A few months ago I ordered an APad - a type of Android tablet/slate/giant-mobile-phone/iPad-like-form-factor-whatever-you-want-to-call-it from dealextreme (ThinkGeek mixed with Archie McPhee…but really cheap, and without the sense of irony). A month or so later when they got some stock in it arrived. I’ve had a play around with it and decided to share my thoughts.
I don’t have an iPad (although I’ve played ‘round with a few) so my expectations might be lower than they would be if I was using one of those all the time. My hope was that I could use this for casual web browsing around the house, and read pdfs and RSS on public transport, but overall my expectations weren’t high. I don’t have any other android devices. I own a windows mobile phone which I only keep around so I can fantasize about the different ways I could destroy it – clay pigeon shoot, bandsaw, does it blend? which shows I have a high tolerance for pain from mobile devices.
The chrome-lite browser is fairly capable (although, not nearly as capable as the new IE in WP7 looks, hotdam!), once I got the hang of it for panning/scrolling/zooming etc (the device is single-touch so no pinch gestures). No flash, but I didn’t really notice on most sites – as you would expect youtube opens in its own app. The Repligo and Beam PDF readers that I downloaded from the android store were both pretty good for reading PDFs (once again, no pinch). The screen is nice and quite comfortable for reading (800x480 pixels at 7”..no ‘retina display’ but not too bad either). Rendering of text (especially in the mobile browser) was quite nice. Video playback was smooth. Ticks in both boxes for the primary functions I envisaged for the device.
The battery life is not that great. Even with the screen and wireless off the battery seems to drain away pretty quickly over the course of a day. The whole form factor is so iPhone-like it really isn’t funny, the geometry feels very similar to the iPhone3 and the iPod Touch. Software-wise the thing thinks it is a phone too (when I turn on the screen it says ‘No Service’ even thought this is unremarkable - it never will have any ‘Service’ because it doesn’t have the requisite networking hardware). The build quality is fair to good, but not ‘Apple’. I think a metal case would have made a big difference here – the thing is so light (about 300g) they should have packed it with more batteries and gone for a metal case and it would have really lifted the device in my eyes.
Also - it’s running android 1.5, which even thought it was released in mid-2009 is the android equivalent of running Windows XP on your desktop. Dominic said Android 2.x got important improvements like ‘JIT’ so even though most things don’t feel that slow on the device I can’t help but thinking ‘this could be faster’ when I think about 2.x. Since android is an open platform I should just port it myself, right? right? The one thing that did feel a bit slow was changing orientation between portrait and landscape. The on-screen keyboard is fine for typing in URLs and logging in, but sucks for even the smallest amount of content-creation-typing.