise there’s an online Android manual) and we discovered the marketplace. There are TONS of apps on there.

Unlike the iPhone market where Apple control the App store with an iron rod, there seems to be no such control on the Android marketplace and so there were some pretty poor apps – but also some great ones – installation is idiot-proof. We’re still at the early learning stage and later I’ll details some of the better apps.

For now, I’m beginning to realise why Apple in their iPhone didn’t bother with multitasking. The more you use the Desire, the more it slows down – until you realise the reason why… every time you use an App and then press the home key to go find another – the app stays running in the background. GREAT for a PC, but to my mind largely silly in a phone. We ended up with something like 20 apps running.. again at first sight it is still not obvious how to finish using an App and close it!  The solution for now? We downloaded a free task handler for Android and you can simply run that and close the lot down.

I think I’d prefer the option to NOT run any program in the background unless I specifically ask (music comes to mind).

Biggest gripe so far? Would you believe it there is no SKYPE for Android yet!

Apple – a Word of Warning

A word of warning for those needing help with their iPAD or iPhone… they are great products but it appears that Apple support is as crappy as Orange and other large organisations.

There’s an ongoing minor issue with the iPAD wireless in that it tends not to pick the best signal where multiple signals are available. I have 5 WIFI points in my house in England as the walls are solid stone – and the iPAD invariably picks the wrong signal and stays with it, requiring me to manually select an access point.

I thought as bought the unit in the US and am currently there for a short while, I’d ask them when they’re going to fix this – they’re a little behind on this (as is Skype with their OS4 fix  -at this rate they’ll be the LAST app to update).. NO Chance, there is no email address on their site and the only way you can start the process is to give them your Apple ID. This is what happened when I entered my Apple ID.

Did I expect any less? No. Today I will ring the store!

 

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Do YOU need an iPAD?

A lot hot air is circulating about the iPad, often by folks who have never laid eyes on the machine never mind made extensive hand-on use of them. I’ve seen reviews talking about reliability, about it being unsuitable for business… the list goes on – and mostly from those lacking any experience of the product.

Why listen to me? well firstly you need to know I would not touch a MAC with a bargepole so don’t peg me as an anti-Microsoft type. When the iPAD was released in the USA I had one shipped across almost immediately, despite lack of iTunes support in the UK. It looked ideal for reading agendas and other company paperwork, being the first supposedly long-life battery, thin almost A4 pad on the market… and I wasn’t prepared to take the word of others… I wanted to see for myself if this was going to be useful to see if there was a future for reducing or eliminating paperwork.  So, here it is, based on daily use of the iPad since its launch in the USA (and by that I mean used almost every day since then, sometimes all day), here is some information which may be of use to those of you thinking of using the iPad in a business environment.

Firstly the issue of WIFI. The only issue I am aware of is that the iPad occasionally forgets the login password and does not seem to track the best signal if you move from signal area to signal area within a building. It is a minor issue, does not really cause me any problems and the assurance is that this will be fixed. I can see no reason to doubt this as it’s little sister the iPhone does not suffer the same issue. 

Secondly business use – you hear “It’s all games” – no it isn’t – though some of the games are excellent – no doubt about it but with 200,000 apps you’d expect a lot of games.  I have asked our head office who normally send me reams and reams of paper to simply stop – and all my papers now go onto the company extranet  (Sharepoint).  I receive automatic email notification of the availability of documents and as long as I’m within range of a WIFI signal I can download using the likes of the GoodReader program (a bargain at 59p) and store the docs locally on the iPad. The largest document I’ve had the pleasure of using was 95 megabytes comprising over 400 pages of scanned documents – just about the worse combination…. No problem. I also use another package which cost peanuts to let me scribble on PDFs and open multiple documents at once.

Thirdly multitasking – after extensive use I have to say I do not miss the ability to do umpteen jobs at once – the ONE thing I’d like is to run SKYPE constantly in the background – and that of course will come in the autumn update. Most programs start up where they left off so they may as well be multitasking – but without the overhead.

“They say” iPad is not compatible with Microsoft… rubbish – I regularly open the latest DOCX files from Office 2007 as well as spread-sheets and other documents. At least one program can SAVE in these formats.

Specifically for use in meetings, the (realistically achieved) 10 hour battery life (including watching video) makes it possible to do an all-day meeting without a cable in sight. Those who lug around heavy bags full of laptops, power supplies and endless paperwork look on with envy. Armed with properly bookmarked PDF files I can view and search through large documents more quickly than with paper.

What about FLASH – well, I’d MUCH prefer if the iPad could handle flash, but not at any price and Flash does tend to be jerky on mobiles… considering that YouTube, Blip and others now offer iPad compatibility and even the BBC iPlayer is now iPad compatible, it hopefully won’t be long before that issue goes out of the window. You can watch a good number of the freeview channels including BBC News 24, for free on the iPad given a free program to do so, not to mention most radio stations.

When in Spain, as they say… I have a (small) place in Spain and last week I was other there. The iPad can’t handle dongles but I have a 3G dongle and I simply put the Sim into a phone which has WIFI and using a cheap program made the phone look like a WIFI access point – others may prefer to get the 3G version of the iPad itself  – as I already have a phone I didn’t fancy 2 subscriptions and annoying Apple won’t let you tether an iPhone to an iPad.   Skype and GotoMeeting work well – saving a fortune in calls when overseas as long as there is WIFI available. Emails using Microsoft Exchange, Google mail and others work absolutely fine as indeed do Exchange calendars and contacts. For streaming podcasts, I generally keep them on my PC and use STREAMTOME to listen to them on the iPAD (saves filling it up with audio and video).

Do I have any issues with the product? Of course I do – why on EARTH didn’t Apple put a forward-facing camera in for Skype etc. But them the iPhone 4 has that… Also being able to read memory sticks would have been nice but why not go the whole hog and put in Windows? Erm, no! The fact is that Apple have a great niche product on their hands which is, if you believe the hype selling very well thank you. Almost everyone I know who I’ve shown it to in business and otherwise wants one – I should have been a salesman but I’m NOT.

Of course, if something else comes along that’s better and cheaper I‘m a ruthless consumer with no brand loyalty… but from what I’ve seen, hands on reviews of what would appear to be alternatives have fallen apart due to poor video or other issues. For now, Apple are onto a winner – their shares don’t look too bad either (I don’t have any of those either).

iPhone DOES have Limits

A portrait of Peter Scargill

I’ve already hit the limit with iPhone Apps – 175 of them – won’t let me put any more on. There are those who say it’s something to do with performance, though I don’t see it myself as you only run programs one at a time. But there you have it – the iPhone 3GS – 9 pages of apps, that’s your lot. Well, that’s not STRICTLY true – you can only have 9 pages of apps on the MENU – you can have LOADS more as long as you’re happy to use the search function to find them! This will be fixed in the forthcoming version 4 upgrade.

Until recently there was a great APP for streaming your music selection onto your iPhone – one I planned to use over in Spain without dragging my entire collection over there. The program called SIMPLY MUSIC – is now dead. Having taken our money, the designers have shut down features and removed the APP from the iTunes store.. effectively they’ve “done a bunk” – which is not nice.  So I’ve been on the hunt for alternatives: An EXCELLENT program called AIR VIDEO lets you stream unconverted video to the iPhone – sadly it wont’ work for tunes. iPlayAnywhere will let you stream audio but their APP is awful and crashes frequently. Also tried TVersity – that works but it’s not pretty AT ALL…

Update: StreamToMe and it’s PC server software works a TREAT for all your video and music – I’ve asked them about including photos and apparently they’re working on it.. check this out…